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Gloriosus Franciscus - The Music for St. Francis from the 13th to the 16th Century
Anonima Frottolisti
rec. Chiesa di San Vitale, Assisi (PG), Italy, 2016
Texts without translations online
TACTUS TC250001 [73:48]

Among all the saints venerated in the Roman Catholic Church, St Francis of Assisi is one of the most famous. He was born in 1181/82, the son of a prosperous silk merchant. He enjoyed the life of a wealthy young man, but pretty soon his disillusionment with worldly life and illness caused him to re-evaluate his life. Gradually he turned to a life of poverty. The spiritual process resulted in the founding of the Franciscan Order, which grew quite quickly. Poverty was the most obvious feature of the Order. “Francis and his followers celebrated and even venerated poverty. Poverty was so central to his character that in his last written work, the Testament, he said that absolute personal and corporate poverty was the essential lifestyle for the members of his Order”. (Wikipedia)

The present disc is devoted to music connected with Francis and his Order. It brings together music from different sources, either liturgical or para-liturgical, in Latin and in the vernacular (in this case Italian). Some pieces are rather simple and straightforward, others are more sophisticated.

Among the latter are three extracts from a manuscript preserved in Trento and drawn up around the middle of the 15th century (tracks 15-17). It includes a proprium missae dedicated to St Francis. Two anonymous pieces, the introit Gaudeamus omnes in Domino and the alleluia O patriarcha pauperum, Francisce, embrace the gradual Os justi meditabitur sapientiam by Guillaume Dufay. These pieces are among the longest on this disc, largely due to their melismatic texture.

Another important source of pieces in Latin is the so-called 'Reims Psalter' (Cantorino di Reims), which is preserved in Assisi. It was put together around 1230. The manuscript once belonged to Matteo Orsini, Cardinal of S. Maria in Portico and protector of the Order. It includes monodic pieces and relatively simple polyphonic items for two or three voices, among them the very first pieces with specific references to St Francis. Among the pieces taken from this collection are the Kyrie Summe rex sempiterne - an example of a liturgical piece with additional texts, so-called tropes - and In superna civitate de Franciscii novitate.

Some of the music on this disc comes from the circles of the laudesi, confraternities of secular and bourgeois origin which embraced the ideals of the Franciscan Order. The music sung here, known as laude, is mostly monodic and straightforward. An important source of such repertoire is the Laudario di Cortona; recently Brilliant Classics released a set of four discs with pieces from that collection (review). Sia laudato San Francesco and Laudar vollio per amore are part of it.

In addition to the musical items, we hear some spoken text, including, as the opening track, a text by Pope Gregory IX from 1230, the year of St Francis’s death. Track 5 includes a sequence of St Francis himself, and track 21 is part of his spiritual testament. The disc closes with a musical item on a text by Giuliano di Spira, Francis’s first biographer. Plaude turba paupercula is a monodic hymn, which is performed here antiphonally.

It brings to a close a compelling disc of pieces from sources which are seldom explored for performances and recordings. Thanks to such creative ensembles as Anonima Frottolisti we can become acquainted with the fine repertoire they include. The vocal items are performed by male singers, from alto to bass, which is undoubtedly in line with the performance practice of the time. Some pieces are performed instrumentally with flutes, shawms and sackbuts. Dulcimer and psaltery also play an important role. Singers and players are first class and really bring this music to life.

It is a shame that the liner-notes are very brief; this repertoire deserves a more comprehensive explanation than what we get here. It is also very regrettable that the lyrics, which have to be downloaded from the Tactus site, come without English translations. Beware that from track 18 onwards the track-numbers on the backside of the disc don't synchronize with those in the text-file.

Johan van Veen

Pope GREGORY IX (bef. 1170-1241)
Bulla eloganti (spoken text) [01:39]
Kyrie Summa Rex sempiterne [06:51]
Verbum bonum et suave [02:19]
In superna civitate de Franciscii novitate [04:49]
Tommaso DE CELANO (1185-1260)
Sequentia de beato Franciscu (spoken text) [00:48]
Gaude Dei genitrix [02:49]
Sicut pratum picturatum [02:07]
Franciscus ut in pubblicum [02:03]
Ave Virgo virginum, verbis carnis cella [02:46]
Sia laudato San Francesco [04:08]
Ceciderunt in preclaris [03:01]
Laudar vollio per amore [03:44]
O Francesce pater pie [02:33]
Nicholaus ZACHARIE (?-1466)
GiÓ per gran nobeltÓ triunpha e fama [04:54]
Introitus missae sancti Francisci: Gaudeamus omnes in Domino [04:53]
Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474)
Graduale: Os justi meditabitur sapientiam [07:56]
Versus alleluiaticus: O patriarcha pauperum, Francisce [04:58]
Leggenda dei tre compagni (spoken text) [00:44]
O San Francesco, dolce padre mio [02:57]
Laudiam con gran fervore [04:05]
Testamento di San Francesco (spoken text) [00:43]
Plaude turba paupercula [02:49]

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