Mass of Tournai / St. Luke Passion (Antony Pitts/ Jeremy Summerly/ Tonus Peregrinus) (Naxos: 8.555861)
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The Mass of Tournai St Luke PassionThis recording brings together the earliest completepolyphonic settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, and the Passion narrative(from St Luke's Gospel). Their appearance, one in mid-fourteenth-centuryTournai, on the Western border of present-day Belgium, and the other inearly-fifteenth-century England, marks a new stage in the development ofWestern music. For many centuries plainchant (so-called Gregorian), itselfderived originally from Jewish chant and other sources, was the overridingmusical vehicle for the sacred texts used in the Christian liturgy. With theperspective of two long millennia, the emergence of notated polyphony inmanuscripts seems to parallel human development from infancy to adulthood; onthat scale, these late mediaeval pieces are like teenagers about to leave home- able to do many things with frequently striking individuality, but not yetendowed with the full-grown self-assurance of late fifteenth-century andsixteenth-century polyphony. If this seems a patronising 21st-centuryassessment, it should be remembered that the fourteenth century was a time ofmusicological struggle between what could be sung and what could be writtendown. The harmonic implications of adding several extra voices to existing orpseudo-plainchant were both enticing and dangerously uncharted, and by the endof the fourteenth century the levels of rhythmic complexity were pushed toextremes not heard again until the cerebral experiments of many atwentieth-century composer. Againstthis background, the Mass of Tournai can be seen for what it is, a collectionof anonymous Mass movements by a number of composers in older and moreup-to-date styles, compiled for use in the huge spaces of Tournai Cathedral inthe first half of the fourteenth century, and antedating Machaut's masterlysetting of the Mass for Rheims Cathedral by a generation or so (Naxos8.553833). The Cathedral at Tournai was at that time the focal point of a largediocese and was clearly in touch with important musical establishmentselsewhere (versions of the Credo and Ite missa est are both found inmanuscripts associated with the emigre papal court at Avignon). It was near theback of one of the Cathedral's manuscripts, full mostly of plainchant indifferent scribal hands, that the Mass of Tournai was rediscovered in 1862. TheMass has since been linked with various supplicatory services that were held inresponse to the terrible events of the 1340s, the siege by the English kingEdward III and his allies (soon after the start of the Hundred Years' War) and thearrival of the Black Death in 1349. In that same year, the Bishop of Tournai,Jean des Pres, instituted a daily sung Mass that called for six trained singers- perhaps the Mass of Tournai was thus called into regular service. Thesix movements of the Mass of Tournai are surprisingly diverse (on thisrecording they are heard side-by-side without intervening plainchant in orderto aid comparison). The Kyrie is relatively archaic and presents someintriguing questions about musica ficta, while the Gloria displays thecharacteristic intricacy of the ars nova (the 'new art' of the early fourteenthcentury), and with its immense 'Amen' is at least as ambitious as thecorresponding movement in Machaut's Mass. The Credo is a mostlynote-against-note setting that conveys the text modestly but very effectively;the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are bell-like settings that hark back to the oldrhythmic modes, but seem to push forwards in terms of harmonic colour. The Itemissa est is (unlike Machaut's setting) a polytextual motet with a love-song ina French dialect on the top line and a moralistic Latin poem for the motetuspart - quite how it was performed in the context of the liturgy is not clear,but the psychological effect is one of release and an inescapable connectionbetween spiritual and worldly matters. Despitethe superficial fact that both the Mass of Tournai and the St Luke Passion arein three-voice polyphony, they are cultural worlds apart. This recording seeksto show off those geographical and historical differences by using specificlocal pronunciations for the Latin texts, and partly by varying the ensemblecolour in the Passion to reflect the expressive demands of the music and themomentous text it carries. Settingsof the Passion are part of an ancient tradition within the Church in which allfour Gospel accounts of the Passion are sung to plainchant in Holy Week (StLuke's account on the Wednesday). Over the centuries the three main elements ofthe story were separated out onto different reciting tones, and later given todifferent singers. This increasing dramatisation is further enhanced in thethirteenth-century Rationale Divinorum Officiorum where there is a directive todifferentiate between the ritual Gospel tone of the Evangelist and the words ofJesus (to be sung sweetly) and those of the crowd (correspondingly harsh andloud). Whether that had any direct effect on the composition of this St LukePassion is immaterial; the depth of response to the drama of the story in itsnewly-composed polyphonic sections is undeniable. Theanonymous St Luke Passion is found in the \Windsor" Manuscript (Egerton 3307),probably written or compiled for St George's, Windsor, in the early fifteenthcentury. The first part of the collection is liturgical music for Passiontideand Easter (interestingly, it includes a three-voice setting of part of theMass on the pages just before the St Luke Passion - which itself contains adetailed account of the Last Supper); the second part of the manuscript ismainly made up of Latin and English carols for Christmas, along with adrinking-song. Although the music of the St Luke Passion is relativelyold-fashioned, most striking is the characteristic sweetness of theEnglish-style harmony, particularly set against the bare recitation tones ofthe Evangelist and the words of Jesus. This sweetness, given the poeticdescription "la contenance Angloise" by Martin le Franc, was noted and absorbedby continental musicians throughout the fifteenth century and saw its ultimatelate-mediaeval flowering in the glorious euphony of England's Eton Choirbook. Itwas in the Eton Choirbook that the Passion tradition reached another milestone,with a composer's name attached for the first time: Richard Davy's St MatthewPassion. The Passion settings of J.S.Bach are well-known; in our own time,composers such as Arvo Part in his St John Passion (Naxos 8.555860) have onceagain returned to the traditional Latin text and the ritualistic framework ofthe medieval Passion. Apartfrom the questions of interpretation already noted above, there remain theimportant matters of performance pitch and tempi. As with the question of whichaccidentals should be added by the singers - sometimes to avoid the awkwardmelodic outline of a tritone, and sometimes to underline the cadential effectof two parts moving by contrary motion onto a perfect consonance (such as afifth or an octave), truly satisfactory answers can be suggested only byrepeated rehearsal and performance. We hope our solutions on this recording makesense to both the erudite and the unsullied ear.Antony PittsThis recording is dedicated to Luke Warren who was bornduring (but not at) the recording sessions.Many thanks for help in preparing the performing editions goboth to Joanne Whitworth and to Nick Sandon, whose publication of English chantin The Use of Salisbury, Vol. IV (Antico Church Music) was the basis for ourreading in the St Luke Passion.