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Music for the Court of Maximilian II
Jacobus VAET (c.1529-1567)
Videns Dominus a 5 [04:55]
Antonius GALLI (d.1565)
Missa Ascendetis post filium a 6 [34:00]
Jacobus VAET
Conditor alme siderum a 6 [06:43]
O quam gloriosum a 4 [02:18]
Pieter MAESSENS (c.1505-1562)
Discessu dat tota tuo a 6 [03:58]
Jacobus VAET
Ascendetis post filium 'In laudem Invictiss. Rom. Imp. Max II' a 6 [06:50]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594)
Pacis amans a 6 [05:07]
Jacobus VAET
Continuo lacrimas 'In mortem Clementis non Papae' a 6 [03:39]
Cinquecento Renaissance Vokal
rec. June 2006, Dominikanerkirche, Retz, Austria DDD
HYPERION CDA67579 [67:35]



Until the start of the 19th century most composers were in the service of emperors, kings or aristocrats. As a result music and politics were strongly intertwined.
 
In the 16th century the Habsburg dynasty was by far the most powerful in Europe, ruling the largest part of Central Europe, the Low Countries and Spain. As music was an essential part of everyday life, and certainly in the life of the Habsburg family, many pieces were written in their honour or for special occasions. There would be works to mark an enthronement, a marriage or a birth.
 
Composers who were members of the emperor's chapel were first-rate musicians. Most of them are still well-known and their works are regularly performed and recorded. But there are exceptions, and one of them is Jacobus Vaet. He was born about 1529 in the Southern Netherlands. In 1543 he entered the Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk in Kortrijk as a choirboy, and in 1547 began at the University of Louvain. In the 1550s he was a member of the Court of Emperor Charles V. In 1554 he became Kapellmeister of Charles's nephew, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, whom he followed to Vienna where Maximilian was crowned emperor Maximilian II in 1564.
 
Vaet was held in high esteem. In 1564 a collection of 23 motets was printed in a volume in which works by Vaet appeared alongside pieces by Lassus – apparently they were considered equals. The appearance here of a motet by Lassus is very appropriate. After his premature death many eulogies on Vaet were written, for instance by Jacob Handl (Gallus) and Antonius Galli, who also composed a mass on a motet by Vaet. Although Vaet was short-lived, his oeuvre is pretty large including nine mass settings and 66 motets. From 1961 to 1968 a complete edition of his works was published, but for some reason he never made it into the programmes of renaissance music ensembles. His works are however being rediscovered in our time: apart from this disc the German label Ars Musici has started a Vaet edition with the Dufay Ensemble. The volumes which have been released so far show the unmistakable qualities of Vaet's music. The performances are splendid, so they can be recommended to anyone interested in Vaet's music.
 
This disc is definitely a good appetizer. The motet 'Ascendens post filium' is a so-called 'state motet', a piece which written in honour of a royal person, in this case Maximilian II. It is one of Vaet’s 17 state motets. It is a paraphrase of verses from I Kings 1, in which Solomon is anointed king of Israel at the orders of his father David. At the end of the first section, which says: "I shall teach him, so that he may be your ruler", Vaet uses running scales to express joy. The ensemble takes the liberty of singing this forte. This use of dynamics is one of the distinguishing features of this ensemble's performances. It is also used at several moments in the Galli mass, which is based on Vaet's motet. In 1554 he was listed as "Cantor" of Maximilian's chapel, from which moment he was steadily promoted; at the end of his life he was "Hofprediger" (court preacher). The mass makes frequent use of the most characteristic motif from Vaet's motet, the ascending scale with which it begins. Rhythmic alterations and homophony are used to single out specific passages.
 
The other pieces on this disc show different aspects of renaissance composing. Vaet's motet 'Conditor alme siderum' is an alternatim setting of a hymn sung at Vespers during Advent. The odd-numbered verses are to be sung in plainchant. The first piece on this disc, Vaet's motet 'Videns Dominus', is about the raising of Lazarus. Here again the ensemble sings forte, at the end of the first section, when Jesus is quoted crying "Lazarus, come forth". Ascending and descending scales depict the opening of the tomb.
 
The motet 'Discessu' by Pieter Maessens is a logical addition to the programme. Maessens was a member of the chapel of Maximilian's father Ferdinand. He was responsible for recruitment to the choirs of both Ferdinand and Maximilian. It is very likely that it was through him that Vaet entered Maximilian's chapel. Maessens' motet is "an enigmatic puzzle canon based on Maximilian's name"; so writes Stephen Rice in the booklet. This procedure is known as soggetto cavato "because the subject is 'carved' from the dedicatee's name". "Maessens's soggetto is then imitated in the lower fifth in the first part of the motet, and subsequently at the upper fourth. A Latin poem indicates that – in addition to the two canonic voices – the discant and tenor parts can be reversed, making multiple versions of the piece possible." Intellectual games like this are one of the aspects of renaissance compositional practice.
 
The disc ends with a piece which was not composed for the Habsburg chapel. 'Continuo lacrimas' was written "in mortem Clementis non Papae", at the occasion of the death of Jacobus Clemens non Papa. He was one of the most famous representatives of the Franco-Flemish school, who died in 1555 or 1556. Vaet had also used one of Clemens' motets for a parody mass. In this motet Vaet uses the introitus from the Requiem Mass, 'Requiem aeternam', as cantus firmus.
 
This is the first recording by the ensemble Cinquecento. The ensemble consists of six singers from five countries: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the UK. They are particularly interested in lesser-known repertoire from the renaissance. They couldn't have made a better start than with this disc. I very much like the sound of the ensemble, which is full and warm, and at the same time very clear and bright. Fortunately there are no wobbly voices here. One feature of this recording is the relaxed manner of the singing: even at the top of their range – and some notes are very high. Not once do the upper voices sound stressed. The recording is also brilliant acoustically speaking: just the right atmosphere for this kind of music. If there is a point of criticism it is the Italian pronunciation of the Latin texts: I sincerely doubt that this was the way Latin was pronounced in the Habsburg lands.
 
I strongly recommend this disc because of the quality of the music and of the performance. On top of that it brings to the catalogue repertoire that has not been recorded before.
 
Johan van Veen
 



 


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