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The Leiden Choirbooks Volumes I-III
Egidius Kwartet and College/Peter de Groot
Full Track-lists at end of review 
rec. 18-23 January 2010, 16-24 February 2011, 17-26 January 2012, Laurentiuskerk, Mijnsheerenland, Netherlands. DDD
Volumes available separately - three 2CD sets.
ET'CETERA KTC 1410-12 [63:44 + 62:40 & 75:09 + 79:29 & 62:10 + 77:24] 

Experience Classicsonline

The Dutch city of Leiden has a unique treasure which is preserved in the medieval Pieterskerk (St Peter's Church). It is a set of books called the 'Leiden Choirbooks'. These contain music to be sung during the many daily liturgical events. Originally there were eight books, but two have been lost. The remaining six represent Europe's largest linked collection of liturgical music.
The Leiden Choirbooks are the subject of a voluminous project by the Dutch Egidius Kwartet, a vocal quartet which sings repertoire from all periods in music history, but especially from the renaissance. This project includes the publication of a modern edition, a series of concerts and a recording of a large selection from the choirbooks. The quartet will be extended by additional singers for the concerts and recordings. Volumes 1 to 3 are to be reviewed here.
The fact that six of the eight books have survived is something of a miracle. Very little of the music which was sung in churches in the Netherlands has come down to us not leaqst because of the iconoclasm which took place as part of the Reformation in the northern Netherlands. In Leiden this happened in 1566, when supporters of the Reformation forced their way into churches and started to destroy images of saints and other objects which were the expression of the Roman Catholic doctrine and liturgy. Probably because they were carefully kept the six choirbooks survived the insurrection and have been preserved.
They show what kind of music was sung by the singers of the liturgical hours in the Pieterskerk in Leiden. In his liner-notes to Volume 1 Eric Jas writes: "The singing of the seven liturgical hours grew enormously in popularity in the Netherlands during the 15th century. In point of fact, a College of the Seven Hours was simply an imitation of a chapter. In chapter churches, just as in convents and monasteries, the hours - also called the Office or choral prayer - were sung: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. Matins and Lauds were combined to form the nocturnal office whilst Vespers and Compline together formed evening prayer." Parish churches imitated the rituals of the chapter churches. A separate college was created for the singing of the Office, varying from a couple of times a year to daily. It seems Leiden was the first city where such a college was created. Other cities followed as archival documents show. Only in the case of the Pieterskerk in Leiden has the music which they sang been preserved.
The College of the Seven Hours initially consisted of seven priests and two choirboys, during the period 1481 to 1510 extended to eight and four respectively. They were directed by a singing master. Inventories show that the repertoire in the various cities in the Netherlands was comparable and therefore the six choirbooks from the Pieterskerk in Leiden would appear to give a good idea of the kind of music which was sung. Not surprisingly the great masters of the Franco-Flemish school figure prominently in these choirbooks. Among them are Josquin Desprez, Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Thomas Crecquillon, Nicolas Gombert and Jean Mouton. Many of these pieces are also known from other sources, but sometimes there are differences between the version in the choirbooks and those in other sources. The choirbooks also contain pieces by lesser-known, often local, composers, like Claudin Patoulet and Joachimus de Monte.
In the 19th century the choirbooks were labelled from A to F. The first volume of this project comprises pieces from the choirbook A which was compiled in 1549 and known to the singers of the Hours as the "book of motets". It includes 37 motets, a number of settings of the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis and the Salve Regina, as well as four masses. Two of the latter are performed: the Missa Beati omnes by Gombert, based on a motet of his own, and an anonymous 6-part Missa Sancta Maria, a quite monumental piece recorded here for the first time.
Thomas Crecquillon and Jacobus Clemens non Papa were the dominant Franco-Flemish composers in the mid-16th century. In the first choirbook Crecquillon takes a particularly important place. In this set he is represented by four motets. Unfortunately the liner-notes don't tell us which compositions in the choirbooks are unique - meaning that they don't appear in other sources. One may assume, though, that the motets by someone like Joachimus de Monte - not to be confused with Philippe de Monte - belong to this category. Very little is known about him, apart from the fact that he sang in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft for some time. He has no entry in New Grove, nor has Cristianus Hollander, who was probably born in Dordrecht (south-east of Rotterdam), worked for some time in Bruges and joined the chapel of emperor Ferdinand I in 1557. He died in Innsbruck. Jean Richafort was from the southern Netherlands, but was French-speaking, and worked for the French court. Later on he was active in Bruges. Johannes Cleeff - or Johannes de Cleve, as he is called in New Grove - is another little-known master; for a number of years he was a singer in the imperial chapel of Ferdinand I in Vienna.
