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"Music for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor"

Chapelle du Roi
Dir: Alistair Dixon

rec: March 6 - 8, 2000, London, St Jude's Church, Hampstead
Signum Records - SIGCD019 (© 2004) (75'49")

anon L'homme armé; Thomas CRECQUILLON (? - 1557) Andreas Christi famulus a 8; Nicolas GOMBERT (1500 - 1556) Qui colis Ausoniam a 6; Don Fernando DE LAS INFANTAS (1534 - 1610?) Parce mihi Dominea 5; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1440 - 1521) Ave Maria a 4; Orlandus LASSUS (1532 - 1594) Heroum soboles a 6; (Il primo libro de mottetti, 1556) Cristóbal DE MORALES (1500? - 1553) Jubilate Deo a 6; Missa L'homme armé a 5; plainchant: Propers for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

Sources: [1] Lassus, Il primo libro de mottetti, 1556

Elizabeth Franklin-Kitchen, Emma Preston-Dunlop, soprano; William Missin, Stephen Taylor, William Towers, Robin Tyson, alto; Keith Halliday, Daniel Ludford-Thomas, Benjamin Rayfield, Jonathan Stoughton, tenor; Francis Brett, Nigel Brookes, Eamonn Dougan, Giles Underwood, bass

In our time many public events, like the opening of parliaments or the swearing in of a president, are passing by without single note being sung or played, perhaps with the exception of the national anthem. But almost never a composer receives the invitation to compose a piece of music to be performed during events like those, nor are compositions commissioned at the occasion of the signing of a peace treaty. How different was the situation in the past. Johann Sebastian Bach composed cantatas at the occasion of the election or change of the municipal council, Purcell wrote his birthday odes for kings and queens and in the renaissance no political event took place without the appropriate motets in praise of the rulers taking part.

This disc contains music which is connected to the 'Holy Roman Emperor' Charles V (1500 - 1558). Or rather 'could be' connected in one way or another, since it isn't always known for sure when and where the music on this disc was performed. One example is the Missa L'homme armé by Cristóbal de Morales, which takes the largest part of the programme. The song L'homme armé was a big hit in the 16th century, and inspired many composers. In particular the Order of the Golden Fleece, which Charles was closely identified with, commissioned compositions based on this anonymous song, which were to be performed at occasions like the institution of new members.

As popular tunes were often used as cantus firmus for mass settings, Morales used the tune of L'homme armé as such in this mass, which was perhaps written for the wedding of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal in 1526. If it was indeed composed for that occasion, it will not have been performed: the wedding took place on 10th March, which was the fourth weekend in Lent. As weddings were usually forbidden in the penitential season, Charles was perhaps given permission on the condition that no polyphony would be performed during liturgy. Here the mass is performed with additional propers for the Feast of the Holy Trinity, sung in plainchant.

As their is no firm evidence that the mass was performed at Charles' wedding, there is more certainty in regard to Gombert's Qui colis Ausoniam, which was written for the occasion of the signing of the treaty between the Pope, Charles and the Italian rulers about the possession of Italy in 1533. The text is non-sacred: it speaks about the treaty being concluded "in the temple of the two-faced god Janus". Also involved in the conflict about Italy was the French king Francis I, with whom Charles concluded a truce in 1538. Morales' motet Jubilate Deo was commissioned by his employer, Pope Paul III. Here we have a sacred text which includes words of praise for Charles, Francis and the Pope.

Thomas Crecquillon nowadays is one of the 'minor masters' of the 16th century, but in his time he was a celebrity, and one of Charles' favourite composers. It seems certain he wrote his motet Andreas Christi famulus in honour of St Andrew, patron saint of the Order of the Golden Fleece, for the Order's meeting in 1546 in Utrecht.
Motets could also function as a kind of application. It seems Lassus's motet Heroum soboles is an example of this, as it directly addresses Charles and refers to "divine music" as celebration of his care for his people. Apparently Lassus, still at the start of his career, was interested to be part of Charles's famous 'Capilla flamenca'.
The programme ends with Parce mihi Domine, a piece Don Fernando de las Infantas, a courtier of Charles's son Philip II of Spain, composed at the occasion of the emperor's death in 1558.

This recording gives ample evidence of the importance of music in politics and society of the renaissance. And some of the texts set to music demonstrate the self-evident connection between politics and religion in those days.

It is an established fact that there were considerable regional differences in the style of singing. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the music on this programme wasn't always performed the same way. Some ensembles have taken into account the results of the research in this field. Unfortunately the Chapelle du Roi isn't one of them. The sound of this ensemble is very British, which is perhaps less than ideal for music by, for instance, a Spanish composer like Morales.
Also disappointing is the amount of vibrato of some singers in the ensemble, which is particularly evident in the passages for reduced forces. Otherwise there is a lot to enjoy, in particular in the more jubilant pieces, like Morales's motet Jubilate Deo. The rather gloomy character of the penitential motet by Don Fernando de las Infantas is realised a little less convincingly.

By the way, according to the tracklist the Credo of the Mass by Morales is sung after the plainchant Alleluia Qualis pater. In fact, it is the other way round.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

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