JOSQUIN. Missa Malheur me bat / The Clerks' Group
Motets & Chansons · Liber generationis Jesu Christi


AS&V "Gaudeamus" CD GAU 306


From Motetti A (1502)

1. Virgo prudentissima  [2:19]
altos, tenors CW BR, basses EW RM

2. Ave Maria ... virgo serena  [4:56]
sopranos, altos, tenors CW MV, basses EW RM

3. Victimae paschali laudes  [3:39]
altos, tenors CW BR, basses EW RM

From Canti B & C (1502 & 1504)

4. Baisés moy a4  [1:13]
5. Que vous madame/In pace  [5:12]
alto LB, tenors CW MV, bass EW

6. Comment peult avoir joye  [2:21]
soprano RO, tenors CW MV, bass EW

7. Baisés moy a6  [2:11]
altos, tenors CW MV, basses EW RM

8. Liber generationis Jesu Christi  [11:45]
altos, tenors CW BR, basses EW RM

Missa Malheur me bat

9. Kyrie  [4:23]
10. Gloria  [5:40]
11. Credo  [7:27]
12. Sanctus & Benedictus  [9:58]
altos, tenors CW BR, basses EW RM

13. Agnus Dei  [9:34]
altos, tenors CW BR, basses

Edward Wickham

Carys Lane, Rebecca Outram - soprano
Lucy Ballard, William Missin - alto
Chris Watson, Ben Rayfield, Matthew Vine - tenor
Edward Wickham, Robert Macdonald, Jonathan Arnold - bass

Produced by David Trendell
Recorded by David Wright (Gemini Sound)
Recorded in St. Andrews, West Wratting by kind permission of the Vicar and P.C.C.
15 March 2001 (tracks 2, 4-7)
4-6 October 2001 (tracks 1, 3, 8-13)
Designed by Studio B, The Creative People
Cover Illustration:
The Tree of Jesse from the Dome Altar, 1499 (tempera on panel) by Absolon Stumme (15th century),
courtesy of Hamburg Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany / Bridgeman Art Library


Missa Malheur me bat is one of Josquin's longest and most vocally-demanding mass settings, but the inspiration behind it is modest and unremarkable. Thought to be by the Ferrarese composer Malcort, the song Malheur me bat survives as music only. The three words of its title alone hint at a work in which the poet is tormented by unrequited love, or threatened with financial insolvency, or both — set to a self-consciously mournful soundtrack. So coated in Phrygian melancholy is the song that no composer could possibly touch it without sticking, but the song's clearly-defined modality may have been part of the attraction to composers such as Josquin. The song structure must also have generated interest, for here — as in the similarly-structured and even more popular song Fors seulement — the tenor and superius imitate one another (listen to the opening of the Gloria for a closely-related adaptation): fertile ground for any composer interested in constructing long passages of close but varied imitation.

From the opening movement of Missa Malheur me bat, it is clear that Josquin's cycle is to be a substantial and ambitious work. This is not a Kyrie in which the movements are stylistically complementary, short vignettes introducing us to the musical ideas which will be elaborated later in the cycle. Rather, here is — as it were — a "through-composed" Kyrie: still tripartite, but a movement in which there is a linear development from one section to the next. The impression is of the composer meticulously gathering together and trying out the melodic and harmonic tools with which he is to build. In Kyrie I he tries out the e to a cadence, and in the latter part of the Christe he combines this with the f to e, falling semitone cadence — the quintessential Phrygian gesture. But the final tool is only properly introduced in the final section with an emphatic major cadence on C. Arguably this is the most important tool of all, for it is in the contrast of major and minor modalities that Josquin so effectively delineates musical and text paragraphs throughout the mass.

Of course the techniques Josquin uses to explore the song are far more diverse than merely the alternation of cadential formulae. As in Missa Fortuna desperata, Josquin has drawn on a variety of methods to manipulate his chosen material, ranging from the use of a single line set in long notes in the tenor (as in the first Agnus Dei section) to something approaching a full-scale "parody" technique. Josquin is a composer for whom a little can be made to go an extremely long way and even the simple falling semitone gesture is sufficient to furnish several bars worth of music, as at the start of the "Qui tollis" section of the Gloria.

