Pierre de la Rue. Masses — The Sound and the Fury
500th Anniversary of his death
Pierre de La Rue (c. 1460 – 1518)
Missa Paschale a 5
Missa ista est speciosa a 4
Missa L’Homme armé a 4
Missa pro fidelibus defunctis a 4 et 5
the sound and the fury
ALESSANDRO CARMIGNANI [countertenor]
JOHN POTTER | CHRISTIAN WEGMANN [tenor]
CHRISTIAN M. SCHMIDT | WILHELM SCHWINGHAMMER [bass]
to be released in November 2018
Pierre de la Rue is one of the most fascinating and yet most elusive members of the supremely talented generation of composers from around 1500. Apart from his will tentatively suggesting Tournai as his birthplace, we know nothing definite about his early years; any identification as the singer Peter van der Straten (the Dutch equivalent of the name Pierre de la Rue), active in The Netherlands and Germany between 1469/70 and 1492/93 has been put into question with good reason.
On the other hand, we know a great deal about the last twenty-six years of his life. La Rue became a member of the Burgundian Habsburg court chapel in service of Philip the Fair and subsequently his widow Joanna of Castile and finally his sister Margaret of Austria, sometime between 1489 and 15th November 1492 (the first recorded mention of his name). He passed the final years of his life, from 1516 to 20th November 1518 in Kortrijk, where he benefited from an ecclesiastical sinecure.
La Rue’s personality also remains elusive; not even the slightest anecdote gives any hint, unlike the cases of Busnois, Isaac or Josquin. We only know from his epitaph that he was devout, charitable and “chaste and free of the sins of Venus” (castus et a Veneris crimine mundus). That may well be true, for La Rue made his name with sacred music and there is no trace of the frivolous, dubious or obscene texts which his contemporaries were wont to set amongst his secular songs. The melancholic tone prevalent in many of his pieces can best be understood as part of the representational politics of his last employer Margaret of Austria, who owed her powerful position as Regent of the Netherlands to her status as a double widow. Margaret consciously emphasised her widowed condition which permeated the whole court with an atmosphere of mourning and melancholy. But there are certainly other aspects to La Rue’s music.
29 December 2018
Todd M. McComb
Perhaps there are more items that'll be appearing, particularly if they were recorded only this year, but the 500th anniversary of La Rue's death has at least brought a relatively small but high quality set of releases, in particular the Beauty Farm double album from early in the year, half the fine Requiem disc from Diabolus in Musica, and now another double album of masses from The Sound and the Fury. (It still appears as though the latter has stopped meeting as an ensemble, as the recording itself actually dates from 2013, i.e. to shortly after the Pipelare double album that had been their climactic issue.)
Whereas Beauty Farm's program consisted entirely of four-part cycles, however, The Sound and the Fury devote a (small) majority of the program to five-part settings — all based on monophonic material, though. In particular, whereas the second disc reprises the virtuosic program (of thirty years ago now) by Ensemble Clément Janequin, the first is perhaps more successful, providing striking & polished second (in both cases, as it happens) interpretations of both the Missa Paschale & Ista est speciosa (both in five voices, sung here one to a part): The Easter Mass is actually a later piece than the Christmas cycle included in the recent Beauty Farm set, and that much more restrained technically. (The notes suggest that it might be too severe to be successful, but I've found it to be quite successful since first hearing it by Ars Antiqua of Paris — in an interpretation that continues to draw a surprising amount of bile from the general public, but more on that in the next entry.)
The Virgin Mass — one of a significant handful by La Rue — presents an even more exuberant, even sparkling setting, and is a real high point itself. In contrast, the second disc seems a little less accomplished interpretation-wise, but does reprise the Missa L'homme armé after a rather long interval, and moreover attempts the Requiem at pitch. Both end up a bit murky (including the low parts in the L'homme armé) — & do recall that Visse's group had been supported by organ, helping to bolster what was a relatively coherent interpretation for the time.
(One might also remark that another L'homme armé setting, as attributed by Meconi, remains unrecorded. It's a later, canonic work, and one of only a few La Rue cycles that isn't recorded at this point. I might note that none of the individual mass movements has been recorded, however, which might not seem curious given the preoccupation with full cycles, but then many movements have appeared as extracts anyway....)
So whereas the previous SATF La Rue album presented later technical tour de forces, here after the relatively youthful Missa L'homme armé, they've presented relatively straightforward (albeit still challenging) mature settings on plainchant themes. And so this disc was added to my personal list.