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"Pour une Cathedrale - Messe, hymnes & motets de Titelouze, Fremart, Aux-Cousteaux"

François Menissier, organ
Les Meslanges
Dir: Thomas Van Essen

rec: May & July 2013, Mont-Saint-Aignan, Église Saint-Thomas de Cantorbery
Psalmus - PSAL 023 (© 2015) (62'00")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list
Scores Titelouze

Henri FRÉMART (?-after 1646): Missa ad imitationem moduli Verba mea auribus percipe a 4; Jehan TITELOUZE (1562/63-1633): A solis ortus, hymnus [1,2]; Ave maris stella, hymnus [1,2]; Exultet coelum, hymnus [2]; Magnificat 6. toni [3,4]

Sources: [1] Jean de Bournonville, 8 cantica virginis matris, qua vulgo Magnificat dicuntur, cum hymnis communibus pene totius anni 1612, 16252; Jehan Titelouze, [2] Hymnes de l'Eglise pour toucher sur l'orgue, avec les fugues et recherches sur leur plain-chant, 1623; [3] Le Magnificat, ou cantique de la Vierge pour toucher sur l'orgue, suivant les huit tons de l'Eglise, 1626; [4] Artus Aux-Cousteaux, Octo cantica Divae Mariae Virginis secundum octo modos, 1641

Sophie Pattey, cantus; Vincent Lièvre-Picard, alto; Thomas Van Essen, tenor; Jean-Louis Paya, bass; Eva Godard, cornett; Dimitri Debroutelle, Christiane Bopp, sackbut; Volny Hostiou, serpent

The sacred music written in France in the first half of the 17th century is probably less well-known than music of the same period from Italy or Germany. Whereas in Italy many composers wrote music in the new concertato style French sacred music of this period was still rooted in the stile antico of the 16th century. Henry Du Mont's Cantica Sacra of 1652 was the first collection of music by a French composer which included a basso continuo part. French organ music also took a special place, in comparison to such music written in Germany or Italy, as it was almost exclusively intended for liturgical use, especially the alternatim practice. The present disc offers an opportunity to become acquainted with French sacred music of the early 17th century.

Its starting point is Jehan de Titelouze who is often considered the father of French organ music. He was born in St Omer where he may have received his first musical training. In 1585 he entered the priesthood and acted as substitute organist at the cathedral. That same year he moved to Rouen where he was appointed organist at the cathedal in 1588. He held this position until his death. Rouen was an important centre of organ playing. In later years Titelouze's position was held by some of France's most renowned organists, such as Jacques Boyvin and François Dagincourt. Organists were expected to improvise and Titelouze's capabilities in this department were the main reason he was appointed in Rouen. But as not all organists were as skillful he published a set of Hymnes de l'Eglise pour toucher sur l'orgue, avec les fugues et recherches sur leur plain-chant in 1626, followed in 1636 by Le Magnificat, ou cantique de la Vierge pour toucher sur l'orgue, suivant les huit tons de l'Eglise. The latter contains verses of the Magnificat in the eight church modes; the programme opens with the Magnificat 6. toni. From the 1626 collection we hear three hymns: Exultet caelum, Ave maris stella and, closing the programme, A solis ortus cardine.

Unfortunately it is not possible to embed Titelouze's organ works in a programme with his vocal music. From a letter by Titelouze it is known that he composed masses and motets, but these are all lost. As an alternative we hear here the Missa Verba mea by Henri Frémart, who was from Picardy. The title is taken from Psalm 5 but the plainchant remains unidentified. The choice of this mass makes much sense as Fremart was master of the children at Rouen Cathedral from 1611 to 1625. This mass is one of eight from his pen which were all published in Paris; the Missa Verba mea is the last and was printed in 1645. The masses are dominated by imitative counterpoint and written in the stile antico.

All the works by Titelouze are alternatim compositions. This means that a number of verses have to be performed vocally. They were mostly sung in plainchant, but there are also other options. For the hymns the performers have chosen plainchant in faux-bourdon settings. This is "a technique of either improvised singing or shorthand notation particularly associated with sacred music of the 15th century", according to New Grove, but as this disc shows it was still in use in the early 17th century. In Ave maris stella and A solis ortus cardine we hear settings by Jean de Bournonville from a collection printed in 1612. The fact that it was reprinted in 1625 attests to its being widely used. At the time of publication he was director of music at the choir school of the collegiate church at Saint Quentin. He was winner of the Puy de Sainte Cécile, a music competition which took place every year in November in Rouen. From 1619 to 1631 he was maître de musique to the choirboys of Amiens Cathedral. When im 1623 the large organ was reinaugurated Titelouze and Frémart were both present.

In the hymn Exultet caelum we hear faux-bourdon settings by Volny Hostiou, written in the style of the time. In the case of the Magnificat 6. toni the performers have chosen polyphonic settings by Artus Aux-Cousteaux. He was probably from Amiens and was a student of Bournonville in Saint Quentin where he succeeded his teacher as maître de musique in 1631 and one year later also in Amiens. In 1634 he moved to Paris to become haute-contre at the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. In his compositions he sticks to the stile antico; according to Sébastien de Brossard he was a firm opponent of the basso continuo. He also disliked the use of instruments in polyphony which in his view was used to hide the poverty of a composition.

Even so, instruments are used in his settings of verses of the Magnificat; it would probably have been better to comply with Aux-Cousteaux's ideals. The instruments also participate in Frémart's mass, playing colla voce. The upper voice is supported by a cornett and the bass by a serpent; both were used in French cathedrals in the 17th century. The middle voices are accompanied by sackbuts. There seem to be good arguments for this practice as a document of 1624 shows that a sackbut had been purchased "to serve the music of this church" (in Rouen).

François Menissier plays an organ which was built in 2001 and modelled after French 17th-century organs from the northern part of France. It is in meantone temperament; the pitch is a'''=440 Hz. It turns out to be a very appropriate instrument and Menissier is an excellent interpreter. The singing and playing is also first-class. This results in a compelling performance of music which is largely unknown. Titelouze's hymns are available on disc, for instance in a performance by Marcus Goecke, but the vocal items are almost certainly recorded here for the first time. Because of that, and the fact that French sacred music from the first half of the 17th century is generally little-known this disc is a major addition to the discography.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Les Meslanges

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