A distinctive feature of Misse Malheur me bat is its treatment of borrowed material in repeated segments. Though present in other masses by Josquin, this technique — in which a small portion of the song is stated and then immediately re-stated at twice the speed (listen, for example, to the top voice in the first section of the Credo, or in the final Agnus Dei petition) — is more closely associated with Josquin's contemporary Jacob Obrecht, himself the author of a mass on Malheur me bat (recorded by The Clerks' Group on CD GAU 171). Indeed, it is quite possible that Josquin was encouraged to compose a cycle on this native Ferrarese song when he was employed at by Duke Ercole d'Este of Ferrara in 1503-4, just as Obrecht presumably encountered it during his first period of employment in Ferrara in the 1480s.

The competitive urge — evidence of which can be found in so many mass cycles of the early Renaissance — may help to explain the extraordinary finale to Josquin's Misse Malheur me bat. For the third petition of the Agnus Dei the bass and contratenor altus parts split in two and proceed in canon, the elements of which are only a minim apart. These fast, decorative voice-pairs serve to accompany a final statement of the song in tenor and superius, the overall effect being of climactic bravura. As in the final section of his Missa L'homme armé Sexti toni which closely resembles this movement, Josquin displays his appreciation for the rhetorical potential of the final Agnus. Here are movements which are as far from the slow, meditative Agnus Deis of the later Renaissance as one could imagine (at least until 18th-century Vienna).

The three motets which open this recording are all to be found in Petrucci's 1502 collection Motetti... A though it is assumed that they were composed at least a decade earlier. Each, in miniature, represents different aspects of Josquin's art: Virgo prudentissima, built around a simple division into pairs of voices which merge and re-group; Victimae paschali, more thoroughly involved in the business of four-voice counterpoint, and perhaps more inventive in its adaptation of the chant on which it is based; and then Ave Maria . . . virgo serena, Josquin's most enduringly popular work. A compact, text-based, strictly and hierarchically imitative work, this motet still sings with the freedom and lyricism of the finest song or hymn tunes. The simple variety that Josquin brings to the organisation of the voices, concluding with a direct, homophonic appeal to Mary "miserere mei", is at once mysterious and moving.

Curiously, the longest motet in this programme — Liber generationis — is also concerned with variety and brevity. Why Josquin should have wanted to set the genealogy of Christ (from the opening of St Matthew's Gospel) is puzzling, though he enjoyed the exercise sufficiently to make a similar attempt on the genealogy in St Luke's Gospel (Factum est autem). The text is liturgical and might have been sung as part of a formal devotion, but it is possible that Josquin was drawn to the challenge simply because it suited his taste for varied repetition. In its avoidance of banality and dullness, Liber generationis flirts with many styles, including a playfully madrigalian one as he relishes exotic Old Testament names such as Zorobabel.

While some of Josquin's works, such as Liber generationis, might be intended partly as compositional exercises, they rarely sound stilted. The chanson Baisés moy a4 is constructed from two pairs of canons in which the voices are set apart by a fourth. This in itself provides problems of accidental inflection: should the "following" voice in the canon sing exactly what the "leading" voice has sung (up a fourth) or should it adapt to harmonic context? The problems are multiplied in the six-voice version, for which an extra canonic pair is added to the bottom of the four-voice song. Here the dilemmas are unresolvable and clashes are inevitable. The result of this apparently cerebral exercise is a miniature of bittersweet decadence.

Only the most observant listener would be aware that a canon lies also at the heart of Comment peult avoir joye, this time at the octave between superius and tenor. Disguised by the ubiquitous imitative writing, the canon provides a focal point for a structure which sounds deceptively unfettered. Que vous madame/In pace, by contrast, does nothing to disguise its structure with the chant unusually exposed in the bass voice and rarely participating in the musical action provided by the upper voices. This motet-chanson is in the form of a bergerette, and for this performance we have included the fourth voice, as supplied by Alexander Agricola, in two of the repeated sections.

© Edward Wickham, 2002