Alexander AGRICOLA. Chansons / Ferrara Ensemble
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77038

1. Virgo sub ethereis   [2:00]
Berlin, Deutsche Staatsbibl. MS 40021, f.131v-132r

02. De tous bien playne  (instr.)   [1:57]
Florenz, Bibl. Conserv. Luigi Cherubini MS 2439, f.LXVIv-LXVI Ir

3. Je n'ay dueil   [5:42]
Florenz, Bibl. Riccard. MS 2794, f.28v-30r

4. Tandernaken al op den rijn  (instr.)   [2:32]
Segovia, Catedral MS Archivo Musical, f. CLXIv-CLX11r

5. Revenez tous regretz   [6:31]
Brussel, Bibl. royale MS 228, f.19v-20r

6. De tous bien playne  (instr.)   [1:08]
Segovia, Catedral MS Archivo Musical, f. CLXXXv-CLXXXIr

7. Pater meus agricola est   (instr.)   [6:02]
Petrucci, Motetti Libro Quarto 1505, f.18r-19r, 49r-50r, 114v-115v

8. En attendant   [4:10]
London, Brit Lib., MS Royal 20 A XVI, f. 7v-8r

9. Dictes moi toutes  (instr.)   [3:37]
Rom. Bibl. Casanatense MS 2856, f.69v-70r

10. Jam fulsit sol de sidere   [2:01]
Warszawa, Bibl. Uniwersytecka Rps. Mus. 58, f.144v-145r

11. Cecus non iudicat de coloribus   [4:51]
Bologna, Civico Museo Bibl. Musicale MSQ17, f.12v-16v

12. Gardez voz bien   [1:54]
Uppsala Univ. Bibl. MS 76a, f.51v

13. De tous bien playne  (instr.)   [1:22]
Florenz, Bibl. Cons.L.Cherubini MS 2439, fLXVIv-LXVIIr

14. Helas madame  (instr.)   [1:50]
Segovia, Catedral MS Archivo Musical, f. CXCIIIv-CXCII[Ir

15. A la mignonne   [6:05]
Florenz, Bibl. Riccard. MS 2794, f.71v-72r

16. Fortuna desperata  (instr.)   [2:31]
Augsburg, Stadtbibl. MS 2. 142a. f.46w47r

17. In mijnen sin   [3:04]
Musik: Paris, Bibl. Nat. MS f. fr.2245, f21v-22r
Text: Een schoon liedekens Boeck, Antwerpen 1544

Ferrara Ensemble
Crawford Young

Susanne Norin, contralto
Carol Schlaiker, soprano
Kathleen Dineen, soprano
David Cordier, countertenor
Harry Geraerts, tenor
Stephen Grant, baritone
Debra Gomez, harp
Randall Cook, fiddle, viola de gamba
Timo Peedu, lute
Crawford Young, lute, viola, cittern

with the

Ensemble Este der Schola Cantorum Basiliensis
Randall Cook

Veli-Markus Tapio, viola de gamba
Brigitte Gasser, viola de gamba
Randall Cook, viola de gamba

Aufnahmeleitung: Dr. Thomas Gallia, Paul Dery
Technik: Sonart, Milano
Aufgenommen: 14.-19. X1.1988 Reformierte Kirche Sornetan, CH
Kommentar: Crawford Young
Titelbild: Detail aus
„Die Versuchung des heiligen Antonius” (Triptychon), rechter Flügel (Der hl. Antonius in Betrachtung),
Lissabon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga
Photo: Artothek, Kunstdia-Archiv Jürgen Hinrichs
Photo Rückseite: Bob Shamis
Gestaltung: Heinrich Lehmann
Redaktion: Dr. Jens Markowsky

All rights reserved
© 1990, BMG Music Ⓟ 1990, deutsche harmonia mundi
Eine Coproduktion mit Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Köln


“If it is possible to rank the Christian world according to nobility of voice, then Flanders is the mother of the most excellent singers. First among them is Alexander, singer of Phillipe le Beau...” (1)

A Florentine courtier familiar with the circle of musicians associated with ‘Il Magnifico’ Lorenzo de' Medici might well have agreed with Jacobus Meyerus that Flanders produces the world's “most excellent singers” and that at the head of the list should be Alexander Agricola (ca. 1446-1506), whose name shone “a hundred times brighter than fine silver” and who was “illustrious of voice and hand” (for his singing as well as for his compositions). (2)

“Agricolla, Verbonnet, Prioris, Josquin
Desprez, Gaspar, Brunel, Compere,
Ne parlez plus de joyeux chantz ne ris
Mais composez ung ne recorderis
Pour lamenter nostre maistre et bonpere.” (3)

