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Music at the Habsburg Empire

[I] "Argentum et aurum - Musical Treasures from the Early Habsburg Renaissance"
Ensemble Leones
Dir: Marc Lewon
rec: April 9 - 12, 2013, Rheinfelden (D), Schlosskirche Beuggen
Naxos - 8.573346 (© 2015) (78'37")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

anon: Alle dei filius; Es sassen höld in ainer stuben; Gegrusset seist maria; Gespile, liebe gespile gút; Ich sachs ains mals; Mantúaner dantz; My ladi, my ladi, myn happ; Or sus vous dormes trop; Pavane; So stee ich hie auff diser erd; Soyt tart tempre; Von osterreich - Sig, säld und heil; Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474): Seigneur Leon; Paul HOFHAIMER (1459-1537): Gottes namen faren wir; HUGO von Montfort (1357-1423): Ich fragt ain wachter; Heinrich ISAAC (1450/55-1517): Argentum et aurum; HERMANN EDLERAWER (c1395-c1460): [piece without title]; Johannes MARTINI (c14340/40-1497): La Martinella; MÖNCH VON SALZBURG (late 14th C): Das kschúhorn - Untarnslaf; NEIDHART von Reuenthal (c1190?-after 1236): Der sunnen glanst; Do man den gumpel gampel sank; Vyol - Urlaub hab der wintter; OSWALD von Wolkenstein (c1377-1445): Durch Barbarei, Arabia; Freu sich, du weltlich creatúr; Skak - Fröhlich geschrai so well wir machen; Zergangen ist meins herzen we; OSWALD von Wolkenstein? / NICOLAUS KROMBSDORFER? (?-1479): Heýa, heýa nun wie si grollen; PFABINSCHWANTZ (fl c1500): Maria zart, von edler art

[II] "Music for the Emperor Charles V"
Capella de la Torre
Dir: Katharina Bäuml
rec: Oct 9 - 13, 2006, Mandelsloh (D), St. Osdag-Kirche
Coviello Classics - COV 91602 (© 2016) (58'46")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - E/D/F
Cover & track-list

anon: Adoramoste, Senor; Ay luna que reluzes [2]; Dit le Bourgignon [4]; L'amor, dona, ch'io te porto [1]; L'homme armé; Propignan de Melyor [3]; Tourdion; Verbum caro factum est [2]; Thoinot ARBEAU (1520-1595): Belle qui tiens ma vie; Antonio DE CABEZÓN (1510-1566): Si par souffrir; Triste depart; Francisco GUERRERO (1528-1599): Hombres, Victoria!; Missa Simile est regnum caelorum (Gloria); JOSQUIN DESPREZ (1450-1521): In te, Domine, speravi; Luis DE MILAN (1500-1561): Pavana y Galliarda; Luis DE NARVÁEZ (1490-1547): Diferencias sobre Mille regretz; Girolamo PARABOSCO (1524-1557): Da pacem, Domine; plainchant: Requiem aeternam, antiphona; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Pavana d'Espaigne; Ludwig SENFL (1486-1543): Non moriar, sed vivam; Tilman SUSATO (1500-1562): Pavana La Battaglia; Francisco DE LA TORRE (fl c1500): Danza Alta; Philippe VERDELOT (c1480-1545): Italia mia; Johann WALTHER (1496-1570): Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott

Sources: [1] Cancionero de Palacio, [n.d.]; [2] Cancionero de Uppsala, [n.d.]; [3] Cancionero de la Columbina, [n.d.]; [4] Ottaviano Petrucci, ed., Odhecaton, 1503

Matthias Gerchen, bass; Birgit Bahr, recorder, shawm, dulcian; Annette Hils, recorder, bass dulcian; Katharina Bäuml, shawm, dulcian; Detlef Reimers, sackbut; Sebastian Knebel, organ, regal; Nora Thiele, percussion

[III] "From the Imperial Court - Music for the House of Hapsburg"
stile antico
rec: Oct 2013, London, All Hallows' Church, Gospel Oak
Harmonia mundi - HMU 807595 (© 2014) (71'07")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jacobus CLEMENS non Papa (c1510-c1555): Carole magnus eras a 5, motet; Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1505-1557): Andreas Christi famulus a 8, motet; Nicolas GOMBERT (c1495-c1560): Magnificat 1. toni a 4; Mille regretz a 6, chanson; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Virgo prudentissima a 6a; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1440-1521): Mille regretz a 4; Pierre de LA RUE (1460-1518) (attr): Absalon fili mi a 4; Alonso LOBO (1555-1617): Versa est in luctum a 6b; Cristóbal DE MORALES (c1500-1553): Jubilate Deo a 6c; Ludwig SENFL (c1486-c1543): Quis dabit oculis a 4d; Thomas TALLIS (c1505-1585): Loquenbatur variis linguis a 7e

