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Pierre COLIN (fl 1539 - 1572): "Trésor oublié de la Renaissance - Messes & Motets" (Forgotten treasure of the Renaissance)

La Note Brève
Dir: Simon Gallot

rec: 2021, Gigors-et-Lozeron, Église Saint-Pierre
Paraty - 7221120 (© 2022) (57'37")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Alleluia pasca nostrum; Cives apostolorum; Hic est vere martyr; L'oeil dict assez s'il estoit entendua; Magnificat 7. toni; Missa Ave gloriosa; Missa Estans assis; Surge illuminare - Stella ista

Laura Cartier, soprano; Marie Remandet, mezzo-soprano; Josquin Gest, alto; Jean-Noël Poggiali, tenor; Simon Gallot, bass; Ryoko Katayama, organ (soloa)

The majority of recordings of renaissance polyphony regards music by composers everyone knows. Now and then a disc is released with pieces by a composer only a few specialists may have heard of. Recently several such discs have been reviewed here, such as a Requiem by Simone de Bonefont, a mass, motets and chansons by Johannes Tourout and a mass and music for Vespers by Nicolas Champion. The disc under review here is another one. Its title is entirely appropriate: "A forgotten treasure of the Renaissance". Several aspects of the oeuvre of Pierre Colin are notable.

The years of his birth and death are not known, nor is known where he was born and how he was musically educated. The first documented evidence of his activities dates from 1538, when Pierre Attaingnant included a chanson by him in an anthology. In 1539 he is mentioned in the Chapter accounts of Aucun cathedral, where he was choirmaster until 1562 and then organist until 1572. There are no traces of his activities from later time; he may have died that year or soon after. The core of his activities was the training of young choristers; in 1550 he called himself "master of the children". In 1554 he published a collection of masses under the title of Liturgicon musicarum, which was reprinted two years later. In the preface he states: "Being the choirmaster (...) and responsible for training the voices of young choristers, I make music and nothing else; that is all I do. From my scant knowledge, I draw liturgies, masses if you prefer, which I endeavour to clothe with pleasing harmonies, except when I lack inspiration (...)."

The publication of this collection of masses reveals one of the notable features of his career. In his time only the most famous composers had the chance to publish collections of music of their own writing; pieces by 'minor' composers were usually included in anthologies. No fewer than twelve collections of Colin's music came from the press between 1542 and 1580. The last of them was printed in Venice, and may have been a posthumous publication of masses that were not published before. However, the fact that it was printed in Venice brings us to another interesting aspect of Colin's oeuvre. "The archives of the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna contain a large folio (Bol SP A 48) devoted to masses that were clearly used frequently in the cathedral. Composers are not credited, but a study of the source shows that there are more works by Pierre Colin than by any other composer; four of his masses were copied here for use in the cathedral during the third quarter of the 16th century. The same is true of the archives of the cathedrals of Treviso, Toledo and even Guatemala City, which possess manuscript copies taken from printed originals of the masses and motets of a composer who seems to have spent his entire musical career in the Burgundian city of Autun." (booklet) One wonders why his music was apparently popular in Italy and even in the New World. It is not further discussed in the liner-notes, and it is probably impossible to bring light into this phenomenon.

The programme opens with a relatively short mass (here less than 14 minutes), whose title is remarkable. It refers to the first line of Psalm 137 in the translation by Clément Marot: "Estans assis aux rives aquatiques". His translations would become one of the foundations of the Huguenot Psalter, but when he published them, they were not specifically connected to the Protestant cause. Otherwise Colin, who was also a priest, would not have published harmonisations of Les 50 pseaulmes de David traduictz par Clement Marot (...) en chant non vulgaire; mais plus convenable aux instrumens (1550).

Stylistically Colin's music is rooted in the Franco-Flemish tradition, and is dominated by imitative polyphony, although some passages are homophonic. Colin paid much attention to the text, which he wanted to be clearly intelligible. Therefore he "adjusted the melody to the measures, so that everyone hears not just a single word of the phrase, but entire phrases, and the ears are charmed by the melodious voices, while at the same time the mind receives the substance of the phrase (...)." He often quotes plainchant, which is especially discernible in the Magnificat, which - in line with tradition - is an alternatim setting. All the masses are in the 'parody mass' tradition. The Missa Ave gloriosa is based on a motet that has not been identified. It is considered an early work.

Four motets have been included. Hic est vere martyr is for the Common of One Martyr, Surge illuminare an antiphon for Epiphany, Cives apostolorum a responsory for the Feast of All Saints or the Common of the Apostles, and Alleluia Pascha nostrum a communion for Easter Sunday. Colin's extant secular oeuvre consists of seven chansons. This part of his output has been ignored here, except that one of them is performed here in a transcription for organ.

This leads to a notable feature of these performances: in most works the organ participates, and from time to time it makes itself heard quite clearly. Unfortunately performance practice is not discussed in the booklet. I would have liked to know what evidence there is for the use of an organ supporting the voices. They certainly don't need it, as the items without organ clearly show. I can't remember having heard this ensemble before, and I am quite happy with what I have heard here. La Note Brève is a fine ensemble that seems not to have released any discs before. I hope they are going to make further recordings. This disc is a substantial contribution to our knowledge of (French) renaissance music, and - as I have explained - includes several interesting features.

Anyone interested in renaissance polyphony should investigate this recording. Colin is definitely a composer who deserves to receive more attention.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

La Note Brève

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