Oh Flanders Free: Music of the Flemish Renaissance

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The dominant position of Franco-Flemish composers in the musical worldof the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is testimony not only to the culturalclimate of Northern France and the Low Countries in that period but also to theexample set by Burgundy. Established as a dukedom under Philip the Bold in1363, the territory grew through inheritance and dynastic marriages to includethe most prosperous region of Europe, Flanders and Brabant, while the marriagein 1477 of the Burgundian heiress Marie, after the death of her father Charlesthe Bold, to Maximilian of Austria saw Burgundy revert to France and the LowCountries to the Habsburgs, The court of Burgundy in its heyday set an exampleof magnificence and luxury to the other courts of Europe, attracting artists ofthe highest distinction, In England Henry VII, victorious in the War of theRoses, was among those rulers who sought to emulate Burgundy, importing artistsof all kinds from the Low Countries, a tradition that continued under hissuccessor, while the states of Northern Italy fell under a similar influence.

The present album provides a brief conspectus of Franco-Flemish musicalinfluence in the fifteenth century and the first half of the sixteenth. Itopens with the familiar Introit from the Gregorian Requiem. Thisis followed by two excerpts from the Songbook of Zeghere van Male, copiedfor the Bruges merchant of that name in 1542, an anonymous instrumental Preludiumand a polyphonic setting of the brief text for the living and the dead, LausDeo.

Thomas Fabri was a pupil in Paris of the French composer Jean de Noyers,otherwise known as Johannes Tapissier, who had served as a chamber musician toPhilip the Bold of Burgundy. In 1412 Fabri was appointed choirmaster at theCathedral of St Donatian in Bruges, a city then at the height of itscosmopolitan prosperity. His Ach Vlaendere vrie ('Oh Flanders free') isone of his two surviving three-voice secular songs.

A native of the northern French town of Busne, from which he takes hisname, Antoine Busnois may have been a pupil of Ockeghem in Paris. He wassubsequently in the service of Charles the Bold of Burgundy and, after thelatter's death in 1477, of the Duke's daughter, Marie of Burgundy, until herdeath in Bruges five years later. Busnois died in 1492 in the same city, wherehe was employed as master of choristers at the church of St Sauveur. Hisfour-voice Alleluya is largely harmonic in conception.

There follows an instrumental piece attributed to the Italian Jewishcomposer Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, a dancing-master whose writing on the artis of considerable importance and enjoyed wide contemporary popularity for itspractical advice. The dance Falla con misuras has the alternative title Bassacastiglia. It is a basse-danse, a court dance that, with itssucceeding mesures, reached its height of fashion at the Burgundiancourt.

Contemporaries coupled the name of Johannes Ockeghem with that of hissupposed pupil Busnois. Probably a native of Flanders, he served at Notre Damein Antwerp and was later employed at the court of Charles I, Duke ofBourbon, the husband of Agnes of Burgundy, sister of Philip the Good. From theearly 1450s he was in the service of the French court under Charles VII and hissuccessor, Louis XI, rewarded him with a number of benefices. The tribute paidto him on a visit to Bruges in 1484 suggests a possible earlier connection withthe city and with the composer in the service of the Dukes of Burgundy, Gillesde Binche dit Binchois, to whom he expressed his debt. His chanson Mamaistresse was regarded by his contemporaries as a model of its kind,serving as the basis of a Mass setting by the composer himself and as afamiliar source for quotation byothers. Ockeghem's chanson D'ung aultre amer ('To love another') wasalso widely known, serving as a basis for a number of compositions by othercomposers.

The prosperous city ofFlorence was a major cultural centre in Italy, particularly under the rule andpatronage of the Medici family, who became absolute rulers of the city and itssurrounding region in 1532. The musicians employed in Florence includeddistinguished practitioners from Northern Europe, but Mattio Rampollini,represented here by a light-hearted song in praise of Bacchus, god of wine, wasa native of the city, master of choristers at the cathedral and in the serviceof the Medici family.

The greatest composerof his day, Josquin des Prez is thought to have been a native of Picardy. Thefirst certain surviving reference to his career finds him employed as a singerat Milan Cathedral and later in the service of the ruling Sforza family, inassociation with which he became also a singer in the papal choir. For a timeat the French court, he returned to Italy, to Ferrara. There he was finallysucceeded by Obrecht, when he left in 1503 to return to Northern France, wherehe died in 1521. El grillo ('The Cricket'), a frottola, puns onthe name of the singer Carlo Grillo, employed by Galeazzo Maria Sforza, whosemusical establishment of forty singers included some score of French or Flemishmusicians. It suggests, in its setting, the song of the cricket.

It seems possible thatJosquin spent some time in Florence in the years 1487 and 1488, when his nameis missing from the list of singers in the papal chapel. Heinrich Isaac, anative of Flanders, spent ten years or more in Florence under Lorenzo theMagnificent, until the latter's death in 1492. In 1497 he became court composerto the Emperor Maximilian I, in Vienna, enjoying a certain freedom of travelthat took him back to Florence, where he had married, and to various cities ofthe Empire. He died in Florence in 1517. Isaac had been briefly in Innsbruck onhis first journey south to Italy in 1484 and he spent some time there in 1500and 1501, when in the service of the imperial court. His well-known song Innsbruck,ich muss dick lassen is unusual in its harmonic chorale-like setting.

The manuscript fromwhich the anonymous Sergonta Bergonta is taken was copied in 1502 byLodovico Milanese for use either in Ferrara or Mantua. The language of the textis a mixture of Italian, French, Spanish and newly invented words.

Josquin's Mass knownas La sol fa re mi is based, it has been suggested, on the solmizationof Cardinal Ascanio Sforza's frequent postponement of payment to his musicians,with the words Lascia fare mi (Let me see to it). Whatever the accuracyof this attribution, the music itself is based on the sol-fa notes indicated, A- G - F - D - E, in transposition. The light-hearted Guillaume se va chaufer(Guillaume goes and warms himself) is attributed to Josquin through amisinterpretation of Heinrich Glarean's Dodecachordon of 1547, where itis included among the many musical examples given.

Marguerite of Austria,daughter of Marie of Burgundy and Maximilian I, was three years old when, afterthe death of her mother, she was betrothed to Charles, the Dauphin of France,the first of her three husbands, none of whom were to live long. Subsequently,as Regent of the Netherlands, she held court at Malines, where she continued toencourage music and the arts. Collections of chansons made for her include theanonymous Cueurs desolez ('Sorrowful hearts'), suited to a court inmourning.

Two further settingsof D'ung aultre amer ('To love another') include an instrumental versiondated, from its manuscript source, to about 1430, followed by a furtherversion, making use of the well-kno
Disc: 1
Mijn hert altijt heeft verlanghen
1 Requiem aeternam
2 Preludium
3 Laus Deo
4 Ach Vlaendere vrie
5 Alleluya
6 Falla con misuras
7 Ma maistresse
8 Ach Vlaendere vrie
9 D'ung aultre amer
10 Bacco, Bacco
11 El grillo
12 Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen
13 Sergonta Bergonta
14 Kyrie (Missa 'La sol fa re mi')
15 Guillaume se va chaufer
16 Cueurs desolez
17 D'ung aultre amer
18 D'ung aultre amer / Lhome arme
19 Pastime with good company
20 Passe and Medio / Den iersten gaillarde
21 Ogn'hor per voi sospiro
22 Mijn hert altijt heeft verlanghen
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