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Fro bin ich dein - Musical treasures from 16th century Basel
Ensemble Canti B
rec. 2015, Adullam-Kapelle, Basel, Switzerland
Texts and translations included

In the field of early music, Switzerland is a bit of a white spot on the map. Ludwig Senfl is by far the best-known composer of the renaissance, but his music is not that often performed and recorded. Inevitably, some of it is included in the programme which the ensemble Canti B has recorded, and which is devoted to musical life in 16th-century Basel.

Liane Ehlich, in her personal notes in the booklet, writes: "The programme for this recording was compiled in response to a request to give a concert on the theme of music and humanism. It seemed logical to search for pieces that have connections with Basel, the city that became a centre for book-printing and a meeting-point for scholarly minds from all over Europe".

One of the representatives of humanism in Basel was the book-printer Johannes Amerbach, to whom Erasmus of Rotterdam refers in a letter to Pope Leo X. He stimulated his sons to learn Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The youngest of these was Bonifacius, who was trained in languages and music, and who became a professor and rector at Basel University. His only son Basilius became a lawyer and also a rector, and inherited his father's love of music. The collection of musical documents which came into existence in the Amerbach family is the starting point for the programme that Canti B recorded.

The first half is devoted to composers who in one way or another were in contact to the Amerbach family. Hans Kotter was Bonifacius' organ teacher. He intabulated several pieces by his own teacher, Paul Hofhaimer, organist at the court of Maximilian I. The Amerbach collection includes a number of polyphonic pieces. At the time such pieces were kept in part-books, and this has resulted in many such collections being incomplete. With any luck the missing part books are available in other sources. The same goes for those cases in which only the music is available and one has to turn to other sources for the text. For this recording the performers have made use of a manuscript which was in the possession of the Fugger family, one of the most wealthy and powerful dynasties in southern Germany around 1500. In this part of the programme we also find a piece by Heinrich Isaac, who was in the service of Maximilian I, and a colleague of Hofhaimer. Ludwig Senfl was Isaac's pupil and may have been born in Basel. Ach Elslein, liebes Elslein mein is one of his best-known songs. It is performed also in a setting by Sixtus Dietrich, who was a personal friend of Bonifacius Amerbach.

The second half of the programme includes mainly French chansons. This reflects the preference for French music in Basel; in comparison only few items of Italian music appear in the collections of Amerbach and some others, such as the goldsmith Jacob Hagenbach. We find here some well-known pieces, such as Sermisy's Tant que vivray and Jouyssance vous donnerai. Also represented is Lassus' famous chanson Bon jour mon coeur. Interestingly, we hear some of these pieces with a German text, sometimes more or less a translation of the text the composer set, but in other cases with an entirely new text. This practice of the creation of contrafacta was widespread at the time. In most cases both the original version and the contrafactum are performed, which allows for a direct comparison. Philippe Verdelot was from northern France, but seems to have moved to Venice pretty early in his career. He composed only a few chansons, but the largest part of his oeuvre comprises Italian madrigals. Fuggi, fuggi, cor mio is included in the music collection of the above-mentioned Jacob Hagenbach. The disc ends with a piece by Bartolomeo Tromboncino, one of the main composers of frottolas. One of his best-known pieces is Vergine bella, which is taken here from the collection of keyboard intabulations, published by Andrea Antico in 1510, and the only extant copy of which is part of the Amerbach collection.

Lastly, the performers have included some dance music from various sources. This was one of the main genres of instrumental music at the time. We find here some of the then most popular dances, such as pavan, bransle and basse danse.

The ensemble Canti B has produced a very entertaining disc with a mixture of familiar and little-known pieces. From a historical point of view it is interesting, as it documents music life in a part of Europe which does not figure prominently in recordings of early music, and the important role of members of the higher echelons of society in the collection and performance of music. It also shows the international character of the music scene at the time. Notable are also the contrafacta and the various ways in which a text could be set, such as the three versions of Hofhaimer's Fro bin ich dein. The performances shed light on the role of two instruments which are not that often used in this kind of music, the (renaissance) transverse flute and especially the clavicytherium. The latter is not only used for keyboard intabulations, but also in ensemble.

The four members of the ensemble deliver very fine performances. Witte Maria Weber is well versed in this repertoire; she is a long-time member of the celebrated Huelgas Ensemble, and she shows here her skills as a soloist. Her voice blends perfectly with the instruments, which are excellently played. The programme has been cleverly put together, creating a maximum of variety in character and scoring. This is a disc lovers of renaissance music should not miss.

Johan van Veen

JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1455-1521)
In te Domine speravi [3:23]
Paduaner & tripla [1:06]
Paul HOFHAIMER (1459-1537)
Ach Lieb mit Leyd [2:17]
Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517)
Der welte fundt [1:18]
Paul HOFHAIMER, arr Hans KOTTER (c1485-1541)
Min ainigs A. [2:56]
Ich hab heimlich ergeben mich [2:52]
Fro bin ich dein (das erst) [1:30]
Nach Willen dein [1:18]
Fro bin ich dein (das ander) [1:03]
Heinrich ISAAC or Paul HOFHEIMER
Erst weis ich, was die Liebe ist [0:51]
Fro bin ich dein (das dritt) [1:25]
Sixtus DIETRICH (c1494-1548)
Ach Elslin, liebes Elslin min [0:40]
Ludwig SENFL (c1490-1542)
Ach Elslein, liebes Elslein mein -
Ach Elslein/Es taget vor dem Walde [2:21]
Zwischen Berg und tiefem Tal [2:46]
Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594)
Guten Morgen, mein Herz -
Bon jour mon coeur [2:04]
Jean D'ESTRÉE (?-1576)
Pavane Lesquercarde - la Rocque Gaillarde [2:19]
Claudin DE SERMISY (c1490-1562)
Die erste Lieb -
Jouyssance vous donneray [2:22]
Basse danse 'Jouyssance' (Thoinot Arbeau, 1588) [1:29]
Orlandus LASSUS
Un jour vis [0:58]
Pierre ATTAINGNANT (c1494-1552)
Branle commun - Basse danse [1:42]
Auprès de vous - Diminutions a la bastarda [1:22]
Claudin DE SERMISY, arr anon
Au bois de deuil (au joly bois) [1:49]
Au joly bois [3:32]
Languir me fais [2:23]
Tant que vivray [1:49]
Philippe VERDELOT (c1480-c1530)
Fuggi, fuggi, cor mio [1:16]
Pavana espaniola [2:08]
Quasi sempre avanti di [3:30]
Bartolomeo TROMBONCINO (c1470-1535)
Per dolor mi bagno il viso [2:26]
Vergine bella [2:23]

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