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Josquin: Motets & Mass movements
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Hyperion
I just read a 5/5 5/5 review of this in BBC Music magazine. Anyone heard it?

Sounds very good to me from the samples, but it's smooth and beautiful so YMMV ;)
 

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I just read a 5/5 5/5 review of this in BBC Music magazine. Anyone heard it?

Sounds very good to me from the samples, but it's smooth and beautiful so YMMV ;)
Content: This is a disc of rarities. Most of them either have never previously been recorded at all, or have never been recorded by performers of this standard. Inevitably, quite a few of them are of disputed authorship (as the booklet notes fully acknowledge). So this is a disc ideally designed for filling gaps on one's shelves, but I wouldn't buy it in preference to collecting the complete masses and the "classic" motets--that would be like buying a CD of Mozart's Violin Rondo K373 plus his disputed Violin Concertos 6 & 7, before buying his famous Violin Concertos 1-5. But for someone who already has most or all of the standard Josquin works, it's perfect. It gives you things you've wanted for ages, without obliging you to buy yet another performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons or Beethoven's Fifth at the same time.

Performance: So far I've heard the disc only once, and I make it a rule never to write an appraisal of something until I've played it at least twice a reasonable time apart, because I'm extremely slow-witted and often don't really comprehend (sometimes don't even notice) important aspects of a performance until the 2nd or 3rd playing. Some things I will say, though: This is singing of an extremely high standard (as with all Brabant Ensemble discs), and, yes, it's very much "mainstream" contemporary Josquin in style.
 

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[At first I wrote this as the continuation of my previous post. But it's really much more general, so I thought I should separate it. I still have grave misgivings about posting it at all, because it seems (a) horribly presumptuous and (b) horribly long-winded.]

May I venture a few words about the general question of beauty in Josquin?

We're often told that Josquin's Masses are to the Renaissance what Beethoven's symphonies are to his era. I personally feel both Josquin & Beethoven to be "myriad-minded" creators, in the sense in which Coleridge applied the term to Shakespeare. As such, I feel they respond to a great diversity of approaches. Not only that, but I actively want to hear them done with a great diversity of approaches. Sometimes I want to hear the whole sequence done by a single team with the overarching unity of a single style. That specially illuminates the music in one way. Other times I want to pick & choose "horses for courses" (because, in a group of works so diverse & many-sided as Josquin's masses or Beethoven's symphonies, no one team is going to be evenly successful in every work). That specially illuminates the music in other ways. Sometimes I want to hear a given work performed exactly the way I want. Other times I want to hear that work performed in a way that bothers me & doesn't seem "right" to me--while trying to hear why the performers did it that way, what exactly they understand about it that I haven't yet grasped.

I fully agree with Mandryka that the standard approach to Josquin focusses on surface sonority almost to the exclusion of everything else. (In fact I suspect I may go even further than Mandryka in that direction, because I'd make that complaint about Beauty Farm etc. too--they may aim at a different kind of sonority, but sonority still seems to me their overriding concern. Indeed, I once heard the Tallis Scholars described derisively as "Beauty Farm for heterosexuals." That statement is unjust [to both teams] in so many ways that one scarcely knows where to start with it, but it does reflect one truth: both teams are products of the same basic culture & share many of the same basic attitudes to music-making.)

But have I overstated my case, in that last paragraph? In fairness, neither Beauty Farm nor the Tallis Scholars nor any other ensemble has been fool enough to concentrate totally on sonority. All of them do attend to other things too! (Listen, e.g., to the Sanctus of the Tallis Scholars' Missa Pange lingua, and see if you don't agree.) And in defence of concentrating primarily on sonority, they might raise the Keatsian argument that "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty"--either that the sheer sonority is the "message" of the music, or at least, that the "truth" must be embodied in sheer sonority and not in anything else, because if it doesn't exist there, it doesn't exist at all.

My reply would be a partial one. I would say, "Yes, Beauty is Truth--but it isn't the only Truth, especially with a myriad-minded composer like Josquin or Beethoven." I'm glad that the Tallis Scholars has done Josquin, that they've maintained their approach at such an amazingly high standard over such an amazingly long span of time, and that they've given us, for the first time, a complete Josquin Mass cycle done entirely from a single overarching unified viewpoint. I love their recordings, and I love listening to them. But they seem to me to present Josquin only from one limited aspect. I want other ensembles to come along and do their complete cycles too--possibly just as limited, but different.

In the 1930s & 1940s, performances of Beethoven symphonies were dominated by one particular style: Toscanini's. Everyone else seemed to be either imitating Toscanini or reacting against him (from within his own culture).

I feel as though the Tallis Scholars are to present-day Josquin what Toscanini was to midcentury Beethoven. I love Toscanini, always have done, & (I hope) always will. I don't believe anyone will ever do Toscanini's Beethoven as well as Toscanini did. And I don't believe anyone will ever do the Tallis Scholars' Josquin as well as the Tallis Scholars have done. But I also want to hear other Beethovens & other Josquins. Especially, I want some Furtwängler to come along--or perhaps, more exactly, some Knappertsbusch--someone who will seem to be neither imitating nor reacting against Toscanini, but wholly indifferent to the fact that Toscanini even exists--someone who will be driven only by their own inner feeling about how they want to do the music, regardless of fashion, regardless of whether audiences will like the results or not--and present the notes on the page in a totally fresh way.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that every approach to Josquin (or Beethoven!) is legitimate. I fully agree, e.g., with Helgi's comments about Cut Circle's Ockeghem chansons set. That set seemed to me the exact equivalent of ham acting--expression was repeatedly injected into the music in a way that (a) seemed to me highly exaggerated and (b) didn't give me the slightest illusion of being "felt from within." I wouldn't want Josquin's masses done that way! But Cut Circle's Dufay mass cycle didn't seem to me so problematic. Now, if they were to do a Josquin mass cycle in a somewhat similar style (not identical, but somewhat similar)....