In 1559 the College of the Seven Hours purchased two books of a remarkably large size, together comprising more than 650 pages most of which were used on both sides. These include the choirbooks B and C. The former is the subject of the second volume in this project. As Eric Jas writes in his liner-notes, it could be called the "Book of Hours", since it includes repertoire which was specifically intended for the Hours. It includes 73 compositions: 28 motets for four to six voices, 11 settings of the Magnificat, eight settings of the Nunc dimittis and 26 polyphonic settings of hymns that could be used in all of the various hours. In this book Clemens non Papa is the best-represented composer, with nine motets and eight Magnificats in the various modes. Three of the latter have been included here; these are all alternatim settings: the odd verses are sung in plainchant, the even in polyphony. Particularly notable is the setting in the 8th mode: in all the even verses Clemens quotes chansons by contemporaries, like Crecquillon and De Sermisy.
The discs include several motets by composers who were highly respected in their own time, but receive little attention today. Among them are Johannes Lupi, Josquin Baston - probably a pupil of Lupi - and Benedictus Appenzeller. One of the nice aspects of this project is that many compositions have been included by 'minor masters', mostly of regional or local origin. The aforementioned Joachimus de Monte belongs in this category, and one may assume that at least some of the many anonymous pieces were also written by such composers. Many hymn settings are anonymous; here various settings of Christe qui lux es et dies are included. These are also alternatim compositions. For the plainchant the performers use a source from the same time, printed in Leiden in 1564.
This volume has been intelligently put together. Despite the large number of pieces by various composers there is some coherence within the set. The first disc contains a series of motets for Easter: Dum transisset Sabbatum,Maria Magdalena,Angelus autem Domini, Victime pascali laudes and, closing the disc, Ego sum qui sum. On the second disc coherence is imparted by three Magnificat settings by Clemens non Papa and the anonymous settings of Christe qui lux es et dies. Moreover, whereas the compositions by the better-known masters are probably also known from other sources, the pieces by lesser-known composers are mostly known only from these choirbooks. Therefore the decision to include many of these guarantees that the discography of renaissance polyphony is substantially extended by the discs in this project.
The third volume is devoted to music which is included in choirbook C, the second book of the 1559 set. It comprises five polyphonic masses, 25 motets for four to six voices, two settings of the Salve Regina and eight of the Regina caeli. Several things are notable. The book includes two settings of the Requiem mass; these are the only Requiems in the Leiden choirbooks. That may seem rather strange, considering the frequency of funeral services. Eric Jas, in his liner-notes, suggests that in most cases the simple plainchant version of the Requiem mass may have been preferred. One of the settings is by Jean de Richafort (in the manuscript attributed to Josquin); this has been recorded by Cinquecento (review). It was therefore a good decision to record the other setting, which is anonymous. The sudden high pitch of the upper voices at the end of the Offertorio is remarkable; it comes on the words "And let the perpetual light shine upon them". This is repeated at the end of the Communion.
The Missa Pastores loquebantur by Cornelius Canis is also interesting. Canis was born in Ghent and for a number of years was in the service of the Habsburg emperor Charles V, until 1555. This mass, based upon a motet of his own, is intended for the Christmas period, but is written in a minor key - the Phrygian mode - which is hard to explain. In a recent interview on Dutch radio Peter de Groot suggested the reason could have been the death of Canis's former employer in September 1558, the news of which may have reached Canis probably only months later, sometime during Advent. Canis seems to have omitted the Credo; I doubt that this mass would have been recorded incomplete. Musically remarkable is that in the Agnus Dei the six parts are extended to eight, a very rare procedure in the Franco-Flemish repertoire of that time. It makes for a monumental close to this mass, also due to some very low notes in the bass in the last section of the Agnus Dei. The Leiden Choirbooks are the only source for this mass. 
In this volume the names of Pierre Moulu and Jheronimus Vinders also appear for the first time. Moulu was born in the north of France and during most of his career associated with Meaux cathedral, although he probably also had ties with the royal court in Paris. His output shows the strong influence of Josquin Desprez. His motet Vulnerasti cor meum is on a text from the Song of Songs and delivers evidence of the identification of the woman in that book with the Virgin Mary. It includes this text, which is allocated to the alto part: "Sweet friend of God, rose handsomely blooming, be mindful of me when the hour of death comes". (More music by Moulu was recorded by The Brabant Ensemble; review). Vinders was a Flemish composer about whom we know very little, apart from the fact that in 1525/26 he worked in Ghent. In his Magnificat he omitted the doxology and instead added a line from the Bible which is otherwise always omitted: "And Mary abode with her [Elizabeth] about three months, and returned to her own house". Therefore this setting is unsuitable for the Vesper liturgy and that explains why it is ranked among the motets in this choirbook.
The singing of the Egidius Kwartet and College on these three volumes is excellent throughout. There are various changes in the line-up, which is inevitable in a project of these proportions, taking about six years to be completed. However, that doesn't affect the outcome in any way. Most pieces are sung with more than one voice per part, and for every piece the singers are selected from a pool of around 23. One question mark regards the extension of the number of singers in the Missa Pastores loquebantur by Canis. I find it hard to believe that in the 16th century some singers were only involved in the Agnus Dei.
