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Henri HARDOUIN (1727 - 1808): "Complete Four-Part a cappella Masses, Volume One"

St Martin's Chamber Choir
Dir: Timothy J. Krueger

rec: April 21, 2012a & May 26 - 27, 2013b, Denver, CO, St Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0191 (© 2013) (60'48")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Score Missa Exaltate et invocate

Missa Exaltate et invocate nomen ejus a 4 (No. 4)a; Missa Incipite Domino in tympanis a 4 (No. 1)b; Missa Jucundum sit eloquium meum a 4 (No. 3)c

[soli] Erica Brandona, Ashley Hoffmannc, Julia Meladyb, soprano; MB Kruegera, Leslie Remmert-Soichc, Donna Wickhamb, contralto; Daniel Hutchingsb, Raymond Ortizc, tenor; Nathan Payant, baritonea; Timothy J. Kruegerb, Rick Wheelerc [chant incipit]

There is a good chance that you have never heard of a composer by the name Henri Hardouin before. That is hardly surprising. Although his oeuvre is considerable, it has not been catalogued as yet, and most of his compositions were never published. The present disc includes three of six masses which were published in 1772; this is the only printed edition of any of his works. How much he wrote is impossible to say as part of his output was destroyed by a fire in the cathedral of Rheims in 1914.

There he worked most of his life. He was born in Grandpré, a village in the Ardennes, the son of a blacksmith. At the age of eight he was accepted into the choir school of Rheims Cathedral. This offered him not only the opportunity of a good education, but it also was the path by which to move up the social ladder. Following choir school he entered the seminary and took minor orders in 1748. One year later, when he was only 22, he was appointed maître de chapelle at Rheims Cathedral which attests to his qualities as a musician. He held this post for 52 years, until his resignment in 1801. From 1791 to 1794 he had been relieved of his duties as a result of the anti-religious fervour of the French Revolution. During those years services at the Cathedral were suspended. Hardouin possibly took refuge with relatives on the countryside. In 1794, after the death of Robespierre, worship was restored, and Hardouin took up his duties again. In the next years he tried to restore the choir school. When he resigned in 1801 he left his entire oeuvre to the Cathedral school and returned to his birthplace.

The masses are scored for four voices, without any instrumental accompaniment. That suggests that they are written in the stile antico of the 16th century, and dominated by counterpoint. That is indeed the case. Writing in that style was not uncommon in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, most composers introduced elements of contemporary fashion into that old style, and so did Hardouin. These elements are in particular a closer connection between text and music than was common in the renaissance, sometimes including word-painting, and also the addition of ornamentation and the use of harmony for reasons of expression. Especially the passages in the Credo which refer to the incarnation and the crucifixion of Jesus are eloquently voiced in the music, and here we find some of the strongest dissonances and chromaticism. The scores include written-out ornaments which reflect the habits of the time. Modern elements are also the tempo indications in the scores and the contrasts in the number of voices required.

The latter aspect is especially interesting. The whole issue of the number of voices required in 18th-century sacred music is hotly debated, in particular in regard to the performance of Bach's oeuvre. We don't know how many voices Hardouin had at his disposal, but the fact that the scores include indications as solo, duo and trio and in particular petit choeur point in the direction of performances with more than one voice per part. Timothy J. Krueger, who also wrote the liner-notes, has given the various aspects of performance practice much thought. He opted for a historical pronunciation of Latin and describes how he has interpreted the various ornaments in the score. That sounds very convincing. The issue which is probably the most debatable is the use of dynamics. The score includes hardly any dynamic indications. "[It] is assumed that their absence meant not that the work was performed at a single volume, but that the performers would add dynamics as suggested by the text and the sense of the music. I have therefore taken the liberty of adding a discreet number of dynamic contrasts where I felt either the text, the music, or tradition called for it". This seems basically right. However, one of the features of pre-classical music is the distinction between 'good' and 'bad' notes which were performed differently, depending on the possibilities of the instrument. In the case of vocal music I could imagine a dynamic accentuation of the good notes. In that respect I feel that in this repertoire - probably written in the mid-18th century - stronger dynamic accents would not be amiss.

Another issue is the performance of the Agnus Dei. Most of the masses include just one setting of the first statement: "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi: miserere nobis". Krueger points out that the Agnus Dei usually comprised three such statements: the first and second with the same text, whereas in the third the last words are replaced by "dona nobis pacem". For that reason he has simply repeated the single statement in these masses. He may be right in this but it was not uncommon in masses to omit the last statement. There are quite some mass settings from the renaissance where that is the case. Moreover, the Mass No. 4 includes three statements in different scorings and with different music. One probably could conclude from this that in the other masses the second and third statements were omitted deliberately.

In some cases Krueger took some liberties in regard to the scoring, partly due to the different line-up of his choir in comparison with the forces Hardouin had at his disposal, and partly on the basis of his own view on the connection between the number of voices and the text. It is praiseworthy that Krueger discusses this issue openly. It is about the question to what extent a performer should stick to what the composer seems to have required and in what way he has the freedom to depart from it. The last word about this issue hasn't been spoken and probably never will be.

Hardouin is almost completely forgotten in our days. He was quite well-known in his time; the masses of 1772 seem to have found a good reception across the country, and some of his works for voices and instruments were performed at the Concert Spirituel in Paris. We also should not forget that Rheims Cathedral was not exactly a village church; it was there that the monarchs of France were crowned. That makes it all the more surprising that he is "a lost voice in French music", as Krueger entitles his liner-notes. Therefore this project of the recording of the six masses of 1772 is most welcome. It is to be hoped that other parts of his oeuvre will be explored to achieve a more complete picture of Hardouin's qualities as a composer.

These masses are not indispensable, but I have enjoyed them as well as the way they are performed here. Although I feel that more could have been made of them, especially in regard to dynamics, I admire the way Krueger approaches the repertoire and the singing of his fine choir. The ensemble is outstanding, and the passages for reduced voices as well as the sections for solo voices are executed very nicely. This disc makes me look forward to the second volume.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

St Martin's Chamber Choir

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