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Josquin BASTON (fl 1542 - 1563): "French and Flemish Chansons"

Ratas del viejo Mundo
Dir: Floris De Rycker

rec: May 30 - June 1, 2021, Antwerp, AMUZ
Ramée - RAM 2103 (© 2022) (58'17")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Josquin BASTON: Doulce memoire [8]; Dum transisset Sabbatum [9]; Een gilde heeft syn deerne [5]; Een gilde jent reet laest naer Ghent [5]; Een meysken was vroech opgestaen [5]; Eheu dolor; Fors seullement [4]; Languir me fais [2]; Lecker Beetgen en Cleyn Bier [5]; Lyden en verdraghen [5]; Si loyal amour [1]; Si mon languir [6]; Si pauper nihil off erat [10]; Si tu te plains [6]; Spes mea Domine; Toutes les nuyctz [7]; Verhuecht u nu [5]; Johannes LUPI (c1506-1539): Dueil double dueil [3]

Sources: Tilman Susato, ed., [1] Premier livre des chansons a quatre parties, 1543; [2] Vingt et six chansons musicales, 1543; [3] Le second livre des chansons a quatre parties, 1544; [4] L'huitiesme livre des chansons a quatre parties, 1545; [5] Musick Boexken mit vier Partien, Deel 2, 1551; [6] Pierre Phalèse, ed., Tiers livre des chansons a quatre parties, 1552; Tilman Susato, ed., [7] La Fleur des chansons et second livre en quatre parties, 1552; [8] La Fleur des chansons et cinquiesme livre à trois parties, 1552; [9] Liber quintus ecclesiasticarum cantionum, 1553; [10] Liber tertius ecclesiasticarum cantionum, 1553

Michaela Riener, soprano; Soetkin Baptist, mezzo-soprano; Anne Rindahl Karlsen, alto; Tomàs Maxé, bass; Salomé Gasselin, Garance Boizot, viola da gamba; Floris De Rycker, lute, guitar

The ensemble Ratas del viejo Mundo likes to explore unknown territory. It did so recently with a disc of music by Jean Boyer, a French composer from the first half of the 17th century. It also recorded chansons and madrigals by Philippe de Monte, who is pretty familiar by name, but whose oeuvre is not that well-known. The disc under review here comprises music by Josquin Baston, who in all likelyhood was from Flanders, as was De Monte. However, little is known about him, neither the date and place of his birth nor when he died. There is even some confusion about his first name, which may have been Josquin or Jean. It has led to quite some insecurity about his identity. He is sometimes identified with a composer who has been active in Vienna and spent some time in Poland, where he appears with the Christian name of Jodocus/Jodok/Jost. And then there is a manuscript preserved in Dresden, which includes a mass written by a certain Johannes Baston. To date it is impossible to establish whether all these names refer to the same person.

It seems likely that Baston was a pupil of Johannes Lupi. That may explain his composition of Eheu dolor, which is a elegy for Lupi, and part of a genre known as déploration. One of the most famous of such works is the one Josquin Desprez wrote at the occasion of the death of Johannes Ockeghem. In such pieces a secular text was usually combined with words from the Requiem. That is also the case here: one of the voices sings "Requiem aeternam dona ei Domine". It is preceded by a piece by Lupi himself.

According to New Grove, which offers only five lines on his life and work, he has left twelve motets for four to six voices, included in various anthologies; a book with motets by Baston has been lost. Otherwise there are three motets and a chanson for three voices, twelve chansons for three to six voices in several anthologies, and six songs in Dutch (although Marc Vanscheeuwijck, in his liner-notes, mentions seven, and says they are in Flemish, emphasizing the difference between the two languages). This disc offers a survey of Baston's output.

It is a little odd that the Latin pieces are called 'sacred chansons'. They are taken from two collections of cantiones ecclesiasticae, which means that they can be ranked among the genre of the motet. The chansons are in French, but are different from the chansons written at the time by French composers, such as Sermisy and Marot, which were predominantly homophonic. In comparison the chansons of Baston are written in imitative counterpoint. They are performed here in different combinations of voice(s) and instruments, as are the motets.

The songs are various: some are of a quite popular character, and remind me of much older songs, for instance from the Gruuthuuse manuscript; examples are Een gilde heeft syn deerne and Een meysken was vroech opgestaen. In comparison, Lyden en verdraghen is more serious, and closer in style to the French chansons. The performers adapt their interpretation to the character of the various pieces.

However, I don't find all the decisions entirely convincing. In Spes mea Dominum, for instance, we first hear the bass with instruments, and then the piece is performed again by the entire ensemble. The former option seems questionable: instruments may have played a role in the performance of motets, but probably not in such a prominent way as is the case here. Some pieces receive a purely instrumental performance, which is certainly a legitimate option, but I would have preferred a vocal version. The last item, Si tu te plains, is a bit odd: the voice is male, but it is too high for the bass. Is it sung by Floris De Rycker, accompanying himself on the lute? Whereas the other items are performed in historical pronunciation, this piece is sung in modern French. I don't understand why.

All issues notwithstanding, this is an interesting and important release, as it sheds light on a forgotten master. We may never know exactly who he was, but his music is of fine quality and deserves to be performed. Recordings like this one help to complete the picture of 16th-century music history.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Ratas del viejo Mundo

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