But I do need the Tallis Scholars, just as I do need Toscanini. When I start to get all deep and philosophical, I need to hear a down-to-earth voice saying to me dismissively, "Is-a not Napoleon. Is-a not Mussolini. Is-a not 'Itler. Is-a Allegro con brio!"
 

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Discussion Starter · #24 ·
Content: This is a disc of rarities. Most of them either have never previously been recorded at all, or have never been recorded by performers of this standard. Inevitably, quite a few of them are of disputed authorship (as the booklet notes fully acknowledge). So this is a disc ideally designed for filling gaps on one's shelves, but I wouldn't buy it in preference to collecting the complete masses and the "classic" motets--that would be like buying a CD of Mozart's Violin Rondo K373 plus his disputed Violin Concertos 6 & 7, before buying his famous Violin Concertos 1-5. But for someone who already has most or all of the standard Josquin works, it's perfect. It gives you things you've wanted for ages, without obliging you to buy yet another performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons or Beethoven's Fifth at the same time.

Performance: So far I've heard the disc only once, and I make it a rule never to write an appraisal of something until I've played it at least twice a reasonable time apart, because I'm extremely slow-witted and often don't really comprehend (sometimes don't even notice) important aspects of a performance until the 2nd or 3rd playing. Some things I will say, though: This is singing of an extremely high standard (as with all Brabant Ensemble discs), and, yes, it's very much "mainstream" contemporary Josquin in style.
Thanks, this is very useful to know as I tend to get ahead of myself. Think I'll save this one for later.
 

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[At first I wrote this as the continuation of my previous post. But it's really much more general, so I thought I should separate it. I still have grave misgivings about posting it at all, because it seems (a) horribly presumptuous and (b) horribly long-winded.]
Wow! I really appreciate you writing up these thoughts.

I absolutely love the idea of Tallis Scholars as 'Beauty Farm for heterosexuals', partially because, while I have a few theories, I'm not really sure I get what it's supposed to mean. I feel like whoever said that must be a really fun person to talk about early music with. I do think I agree in the sense that I see Beauty Farm as fundamentally more similar to Tallis Scholars than the press materials for either group would seem willing to admit - I would be really curious, for example, as I think Mandryka has mentioned, to hear Graindelavoix Josquin, which would be much 'further afield' than either of those groups in a certain sense, and more broadly I would like to hear more groups moving as boldly in different directions as Graindelavoix. That said, though, I feel this way because I actually find something like the Graindelavoix sound quite plainly beautiful to listen to, not because they 'focus on something other than sonority' - I guess I'm not entirely sure what you mean by that, actually.
 

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What do you think of A Sei Voci?
Sorry about the delay answering this one--I wanted to think carefully, and listen to some of their recordings again, before I answered.

During their heyday, in the 1990s, A Sei Voci seemed to me the main alternative to the Tallis Scholars, and indeed seemed likely to complete a Josquin cycle more quickly. I can't sum up their approach in a short space, because their work went through several phases.

1. Their first disc, issued by Forlane in 1985, contained the Missa de Beata Virgine, 3 motets, and the lament over Ockeghem, sung by an ensemble of up to 6 men (2 ct, 2 t, 2 bar). In contrast to all the following discs, it's performed one-to-a-part throughout (as far as I can tell), and remains of special interest for that reason.

On all their discs, each man's voice was closely miked, individually audible, and kept distinct from the others. Each had its own distinct grain & character. However, none of them ever did anything theatrical or showy; all of them tended to approach the music introspectively, at times almost shyly, so that one couldn't say the "spiritual" dimension of the work was being neglected.

2. All the other discs were issued by Astrée-Auvidis-Naïve between 1993 and 2001. On the first two, the men sang motets and were joined by adult women sopranos in a mass (Missa Ave maris stella on the first disc, Missa de Beata Virgine* again-but naturally sounding quite different-on the second).

3. On the four remaining discs, the women sopranos were replaced by mixed trebles (i.e., girls and boys). The first one (Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae) also had (unhistorical) sackbut accompaniment. Even at the time, this mixture was generally considered the least successful of the A Sei Voci Josquin experiments, and they reverted to unaccompanied singing for all their remaining discs.

4. The last three discs contained the Missa Gaudeamus*, Missa Pange lingua, and (on a single disc) the two L'Homme armé masses, performed in all cases by men plus mixed trebles. These discs were better received than the Hercules/sackbut one, but the combination of individualistic, slightly grainy adult men with smoothly blended children was surprising and didn't entirely convince some listeners. On most listenings it doesn't bother me, but sometimes it does. (I suspect that the children's choir was imported, not for any aesthetic reason, but simply because someone in A Sei Voci was a personal friend of someone associated with the choir.) The first two of these discs also contained motets sung by the men only.

In the two performances marked *, Josquin's polyphony was interspersed with monophonic Gregorian propers (somewhat as it would have been in the 15th century), adding to the impression of aural variety, in striking contrast to the seamless homogeneity of the Tallis Scholars' performances.

All the motet performances on these discs are of high standard. In several cases (e.g., the Vult tuum motet cycle coupled with Missa Ave maris stella) they might well be considered the leading choice by most listeners, even today.

The group's leader died of a heart attack, I think around 2006, and the others disbanded in 2011, having recorded nothing at all during the last decade of their career, at least commercially. This gives their recordings, in retrospect, a tinge of poignancy, a sense of what might, under other circumstances, have been. But perhaps it's appropriate that their project remained unfinished and irregular and forward-looking--just as it seems appropriate that the Tallis Scholars proceeded slowly and smoothly and steadily to the completion of what they intended.
 

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I have reservations about those British (& European) ensembles today that have chosen not to follow in the path that the Hilliard Ensemble, Orlando Consort, Medieval Ensemble of London, & Henry's Eight forged back in the 1970s, 80s, & 90s away from the old British choir tradition of putting three or more singers on a part (in choirs of men & boys), when singing music of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.

