Antoine BUSNOIS (c. 1430-1492) Missa L’homme armé [31.32] Gaude celestas domina [6.40] Anima
mea liqufactor[5.42] Petrus de DOMARTO (fl. 1450) Missa Spiritus almus [28.06] Jean PULLOIS (d. 1478) Flos de spina [5.36]
Binchois Consort/Andrew Kirkman
rec. All Saints, Tooting, London, 19-21 June 2001 HYPERION
HELIOS CDH55288 [79.07]
this CD when it first came out in 2002. I felt as if
I had arrived at the beginning of the story having several
years previously started in the middle and already reached
the end. Let me explain.
first L’homme Armé masses I paid much heed to
were those by Josquin on the Gimell label with the Tallis
scholars (CDGIM 019). They were written somewhere between
1500 and 1520. As a choirboy I once sang once the version
by Palestrina which was published in the 1590s. But it’s
through over twenty other composers that the L’homme
Armé masses began seriously to emerge. Recordings
have been easily available of the masses by Ockeghem
(Naxos 8.554297, Oxford Camerata), Tinctoris (CYP 3608,
The Clerks Group), Pipelare (SK 68258, Huelgas Ensemble),
Dufay (Naxos 8.553087, Oxford Camerata) and Robert Carver
(ASV CDGAU 126, Capella Nova). I mention all of these
discs just to show how popular it was to write a mass
on this odd little melody and also how popular it has
been to record them, no matter how obscure. Yet it appears,
if Andrew Kirkham’s notes are correct that this version
of Busnois may well be the earliest; indeed he may have
written the original ‘Armed man’ melody. What is so striking
in this mass is how clear the tune is within an often
quite complex texture. Right at the start - bar 4 of
the Kyrie, in fact - it makes a clear appearance in the
tenor part. It is often heard at climactic points and
is in addition so wonderfully written for the voices.
Not surprisingly, as you listen to this piece, you will
understand why Busnois was held in such high regard in
his lifetime. If Wikipedia is right he died in Belgium
suddenly whilst his music was in considerable circulation
this mass is not the beginning of the story because,
as Andrew Kirkman in his excellent booklet notes states,
this mass did not come out of nowhere: “one of the more
signal influences, was the other mass on this disc: the ‘Missa
Spiritus almus’ by Petrus de Domarto”. He goes on to
explain that the influences are Busnois’ “approach to
metre and, particularly, cantus firmus lay out”.
Kirkman goes on to explain further technical similarities.
Whilst the Domarto Mass is a fine work it is less striking,
especially at first. On the other hand, over the last
six years I have found in it a great deal to admire.
CD also has the motet ‘Gaude celestas domina’.
According to Andrew Kirkman this has been attributed
to Busnois on stylistic grounds by Rob Wegman who is
the guru of the music of the low countries of the 15th Century.
In his book 'Born for the Muses’ on p.64, Wegman makes
it pretty clear that Busnois Mass probably dates from
1472-3. Yet he must have overlooked the fact there are L’homme
Armé mass fragments which Wegman himself has dated
from the 1460s or early 1470s (p.235). My feelings are
anyway that this highly complex motet which is a virtuoso
exercise both in composition and in execution is a much
earlier piece. It is a hymn in praise of the Virgin “Rejoice
that you surpass all saints/You rule on this dais/….
As the powerful mother of God”. Its climax is a marvel
of counterpoint and the Binchois ensemble are on top
form making the lines rhythmically clear and neatly overlapping
Celestas domina’ is in strong contrast to 'Anima
mea liquefacta est’ with its melting, sensuous
text from The Song of Songs. It is very expressive
and, suitable for the words, has “pliable melodic lines
and concludes with a driving syncopated passage” bringing
the work to a joyous peroration.
Pullois’s ‘Flos de spina procreatur’ may well
have been first performed in Antwerp when Ockeghem -
who apparently was a fine bass - worked there. Kirkman
describes it as “ravishingly beautiful”. I don’t quite
warm to the piece myself but it brings the CD to an ideal
Binchois Ensemble has produced seven discs for Hyperion
of which this was, I think, the third. Let’s hope for
more because they are outstanding and one of the best
male vocal ensembles around. As a group they are prepared
to tackle the greatest music of the early renaissance
and make it live not as museum pieces but as an important
and vibrant part of the modern musical environment. The
music comes across as being as important as Mozart or
Brahms or Schoenberg. Each piece lives for itself and
each is displayed, in these wonderfully expressive and
superbly prepared performances, as a total masterpiece.
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