musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"François Ier - Music of a reign"

Doulce Mémoire
Dir: Denis Raisin Dadre

rec: Nov 5 - 11, 2013, Fontevraud, Abbaye (CD 1); March 26 - 30, 2014, Chambord, Château (CD 2)
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT357 (2 CDs) (© 2015) (69'58", 77'23")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

[CD 1] Mass for the Field of the Cloth of Gold
[in order of appearance] Pierre ATTAINGNANT (c1494-1551/52) (ed): Pavanes; plainchant: Da pacem, Domine; Claudin DE SERMISY (c1490-1562): Missa Quare fremuerunt gentes a 5 (Kyrie); Jean MOUTON (c1459-1522): Da pacem Domine a 6; Nicholas LUDFORD (c1485-1557): Missa Benedicta et venerabilis a 6 (Gloria); anon: Bonus et miserator; Antonius DIVITIS (c1470-c1530): Credo a 6; Jean MOUTON: Reges terrae congregati sunt a 4; Nicolas LUDFORD: Missa Benedicta et venerabilis a 6 (Sanctus); anon: O salutaris hostia; Nicolas LUDFORD: Missa Benedicta et venerabilis a 6 (Benedictus); Claudin DE SERMISY: Missa Quare fremuerunt gentes a 5 (Agnus Dei); Jean MOUTON: Verbum bonum et suave a 8
[CD 2] "The Chambre du Roi"
anon: Je suis déshéritée; Vecy le may; Pierre ATTAINGNANT (ed): Basse danse Celle qui m'a le nom; Basse danse Content désir; Basse danse La volunté; Galliarde Contre raison; Pavane & gaillarde L'oeuil pres et loing; Pierre CERTON (?-1572): Contentez-vous; Je suis déshéritée; L'oeuil pres et loing; Las je my plains; O joly bois; Reviens vers moy; Si par fortune; Susanne un jour; Tant que vivray; Antoine DE FÉVIN (c1470-1511/12): Vecy le may; Claude GERVAISE (fl 1540-1560): Pavane; Didier LUPI II (mid 16th C): Susanne un jour; Johannes LUPI (c1506-1539): Reviens vers moy; Hilaire PENET (?-c1501?): Au joly bois; Pierre PHALÈSE (c1505/10-1573/76) (ed): O combien est; Albert DE RIPPE (c1500-1551): La volunté; Pierre SANDRIN (c1490-after 1560): Celle qui m'a le nom d'amy donné; La volunté; Claudin DE SERMISY: Content désir; Contentez-vous; Contre raison; Las je my plains; Tant que vivray

Véronique Bourin, Clara Coutouly (1), soprano; Paulin Bündgen, alto; Hugues Primard, Marc Manodritta (1), Vincent Bouchot (1), tenor; Tomás Král, baritone (2); François Fauché (1), Marc Busnel, bass; Eva Godard, cornett; Franck Poitrineau, Stéphane Müller, sackbut; Elsa Franck, Denis Raisin Dadre, Johanne Maître (2), Jérémie Papasergio, recorder, renaissance oboe, renaissance bassoon; Miguel Henry, lute (2); Pascale Boquet, lute, guitar (2); Bruno Caillat, drum; Philippe Vaillepin, speaker (1)

In the renaissance and baroque periods royal and aristocratic courts were centres of arts and music. A position at such a court was very much in demand among composers as it gave them some security and greatly enhanced their status. The opposite was true as well: the quality and standing of court composers enhanced the status of their employers. There was quite some rivalry in this respect and that could also have been a part of the meeting between the French king Francis I and his English colleague Henry VIII. The first disc of the set of two to be reviewed here is devoted to this meeting, which took place at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520.

Francis was born in 1494 and the first king of France from the Angoulème branch of the House of Valois. In 1515 he succeeded his cousin and father-in-law Louis XII. In 1520 he hosted a meeting with Henry VIII in order to increase the bond of friendship between them following the Anglo-French treaty of 1514. In 1518, through the work of Cardinal Wolsey, the Treaty of London was signed as a non-aggression pact between the major European powers of the time. But less than a year later the pact was already in danger of falling apart, largely due to Charles V being crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. To preserve the peace, Wolsey arranged a meeting between Henry VIII and Charles V, the new Holy Roman Emperor, and a meeting of Henry VIII and Francis I of France. This second meeting was to be in France, near the English-held town of Calais.

"The event took place at La Val Doré (since known in English as the Golden Dale), a valley in Flanders situated between the town of Ardres and the castle of Guînes. A sumptuous tent was erected to receive Their Majesties and a site was chosen to hold the tournament, which featured jousts, tourneys, and hand-to-hand combats. A serious organisational problem arose: since the town and the castle had both been ravaged by recent warfare, where could the participants be accommodated? The French decided to set up four hundred tents in a meadow. It was these, covered in velvet and cloth of gold, decorated with coats of arms and standards, more sumptuous, according to an eyewitness account, than the pyramids of Egypt and the Roman amphitheatres, that gave their name to the meeting, which was henceforth referred to as the Field of the Cloth of Gold" (booklet).

