OCKEGHEM: Missa L'homme arme / JOSQUIN: Memor esto verbi tui (Jeremy Summerly/ Oxford Camerata) (Naxos: 8.554297)
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Missa L'homme arme;Ave Maria; Alma Redemptoris Mater
Memor esto verbi tui
There are three factors that have affected the choice of music recordedhere. First, the recording was made a few days before the 500th anniversary ofOckeghem's death (the composer died on 6th February 1497). Secondly, thisrelease forms part of the Oxford Camerata's series of Renaissance masses basedon the fifteenth-century Burgundian song L'homme arme (Naxos: Dufay8.553087, Obrecht 8.553210, Josquin 8.553428). Thirdly, Josquin's extraordinarymotet Memor esto servi tui is the model on which a previously recordedanonymous setting of the Nunc dimittis was based (Naxos: RenaissanceMasterpieces 8.550843).
The Ave Maria, which opens this recording (like the MissaL'homme arme), survives in a source copied for a Burgundian nobleman veryshortly after Ockeghem's death. Having said that, the Ave Maria wasadded to this sumptuous manuscript (the so-called Chigi Codex) almost twodecades after its original assembly. Although only a short work, Ockeghem's AveMaria is noteworthy for a number of reasons: it makes no reference to anypre-existent material; it demonstrates beautifully the composer's fluidapproach to harmonic rhythm; and it ends with a short 'Amen' low in thetessitura which culminates in a minor chord. By contrast, Ockeghem's setting ofthe other Marian text on this recording - Alma Redemptoris Mater - is anairier work that uses the Alma Redemptoris plainchant as its model(heard on this recording immediately before Ockeghem's motet). If Ockeghem's AveMaria is a reverential genuflection to the Virgin, then the AlmaRedemptoris is an ecstatic serenade.
Ockeghem's Missa L'homme arme is a largely austere work, possiblyas a response to the foursquare and belligerent nature of the song on which itis based. It is difficult to say with certainty exactly how Ockeghem respondedto the text of the mass because the sources are far from clear in this regard.
However, the soaring cantus firmus at the words tu solus altissimus (youalone are the highest) in the Gloria, or the athletic setting of theword vivificantem (giver of life) in the Credo can surely be noaccident. Similarly, the strength of the elliptical modulation at the end ofthe Credo and the glorious musical arch that forms the opening sectionof the Sanctus show a composer whose dramatic involvement with the textof the Mass was frequently at a premium. In order to make some reference to theshape of the liturgy, on this recording a plainchant Offertory, its textfrom Psalm 34 (Psalm 33 in the Vulgate), has been inserted at the central pointof the Mass to mark the progression from the Ministry of the Word to theConsecration. The Missa L'homme arme ends with a sublimely dark-texturedAgnus Dei, a stylistic innovation that Ockeghem frequently used to greateffect, nowhere more poignantly than at the end of this remarkable work.
However much or little the succeeding generation learnt from Ockeghem,the innovations of Josquin set a standard for the high Renaissance. Memoresto verbi tui shows a fascination for melodic imitation and texturalcontrast, and exhibits a deliberately structural use of resonant four-voicewriting. Memor esto verbi tui is a setting of sixteen verses from Psalm119 (Psalm 118 in the Vulgate); it dates from the first decade of the sixteenthcentury and its genesis is an interesting one. According to the earlysixteenth-century musical theorist Heinrich Glarean: "Louis XII, theFrench king, had promised Josquin a benefice. When the promise remainedunfulfilled (as is wont to happen at the courts of kings), Josquin composed themotet Memor esto verbi tui with such majesty and elegance that, when itwas brought to the song school and examined with strict justice, it was admiredby everyone. The king, filled with shame, did not dare to defer any longer, andimmediately discharged the favour which he had promised." This account isborn out by the fact that the motet survives in fourteen sources and wasevidently widely known during Josquin's lifetime, although much of the motet'sfame was probably due to Josquin's nerve in setting the words Memor estoverbi tui servo tuo (Remember your word to your sevant) in such anobviously urgent manner both at the beginning and end of the motet. Memoresto verbi tui is a model of early Renaissance balance and (along withHaydn's 'Farewell' Symphony) is one of the greatest musical invoices ofall time.
J. C. Summerly 1997