First, that was not the way music was sung in Josquin's day. It isn't even the way choral music was sung at the Sistine Chapel during Josquin's time in Rome, contrary to what people often believe. Jennifer Bloxam, who is a superb musicologist, explains,


I'm not saying that there isn't a precedent for the older British choir tradition, as I believe there is--possibly in the middle to later British Renaissance and in Catholic Spain & Portugal, but it is nevertheless a different tradition from the one that the early Franco-Flemish composers knew and composed most of their music for.

To my ears, larger sized choirs aren't normally able to handle or do justice to the highly detailed complexity of Franco-Flemish polyphony. Which can turn some of the most fascinating and intricate polyphony composed in the early Renaissance into something that is surprisingly bland, overly homogenous, and boring. In contrast, Josquin's polyphony was mostly composed for agile, lithe, and small groups of singers.

What people don't always realize is that when early Renaissance composers composed their works for large, massive choirs they specifically tailored their polyphony to be less complicated and more simple, so that the music could be managed by a large group of singers more effectively. In other words, the composers took into account that a large choir wasn't going to be able to sing works of 16, 19, 24, 36, & 40 parts with the same agility and nimbleness as a small ensemble could sing works of 3, 4, & 5 parts, or produce the same kind of sharply focused polyphony, but would instead be rhythmically slower, and sound more homogenous and polyphonically congested. So they composed accordingly and didn't write with a great deal of complexity in mind. Rather, they used these characteristics to create a less complex, but massive sounding polyphony that was tailored to the large size of the choir (or choirs). A good example of such works can be found on a CD by the Huelgas ensemble, entitled "Utopia Triumphans", which I'd strongly recommend (it begins with Thomas Tallis's "Spem in Alium" for 40 voices--8 choirs of 5 singers!: a motet that was modeled after a mass by the Italian composer Alessandro Striggio, and also includes Josquin's Qui Habitat, and Ockeghem's Deo gratias!):
.

Notice how slow these works are, and how much more simplified the polyphony has been made in order to accommodate the massive size of the multiple choirs. That doesn't happen accidentally. The composers knew what they were doing. Just as they knew what they were doing when they composed works of a far greater polyphonic complexity to be sung by smaller groups of singers all huddled around a single score on a single choir stand, as occurred in most churches in the Early Renaissance, including, as Jennifer Bloxam points out, the Sistine Chapel in Josquin's day.

So, the size of the choir wasn't something arbitrary. The Franco-Flemish didn't write polyphony that could be made to accommodate a variety of different approaches. Just as their works for 16, 19. 24, 36, and 40 singers can't be performed by a small group of singers, so the reverse is true, as well--that their more complex and highly detailed works for 3, 4, & 5 parts can't be sung effectively by large choirs that put 3 or more singers on a part. I believe that would have been simply understood back then, just as it was later understood in the Germany of Buxtehude, Telemann, and J.S. Bach: whose choir practices came out of the Renaissance tradition.

Otherwise, it would be like me declaring that I prefer to listen to Beethoven's late string quartets played in a variety of different ways--not only by a string quartet, but also by a chamber orchestra, or even better by a big lush string section of a large orchestra. Well, the latter isn't Beethoven. Nor is it how he conceived his 4 part string quartets.

In fact, we can know this because, unfortunately Beethoven died before the first performance of his Op. 131, and wasn't able to prevent it from later being orchestrated. Of course, some people like this orchestration of Op. 131, which is fine. People can like whatever they want to like. But, at the same time, I hope that most listeners will agree that Beethoven's string quartets weren't written to accommodate such a thick, string laden orchestration. Listen to how slow, and thickly laden, and lugubrious (like a funeral dirge) the Op. 131 quartet becomes when it is played by 60 strings here!!, instead of Beethoven's prescribed 4:
. Obviously, if that is how Beethoven wanted his Op. 131 to sound, he wouldn't have written it as a string quartet.

In similarity, the majority of early Renaissance choral works were written for 3, 4, & 5 parts, to be sung by smaller groups of singers--with only one or two singers on a part, as previously noted. Indeed, we can see this practice illustrated in various paintings of the day, for example:

https://indianapublicmedia.org/wpimages/harmonia/2013/05/Ockeghem-edit-image.jpg

For additional proof, I'd strongly recommend that people watch a documentary film that Capella Pratensis, Statton Bull, and Jennifer Bloxam made on this subject in relation to the group's singing of a mass by Jacob Obrecht. The DVD was included in the following Capella Pratensis CD, which unfortunately has become harder to find these days, since it's gone out of print on CD, but it is well worth trying to track down:

https://www.amazon.com/Jacob-Obrecht-Missa-Sancto-Donatiano/dp/B0025TJ4U6
https://www.challengerecords.com/products/1235562481

This more accurate understanding of Renaissance singing practices is something that the early Hilliard Ensemble brought to their first recordings when they emerged onto the early music scene in the 1970s. Here, at last, was a vocal ensemble that could sing the more rhythmically complex, varied, and intricately detailed polyphony from the Middle Ages and Renaissance in a more expressive way, as the composers from those times had conceived it. As a result, many early music listeners suddenly realized that most of this music wasn't intended to be sung by big, cumbersome, hazy sounding choirs. And, in turn, the Hilliard Ensemble inspired other smaller groups to form, such as the Orlando Consort, Henry's Eight, Ensemble Jachet de Mantoue, Cinquecento, The Sound and the Fury, New York Polyphony, Egidius Kwartet, Stimmwerck, etc..

My second reservation about large choirs is that the more singers you pile onto a part, the less precise and exact the intonation will be, inevitably. Even if the three or four singers have excellent intonation, the notes won't project with the same degree of precision and clarity and pinpoint accuracy as when they are sung by only one or two singers on a part. The focus of the polyphony will therefore become fuzzier, especially if the group is singing in a space with cavernous echoes, such as an ample sized church: Where all those intricate and complex polyphonic details that the Franco-Flemish composers took such pains to compose will get hazy and out of focus and sometimes even hard to distinguish.

