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

St Martin's Chamber Choir
Dir: Timothy J. Krueger
rec: Feb 21a & April 18b, 2015, Denver, CO, St Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church
Toccata Classics - TOCC 0423 (© 2021) (60'42")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Score Missa Laudate nomen Domini

Missa Cantate Domino in cymbalis in G (No. 2)a; Missa Laudate nomen Domini in e minor (No. 5)a; Missa Collaudate Canticum in C (No. 6)b

Sources: Sex missae quatuor vocibus, 1772

In 2013 Toccata Classics released a disc with masses by a composer I had never heard of: Henri Hardouin. As the release was presented as "Volume One", I was expecting a sequence within a few years. Some time ago, when I saw that disc in my collection, I wondered whether the project of recording Hardouin's complete masses for four voices a capella, was abandoned*. As I had given up hope of seeing another disc with Hardouin's masses, the present disc was released. It may well be the last: Hardouin's extant oeuvre includes 22 masses, but only six were published. I wonder whether Timothy Krueger aims at continuing his exploration of Hardouin's oeuvre. There is certainly no lack of material: in addition to masses, Hardouin's oeuvre includes motets, hymns, settings of the Magnificat and music for Holy Week. According to the track-list in New Grove, he composed music for voices a capella, but also with orchestra. The masses recorded so far, suggest that Hardouin was quite an interesting composer.

Hardouin 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.

His six masses for four voices a capella have several notable features. First, all of them are written in the stile antico, which was common in the renaissance period, and whose most famous representative - in the eyes of later generations - was Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. This style included both polyphony and homophony. Imitative polyphony is rare in these masses. Several of the sections open polyphonically, but then turn to homophony. Otherwise polyphony is sometimes used in passages for reduced forces. It seems likely that Hardouin wanted to make sure that the text was always clearly intelligible. The passages for reduced forces bring us to the second feature. These masses have three layers: tutti, small choir and solo voices (always SAT). In this respect Hardouin links up with the tradition of the typically French genre of the grand motet, in which the vocal forces were divided in soloists, petit choeur and grand choeur.

Writing in the stile antico was not uncommon in the baroque era: in 17th-century Rome, for instance, composers often turned to the style of Palestrina, as the ecclesiastical authorities did not appreciate the modern concertato style. However, such works also included more up-to-date elements, and that is the case in Hardouin's masses as well. There are some striking moments of text expression. One of the most notable of them is the setting of the 'Crucifixus' in the Missa Cantate Domino in cymbalis. According to Krueger, it is "one of the most harmonically tortured passages in all six Masses (...), the three solo voices entering on a chromatically rising line that features the highly unusual interval of an augmented second (B flat to C sharp), and a delicious ambiguity between major and minor, the G minor tonality only really becoming established after a series of descending suspensions on the word 'passus' ('suffered'), and so this anguished section aptly depicts the pain implied in the text." Krueger also suggests that the fact that the Credo opens in triple time may be a reference to the Trinity.

In the Missa Laudate nomen Domini the 'Crucifixus' again includes chromaticism. It is notable that Hardouin pays much attention to this passage of the Credo text, whereas in many (Catholic) masses it is the 'Incarnatus', which has more weight. In this and the previous mass, there is a strong contrast between the 'Crucifixus' and the ensuing 'Et resurrexit', though the use of a different rhythm, a shift from minor to major and musical figures. In the Agnus Dei of this mass, sighing figures attest to the inclusion of 'baroque' Affekte in Hardouin's 'old-fashioned' music.

The Missa Collaudate Canticum is the shortest and the most straightforward of the six masses; it is fitting that it is in C major. It is probably no coincidence that in the Credo the passage 'Et in Spiritum sanctum' opens with a trio for solo voices.

Although the masses have different titles, it is not clear why these have been chosen. They are all taken from the Bible, but the masses don't include any musical material taken from known sources.

In addition to musical matters, there are a few issues with regard to the text. First, in all three masses the hymn O salutaris hostia, whose text is written by Thomas Aquinas, is inserted between the Sanctus and the Benedictus. In each of them, the Agnus Dei omits the last statement, ending with "Dona nobis pacem". Krueger is convinced that Hardouin expected performers to add it, and in his performances he makes use of material from the first two statements. One wonders why Hardouin did not give any indication in this matter. This seems questionable, as I wrote in my review of the first volume. I am still not convinced, but it will be hard to prove what is the right decision here. Lastly, each mass ends with a setting of the text Domine salvum fac: "Lord save the king, and hear us when we call upon you." This was customarily included in almost any grand motet in France under the ancien régime.

The St Martin's Chamber Choir comprises 24 singers, six in each voice group. It is probably impossible to say how many voices Hardouin had at his disposal. The singing is such that the transparency in the tutti episodes is satisfying. The choir shows the flexibility that is needed, and its members convince in the solo episodes. It is nice and praiseworthy that Krueger decided to use historical pronunciation.

Like the first volume, this sequel attests to the quality of Hardouin's oeuvre, and shows that he was more than just a voice in the choir. His six masses recorded so far prove that he was someone with a style that was different from that which dominated his time. That is reason enough to investigate these discs. In Krueger and his singers Hardouin has found his ideal advocates.

(*) The recordings took place only a few years after those of the first volume; it is notable that Toccata Classics is notoriously slow in releasing recordings.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

St Martin's Chamber Choir

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