musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Jehan TITELOUZE (1562/63 - 1633): Hymnes de l'Eglise pour toucher sur l'orgue

Markus Goecke, organ; Vox Resonat (Eric Mentzel)

rec: Sept 10 - 14, 2001, Bolbec, Église Saint-Michel
marc aurel edition - MA 20033 (2 CDs) (© 2012) (2.10.00")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

A solis ortus cardine; Ad coenam agni providi; Annue Christe saeculorum; Ave maris stella; Conditor alme siderum; Exultet coelum laudibus; Iste confessor; Pange lingua gloriosi; Sanctorum meritis; Urbs Hierusalem beata; Ut queant laxis; Veni creator spiritus

A large part of French organ music from the 16th until well into the 20th century has been written for liturgical use. It was especially the alternatim practice which was the incentive for organists to write music to be played in alternation with the choir singing verses in plainchant. It was only towards the end of the 17th century that secular elements were introduced in the organ repertoire. One of the forms of such music was the Noël, an arrangement of a popular Christmas song. In the 18th century more and more organ music for non-liturgical use was written, sometimes including transcriptions of extracts from operas.

In the music which is the subject of this production we are still far away from that phenomenon. Jehan Titelouze is considered the first significant composer of organ music in France. He was born in St Omer where he may have received his first musical training. In 1585 he entered the priesthood and acted as substitute organist at the cathedral. That same year he moved to Rouen where he was appointed organist of the cathedal in 1588. He held this position until his death. Rouen was an important centre of organ playing. In later years Titelouze's position was held by some of France's most renowned organists, such as Jacques Boyvin and François Dagincourt.

Considering the widespread alternatim practice in the liturgy it may surprise that relatively few compositions for this purpose have come down to us. Apart from the fact that some of what has been written may have been lost, the reason is that organists were expected to improvise. It was precisely for his skills in this department that Titelouze was appointed organist at the cathedral of Rouen. From that perspective we are lucky that at least some traces of his capabilities have been preserved in the two collections of organ music which were printed in his lifetime. In 1623 he published Hymnes de l'Eglise pour toucher sur l'orgue, avec les fugues et recherches sur leur plain-chant, followed in 1636 by Le Magnificat, ou cantique de la Vierge pour toucher sur l'orgue, suivant les huit tons de l'Eglise. The latter contains verses of the Magnificat in the eight church modes. The former is the subject of this disc and includes organ verses on twelve hymns for the various feast of the ecclesiastical year.

These are added to the titles of the hymns. Ad coenam agni providi is for Easter, Veni Creator Spiritus for Pentecost, Conditor alme siderum for the first Sunday of Advent and Urbs Hierusalem beata for the inauguration of a church, to mention just a few. The first verses are always set for organ, and they have the same character: the plainchant melody is in the bass which is played without any ornamentation. In the other verses the form of the fugue is regularly used. There is no direct connection between the organ verses and a specific text; in the score the verses are simply numbered from one to three or four, but without mentioning a specific part of the text. From that perspective it is possible to play the verses in random order. However, the fact that the first verse is intended to present the planchant melody as clearly as possible it should come first.

The collection doesn't include the texts of the hymns. This means that performers have to take them from a source with plainchant from the same time. That can cause some problems because hymns can appear with different texts and sometimes there are also various melodies for one text. That was also the case here. The starting point was a collection which Titelouze's contemporary Marin Mersenne recommended in his compendium Harmonie Universelle. Another collection from a little earlier was used for special text versions. In some cases the melodies were brought into harmony with those Titelouze used in his organ verses.

For the performance the German organist Markus Goecke went to the church St Michel in Bolbec. It has an organ which was built in 1630 in the Sainte Croix-Saint Ouen in Rouen and later moved to this church. It is quite possible that Titelouze himself might have seen it and even played it after it was built as he was also an organ expert who evaluated instruments and designed specifications for new organs. This particular instrument has been adapted to new aesthetic ideals during history, but in 2000 it was largely restored to its original state. Especially important is the meantone temperament and the pitch which are according to the situation in 1630. This same organ was used by Régis Allard for his recording of the organ mass by Gaspard Corrette.

The vocal ensemble comprises four singers who make use of a pronunciation which is different from the Italian pronunciation which is still very common, but also not entirely French as it is often practised in French music today. I don't know how much was known about this at the time this recording was made, and the booklet omits the issue. The fact that this recording has apparently been on the shelf for such a long time is hard to explain anyway, as Titelouze's organ music is not very well represented in the catalogue.

Goecke delivers good and stylish performances. The pedal in the first verses is registered in such a way that the cantus firmus is clearly exposed. In other verses I sometimes found the pedal part a bit too weak. In some verses the sound is a little massive, which could be due to the recording. I would have liked the miking a little less close. The singing of the vocal ensemble is excellent: every word is understandable, even without the booklet at hand.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of this release. It should have been published much earlier, but better late than never.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Markus Goecke
Vox Resonat

CD Reviews