If that is what the Franco-Flemish composers had in mind, why on earth would they have bothered to compose such intricately detailed polyphony in the first place? Only to see it all get lost or diminished within a haze of church echoes, when sung by too many singers on a part? I doubt it.

My third reservation is that a large sized choir will inevitably lack the requisite rhythmic agility that is most necessary for Franco-Flemish polyphony to be sung effectively. In other words, large choirs will inevitably slow down and lack a certain fluidity, & even plod, whenever a greater rhythmic agility and nimbleness is required, such as is the case in most Burgundian and Franco-Flemish music.

All of which explains why large choirs often make this music sound bland and boring and overly homogenous, when it is anything but bland and boring and homogenous!

Which is not to say that there aren't Renaissance works that were composed to be sung by a larger choir, as there are. However, in Britain I believe they come more in the later Renaissance, rather than during the earlier time of John Dunstable, Lionel Power, and the Old Hall Manuscript: Which is music that the Hilliard Ensemble has surely demonstrated works a lot better when it is sung by a small group versus how it was previously sung by larger choirs in somewhat stodgy performances: For example,

--Hilliard Ensemble, Dunstable: Veni sancte spiritus:

--Pro Cantione Antiqua, Dunstable: Veni sancte spiritus--Now, I do realize that Pro Cantione Antiqua isn't a large choir, but they add instruments, which has a similar effect of congesting and slowing down the polyphony, though I admit that it's not as bad as when it is sung by a more cumbersome choir. Yet, I do find this performance somewhat stodgy in comparison to the Hilliard's (although I don't dislike their singing):

As for the later English Renaissance, I'm referring to the choral works by Thomas Tallis, Robert White, John Sheppard, John Browne, Christopher Tye, Nicholas Ludford, John Taverner, Robert Fayrfax, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, etc., whose music may arguably be more accommodating to both medium sized and larger choirs than Franco-Flemish polyphony. Although I generally don't want to hear this music sung by an oversized choir, either, and again, I'd prefer a smaller group.

I could say the same about the Renaissance music of Catholic Spain and Portugal (i.e., Victoria, Morales, Guerrero, Cardoso, Lobo, etc., where the polyphony isn't quite as complex and intricately detailed as Franco-Flemish polyphony. For me, it is akin to comparing the more broadly stroked Spanish paintings of Diego Velsaquez and Jusepe Ribera to those of the far more intricately detailed Flemish masters, Jan Van Eyck, Rogier Van der Weyden, and Hans Membling.

So, why are there still large choirs today singing Josquin by putting three or four singers on a part, if that practice is based on a misinformed or misguided scholarship? In Britain, I suspect the reason is because British choristers and choir directors are indoctrinated early on into the older British choir tradition. It's what they know and are raised in, and therefore, it becomes difficult to tear themselves away from it. Plus, I suspect the same is true for British audiences, as well, whose early, formative experiences in choral music are likewise with more ample sized choirs in churches and cathedrals.

But don't take my word for it, have a listen for yourself. Here are some prime examples of smaller groups singing the music of Josquin: Notice how much more agile, clear (lithe), and expressive (& interesting) the individual musical lines become within the polyphonic dialogue:

--Orlando Consort:
--Hilliard Ensemble:
--Ensemble Jachet de Mantoue:
--Capella Pratensis, led by Joshua Rifkin:
--Ensemble Clément Janequin:
--Ensemble Clément Janequin & Ensemble Organum (4 singers from each group):

Now, if you're still game, have a listen to the following murkier and less agile, and sometimes poorly intoned singing by the following larger choirs, who put more than two singers on a line (granted, some choirs are more virtuosic than others):

--The Choir of Westminster Cathedral: https://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDH55374
--Alamire, whose intonation goes off at times (EDIT: Actually, this is only 8 singers, I was wrong, but oddly, it sounds like more, which isn't a compliment...):
--La Chapelle Royale:
--New London Chamber Choir:
--A Sei Voci, when they sing with a children's choir of girls and boys, such as on their Missa Gaudeamus:
. Gvn gives an excellent overview of this group above. Personally, I'd avoid their CDs with the girls and boys choirs (whose intonation isn't very good). However, when A Sei Voci sang as just six men, or as a smaller group, they sing very well (their Allegri disc, for example, is one of the best in the catalogue, and a further example of Sistine Chapel music sung by a more appropriately sized ensemble of just 10 singers).

As for the Tallis Scholars, Magnificat, Stile Antico, and the Brabant Ensemble, they generally perform with two singers on a part, so they're more medium sized chamber choirs, though I wouldn't describe the sound of these groups as being small and intimate (which is what I normally prefer myself).

The other problem I have with today's British choirs is that their directors have a penchant for transposing the music up (except for the Hilliard Ensemble, who often transposed slightly down). In the past, transposing down was common in order to accommodate an ensemble of all male singers, whose tenors & counter tenors might have difficulty with the alto and high treble parts. But with the addition of women to British choirs, it became increasingly popular to transpose up, which creates a more 'ethereal' effect on the high soprano line. However, this practice also gives the music a higher pitch and therefore a much lighter effect, which can diminish the deep richness of the bass line and reduce the duality or 'light and dark' spectrum inherent in the polyphony. That can't be right. At least, not when you consider that a deep bass line is one of the distinctive contributions that Johannes Ockeghem made to Franco-Flemish polyphony. It is also one of the most defining characteristics and innovations that separates Ockeghem's music from the Burgundian School. & most importantly, this deep bass line strongly influenced and inspired the more varied tonal palette of next generation of Franco Flemish composers, who saw Ockeghem as their "father".

