Anne of Brittany was the sole heiress of the Duke of Brittany
and as such ruler of Brittany in her own right. She married
two successive Kings of France; as a result the independent
duchy of Brittany was absorbed into France. On her death, in
1514, there were magnificent obsequies starting at the Royal
castle of Blois, where she died. These stopped en route at Notre-Dame
Cathedral in Paris and finished at Saint-Denis where the Kings
of France were buried.
We know from the descriptions of the chroniclers that a Requiem
Mass was sung and we also know that the both the King's and
the Queen's chapel choirs were involved in the services. The
Queen's chapel choir included Jean Mouton, Jean Richafort, Claudin
de Sermisy and Pierre Moulu; the King's chapel choir was directed
by Antoine Fevin and included Johannes Prioris.
Prioris, Richafort and Fevin wrote Requiem Mass settings which
survive, as did those of de la Rue and Brumel though these latter
were not connected with the court. Richafort's Requiem seems
to be associated with the death of Josquin Deprez in 1521. We
don't know which Requiem mass was sung at Anne of Brittany's
obsequies. So when selecting the work, Denis Raisin Dadre chose
the Requiem of Fevin because from the Sanctus onwards Fevin
uses five voices, adding a second bass part.
Fevin's setting follows the Use of Paris rather than that of
Rome, so that the Gradual sets the Psalms Si ambulem, Virga
tua and Sitivit anima mea; there is no Dies Irae.
Fevin uses the plainchant extensively, often sticking quite
close and leaving the plainchant in the tenor part.
Doulce Memoire uses an ensemble of five singers; Paulin Bundgen
(alto), Hugues Primard (tenor), Vincent Bouchot (baritone) and
basses Marc Busnel and Philippe Roche. There’s an instrumental
ensemble of seven (Eva Godard, Franck Poitrineau, Johanne Maitre,
Elsa Frank, Jeremie Papaserio, Denis Raisin Dadre) playing cornet,
sackbut, flute and dulcian. They mix various performance modes,
ranging between unaccompanied, instruments and voices mixed
and purely instruments. When using voices and instruments, not
all the lines have voices as was the way in the period. De Lupus's
motet Miserere Mei Domine and De La Rue's Coeurs desolees
/ Dies Irae are given in purely instrumental versions interpolated
in the mass.
The result is intensely evocative and beautifully rendered.
The singers create an ensemble in which line is paramount and
the individual voices are nicely characterised whilst never
compromising the whole. The plainchant combined with Fevin's
rather straight harmony results in something rather sombre and
dark, which develops into a remarkable richness when Fevin adds
the second bass part. The singing is nicely balanced and they
retain intensity for the full length of the piece; Fevin's Requiem
could be quite a plain piece but Doulce Memoire ensure our interest
They open with a pair of motets. Like De La Rue's Coeurs
desolees / Dies Irae, Moulu's Iere attropos and Josquin
Desprez's Coeur Desolez mix the sacred and secular, with
one voice singing the sacred text and the others a secular one.
The result is, to our ears, a funny mix but including such pieces
helps us to start coming to grips with the fact that the past
is certainly another country.
The group are also concerned to reflect the popular Breton support
for Duchess Anne. So the polyphony is counterpointed with Breton
solo songs - gwerziou, which in Breton means lament.
These are sung by Yann-Fanch Kemener, a specialist in Breton
monophonic songs. Kemener has a very distinctive voice which
certainly contrasts with that of the singers in the ensemble
and may not be quite to everyone's taste. Whilst I can appreciate
the reasons behind the decision, I am not quite sure the contrast
comes off. Additionally, I would rather have liked the Requiem
itself broken up with some chant.
The CD booklet includes full texts and translations along with
an essay about Anne of Brittany's obsequies and the music of
the period. Rather wonderfully they also include contemporary
illustrations of the obsequies plus the manuscript of the introit
from the Requiem.
This is a lovely disc. If you are interested in Breton history
then this will be essential listening. But for those of us with
only a hazy grasp of such history, the disc beautifully illuminates
the sacred music of the period.