JOSQUIN. Adieu mes amours — Dulces Exuviae

[18.6.2019] |

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Release: 28 June 2019


[17.7.2019] Remarks
16 Jul 2019
Todd M. McComb


To conclude a short series of discussions of a small flurry of recent releases, a recent duo recording of Josquin songs moves not only to somewhat later music (i.e. later fifteenth century and into the early sixteenth), but evokes another doubly retrospective view by engaging both later sixteenth century practice as well as the 1980s discography — in an eerie parallel to the new motet disc discussed here late last year: Perhaps it's too easy for me to link this sort of shift in perspective specifically to simultaneous shifts in what one is presented by search engines (no doubt in part around international politics & its "fake news" notions), but this sort of production does seem to be another bow toward more conservative (i.e. classical) audiences & their modern (in the broad historical sense) orientation.

Before I get too embroiled in that topic, though, I do want to note that arranging Josquin's secular music for a single voice & single lute (or, in some cases, lute solo) is a perfectly sensible thing to do: It wasn't the orientation of Josquin's milieu, but it was to become a dominant musical idiom during the sixteenth century, including via many contemporary adaptations of Josquin's work (specifically), and leading into the "new monody" as one fount of the baroque (i.e. the "first global imperial" era). (Prior to the new monody per se, the frottola took a similar approach to highlighting the solo voice via — most often lute — accompaniment, and various instrumentalists were creating tablatures of both polyphonic music & various diminutions, etc....) So in that sense, the recent Adieu mes amours is indeed a sort of historically based production — but based in the period following Josquin: In this, sonorities are carefully considered, and instruments were built with appealing & detailed timbres, including a "bray lute" with buzzing resonators based on earlier harps, which appears (to good effect) on some tracks.

The baritone voice is more rounded than I'd often prefer from medieval singers, more in keeping with a baroque aesthetic, i.e. with a more individual self-consciousness that the notes characterize as the "art of singing." In other words, although not in any way strident, the notes take on a similar tone to that on the prior motet disc (which likewise seems more naïve than strident), in that although they note uncertainties regarding Josquin's biography & output (especially in the secular music in the latter case), the sketch doesn't involve recent scholarship, but instead tends simply to repeat what was said decades ago. Moreover, there is a universalizing tendency at work in the notion of "composer" the notes construct, and especially in remarks on "actual art." It's thus another retro view, but also one that seeks both to exclude earlier (i.e. medieval) music from the (modern) category of "art" (& implicitly to elevate painting), and to assimilate Josquin more fully to the modern regime: Curiously, notions of Renaissance aren't actually articulated, but the perspective is similarly one of anticipating later modernity.

And in another strange parallel, the album isn't only a later sixteenth century-based approach to Josquin — incorporating e.g. the sorts of ornaments & rhythmic interpolations that he specifically decried in his own era — but adopts the title of another 1980s Harmonia Mundi album that likewise served as an early recommendation here.... (So again, it seems almost like an attempt to make three decades of medieval music scholarship vanish into a new sea of conservatism & reorientation on universalist empire....) And indeed, I've been talking about Josquin secular discs in this space for a while, with a couple of others that I find more valuable... actually also involving later music as well! The "chapel" style album of five- & six-part music takes a rather heavy-handed approach via vocal doubling, and includes some later organ music by other composers (elaborating Josquin's material). And the more broadly instrumentally oriented program likewise includes some later lute music (plus a short c.2000 piece, with concerns different from those of this discussion) — as well as develops plucked string technique in general. (The latter does also include many tracks with a smaller instrumental ensemble, i.e. that don't involve intabulation, that I hear as nicely idiomatic for the period. The larger vocal renditions of Se congie prens likewise seem more overdone than significant stylistic departures in terms of rhythm, ficta, etc.

I should probably also mention the recent Kaiser Maximilian I from an ensemble similar to that on Les fantaisies de Josquin, there in a simpler thematic program....) So why this sort of treatment for Josquin? Beyond any desire to assimilate the music to later styles & mentalities, it's also partly a matter of the uncertain contours of Josquin's output, and the many similar secular works distributed under his name, with no clear stylistic end point.... Or so I'll suggest. (Or is it more about the dated editions? That hasn't prevented new approaches here or elsewhere....) Meanwhile, people seem able to perform e.g. La Rue chansons with what seem like ensembles & techniques of the c.1500 period.... Anyway, beyond these broad considerations, I'd say that the result of this new Adieu mes amours production involves some tracks that work well, but that it never sounds much like Josquin. It's simply a more modern approach than his own. (And again, in the very limited sense of the latter statement, there's nothing inherently wrong with that: Inspiration is & can be multifaceted. A different sort of discussion would have been more welcome, though.)


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