musica Dei donum
Andreas PEVERNAGE (1542/43 - 1591): "The Musical Universe of Andreas Pevernage - Chansons, motets, madrigals"
rec: Sept 11 - 13, 2020, Antwerp, Sint-Pauluskerk
Ramée - RAM2006 (© 2021) (71'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Antoine BARBÉ (c1505-1564):
Missa Vecy la danse de Barbarie (Agnus Dei) ;
Séverin CORNET (c1520-1582):
Tibi laus, tibi gloria ;
Benedictio et claritas ;
Ces deux yeux bruns ;
Congratulamini mihi omnes ;
D'estre amoureux ;
Deux que le trait d'Amour ;
Il dolce sonno ;
Infinita beltà ;
La vita fugge ;
Las, me faut il ;
Laude pia Dominum;
Misericorde au povre vicieux ;
Pater noster ;
Quando la voce ;
Si dessus voz levres ;
Susanne un iour ;
Tousiours l'amant ;
Geert VAN TURNHOUT (c1520-1580):
Missa O Maria vernans rosa (Kyrie) 
 Tilman Susato, ed., Liber secundus missarum quatuor vocum a prestantissimis musicis, 1545;
 Antonio Gardano, ed., Novi atque catholici thesauri musici liber tertius ... octo, septem, sex, quinque, quatuor vocum compositae, 1568
 Pierre Phalèse/Jean Bellère, eds., Praestantissimorum divinae musices auctorum Missae decem, quatuor, quinque & sex vocum, 1570
 Frederik Lindner, ed., Sacre cantiones cum quinque, sex et pluribus vocibus, 1585
 Andreas Pevernage, Livre premier contenant chansons spirituelles à cinq parties, 1589
 Pierre Phalèse/Jean Bellère, eds., Harmonia celeste di diverse musici a IIII. V. VI. VII. et VIII. voci, 1589
Andreas Pevernage,  Livre second des chansons à cinq parties, 1590
 Livre troisième des chansons à cinq parties, 1590
Pierre Phalèse/Jean Barrère, eds.,  Bicinia, sive cantiones suavissimae duarum vocum, 1590
 Melodia olympica di diversi eccellentissimi musici a IIII. V. VI. et VIII. voci, 1591
 Pierre Phalèse, Le Rossignol musical des chansons à quatre, cinc et six parties, 1598
Michaela Riener, mezzo-soprano;
Bart Uvyn, alto;
Adriaan De Koster, tenor;
Lieven Termont, baritone;
Guillaume Olry, bass
Many music lovers, except those with a specific interest in renaissance music, may never have heard of Andreas Pevernage. He has become mainly known for his so-called 'picture motets'. The disc under review here seems to be the very first that is (almost) entirely devoted to him.
Andreas Pevernage was born in Harelbeke, a town near Courtrai (Kortrijk) in present-day Belgium. Very little is known about his education and the early stages of his career. The first documents of his activities date from 1563; at that time he was magister cantus et choralium at St Salvator's in Bruges. In September of that year he was appointed choirmaster at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw church in Courtrai. During this time he composed motets and elogia which were published in 1578. Earlier some of his motets had been included in anthologies published by Antonio Gardano in Venice, a clear token of the appreciation of his music. In the late 1570s Courtrai was in the midst of a religious - and, as an effect of that, political - turmoil. Pevernage left the town and became choirmaster at St Jacob's in Bruges. In 1585 he started his work as choirmaster at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Cathedral in Antwerp. There he stayed in office until his death.
His time in Antwerp turned out to be quite fruitful as far as his compositional activities are concerned. He took advantage of the development of Antwerp into a centre of music printing. Since 1543 Tylman Susato had been working there as a music printer, and in 1578 Christophe Plantin started to print polyphonic music. In 1581 Pierre Phalèse II moved from Leuven (Louvain) to Antwerp. It is during his Antwerp years that Pevernage composed his chansons and madrigals, in addition to more motets. The present disc includes specimens of all three genres.