Like Ockeghem, Guillaume Faugues' masses almost certainly inspired Josquin & the next generation, as well. In fact, Faugues' more varied tonal palette is precisely what the music theorist and Franco-Flemish composer Johannes Tinctoris most admired about his masses, when he cited their "varietas" as being among the greatest of the age. This "varietas" is not something that I would associate with large choirs (or even, in some cases, medium-sized chamber choirs).

Which is not to say that the transposition up can't work in any Renaissance music. For me, transposing up can sometimes work in British choral music. Among modern recordings, that tradition appears to have been started by David Wulfstan & the Clerkes of Oxenford, who specialized in singing the Tudor & Elizabethan repertory of Tallis, Sheppard, White, Byrd, Gibbons, Tye, etc.. And it can work beautifully in their music, IMO. For example, Wulfstan transposed Tallis' Spem in alium up into the stratosphere, by the interval of a minor third, which is a very high range for trebles. I believe it is as high as any choir director has transposed the "Spem in Alium" up. But it works, IMO, indeed Wulfstan's 1974 performance remains one of my favorite Spem in Aliums on record.

In addition, I've also enjoyed the "Spem in Alium" recording by Wulfstan's former student, Peter Phillips, & the Tallis Scholars, along with a recording by former Tallis Scholar singer, Phillip Cave, and his group, Magnificat; as well as the recording by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen Choir on Chandos (which if memory serves, is transposed as high as Wulfstan's). Yet, on the other hand, I've also liked those British choir directors that don't transpose up, such as Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Choir, and Alastair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi; since, in some ways, the darker, more serious content of the Spem in Alium text is arguably better served by not transposing up to a lighter pitch.

In addition, I'd also claim that Josquin Desprez's music gets more interesting when there is a superb counter tenor or alto singer and tenor interacting with a female on the high treble line that sounds like a boy soprano within the vocal mix; along with, of course, a deep rich base line, in order to create a fully varied tonal palette. I suspect that is one of the primary lessons that Josquin learned from Ockeghem. Granted, I realize that the boy soprano idea isn't in accordance with present day scholarship, but I don't think scholars today are entirely right about this.

For example, ask yourself, why else were single boy sopranos so prized and valued & highly sought after in the Early Renaissance, if they were not being used specifically as soloists?, who sang one or two on part within smaller vocal ensembles? Were they so greatly prized merely to fill out a large choir of men and boys? That doesn't make any sense to me.

To his credit, Walter Testolin is the first and possibly the only choir director in the early music field to recognize that the treble line in Josquin's polyphony becomes more rarified and special when a single boy soprano sings it (or in Testolin's group, a woman that sounds like a boy); that is, unless his choice was purely intuitive. & I agree. For me, there is something very special that happens in Josquin's polyphony when a single boy treble voice is added into the ensemble's vocal blend. In De Labyrintho's Missa Gaudeamus, for instance, there is the most wonderful interplay between Testolin's "boy" soprano and the alto & tenor parts that doesn't happen anywhere else:
. Although Peter Phillips seems to have been partly influenced by De Labyrintho's vocal blend on some of his later Josquin recordings, where at times I hear a boy-ish sounding soprano within the vocal mix, which I hadn't noticed before--at least, not to the same extent on Phillips' previous Josquin recordings:
.

I also partly agree that the best ensembles today don't sing Josquin, but I'll have to address that in another post.
 

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I have reservations about those British (& European) ensembles today that have chosen not to follow in the path that the Hilliard Ensemble, Orlando Consort, Medieval Ensemble of London, & Henry's Eight forged back in the 1970s, 80s, & 90s away from the old British choir tradition of putting three or more singers on a part (in choirs of men & boys), when singing music of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance.
Thank you for this thorough breakdown of the issue(s) - from an aesthetic perspective I strongly prefer the fewer-singers-per-part approach, and also as far as I understand the musicology supporting this as historical practice is quite conclusive, but I really hadn't considered, for example, the difference in complexity between polyphony written specifically for large groups vs. smaller...

As I look deeper into the musicological research around Renaissance polyphony more generally, though, what I find is that there's really extraordinarily little confidence in our knowledge of vocal timbre / texture / voice production / ornamentation / tempo / etc. and even if we think we can understand someone's written-down description of how a voice should sound, we are at the mercy of unthinkably divergent cultural attitudes, a problem which crops up aggressively even in, for example, recreations of Romantic style, which, if based on contemporary readings of period-appropriate instructional manuals, often founder on the rocks of actually-existing early recordings of musicians educated according to those same manuals... So, where I used to think of a group like Graindelavoix as pushing things too far too arbitrarily just to be provocative, it now seems to me that everything from Orlando Consort to Choir of Westminster Chapel still represents a very narrow sampling of 'possibly-historically-accurate' performances, and ideally there should be many more groups pursuing, not the same approach as Graindelavoix, but rather many approaches as distinct from each other as Graindelavoix is from the Hilliards. Anyway, the reason I bring this up - and I'm sure you already know most of it, or have well-justified views to the contrary - is that to me it seems hard to accept that tweaking a dial like 'number of singers per part' would necessarily, even if it does bring the music closer to historical accuracy, make it easier to perform successfully, when that dial interacts so intimately with so many other dials which we don't know where to set - it may simply be that there is a correlation between 'groups trying to be more historically accurate' and 'groups that have better intonation and better singers overall'... or what if the 'real' reason to keep it one-singer-per-part, from, say, Josquin's perspective, is in order to execute ornaments which few contemporary ensembles have even tried?

Or perhaps there's research I myself have not considered...
 

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cheregi,

Josquin's music is so carefully and deliberately constructed that the music itself indicates a lot about how he intended it to be sung, or at least gives us some clues. For example, sometimes his chansons are conventional in imitation of Ockeghem and Busnois, or surprisingly ribald and boisterous, or Italianate and influenced by frottolas. & overall, they seem faster & more fluid than his motets. While other times his music is polyphonically intricate and complex to such an extent that ornamentation need not be added, since the music is already ornamented, in effect, & there's no room for it! Yet, at other times Josquin's music can be deliberately austere and simplified, to the extent that adding ornamentation would be very out of place, & only complicate, distract from, and hinder both the style and mood of Josquin's composition. In other words, Josquin wrote exactly what he wanted, note-wise. & therefore, to add ornament to his music is unnecessary, at least, in the majority of his works.

