Johannes OCKEGHEM. Missa Cuiusvis toni · Missa Quinti toni
Celeste beneficium (attr.) / The Clerks' Group


AS&V "Gaudeamus" CD GAU 189


Missa Cuiusvis toni

1. Kyrie on fa-ut · Mixolydian mode  [1:36]

2. Kyrie  [1:47]
3. Gloria  [4:14]
4. Credo on mi  [7:15]
5. Santus and Benedictus on mi  [5:44]
6. Agnus Dei  [3:30]
on mi · Phrygian mode

7. Agnus Dei on fa-ut · Mixolydian mode  [3:30]

8. Celeste beneficium  [9:26]
(attr. to  J. Ockeghem)

Missa Quinti toni
9. Kyrie  [1:56]
10. Gloria  [5:06]
11. Credo  [7:27]
12. Sanctus and Benedictus  [6:18]
13. Agnus Dei  [6:21]

Edward Wickham

sopranos: Carys Lane, Rebecca Outram
altos: Robin Blaze, William Missin
tenors: Stephen Harrold, James Gilchrist, Matthew Vine
basses: Jonathan Arnold, Robert Macdonald

Produced by Jonathan Freeman-Attwood
Recorded by Paul Proudman / ProudSound
Recorded in St. Andrew's Church, West Wratting, 6-7 February 1998, by kind permission of the Vicar and P.C.C.
Designed by Studio B, The Creative People
Cover: Manuscript of the household admiring the master's rare clock,
from a treatise on morality, Flemish, mid 15th century
courtesy of Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, / Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York


The two Masses on this recording present different facets of Ockeghem's art. Until recently, the composer's reputation as a cerebralist, concerned primarily with devising musical puzzles, was based upon a group of works that forms only a small part of his output: two canonic pieces, the Mass Prolationum (recorded by The Clerks' Group, ASV CD GAU 143), the song Prenez sur moy and the Mass Cuiusvis toni. The precise meaning of the title of the latter is disputed: it has been variously translated as “in any mode” or “on any tone you wish”. The Mass is designed in such a way that its musical notation admits of several possible realisations: if, for example, the singers start on the note Re, the Mass will sound in the Dorian mode; if on Mi it will sound in the Phrygian, while the note Fa yields a Lydian version. Although there was an undeniable speculative streak in Ockeghem's intellectual make-up, it would be quite wrong to regard Cuiusvis toni as a purely theoretical showpiece. In fact, it may have served an eminently practical purpose. As head of the French royal chapel for more than 40 years (1454-1497), Ockeghem must have been responsible for the recruitment of singers. Cuiusvis toni would have been an ideal test-piece for prospective entrants, for whom the “decoding” at sight of different sounding versions from the one notation would have required considerable mental agility. Whatever the circumstances of Cuiusvis toni's composition, Ockeghem would have been amused to learn that certain aspects of his puzzle (for instance, the precise number of realisations he intended) continue to perplex musicians more than 500 years later.

All this explains the Cuiusvis toni's enduring fascination to music theorists (certainly it is the only Mass by Ockeghem transmitted in sixteenth-century prints as well as fifteenth-century manuscripts) but the listener, too, cannot fail to be impressed — perhaps surprised — by its uncomplicated directness in performance. In the longer-texted Gloria and Credo, the word-setting is mostly syllabic, resulting in very concise phrases and a predominantly chordal texture that are rather unusual for Ockeghem. In the other movements, the brevity of the text makes melismas (that is, the setting of single syllables to more than one note) inevitable; yet even these are brief by Ockeghem's standards. As a result, Cuiusvis toni is (by a considerable margin) the shortest Mass yet recorded in this series. In order to illustrate its different versions, The Clerks' Group presents a performance of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei on Fa (giving a “major-mode” flavour), and they sing the entire Mass in what might be described as Ockeghem's “signature” mode of Mi, the Phrygian, which
has no modern equivalent.

If Cuiusvis toni is one of its composer's most famous pieces, the three-voice Quinti toni Mass is performed only rarely. But as we have seen, Cuiusvis toni's notoriety is due not so much to its aesthetic qualities as to its role in shaping the historical perception of Ockeghem; conversely, Quinti toni owes its neglect largely to long-held assumptions regarding three-voice Masses. Music historians early in this century noticed that Mass-composition in three voices gradually tailed off as the fifteenth century progressed, replaced by the four-voice model. While this is broadly correct in purely factual terms, there is nothing to suggest that fifteenth-century musicians considered four voices a qualitative “advance” on three. Nevertheless, modern critics came to regard Ouinti toni as an early work, on the assumption that it was written before the four-voices idiom came into vogue (or — still more belittlingly — before the younger composer had mastered it). More recently, it has come to be recognised that different Mass genres flourished alongside each other throughout the fifteenth century. Ironically, the prejudice that once worked against Ouinti toni may now play in its favour: recent scholarship places its composition in the 1470s, which would make the work a product of Ockeghem's maturity. Very few of his works may be dated much later with any confidence.

Another possible reason for Quinti toni's relative obscurity is its prosaic title, which simply classifies it as being “in the fifth [Lydian] mode”. There is nothing to signal the presence of pre-existent material found in so many Masses of the time (including most of Ockeghem's). But the fact that no model is named does not entirely rule one out: a case in point is Ockeghem's Mi-mi Mass (a much more intriguing title!), now widely believed to be based on his song Presque trainsi. As with Mi-mi, the attentive listener will discern ideas that recur in each of Quinti toni's movements (especially in the middle voice). It is quite possible that these motifs are so many echoes of a hidden model now lost to us.

So Quinti toni has neither technical tours de force to delight the connoisseur, nor an enigmatic title to intrigue the student, nor yet a known model to help the listener along. What it does contain is some of Ockeghem's most beguiling inspirations. Where Cuiusvis toni is concise and chordal, Quinti toni is luxuriantly expansive: as with the finest chamber music, one often has the impression that more voices are involved than there actually are. Each has its own distinct range and engages the others in a constant play and exchange of ideas, encompassing a variety of moods. At times, the music assumes a quality of repose that is deeply affecting (for instance, in the Credo at the words 'Deum de Deo'); but in the Hosanna there is almost unrestrained exuberance, and the Amens that conclude the longer movements are among the most expansive and exciting that Ockeghem ever wrote. In a work like the Requiem (recorded by The Clerks' Group on ASV CD GAU 168) we hear the composer's public voice, ceremonial and rhetorical; with the gentle lyricism of Quinti toni Mass we seem to glimpse a more intimate view; Ockeghem's style in its quintessential expression.

The third work on this disc represents yet another facet of our composer: the five-voice motet Celeste beneficium belongs to the rather large group whose ascription to Ockeghem is disputed. While its structure and melodic style make his authorship seem unlikely, it says something for his reputation that ascriptions could still be made to him 40 years after his death (assuming that the name “Okegus” designates him). And if the music is by Ockeghem, the surviving text (which includes an exhortation to the German nation, Germania) cannot be original. The strategy of pairing voices against each other (observed throughout the work) places this prolix and extended piece in the following generation.

© Fabrice Fitch, 1999

Editions used for this recording:
Mass Cuiusvis toni, Johannes Ockeghem: Masses and Mass Sections, ed. Jaap van Benthem (Utrecht; Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muzickgechiedenis, 1997),iii, 1.
Mass Quinti toni: ed. Fabrice Fitch.
Editions used by permission.