Doleo - Chansons and motets for Margaret of Austria
Ninot LE PETIT (fl. C.1500-1520)
Mon seul plaisir [3:24]
En doleur, en tristesse [1:51]
Heinrich ISAAC (1450-1517)
Et qui la dira [1:16]
Pierre DE LA RUE (c.1460-1518)
Il viendra le jour désiré [2:05]
Me fauldra il [5:59]
Pierre DE LA RUE
Autant en emporte le vent [1:04]
Pourquoy non ne suis-je morir [3:21]
Josquin DESPREZ (c.1450-1521)
Entrée suis en pensée [1:54]
Se je souspire/Ecce iterum [4:38]
C'est ma fortune [9:07]
Pierre DE LA RUE
Pourquoy tant me fault il attendre [2:08]
Quant il survient chose contraire [2:08]
Pour ung jamais [1:55]
Las, helas, las, seray-je repris? [2:01]
Mille regretz [2:11]
Dulces exuviae [3:16]
Pierre DE LA RUE
Doleo super te [2:39]
Vexilla regis prodeunt [2:13]
Ave, Regina caelorum [3:01]
Epitaphion Alexandri Agricolae Symphonistae regis Castiliae [3:55]
Cueurs desolez [2:50]
Costanzo FESTA (1490-1545), arr Ludwig SENFL (c.1486-1542/43)
Quis dabit oculis [5:56]
Antoine BRUMEL (c.1460-c1515)
Tous les regretz [2:54]
Peñalosa-Ensemble (Susan Eitrich (soprano), Sebastian Mory (altus), Jörg Deutschewitz (tenor), Pierre Funck (bass))
rec. July-August 2009, Schlosskapelle Seehaus, Germany. DDD

One is inclined to think that the life of royalty and aristocracy in the renaissance and baroque eras was full of glitter and glamour. Often it was. But princes and aristocrats had their share of the darker sides of life, just the same as every human being. Seldom is this so openly and strongly reflected in music as in the case of Margaret of Austria. Her life was full of disappointment and misery, and therefore it is hardly surprising that her personal songbook was filled with gloomy pieces. This disc brings a selection of the compositions she collected as her personal favourites. The title of the disc is telling: "Doleo", "I am distressed". It is the first word of the motet Doleo super te by Pierre de la Rue, who was Margaret's favourite composer.

Margaret had every reason to be distressed. She was born in 1480 as the daughter of emperor Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy. Misery started early, when her mother was killed in a hunting accident - Margaret was just two years of age. She was supposed to marry Charles VIII, but was renounced by him for political reasons. She married John of Castile instead, but he died within a year after their marriage. Two months later Margaret suffered a miscarriage. She then married Philibert of Savoy, but he died after only three years. Shortly afterwards her brother, Philip the Handsome, died as well, and as a result she became governor of the Habsburg-Burgundian Netherlands in 1507. She would rule this region for 23 years.

During her reign the court in Brussels developed into a centre of the arts. Margaret herself was artistically gifted: she danced, sang, played several instruments and wrote poetry. She also collected paintings by some of the most famous painters of her time, like Jan van Eyk and Hieronymus Bosch. Pierre de la Rue who had already served other Habsburgs, like Maximilian and Philip the Good, had a special position at the court. The large number of his compositions present in Margaret's songbook bear witness to that. He also set some of Margaret's poems to music. He was a composer of great repute: his compositions have been found in many regions in Europe. Many of his chansons reflect the sadness which dominated Margaret's life.

Most other compositions performed here are of the same kind. The anonymous En doleur, en tristesse says: "In sorrow, in sadness, I shall surely languish forever". Me fauldra il is no different: "Must I languish like this forever? Must I die like this in the end?" The chanson by Pierre de la Rue which was mentioned before, Doleo super te, is one of the gloomiest pieces on the disc. The text is the lament of King David (not Daniel, as the liner-notes say) about his friend Jonathan. It is set at an unusually low pitch; although it is expressive in this performance, some of its effect is nullified by the upward transposition.

Some pieces are specifically written on the occasion of the death of Margaret's relatives. The anonymous Se je souspire/Ecce iterum is about the death of her brother Philip the Handsome. The text of the bass expresses the sadness of the event: "Behold, again a new affliction comes, and it was not enough that the most unfortunate daughter of the emperor lost the husband she loved above all else, but bitter death also took her only brother." The motet Quis dabit oculis was originally written by Costanzo Festa at the death of Anne of Brittany, Queen of France. It was adapted by Ludwig Daser to express grief at the death of Maximilian I: "Woe is us, Lord, Maximilian passed away!".

Sad music often makes the strongest impression, and that’s no different here. The music is expressive in its own way. We won't find much text expression in the manner of the late 16th-century madrigals, but there are some striking examples here. The above-mentioned chanson by De la Rue is one of them, another is Tous les regrets by Antoine Brumel, which contains a harsh dissonance on the word "doleur" (sorrow). The anonymous Epitaphion Alexandri Agricola - a lament on the death of the composer Alexander Agricola, who was at the service of Margaret's brother Philip the Handsome - closes with the line: "Where did the sun stand? In the sign of the Virgin." These last words are illustrated by a steeply ascending line in the upper part.

This disc is the second of the German Peñalosa-Ensemble. Their first was devoted to the Spanish composer who has given the ensemble its name, Francisco de Peñalosa. I haven't heard it, but I am definitely going to look for it, because I am impressed by this recording. The four singers have very nice voices, and their legato is immaculate. The balance within the ensemble is very good, and none of the voices is overpowered by others. Most vocal quartets consist of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The track-list says Sebastian Mory sings 'altus', but that refers to the part he sings; his voice is tenor.

The sadness of most compositions on the programme is well expressed. The French texts are pronounced in a historical way, and to that end the singers have been advised by an expert in this department. The acoustic is intimate - exactly what this repertoire needs. The booklet contains informative programme notes, although the reference to the lament of Daniel about the death of Jonathan is a major gaffe. The lyrics are printed with translations in English and German, and - in the case of a Latin text - also in French.

The combination of repertoire and performance makes this a disc to treasure.

Johan van Veen

The combination of repertoire and performance makes this a disc to treasure.