For instance, how is a singer going to add ornament to the following motet, and why on earth would they even attempt to do so? since the score is already composed to perfection!,


We also know that Josquin could be difficult to work with--judging from a comment that was made in regards to a suggested hiring of the Franco-Flemish composer Heinrich Isaac--instead of rehiring Josquin--at the court of Ferrara. From Wikipedia,

"One of the rare mentions of Josquin's personality survives from this time. Prior to hiring Josquin, one of Duke Ercole's assistants recommended that he hire Heinrich Isaac instead, since Isaac was easier to get along with, more companionable, was more willing to compose on demand, and would cost significantly less (120 ducats vs. 200). Ercole, however, chose Josquin."

As noted, the above information suggests that Josquin was difficult to work with, indeed he was known to compose as he pleased (and when he pleased) according to his own genius & not to someone else's demands. (Can you blame him?) It also hints that Josquin was likely demanding to work for. As a singer, Josquin was described as being a "magnificent virtuoso" (by Heinrich Glarean, writing in 1547), which is hardly surprising considering that he worked for a time in Rome at the Sistine Papel Chapel. Therefore, we can surmise that Josquin would have expected the same virtuosity and discipline from his singers. Hence, I can't imagine that he would have easily tolerated intonation problems, for example. (& I'd bet good money that he would have sent A Sei Voci's mixed choir of girls and boys home to stay.)

Besides, there are two anecdotes that demonstrate Josquin's attitude towards how his music should be sung. The first is a comment by Martin Luther, who tells us that Josquin got exactly what he wanted from his singers, while other composers, who didn't have Josquin's position or fame, simply gave the singers their "notes" or scores, & hoped for the best. Here is Luther's actual quote (from Wikipedia): "he [Josquin] is the master of the notes. They must do as he wills; as for the other composers, they have to do as the notes will." In other words, Josquin was the accepted authority or "master" of his own music, and therefore, apparently he coached and demanded what he wanted in detail from his singers, or in effect, "conducted" them, as I understand the quote.

An example of a choir director today that similarly "conducts" his ensemble in Josquin's music is Walter Testolin (with De Labyrintho). Testolin has even been criticized for being "too artful" in his "performances", or interpretations. But apparently, Josquin was "artful" too, in getting precisely what he wanted from his singers. That in itself appears to rule out the notion that Josquin's singers might have felt at liberty to add ornament or make various individual 'contributions' of their own to his perfectly composed scores.

We also know that Josquin's music requires a specific, cohesive inner unity from the ensemble, in relation to the music's contrapuntal texture. Again, from Wikipedia,

"Many "modern" musical compositional practices were being born in the era around 1500. Josquin made extensive use of "motivic cells" in his compositions, short, easily recognizable melodic fragments which passed from voice to voice in a contrapuntal texture, giving it an inner unity. This is a basic organizational principle in music which has been practiced continuously from approximately 1500 until the present day."

Lastly, there is a wonderful 1562 anecdote--presumably passed down from Josquin's time, which tells us unequivocally! that Josquin didn't wish for singers to add ornament to his music. (Which shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.) The anecdote is discussed on page 32 of Josquin scholar, William Elders book, "Josquin Des Prez and His Musical Legacy: An Introductory Guide". Elders writes,

"Of a clearly anecdotal nature is the tale related by the German humanist and collector of aphorisms Johannes Manlius in his Locorum communium collectanea (Basel, 1562), p. 542:

'When Josquin was living at Cambrai [sic] and someone wanted to apply ornaments in his music which he had not composed, he walked into the choir and sharply berated him in front of the others, saying, "You ***[a-ss], why do you add ornamentation? If it had pleased me, I would have inserted it myself. If you wish to amend properly composed songs, make your own, but leave mine unamended!"

This anecdote shows that Josquin strove for such perfection in his compositions that further intervention was redundant." (!!!!!)

Yet, while all of the above examples provide solid clues, to an extent you are right. We don't know for certain how this music was sung. So, it's worth exploring & staying open to a variety of different approaches (that is, except where choirs load three or more singers on a part, such as the Westminster Choir does, which is just plain wrong in every conceivable way!!).

Personally, I can't imagine that Josquin would accept the liberties that Graindelavoix takes with Renaissance scores, nor their somewhat looser, less precise approach, but their style of singing may be valid or at least partly valid. Though I would point out that the great majority of Josquin's works are composed in Marian devotion, and therefore I can't imagine that he envisioned these works--in honor of the cosmic "Queen Mary", whom he obviously held in very high regard--to be sung by an ensemble that at times can sound like a "Corsican goatherd" (to borrow from critic Fabrice Fitch in his comments about how the later recordings by Ensemble Organum have influenced Björn Schmelzer's approach). Then again, I don't think we should close the door on the subject either, but rather keep an open mind. As it's possible that Graindelavoix is part of a necessary evolution in early Renaissance performance practice. Though I personally think they take the middle eastern or arabic style of their singing (if you will) a tad too far in regards to music of the early Renaissance. But maybe not to music of the Middle Ages, where their approach seems to work a lot better, in my view. In any event, the world of early music is certainly a better, richer place with Björn Schmelzer & Graindelavoix, than without them. & please don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to put them down with the "Corsican goatherd" analogy (nor was Fabrice Fitch, either, I suspect); although there is perhaps a grain of truth to it, yes? (no pun intended). Besides, I love the sounds that goats make. Really, I do.

