sábado, 24 de noviembre de 2012

The Choir Project al día [24-XI-2012]

Jacobus Clemens non Papa [c.1510/15-1555/6]: Missa Pro defvnctis a 4.
The Brabant Ensemble - Stephen Rice.
Et lvx perpetva lvceat eis

    For Stephen Rice:
"Jacobus Clemens non Papa is one of the most remarkably underrated composers of the sixteenth century. From the 1540s onwards he was widely published throughout Europe, in particular by Tilman Susato of Antwerp (himself a composer). Clemens’s surviving output of motets, Mass-settings, Magnificats, Souterliedekens (Dutch metrical Psalms) and secular songs in French and Dutch approaches five hundred items in total, placing him among the most prolific of the age. Sixteenth-century writers on music who discuss the leading contemporary musicians invariably placed him in the first rank. Yet Clemens’s position in modern understanding of Renaissance polyphony can only be described as marginal. The number of recordings devoted to his work is still in single figures, and his music features in concert programmes and the music lists of ecclesiastical choirs only rarely. This is particularly surprising because his style of composition, to a greater degree than that of contemporaries such as Crecquillon and Manchicourt, is based on melody rather than being contrapuntally driven—though his contrapuntal skill is undoubted. Moreover, Clemens frequently created striking aural images, which catch the ear with a sudden change of texture or harmonic shift: in contrast to the intentionally seamless polyphony of the slightly older Gombert, for instance, which creates its effect by gradual intensification and relaxation, Clemens’s music is far more straightforwardly dramatic.

    Little-known though his music may be, Clemens is at least celebrated for his nickname. The significance of the sobriquet ‘non Papa’ has been debated for a number of years, but the recent discovery by Henri Vanhulst of correspondence in 1553 between the Archduke Maximilian of Austria and Philippe du Croÿ, son of a deceased patron of Clemens, offers a possible explanation. Maximilian was seeking to build up the musical establishment of his chapel, and requested that his father’s Kapellmeister, the Netherlander Pieter Maessens, travel to the Low Countries in order to secure the services of Clemens. Du Croÿ replied that although it would be possible to achieve this, he would not recommend Clemens on account of the fact that he was a great drunkard and lived immorally (‘un grant ivrogne et tres mal vivant’—the latter probably referring to Clemens breaching his priestly vow of chastity). The position went to another Netherlander, the young Jacobus Vaet, and Clemens’s puzzling lack of any important employment, considering his fame and popularity as a composer, is explained. This story has a bearing, also, on the nickname (which appears in manuscripts in jocular alternative forms such as ‘nono Papa’ and ‘haud Papa’—‘absolutely not the Pope’). The time during Clemens’s life when there was a Pope Clement—the seventh, alias Giulio de’ Medici—was 1523 to 1534, during Clemens’s adolescence: one may speculate therefore that the composer became known as ‘non Papa’ at that time because of his distinctly un-ecclesiastical behaviour, and that the name persisted long after any distinction between musician and prelate was necessary, if it ever had been.

    What about Clemens’s music caused his great popularity? Two features of his style stand out and set him somewhat apart from his contemporaries: both have to do with the constructive properties of his polyphony. Whereas musicians operating within the standard career paths of the time, such as his direct contemporary Thomas Crecquillon, were educated firstly in contrapuntal technique, and continued throughout their lives to base their compositions on a series of contrapuntal points woven together, Clemens’s textures seem often to function as melody with supporting lines—all written in an imitative style, certainly, but designed to emphasize the melodic gesture rather than to subsume it into a contrapuntal whole. An analogy could be made with the procedure of George Frideric Handel: where Handel writes fugues, their essence is the presentation of melody, and where the melody demands to be treated in a particular way, the counterpoint will accommodate it.

    The second aspect of Clemens’s writing that draws the listener’s attention is the manipulation of harmony. To use the word ‘harmony’ in relation to sixteenth-century polyphony is to invite disapproval from those who believe the term anachronistic; but (partly for the reason elaborated in the last paragraph) I believe that Clemens can usefully be viewed in such terms, to a considerably greater extent than his contemporaries. Although passages in block chords had been present in sacred music for many years before his time, generally at moments of extreme solemnity such as the name of Jesus Christ in the Mass, on numerous occasions in the motets presented here Clemens blends chordal writing into the wider flow of the polyphony, in order to achieve effects that seem more to do with form or even more abstract concepts, than with illustration of the text.

    The Missa pro defunctis is not one of Clemens’s better-known Mass-settings, which is somewhat surprising given its austere beauty. Like most Requiem settings of the Renaissance, it combines movements from the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei—the Gloria and Credo would not have been sung at Masses for the dead) with those Proper to the occasion, namely the Introit, Tract, Offertory, and Communion. For most of the Mass the plainchant melodies are paraphrased in the tenor voice, though occasionally they are found in the soprano (for instance in the Kyrie and Offertory). Given the relatively restricted palette of four voices and chant paraphrase chosen by Clemens, he is able to conjure a remarkably varied range of harmonic colours across the seven movements of the Requiem.

    The Introit is the most conventional movement, with the chant in long notes in the tenor initially; for the Psalm verse et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem (‘and the vow will be repaid to you in Jerusalem’) the texture becomes homophonic with a straight falsobordone harmonization of the Psalm tone in the top voice. After the mandatory repeat of the opening section the Kyrie adopts a similar homophonic style, though Clemens begins to vary his choice of harmonies, notably by introducing an unexpected final chord for the Christe section. The Tract follows the plainsong into a different tonal area, reverting to a more imitative texture. Having created the dialogue between these two styles, Clemens begins in the latter part of the Tract to mingle them, first introducing harmonic twists (perhaps significantly at the word ‘evadere’), then underlining the sentiment of the final text phrase with a general pause and homophonic texture.

    The Offertory is both the central movement and the longest, at 4'30". In the main it is rapid, moving in fast semibreves and homophonically. The final line of the first section, quam olim Abrahae promisisti (‘as long ago you promised Abraham’) is more relaxed in spirit, yielding to chant (taken here by the women) and, following a further energetic verse, returning to round off the movement in a reflective vein.

    Like the Kyrie, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are both short, but here—especially in the Agnus—Clemens is at his most ingenious in avoiding unnecessary repetition. Each invocation of the Agnus Dei ends on a slightly different chord: the final one is forced by the melodic shape of the top voice to finish in the minor, unusually for any Renaissance piece but especially for a Requiem movement since the chants are largely in the major mode (which at this time lacked any connotation of happiness, being regarded rather more as harsh). Finally the Communion Proper completes the Mass in tender fashion, with a return to the Requiem aeternam text and almost static chords for its response et lux perpetua luceat eis (‘and let perpetual light shine on them’), followed by a lightly ornamented repeat of the line quia pius es (‘since you are merciful’). Clemens’s Requiem Mass may be one of the less demonstrative sixteenth-century settings of these texts, eschewing the compositional virtuosity that characterizes his motets, but it achieves a solemn reflectiveness that is highly appropriate musically for this ritual of mourning."

    For me, this Reqviem is inexplicably very little performed and recorded.
This music has great depth -as it can not be otherwise given the text- but also we find there some really energetic moments, without falling in resignation.

    This album is absolutely fantastic -this piece is just enough-, but it's completes with some wonderful motets.
The performance is really great, with a beatiful sound and very delicated lines. This version is calm, deep and very expressive.

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