Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Josquin Des PREZ (c.1455-1521)
Missa Fortuna Desperata;
also Chansons 'La plus des plus'; Bergerette Savoysienne; Adieu mes amores;
Condiseres mes incessantes/Fortuna
Attrib.Busnois (1430-1492)
Fortuna Desperata;
Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517)
Bruder conrat/Fortuna;
Ludwig Senfl (1490-1556)
Herr durch dein bluet/Pange lingua/Fortuna; Anon
Fortuna Zibaldone;
Matthaeus Greiter (fl.c1535-1550)
The Clerks Group directed by Edward Wickham
Recorded West Wratting Church May 2000
ASV CD GAU 220 [69.10]
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The Clerks' Group have not recorded exclusively for ASV but this is, I think, their eleventh CD for them following on from Ockeghem, Barbireau and Obrecht (to name but a few). The contribution they are making to our understanding of early Flemish polyphony is very significant. They now tackle Josquin; all of the masses, I believe, are to follow. There are 18 of them; this one has never been recorded before. In fact this CD is all about the chanson 'Fortuna Desperata', as every work with the exception of the wonderful 'Adieu mes amores' is based on it.

This recording follows the Group's earlier approach. Wickham is interested in total clarity of line and therefore has one voice per part. There are recordings of Josquin with a larger choir, for example Westminster Cathedral on Hyperion singing the 'Missa Pange lingua' (CDA 66614) or 'A sei voce' performing the 'Missa Gaudeamus' (Auvidis E 8612). Any of these approaches can work well and it is down to personal choice. Perhaps it is a good thing to have different masses performed in a variety of ways. These singers are top quality and have a marvellous feel for the long line and phrase. They are helped also by the lovely acoustic of the church and some sensible microphone placement.

This is probably an early mass, but to say that needs a little explanation. You will find. in most books. that Josquin's birth date is generally given as 1445. Scholarship now gives us 1455 so that a mass from the 1480s as this may well be is an early work. Josquin's middle period is about 1500 and Petrucci published those masses from 1501. Late Josquin follows from c.1510 and is a suave style reminding me, at least, of the purity of Palestrina.

What immediately strikes one about the CD is the front cover. It is a reproduction of Piero Della Francesca's 'The discovery of the Wood of the True Cross' as found as part of a major group of frescos in Arezzo near Rome, and dated between 1452-1466. (Although I feel that it is in the paintings and woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) that one may find Josquin's real equivalent. Not only was he also a 'northerner', but his works have a clarity of line, a passionate humanism and virtuoso technique). Josquin was only a nipper when these frescoes were painted but he must certainly have seen them when he sang in the papal chapel in Rome in the mid-1480s. Piero lived on until 1492 so the two may well have met. As the text of 'Fortuna desperata' is in Italian and an immensely popular song at the time, I like the idea that it might have been written there. The chanson is almost certainly not by the Burgundian composer Antoine Busnois to whom only one of eighteen manuscripts attributes it. The disc opens with all three verses of the song but in three arrangements the middle one with an incredibly active bass part is certainly by Josquin.

No one can rightly say what made this melody so attractive to late medieval composers but it crops up again and again. Josquin shows his remarkable skill at Cantus firmus technique and one may say love of the melody in the many and varied ways in which he uses it. In the mass the melody is placed in the tenor as you would expect in Kyrie, but also in the superius part for the Credo where it is heard four times at four different speeds each time faster than before as if it gradually comes into recognisable view. In the Sanctus the bass part of the song appears in the contratenor part. In the Agnus, the melody again, starts in the superius and is then turned upside down and put into the bass part. These techniques can be detected and add to ones pleasure and amazement.

The four remaining chansons use the 'Fortuna' melody in the supporting tenor part. The texts, which fit with it, are slightly bizarre. 'Fortuna Zibaldone' concerns a peasant girl, a pheasant and a loaf of bread. I say no more. 'Herr durch' fits the melody with the Corpus Christi hymn 'Pange lingua glorosi', the excellent booklet notes attempt, slightly unsatisfactorily to explain this, and 'Bruder Conrat' tells us of a monk who dies in pain!.

Edward Wickham's accompanying notes are helpful but he makes, probably wisely, no attempt to date the mass. Also he reminds us that exactly 500 years ago in 1501 Petrucci published the first ever anthology of music ' Odhecaton' from which Josquin's chansons are taken. Petrucci went on to publish the most important music of the period, sacred and secular, including Josquin, in the years ahead.

Gary Higginson

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