 

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As mentioned in my previous post #27, I partly agree with others here that the "best groups today don't sing Josquin", but with a handful of notable exceptions (actually it's a little more than a handful, maybe closer to nearly a dozen). However, my own list of "best" ensembles isn't likely going to be exactly the same as others. If anyone's interested, here are the groups that I'd be most keen to hear sing Josquin's music, & especially in our Josquin 500 anniversary year!:

--La Main Harmonique--this group is the most underrated early music ensemble on the scene today, IMO. It's a shame they don't get more attention or recognition. Especially considering that their native French pronunciation makes a significant difference with the singing of French texts, such as in the chansons by Ockeghem and Comperé, here:
. Therefore, I'd love to hear them sing some of Josquin's chansons (or any other works by him!). EDIT: It looks like I may be getting my wish!!!! The following You Tube clip offers some truly magnificent Josquin singing! (& for a change by an exemplary sized ensemble, well suited to match Josquin's intimate, expressive polyphony): I hope that a new Josquin recording from La Main Harmonique will be issued this year!:


--Capilla Flamenca--Any ensemble that can produce an album of the quality of Capilla Flamenca's "Espris D'Amours: Miniatures Flamendes" on Musique de Wallonie (after the passing of the late Dirk Snellings): https://www.amazon.com/Espris-damours-Marnix-Capilla-Flamenca/dp/B073LR52GJ, will likely be very fine in the music of Josquin (indeed their Ockeghem motets were remarkable, under Snellings): https://www.prestomusic.com/classical/products/8004555--espris-d-amours-miniatures-flamandes.

--Ensemble Daedalus, led by Roberto Festa--another superb ensemble that deserves to have a higher profile.

--Ensemble Cinquecento--if their excellent recording of Jean Richafort's Requiem in memory of Josquin, coupled with a single motet by Josquin is any indication...

--I Fagiolini--The group's leader, Robert Hollingsworth gets that there is at the very least a slight theatricality in Renaissance music (& sometimes a whole comedia dell' arte), and that polphony is part story telling, or a dramatic conversation between the various musical lines, and therefore, that it possesses a human content or drama (or comedy). Therefore, I'd love to see I Fagiolini record some of Josquin's music--perhaps the (complete) chansons? or a couple of his masses. At the very least, I hope they'll record the rest of Josquin's L'homme armé masses (once we're well past COVID-19), since the following Agnus Dei movement from Josquin's Missa L'homme armé on their "Leonardo - Shaping the Invisible" CD is 'other worldly'! (It almost sounds like Ligeti at the beginning!):


--La Reverdie--this group has long been a favorite of mine, although in order to sing Josquin, I suppose they'd have to slightly modify their female dominant vocals, which they've done before with success in Dufay:

--Doulce Memoire

--Vox Luminis

--Henry's Eight--I'd love to see this group get back together and record Josquin's music, but alas, that is likely only wishful thinking.

--Blue Heron--after Blue Heron gets done with Ockeghem, I hope they'll see Josquin as a natural progression...

--La Morra--another underrated group.

--New York Polyphony--this group is getting better & better, as the singers grow & mature as an ensemble.

--Diabolus in Musica

--The Sound and the Fury

--The Binchois Consort

--Stimmwerck

--Gothic Voices

--Le Poem Harmonique--although I don't think Josquin's music is the type of repertory that Vincent Dumestre normally focuses on.

So, I hope that some of the above groups will give us a Josquin recording (or two) during this 500th anniversary year!!!!

In addition, I'd also be very keen to hear some more excellent Josquin from Ensemble Jachet Mantoue, Ensemble Musica Nova, Weser-Renaissance, De Labyrintho, Ensemble Clement Janequin (in the future, as my wish has been granted for 2021, with their new, excellent Josquin disc), Cut Circle, Cappella Pratensis, Huelgas Ensemble, and the Orlando Consort.

(& I'm sure I've forgotten to mention an ensemble or two...)

As for Beauty Farm, I only know Beauty Farm's singing from their first album of Ockeghem masses and I found that CD disappointing. However, I've been assured that they do better elsewhere, so maybe I'll take another chance on them at some point.

In regards to Graindelavoix, I see them as a separate case. You can't speak about them as if they're just another ensemble, because they aren't. The closest you can get to how they approach music is Ensemble Organum in their later years (for example, here:
). Which is likely what inspired Björn Schmelzer to go in the direction he's gone in with Graindelavoix. Otherwise, they are radically different from every other ensemble out there, considering that their singing defies most people's expectations for how early music should sound (or be sung). To my ears, their singing has a more middle eastern flavor & sounds slightly arabic: which can be fascinating in certain repertory (such as from the Middle Ages). On the other hand, I'm not sure that I'm overly keen to hear them sing Josquin's music. But I will say that I've begun to like their Ockeghem disc more than I did initially, so perhaps it will eventually win me over more with repeated listening:
. & btw, they do sing Josquin's Nymphes des bois on that disc:
.

However, we're a long way from having too many Josquin Desprez recordings in the catalogue, so I'd welcome ANY new Josquin recording, regardless of how controversial the group's approach might be. And, of course, it always possible that I might be pleasantly surprised.

EDIT: I just did a search on You Tube, and found that there is a live bootleg performance by Graindelavoix singing Josquin's Stabat Mater in concert at Brussels' Kapellekerk!:

Graindelavoix, Josquin Stabat Mater:

I'll need to listen to this performance several more times before I can comment on it.

For the sake of comparison, here is Ensemble Jachet de Mantoue singing the Stabat Mater:
.

I'd be curious to know which Stabat Mater people prefer?

There's also Philippe Herreweghe's murkier performance:
, and Cantica Symphonia's recent recording, which adds instrumental accompaniment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiAjtWenWic; as well as a fine recording from Capilla Flamenca under the previous leadership of Dirk Snellings:

Is anyone game to take a vote on which performance they think is best of Josquin's Stabat Mater? I'd be game, at least, while this Josquin 500 year seems to be in a bit of a lull after the first initial releases...

Based on my first listen, I'd say that the two best performances are, for me, by Capilla Flamenca and Ensemble Jachet de Mantoue. Though I'm undecided about which I like best.