Unlike his “master and good father” Ockeghem, Agricola spent many years in Italy, in particular Florence. While it is interesting to note contemporary references to Agricola's fame, we must search a bit further for comments from his musical peers if we want information concerning his style or method of composition. The music theorist Pietro Aaron, who called him “the divine Alexander”, writes:

“According to the practice and method of older composers, a composition must first begin with the cantus. Then the tenor should follow, the contratenor bassus third, and finally the contratenor altus. The composers of our time do not follow the custom of the older composers (to put these four parts together always in this order). The most outstanding men in this art are Josquin, Obrecht, Isaac and Agricola, with whom I had the greatest friendship and familiarity in Florence. It is quite difficult to do it (composition) this (new) way, and requires considerable practice and experience”. (4)

If Agricola has been relatively neglected by his twentieth-century colleagues in comparison with, for example, Josquin and Isaac, it is perhaps his instrumental works which least deserve neglect. Precursors to the sixteenth-century “fantasia” and “diminution” appear without these formal names already in the 1480's and 90's (perhaps earlier) in Agricola's catalog of works, and his De tous biens playne settings and other compositions furnish clear evidence of a fifteenth-century instrumental ensemble repertoire. As one of the foremost exponents of the ‘new’ style, Alexander Agricola's influence upon his contemporaries was felt both in music written for voice and for instruments. (5)

So ich betracht, und acht, der alten gesangk, mit danck wil ich jr kunst hoch preisen: Den Ockekhem, fürnem ist seer kunstreich, der gleich thut Larue beweisen, Sein scharpffen sinn, Josquin, acht ich subtil, und wil des Fincken kunst auch rüren, braucht seltzam art, verkärth, auff frembd manier, wie schier thut Alexander füren.” (6)

Thus I observe and respect the old style (of composition) and with gratitude will highly praise that art: Ockeghem is correct and technically very well made; the same of Larue; Josquin is intellectually sophisticated and subtle (clever); Finck is also worth mentioning; concerning the unusual, crazy, strange manner (of composition), how clearly Alexander is the leader in this style.”

And how clearly this description of Agricola's music reminds us of his Flemish contemporary working in the visual arts, Hieronymus Bosch. What exactly did Brätel have in mind when he formulated his comment? Perhaps he was getting at something along the lines of what the contratenor bassus does in Agricola's setting of Tandernaken al up den rijn, or the unusual crafting of the outer voices in either of the two 3-part settings of De tous biens playne from the present recording. Twelve years after the discovery of the New World Agricola and Bosch both had the same employer, Philip the Fair, King of Castile and Duke of Burgundy. It may be that both men won his patronage on account of the part of their creative personalities that seem to us to be so concerned with giving expression to the unexpected, the irrational, the rare.

Crawford Young

1. “Fecunda insuper genetrix est Flandria laudatissimorum cantorum. Siquidem vocum nobilitate quamcumuis christiani orbis gente certare potest Testes sunt Alexander, cantor principis Philippi...”, from Jacobus Meyerus, Epitaph 1531; see Edmond Van der Straeten, La Musique aux Pay-Bas avant le XIXe siècle, Brussel, I (1878), 249.

2. “Le nom, plus der cent fois que fin argent” is taken from Jean Lemaire de Belges, La plainte du desire 1503, ed. D. Yabsley, Paris, 1932, 81.; the second phrase “clarus vocum manuunque” is found in Epitaphion Alexandri Agricolae symphonistae regis Castiliae published by Georg Rhau in Symphoniae jucundae, Wittenberg 1538; see Van der Straeten, op. cit., VII 0885),13-14.

3. Guillaume Cretin, Deploration sur la morte d'Ockeghem, in E. Thoinan, Deploration de G. Cretin sur le trepas de Jean Okeghem, musicien, premier chaplain du roi de France et tresorier de Saint-Martin de Tours, Paris, 1864.

4. Pietro Aaron, Libri tres de institutione harmonica 1516, 111, 7.; my paraphrase is. from the translation of the passage given in Bonnie J Blackburn, “On Compositional Process in the Fifteenth Century”, Journal of the American Musicological Society, XL (1987), 213.

5. See for example the pieces attributed to ‘Baccio’ (Bartolomeo degli Organi of Florence) in the manuscript Bologna, Civico Museo, Bibl. mus. MS Q 17.

6. „So ich betracht und acht” of Hulrich BräteL In: Peter Schöffer, 65 teutsche Lieder, ca. 1536.