The two monarchs used the opportunity to display the wealth and grandeur of their courts. The meeting which lasted about two and a half weeks, closed with a Mass on 23 June celebrated by Cardinal Wolsey, legate of England and principal counsellor of Henry VIII, assisted by the papal legate, 21 bishops and three cardinals. Thanks to the description in contemporary accounts we are informed about the nature of this event. Both chapels participated and sung the various parts of the Mass in turn. On the French side it was the Chapelle de Musique, which comprised boys and adult singers and was sometimes supported by instruments. It is not known which composers were present but it seems likely that among them were Jean Mouton, one of the most admired masters of his time, and Claudin de Sermisy who was first in the service of Anne of Brittany and after her death entered the service of Francis. Also a member of the chapel was Divitis, who was born in Flanders as Antonius Rycke and later Gallicised his name to Antoine Le Riche. These composers are represented with liturgical music in the programme.

On the English side it was the Chapel Royal which participated in the Mass. This chapel also comprised of boys and adult singers but whereas the members of the Chapelle de Musique exclusively performed sacred music the English also took part in secular events, such as masquerades. The singers present at the event are known, and among them were Robert Fayrfax, the Master of the Children William Cornyshe as well as Nicholas Ludford, a member of Henry's collegiate chapel at St Stephen's, Westminster. The fact that he seems to have been a favourite of Henry inspired Denis Raisin Dadre to choose his Missa Benedicta et venerabilis for this recording.

It allows for an interesting comparison between the two styles of composing which is analysed in some detail by Raisin Dadre in the booklet. The difference in the connection between text and music is especially striking: in Ludford we hear the long melismas which are a feature of English music of the time, for instance in the Eton Choirbook, which makes the text often almost unaudible. That is very different in the mass sections by Sermisy who also keeps the five-part texture and only extends the number of parts in the Agnus Dei whereas Ludford constantly switches, from six to three, and juxtaposes trios of high and of low voices. The differences are emphasized by the use of instruments in the French parts and an a cappella performance of Ludford's mass movements. This results in a most fascinating contrast between the two musical cultures. It would have been even more striking if the English music had been sung by British singers.

The reason for this production was not so much the meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold but rather the accession to the throne of Francis I in 1515, 500 years ago in 2015 when this set of discs was released. The historical event of 1520 gave the opportunity to shed light on sacred music under Francis' reign, the second disc focuses on secular music at court. Francis was a great patron of the arts and especially of literature. It is unlikely that he had a more than average interest in music; in any case he had not received a musical education. Even so, Francis's innovation to create a body of musicians specific to the Chambre du Roi, was "probably his most important in the realm of music", according to Raisin Dadre. Under Louis XII musicians at court were domestic officers without a specific status. Francis's innovation included the creation of a category known as chantre de la Chambre. A group of lutenists and organists was also organised and musicians who played various string and wind instruments were known as joueurs d'instruments. As a result Francis had his personal group of musicians who followed him on his travels.

The second disc includes vocal and instrumental music. Raisin Dadre decided to omit the most famous composer of chansons of the time, Clément Janequin, partly because his music is so well documented on disc. He rather turned his attention to Pierre Certon, Claudin de Sermisy and Pierre Sandrin. The former's main collection of chansons, Les meslanges of 1570, has been preserved incomplete: the quintus part is missing. Since these parts have been reconstructed by Marc Busnel these chansons can be performed again and that allows the inclusion of a number of them in this recording. Most of the chansons are performed twice: in different vocal settings (mostly performed in a mixture of voices and instruments), in instrumental versions of vocal settings or in dances which are derived from vocal originals. The latter are mostly taken from collections which were put together and printed by Pierre Attaingnant or Pierre Phalèse.

This way we get a differentiated picture of performance practice at the French court in the renaissance. A particularly interesting aspect is also the use of ornamentation which is more extended than we probably are used to in performances and recordings of chansons. This practice is largely based on a treatise by Adrianus Petit Coclico, Compendium Musicae of 1552.

Doulce Mémoire is one of the finest ensembles specialised in renaissance music, with a particular focus on French music. The singers and players know this music inside out and Raisin Dadre has painstakingly tried to come as close to the historical circumstances and the extant sources as possible. As one would expect historical French pronunciation is used in the sacred and the secular repertoire.

This is the ideal musical compendium to any historical account of French history of the first half of the 16th century. But it is more than that: this is music to be enjoyed in its own right. The book which accompanies these two discs includes a wealth of historical and musical information, also in regard to performance practice. This production is a musical monument of the highest standard.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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