The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539
Siglo De Oro/Patrick Allies
rec. 2022, St George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, UK
Latin texts and English translations included
DELPHIAN DCD34284 
If you have not visited Strasbourg, you have a treat in store. The Cathedral in the capital city of Alsace is a monster building of the fifteenth century. The spire was added by 1439 and the whole built during the height of Roman Catholic Europe’s most devoted period of architectural and artistic excellence. But one hundred years later the world was different. Protestantism had now taken root, and iconoclasts had damaged many of the great medieval buildings of Europe. This disc is all about a music publisher in Strasbourg whose final publication consisted of twenty-eight Latin motets apparently originated in, of all places, Milan.
Here is the enigma: why did the book appear in that city at that time, and who were some of these mysterious, barely known composers? The publisher was Peter Schöffer, and his 1539 publication was Cantiones quinque vocum selectissimae. It came at the end of ten years of bringing out mainly protestant church music, so that nothing like this had been through his presses before. Curiously, these motets had first been assembled by the Milanese composer Hermann Matthias Werrecore and sent across the Alps for this new collection to be published in the no-longer-Catholic German-speaking community. Painstaking research over a long period by booklet writer Dr. Daniel Trochmé-Latter has suggested possible reasons but the mystery remains, and the booklet delves into it in some detail. It seems likely that Schöffer was aiming at a market wider than Germany. By the way, Siglo de Oro and Patrick Allies recorded in 2019 a disc entitled Music for Milan Cathedral. It included some hitherto unknown pieces by Werrecore (review).
Let us now consider the music. There is less than half of the collection on this disc but it feels like a wide range of composers and styles. Three of the pieces cannot be found in other sources, including Dominique Phinot’s fascinating Exsurge quare obdormis which dispenses with the bass part entirely. That is a setting of psalm 43 but several other pieces are for specific seasons. I was much taken with the madrigalian textures of the Candlemas motet Postquam impleti sunt dies by the practically unknown Jhan du Billon. Lupi’s lengthy Apparens Christus, a wonderfully spacious motet, is for Ascensiontide. Arcadelt, not normally thought of as a composer of sacred music is represented by a Pentecostal motet Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes. As an oddity, we have Laetare sancta ecclesia by Willaert, a wonderfully joyous work in honour of St. Augustine of Hippo, “foundation of the church”.
It has been suggested that the bright motet Veni electa mea (Come, my chosen one and I will praise you upon my throne) was composed by Gombert for the marriage of Emperor Charles V to Isabelle of Portugal. The closely imitative style certainly seems correct, although the attribution to Jacquet of Mantua is in the manuscript. And it was also a very good idea to end the programme with the glorious Laus Deo, pax viuvis, a real Gombert gem.
The choir are poised one moment, compelling and glowing the next, then sensitive and penetrating, and always well balanced and crystal-clear in intonation, with almost complete lucidity of text.
Previous review: John Quinn (Recording of the Month - August 2022)
Pierre Cadéac (fl. 1538-1556)
Salus populi ego sum
Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568)
Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes
Johannes Lupi (c.1506-1639)
Adrian Willaert c.1490-1562)
Laetare sancta mater ecclesia
Peccavi super numerum arenae maris
Maistre Jhan (c.1485-1538)
Pater Noster – Ave Maria
Johannes Sarton (fl. early 16th century)
Haec dies quam fecit
Dominique Phinot (c.1510–c.1556)
Exsurge quare obdormis
Jhan de Billon (fl. 1534-1556)
Postquam impleti sunt dies purgationis Mariæ
Simon Ferrariensis (fl. early 16th century)
Ave et gaude gloriosa virgo
Nicolas Gombert (c.1495- c.1550) or Jacquet of Mantua (1483-1559)
Veni electa mea
Laus Deo, pax vivis
October 21, 2022