Kate Ashby, Helen Ashby, Rebecca Hickey, Alison Hillabe, soprano; Emma Ashby, Eleanor Harries, Katie Schofield, Cara Currance, contralto; Jim Clements, Andrew Griffiths, Benedict Hymas, Matthew Howardabd, tenor; Will Dawes, Thomas Flint, Matthew Donovan, James Arthur, bass

For many centuries the Habsburg dynasty was the leading force in Europe. When Philip II succeeded Charles V his empire was so large that it was called "the empire on which the sun never sets." Powerful rulers always used arts, literature and music to show their power to the world. In particular music was an important tool of representation. The ruler who wanted to be acknowledged as the most powerful aimed at attracting the best composers and performers to his court. In the case of the Habsburgers there can be little doubt that their interest in music was not only motivated by political considerations. They seem to have had a genuine interest in music. That certainly goes for Charles V to whom the second disc is devoted but also for the emperors who had their court in Vienna in the 17th and the early 18th centuries.

Its title, 'Music for Emperor Charles V', is not very accurate: in most cases it is impossible to say whether a piece was written for one of the Habsburg emperors. The Naxos disc is less specific: it includes "musical treasures from the Early Habsburg Renaissance". It is the fruit of an academic research project entitled "Musical Life of the Late Middle Ages in the Austrian Region (c.1340 - c.1520)". This was the time that the Habsburg dynasty rose to power. The programme is a mixture of sacred and secular music as well as some instrumental pieces which have been preserved in Austrian sources.

The oldest pieces in the programme are from Neidhart von Reuenthal, a minnesinger who was in the service of Duke Frederick II, nicknamed 'the Bellicose'. His songs are divided into two categories, Sommerlieder (summer songs) and Winterlieder (winter songs). Vyol - Urlaub hab der Winter (The violet - Winter, be gone) is a specimen of the former category. Another minnesinger - who lived more than a century after Neidhart - was Hugo von Montfort; his squire set his texts to music, for instance Ich fragt ain wachter (I asked a watchman). A contemporary of his was Oswald von Wolkenstein, today the most famous poet of the late Middle Ages. He was a nobleman from southern Tirol and spent most of his time travelling which is reflected in his poems, such as Durch Barberei, Arabia (Travelling through the land of the Berbers and Arabia). More than 100 songs from his pen have been preserved. This disc includes five of them; previously the Ensemble Leones devoted an entire disc to his songs ("The Cosmopolitan"). Many pieces are anonymous and that goes in particular for the sacred works and the instrumental pieces. It may surprise that the programme includes pieces on an English and on a French text. They have been found in Austrian sources and were probably brought along by someone who had travelled across Europe.

In his notes on the performance Marc Lewon points out that there is quite some difference in the music from a period of about two centuries. This is reflected by the variety in instrumental colours but also the use of two different tunings. "For the monophonic songs and the polyphonic compositions that reflect 14th-century practice, we chose the lute, hurdy-gurdy and vielle - typical accompanying instruments tuned according to the Pythagorean system. The later song settings we performed with a homogenous ensemble of viole d'arco tuned according to the mean-tone system." Moreover, there is also a difference in the treatment of the vocal lines. In some pieces the voice needs to blend perfectly with the instruments, and that is especially the case in the sacred compositions, such as Heinrich Isaac's Argentum et aurum which opens the programme. In the songs by Neidhart and Wolkenstein, on the other hand, the text has to be declaimed. These differences come out perfectly. It is admirable how Els Janssens-Vanmunster and Raitis Grigalis adapt their voices to the instruments. In the monodic songs they put the text in the centre and act like real story-tellers. Marc Lewon shows his own skills in this department in Neidhart's Do man den gumpel gampel sank. The instrumentalists deliver outstanding contributions. This is a very interesting and compelling disc which comprises a number of little-known pieces and some recently discovered material.

I already noted that the title of the Coviello disc is a little inaccurate. A view on the track-list confirms this. One of the pieces is Johann Walther's setting of Luther's hymn Ein feste Burg. That can never have been written "for Charles V" - that would be nothing less than a provocation as Luther was the emperor's main enemy in religious matters. Ludwig Senfl was connected to the Habsburgs: he was in the service of Maximilian I and in 1513 he took over the position of Kapellmeister in Vienna from Isaac. But he composed his motet Non moriar, sed vivam specifically for Luther as a sign of encouragement in hard times. Also in the programme is an instrumental piece by Michael Praetorius who was not even born when Charles died. So we have to take the connection between the music and Charles with a grain of salt.

This disc is a kind of musical portrait of Charles' world. It includes pieces by some of the most popular composers of the time, such as Josquin and Antonio de Cabezón and some of the best-known instrumental music by the likes of Arbeau and Susato. Several pieces - de Cabezón's but also those which are taken from the various cancioneros - represent the Spanish branch of the emperor's empire. Those who have experienced the early days of the revival of early music will recognize and enjoy some old favourites, such as the anonymous L'homme armé and Tourdion or L'amor, dona, ch'io te porto from the Cancionero de Palacio. The performance of the latter is probably different from what one is used to. The upper voice is easy to recognize but this is played here whereas the text is sung by the lowest voice to a different melody.

