This recording contains the Missa Puisque je vis, almost certainly by Dufay, and Compère’s Omnium bonorum plena written in praise of the Virgin Mary, as well as motets by Dufay and other sources, all of which help colour our increasing awareness of the florid richness and emotional devotion of music before Baroque, till recently the starting point of most people’s awareness of the art. Characteristics of Dufay are his intricate workmanship and the development of independent balance among the vocal parts that lead us naturally to the satisfying clarity which has itself given old music a strangely contemporary feel.
The composers known collectively as the Fiamminghi made their mark in Europe in general and in Italy and in France in particular during the 15th century. Their talent and skill gained them the most important positions in the great musical establishments of the time. This collection is devoted to the leading composers of the 15th century, from those of the first generation (Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, Arnold de Lantins and Johannes Brassart) through Johannes Ockeghem, the great master of polyphonic technique, to Josquin Desprez and Pierre de La Rue, two musicians taught by Ockeghem who laid the foundations of the Ars Perfecta during the Renaissance. Also included is Jacob Obrecht, the only composer of this school whose career was based essentially in his native Flanders. Every genre of both sacred as well as secular music of the time is represented here.
England's Orlando Consort, a quartet of male singers augmented as needed by other performers, offers performances of Renaissance vocal music that lie midway between the traditional and the highly individualized modern. Sometimes they veer toward one of those two extremes, but often, as on the present disc, they find a happy medium. Their sound, especially in sacred music, owes much to the English cathedral tradition, but there's a well-honed edge to their one-voice-to-a-part interpretations that brings out the crowds who've recently been drawn to early music. This disc is intended as an introduction to a composer who doesn't always offer easy listening to the modern ear. Netherlander Antoine Busnois, active at the end of the fifteenth century and considered the greatest figure between Dufay and Josquin, wrote music that broke free from elaborate medieval numerology but came in advance of Josquin's perfect marriage of music and text.
"To describe Obrecht's Missa Maria zart (Mass for Gentle Mary) as a 'great work' is true in two respects. It is a masterpiece of sustained and largely abstract musical thought; and it is possibly the longest polyphonic setting of the Mass Ordinary ever written, over twice the length of the more standard examples by Palestrina and Josquin. How it was possible for Obrecht to conceive something so completely outside the normal experience of his time is one of the most fascinating riddles in Renaissance music…"
Johannes Ockeghem was an absolute master of counterpoint who, for more than 40 years at the end of the 15th century, ruled over Franco-Flemish polyphony under three French kings, Charles VII, Louis XI and Charles VIII. His works – which are still all too rarely performed – continue to fascinate to this day. The Missa prolationum, together with the Missa cuiusvis toni, is a tour de force of writing, reaching levels of complexity that can impress even the most experienced performers. Although its Latin title would seem to suggest a sacred theme, this work does not strictly speaking belong to the liturgical domain and is not based on a pre-existing melodic motif, taken from motet or Gregorian chant.
Music in 14th century Europe was dominated by the composers working in the Low Countries, or what we now call The Netherlands and Belgium and Northern France. Dufay was born in Cambrai, but went to Italy in the 1420s to work in Bologna, and eventually became a member of the Papal choir before returning to Cambrai. Josquin Desprez was from Flanders, and moved to Milan in 1460, and like Dufay became a member of the Papal choir, before moving to Cambrai. He was one of the first composers to benefit from the printing of music and his reputation traveled far and wide as a result. His music is beautifully crafted, and he attempted to convey in music the inner meaning of the words - one of the earliest instances of a composer exploring the expressive possibilities of text and music. Ockeghem was born in Dendermonde, and he traveled to Spain and throughout Flanders. His music, like Josquin’s is superbly crafted, with intricate rhythmic sections, and a seamless flow of counterpoint.