Flos Virginum: Motets of the 15thCentury
Stimmwerck David Erler (counter-tenor)
rec. September 2013 and May 2014, Klosterkirche, Adlersberg CPO 777 937-2 [62.10]
This CD is part of a project which documents “late medieval music and culture in the Austrian region … (and) makes it possible to experience an epoch of European cultural history in which the Hapsburgs became a world power and Vienna a musical capital”. I thought it best to quote the opening of the detailed and fascinating booklet notes by Reinhardt Strohm, a specialist in this field, as they sum up clearly what this unusual collection of pieces is about.
The codices used are the Trent Codex 90 and 91 for works like the homophonic motet Novus annus by the otherwise unknown Ludovicus Krafft, and the Old Hall Manuscript for the motet Anima me liquefacta est by John Forest with its text from ‘The Song of Songs’ much favoured by this composer. There are also pieces from the early sixteenth century collection known as the ‘Nikolaus Leopold Codex’ which contains a large collection of sacred polyphony. To my knowledge little of this music is known even if some of the composers' names are a little more familiar.
I admire the notes mentioned above because each piece is discussed and the composer’s biography is helpfully touched upon, Johannes Brassart for example was from Liège and his motet and that by Johannes de Sarto can clearly be linked with the Hapsburg rulers. Brassart’s text begins ‘O King Frederick, you truly excel / as an outstanding guardian of our peace”. De Sarto’s begins “Renowned King of the Romans / Albert may eternal life / be yours in glory”.
All texts are given and well translated from the Latin into German and English although the font, be warned, is very small.
Those Motets were public pieces for special ceremonies; consequently they might sound even more impressive with a choir twice the size. At this time (c.1420-30) motets could be isorthymic and/or based on plainchant melodies normally secreted in the tenor part. Some may have two texts running side by side as in the anonymous Ave Mundi spes/In Gottes Namen, the latter being a well-known chorale melody. The CD also offers what they call ‘Canzonen’ which might seem confusing to some of us in the UK but is well translated as ‘Cantiones’ or songs. These are again best thought of as works in which the top line – the melody if you like - carries the main musical interest as in the piece which gives the disc its title Flos virginum by Martini. These ‘cantiones’ often have texts in honour of the Virgin and may therefore have a bias towards the Christmas Season as in the lengthy, strophic Laus tibi Christi by Roullet which employs the text “Born of a Virgin he did not deem it unfitting to be touched by a sinful woman”, a text which would not go down well nowadays. Easter is also honoured as in the anonymous Christus surrexit and alluded to elsewhere.
Some settings are astonishingly plain and hymn-like. Others have complex polyphony typically in the 15th century style. This tends to create a slightly austere collection of pieces and one which may ultimately be considered somewhat specialist in interest. I should however tell you how pleased I am at discovering the very beautiful motet by Tourant, O florens rosa in honour of the Virgin.
I had never come across the five men of Stimmwerck before but they impress me enormously. They can very favourably be compared with the Orlando Consort. In fact I marginally prefer the sound that these German singers make. They are based in Munich and the group was founded in 2001. They have recorded music by such rare German Renaissance masters as Adam von Fulda and Heinrich Finck as well as a collection of German Hymns. They blend well but each individual voice is allowed its head. Dynamics are varied sensitively and intonation is ideal. The church acoustic helps to create a suitable atmosphere although a little more space around the voices might have been helpful.
All in all, a rare disc of pleasingly unusual repertoire.
1. Johannes BRASSART (c.1400-1455) O rex Frerice - In tuo advent [5.51]
2. Johannes TOURANT (fl.1450-1470) O florens rosa [4.00]
3. John (?) FOREST (fl c.1430-50) Anima mea liquefacta est [4.46]
4. Johannes de SARTO (fl.c1430-40) Romanorum rex [4.56]
5. Johannes MARTINI (c.1430-1497) Flos virinum [2.04]
6. ANON (Nikolaus Leopold Codex) O propugnator [4.23]
7. Johannes PUILLOIS (d.1478) Flos de Spina [4.53]
8. ANON (Nikolaus Leopold Codex) Ave Mundi spes/In Gottes Namen [2.04]
9. Guillaume DUFAY (c.1397-1474) Missa S.Georgii: Alleluia [4.05]
10. ANON (Trent Codices) Dies est letitie [1.24]
11. ANON O beata infantia [5.28]
12. Ludovicus KRAFFT (fl.c.1460) Novus annus [3.12]
13. Johannes ROULLT (fl.c.1435-45) Laus tibi [8.45]
14. ANON (Trent Codices) Advenisti desiderabilis [3.07]
15. KRAFFT Terribilis est [1.24]
16. ANON(Trent Codices) Christus surrexit [1.46]