The tempi are mostly rather moderate, and so are the dynamic differences. Interesting is the pronunciation of the Latin texts; it is more or less identical with the way Latin is pronounced in French renaissance repertoire. I am wondering whether this was really the way Latin was pronounced in the northern part of the Netherlands. Anyway, this is a most ambitious, impressive and historically important project, and one can only be very happy about the way it has been musically realised. No lover of renaissance polyphony should miss these sets. There is every reason to look forward to the next three volumes.  

Johan van Veen
Full Track-List 
The Leiden Choirbooks , Volume I
CD 1
Thomas CRECQUILLON (c1510-1557)
Memento salutis auctor [6:54]
Benedictus APPENZELLER (c1485-c1558)
O magnum mysterium [4:18]
Recordare Domine [9:04]
Joachimus DE MONTE (fl 1550-1555)
Angelus Domini descendit de celo [4:55]
Ave salutis ianua [8:54]
Johannes CLEEFF (1528-1582)
Peccata mea [5:48]
Joachimus DE MONTE
Christus resurgens [5:05]
Christianus HOLLANDER (c1510-c1568)
Ego sum panis vitae [6:56]
Servus tuus [5:52]
Jean RICHAFORT (c1480-c1547)
Quem dicunt homines [5:58]
CD 2
Nicolas GOMBERT (c1495-c1560)
Missa Beati omnes [33:18]
Missa Sancta Maria [29:21]
Egidius Kwartet and College/Peter de Groot
Recorded 18 - 23 January 2010 at the Laurentiuskerk, Mijnsheerenland, Netherlands DDD
Et'cetera - KTC 1410 [63:44 + 62:40] 
The Leiden Choirbooks, Volume II
CD 1
Venite ad me omnes a 5 [5:38]
Christianus HOLLANDER (c1510-1568/69)
In nomine Jhesu a 4 [4:35]
Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (c1510-1555/56)
Heu mihi Domine a 4 [6:09]
Josquin BASTON (fl 1542-1563)
Dum transisset Sabbatum a 5 [8:07]
Maria Magdalena et altera Maria a 5 [7:02]
Angelus autem Domini a 5 [6:20]
Victime paschali laudes a 6 [6:03]
Johannes LUPI (c1506-1539)
Tu Deus noster a 5 [6:19]
Jherusalem surge a 5 [5:09]
Joachimus DE MONTE (fl 1550-1555)
O Elisabeth a 4 [4:09]
Benedictus APPENZELLER (c1485-c1558)
Ave maris stella a 4 [5:14]
Philippe VERDELOT (c1475-c1552)
Sancta Maria virgo virginum a 6 [4:39]
Jean RICHAFORT (c1480-c1547)
Ego sum qui sum a 5 [5:49]
CD 2
Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.270) [6:01]
Iam bone pastor a 4 [2:36]
Maria mater Domini a 4 [2:39]
Magnificat 4. toni a 4 [10:53]
Nunc dimittis 4. toni a 4 [3:15]
Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.274) [5:00]
Joachimus DE MONTE
Aurea luce a 4 [3:04]
Quod chorus vatum a 4 [6:36]
Magnificat 6. toni a 4 [9:52]
Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.276) [5:27]
Pange lingua a 4 [6:45]
Magnificat 8. toni a 4-5 [10:08]
Christe qui lux es et dies a 4 (f.328) [7:13]
Egidius Kwartet and College/Peter de Groot
Recorded 16 to 24 February 2011 at the Laurentiuskerk, Mijnsheerenland, Netherlands DDD
Et'cetera KTC 1411 [75:09 + 79:29]
The Leiden Choirbooks, Volume III
CD 1
Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (1510/15-1555/56)
Cum esset Anna a 5 [10:55]
Pierre MOULU (1484?-c1550)
Vulnerasti cor meum a 5 [9:16]
Domine probasti a 5 [8:05]
Johannes LUPI (c1506-1539)
Stirps Jesse a 5 [6:58]
Stella maris luminosa a 5 [8:22]
Regina celi a 5 [3:04]
Jheronimus VINDERS (fl 1510-1550)
Magnificat a 4 [6:19]
Regina celi a 6 [3:42]
Advenit ignis divinus a 5 [5:26]
CD 2
Cornelius CANIS (1506-1562)
Missa Pastores loquebantur a 6 [26:32]
Missa pro fidelibus defunctis a 4 [42:03]
?JOSQUIN DESPREZ (1450-1521)
Responde mihi a 4* [8:46]
Egidius Kwartet and College/Peter de Groot
Recorded 17 - 26 January 2012 at the Laurentiuskerk, Mijnsheerenland, Netherlands and 29 February 2012 at the Christuskirche Oberschöneweide, Berlin, Germany* DDD
Et'cetera KTC 1412 [62:10 + 77:24] 

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