In our time many public
events, like the opening of parliaments
or the swearing in of a president, are
passing by without a single note being
sung or played, perhaps with the exception
of the national anthem. Hardly ever
does a composer receive an invitation
to compose a piece of music to be performed
during events like those, nor are compositions
commissioned at the occasion of the
signing of a peace treaty.
How different was the
situation in the past. Bach composed
cantatas at the occasion of the election
or change of the municipal council.
Purcell wrote his birthday odes for
kings and queens. In the renaissance
no political event took place without
the appropriate motets in praise of
the rulers taking part.
This disc contains
music which is connected to the 'Holy
Roman Emperor' Charles V (1500 - 1558).
Or rather 'could be' connected in one
way or another, since it isn't always
known for sure when and where the music
on this disc was performed.
One example is the
Mass 'L'homme armé' by De Morales,
which takes the largest part of the
programme. The song 'L'homme armé'
was a big hit in the 16th century, and
inspired many composers. In particular
the Order of the Golden Fleece, which
Charles was closely identified with,
commissioned compositions based on this
anonymous song, which were to be performed
at occasions like the institution of
As popular tunes were
often used as 'cantus firmus' for mass
settings, Cristóbal de Morales
used the tune of 'L'homme armé'
as such in this mass, which was perhaps
written for the wedding of Charles V
and Isabella of Portugal in 1526. If
this mass was indeed composed for that
occasion, it will not have been performed:
the wedding took place on 10th March,
which was the fourth weekend in Lent.
As weddings were usually forbidden in
the penitential season, Charles was
perhaps given permission on the condition
that no polyphony would be performed
As there is no firm
evidence that the mass was performed
at Charles' wedding, there is more certainty
in regard to Gombert's 'Qui colis Ausoniam',
which was written for the occasion of
the signing of the treaty between the
Pope, Charles and the Italian rulers
about the possession of Italy in 1533.
The text is non-sacred: it speaks about
the treaty being concluded "in the temple
of the two-faced god Janus". Also involved
in the conflict about Italy was the
French king Francis I, with whom Charles
concluded a truce in 1538. De Morales'
motet 'Jubilate Deo' was commissioned
by his employer, Pope Paul III. Here
we have a sacred text which includes
words of praise for Charles, Francis
and the Pope.
nowadays is one of the 'minor masters'
of the 16th century, but in his time
he was a celebrity, and one of Charles'
favourite composers. It seems certain
he wrote his motet 'Andreas Christi
famulus' in honour of St Andrew, patron
saint of the Order of the Golden Fleece,
for the Order's meeting in 1546 in Utrecht.
Motets could also function
as a kind of application. It seems the
motet by Lassus is an example of this,
as it directly addresses Charles and
refers to "divine music" as celebration
of his care for his people. Apparently
Lassus, still at the start of his career,
was interested to be part of Charles's
famous 'Capilla flamenca'.
The programme ends
with a piece Don Fernando de las Infantas,
a courtier of Charles's son Philip II
of Spain, composed at the occasion of
the emperor's death in 1558.
This recording gives
ample evidence of the importance of
music in the politics and society of
the renaissance. And some of the texts
demonstrate the self-evident connection
between politics and religion in those
It is an established
fact that there were considerable regional
differences in the style of singing.
It is therefore reasonable to assume
that the music on this programme wasn't
always performed in the same way. Some
ensembles have taken into account the
results of research in this field. Unfortunately
the Chapelle du Roi isn't one of them.
The sound of this ensemble is very British,
which is perhaps less than ideal for
music by, for instance, a Spanish composer
like De Morales.
is the amount of vibrato of some singers
in the ensemble, which is particularly
evident in the passages for reduced
Otherwise there is
a lot to enjoy, in particular in the
more jubilant pieces, like De Morales'
motet 'Jubilate Deo'. The rather gloomy
character of the penitential motet with
which the programme ends is realised
a little less convincingly.
By the way, according
to the tracklist the Credo of the Mass
by De Morales is sung after the plainchant
Alleluia Qualis pater. In fact, it is
the other way round.
Johan van Veen