Such a line-up is one of various ways texted pieces can be performed. But sacred music and in particular masses are probably the exception. Here we hear the Gloria from Guerrero's Missa Simile est regnum coelorum performed by Matthias Gerchen and instruments. This seems rather debatable from a historical point of view. Gerchen sings well but his voice and his style of singing are less appropriate for this repertoire. Not only is his singing marred by a slight vibrato, this music needs a more instrumental way of singing which results in an optimal blending of voice and instruments. That is not the case here.

Many pieces in the programme are pretty familiar; if you like to extend your horizon this is probably not the disc to go for. The main attraction is the playing of the ensemble which is as nice as in previous recordings. However, I wished a more critical choice of repertoire, closer to the chosen subject and a little less predictable.

The third disc is the only one whose programme can with a great amount of certainty be connected to the Habsburg courts. All the composers represented here were for some time in the service of members of this dynasty, in particular Maximilian I, Charles V and Philip II; the exception is Thomas Tallis. Several pieces were especially written for one of the Habsburg monarchs. The most obvious example is Carole magnus eras by Jacobus Clemens non Papa. It is not a sacred work but a tribute to Charles V: "Charles, you were mighty when only a king, mightier as emperor, mightiest through your son. As king you ruled much, and more as emperor. Now you rule all by your son. Rome is yours, Europe is yours, Asia and all of Africa. What more? You cannot: you have everything." Virgo prudentissima by Heinrich Isaac has a more sacred text, but the second half opens thus: "You, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, we beg you to pour out to her [the Virgin Mary's] chaste ears our prayers and entreaties for the sacred Empire and for Maximilian the Emperor".

The programme includes two motets written at the occasion of the death of one of the Habsburgs. Pierre de La Rue composed Absalon fili mi after the death of Philip, son of Maximilian I, in 1506. This explains the harmonic tension in this piece. When Maximilian himself died in 1519 Ludwig Senfl wrote the motet Quis dabit oculos. It is divided into three sections, separated by a pause; the two first sections end with a phrase in homophony: "Austria, why are you dressed in woeful garb, consumed with mourning?" and "[The] crown is fallen from our head". It ends with "Maximilianus requiescat in pace". (According to New Grove is motet was in fact composed by Costanzo Festa.)

In a programme like this Josquin Desprez's chanson Mille regretz could not be omitted as this was one of Charles V's favourite pieces. A vihuela arrangement is called La canción del emperador (The emperor's song). Also included is a six-part arrangement by Nicolas Gombert. He also composed the Magnificat 1. toni, one from a set of eight in each of the church modes. From 1526 to 1540 Gombert was a singer in Charles's Grande Chapelle (known as Capilla Flamenca in Spain). With this chapel Philip II visited Britain in order to marry Mary Tudor. It has been suggested that Thomas Tallis's motet Loquebantur variis linguis was one of the pieces the Capilla Flamenca and Mary's Chapel Royal performed together which could explain the relatively large scoring for seven voices. Matthew Donovan states in his liner-notes: "Meanwhile the text - at first glance a Pentecost responsory concerning the giving of the Holy Spirit as related in Acts - could alternatively be read as a witty depiction of the singers' difficulty understanding one another! Likewise, the constant stream of clichéd false relations - the work's most striking feature - could either be seen as a colourful depiction of the clamour of Pentecostal tongues, or as a friendly jibe at the Flemish compositional style." He adds that this theory is unproven, though.

This motet is one of the pieces for which the number of singers is extended; the other is the six-part Virgo prudentissima by Isaac. The bulk of the programme is sung with twelve voices, three in each section. That seems plausible: the chapels by the Habsburgers for which this music was intended certainly comprised more singers than just four or five needed for performances with one voice per part. In some cases even the participation of instruments may be considered. Stile antico is one of the main ensembles for renaissance polyphony these days, as its discography shows. Their programmes usually have a clearly marked subject and they are mostly quite critical in regard to the choice of music. That is the case here as well: in contrast to the disc of the Capella de la Torre we here have almost exclusively pieces which are certainly or at least very likely written for one of the members of the Habsburg dynasty.

The singing is excellent, as always. The polyphony comes off very well and the voices blend beautifully in the homophonic episodes. In Isaac's motet we find some passages for reduced forces where the qualities of the individual singers come to the fore. Sometimes the text is not easy to understand. That was mostly not the priority of the composers; even so I would have liked the delivery being a little better. The liner-notes by Matthew Donovan are very informative and well written.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Capella de la Torre
Ensemble Leones
stile antico

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