Two motets are unique in that they belong to a particular genre, known as 'picture motet'. Such a motet was part of an engraving, for which it was especially written. Willem Elders, in his book Symbolic Scores: Studies in the Music of the Renaissance (1994), describes the production process thus: "The composer gave the artist his music, the artist copied it note for note into his painting, and the engraver transferred the representation onto a copper plate, from which prints were eventually made." Only thirteen motets of this kind are known: five are written by Pevernage, and among the other composers is Orlandus Lassus. Eight 'picture motets', including the two performed here, were published by Johannes Sadeler in Frankfurt and Nuremberg respectively. Laude pia Dominum is a setting of verses from Psalm 118, and is part of a painting of two choirboys and three men, singing from a choirbook, accompanied on the harp by King David. The text of Osculetur me is taken from the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, and in this motet King Solomon is pictured, sitting on his throne, flanked by lions.
Congratulamini mihi omnes is one of Pevernages early motets and was published by Gardano in 1568. Pater noster and Benedictio et claritas are part of collections of chansons. That seems a little strange, but it was no exception to include both secular and sacred pieces in one collection. They are placed at the end, and that suggests that they were intended as a way to turn the attention of the owner from the secular to the sacred - from the world to heaven.
Pevernage was a quite prolific composer of chansons. Four collections were printed from 1589 to 1591 by Christophe Plantin. They were in great demand: booksellers in London purchased copies in large numbers. The fact that Phalèse published a reissue of the collections in two volumes in 1606 and 1607, fifteen years after the death of Pevernage, further attest to their popularity.
Some of the chansons have a spiritual text. In the preface to his first volume Pevernage wrote that he wanted to keep the secular and the spiritual chansons separate, "so as not to mix heaven and earth". That is notable as in his time there was no watershed between the two categories. Bruno Boeckaert, in his liner-notes, notes that some chansons have a 'Protestant character', and refers to the influence of Clément Marot, who wrote texts for the Genevan Psalter. "Misericorde au povre vicieux is based on the psalm versifications of Clément Marot; it takes the syllabic melody from the Geneva Psalter as inspiration for the motifs that will be developed polyphonically." He also points out that some chansons include declamatory and homophonic passages which make it easier to comprehend the text. One wonders whether Pevernage was influenced by French composers of his time, such as Claude Le Jeune, who also wrote chansons that are mostly homophonic and syllabic, following the ideals of a group of poets known as La Pléiade. The best-known text set by Pevernage is Susanne un jour; many composers set this text, and Lassus was responsible for probably the most famous version. Deux que le trait d'Amour is an example of a secular chanson, where the text is directly illustrated in the text, not only through madrigalisms, but also its scoring. It opens with the text "Two whom Love's stroke touches keenly have but one thought, one desire, one flame." This inspired Pevernage to set the entire chanson for two voices.
Lastly, the madrigals. Pevernage composed five such works, which he included in an anthology, which also contained madrigals by Italian composers, such as Luca Marenzio, Giaches de Wert and Lassus. Four of them are performed here. The edition was dedicated to the Milanese patron Cesare Omodei, whose name appears in Quando la voce. La vita fugge is a setting of a poem by Francesco Petrarca and the text of Il dolce sonno is taken from Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso.
The programme includes three pieces by other composers: mass sections by Geert van Turnhout and Antoine Barbé respectively, and a motet by Séverin Cornet. The reason for their inclusion in this programme is that they were among Pevernage's predecessors as choirmaster of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe Cathedral in Antwerp.
If one wants to bring a little-known composer to the attention of an audience, the question is: what is the best way to do that? It seems to me that Utopia has found the answer. First, we get a booklet with just enough information to put the composer into his historical and musical context. Second, the programme is put together in such a way that the main genres to which the composer contributed, are represented, and offers as much variety as possible. This is all done very cleverly. Obviously, this is useless if the performances don't live up to the expectations. That is not the case here. On the contrary: Utopia delivers superb performances. It made quite an impression before with a disc of Lamentations by Cristóbal de Morales. Those pieces were also not very well-known, and with this disc Utopia continues its search for less familiar repertoire. Pevernage is not an unknown quantity, but is generally considered what scholars use to call a Kleinmeister. Pevernage does not deserve such a derogatory description. What we get here is very fine music, and that goes for all three genres that are represented.
The personnel of Utopia has changed a little since the previous recording, but its quality is still impressive. Five outstanding voices, blending perfectly, an impeccable intonation and great attention to detail. This disc fully deserves a special recommendation.
Johan van Veen (© 2022)