(P.S. As for Cut Circle's Ockeghem Chansons, I agree, they sing them more in the direction of madrigali, which can be interesting and strange at the same time (and must be a deliberate choice on Rodin's part, since it's unusual). At the moment, I prefer the complete sets by the Medieval Ensemble of London and Blue Heron (though their second volume hasn't come out yet). Other favorite recordings of selected Ockeghem chansons are by La Main Harmonique, Romanesque, and the Sollazzo Ensemble (& I most especially enjoy La Main Harmonique!: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0916S9BF3/ref=dm_ws_sp_ps_dp).)
 

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We also know that Josquin could be difficult to work with--judging from a comment that was made in regards to a suggested hiring of the Franco-Flemish composer Heinrich Isaac--instead of rehiring Josquin--at the court of Ferrara. From Wikipedia,

"One of the rare mentions of Josquin's personality survives from this time. Prior to hiring Josquin, one of Duke Ercole's assistants recommended that he hire Heinrich Isaac instead, since Isaac was easier to get along with, more companionable, was more willing to compose on demand, and would cost significantly less (120 ducats vs. 200). Ercole, however, chose Josquin."

As noted, the above information suggests that Josquin was difficult to work with, indeed he was known to compose as he pleased (and when he pleased) according to his own genius & not to someone else's demands.
I was just reading about this episode last night. The author of my book was making the argument that Josquin was the first of the "cult of personality" composers. I m not sure how this impacts on a appreciation of his work. Apparently after his death there were a number of attributions which have since been de-bunked.
 

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cheregi,

Josquin's music is so carefully and deliberately constructed that the music itself indicates a lot about how he intended it to be sung, or at least gives us some clues. For example, sometimes his chansons are conventional in imitation of Ockeghem and Busnois, or surprisingly ribald and boisterous, or Italianate and influenced by frottolas. & overall, they seem faster & more fluid than his motets. While other times his music is polyphonically intricate and complex to such an extent that ornamentation need not be added, since the music is already ornamented, in effect, & there's no room for it! Yet, at other times Josquin's music can be deliberately austere and simplified, to the extent that adding ornamentation would be very out of place, & only complicate, distract from, and hinder both the style and mood of Josquin's composition. In other words, Josquin wrote exactly what he wanted, note-wise. & therefore, to add ornament to his music is unnecessary, at least, in the majority of his works.
I see what you're saying here, I think this makes a lot of sense, and since my own knowledge of music theory, composition, and how to compose specifically for singing is so limited, my point of view is often lacking in input derived from those kinds of knowledge...

Isn't it still true, though, for example, that we actually have extraordinarily little information on actual musical tempo, and what you posit as a motet which is complete without ornamentation may have been sung much more slowly, leaving plenty of room? More importantly, can't we take a look at middle eastern, Indian, and other classical musics, and easily find many examples where ornamentation would be applied much more liberally than what you're used to, which you might describe as 'out of place' but would sound perfectly natural to others? In other words, it seems to me that going from "adding ornamentation would be very out of place, & only complicate, distract from, and hinder both the style and mood of Josquin's composition" to "Josquin wrote exactly what he wanted, note-wise" is kind of circular, no?

Here is an example of the difficulties with reproducing Romantic performance style, which I'm using to make a broader point about history - and you've probably heard this, but just in case:


This isn't some amateur or some radical, this woman was the most acclaimed singer of her generation in Europe. The important thing is that critics described her voice as clear, pure, and expressing the will of the composer, in other words things that we would label as ornaments or extraneous today were totally unremarkable at that time... and this is far from an isolated example, I can send plenty of analogous examples from similarly acclaimed instrumentalists and other singers... and this is only a hundred years ago, and it's a hundred years during which music was widely recorded and distributed...

So, for example, the quote about Josquin as 'master of the notes'... I think there are so so many different ways to interpret that! I've seen that before and have always thought, first of all, that it just meant 'Josquin is really good at making his music sound beautiful and tuneful and melodic without audibly making sacrifices in order to follow the rules of counterpoint, whereas other composers sometimes write in ways that make it seem like they are struggling to communicate a good musical idea within the prescribed rules' - it doesn't strike me as being a quote about performance practice at all, and even if I were to read it that way, I certainly wouldn't necessarily infer what you infer...

As for your unequivocal quote about Josquin objecting to singers adding ornaments... well, first of all, we can return to the actually quite large ambiguity, historically, about what constitutes an ornament at all - portamento is an example of something which contemporary Western singers are fairly isolated in regarding as an ornament in the first place, for example, as opposed to something you just do without even thinking about - and, secondly, we of course both know that recent scholarship has cast doubt on Josquin's very authorship of, what, half? a third? a quarter? of the works that have traditionally been associated with him, not to mention where and when he lived, so it really doesn't seem implausible for that quote to have circulated without having anything at all to do with Josquin, especially given that if I recall correctly by 1562 we are already moving into the era of the Catholic church trying to justify rejecting polyphonic complexity in favor of clearer simpler textures a la Palestrina... It may also be relevant to consider the Gregorian chant revival at Solesmes, if I remember right, and the effort to 'strip away' all the ornamental excess that had 'encrusted' onto the original chants, when much historical evidence indicates actually that at least some of that 'excess' has actually always been there, and has even decreased over time rather than increased...

That said, I quite like the sound of many of the same recordings you favor, and I think it is absolutely true and kind of funny that Graindelavoix sound sort of goat-y!! (I'll grant this if you'll grant that some of the 'traditional' ensembles sound kind of muppet-y...)

In other words, I have absolutely no objections to Josquin being sung in any way at all, I am glad that we can choose between Hilliard Josquin and De Labyrintho Josquin etc. ... my only objection is to the idea that Graindelavoix Josquin somehow 'fits the music less well' or 'less naturally' than those groups... I am fairly convinced that barring some insane stroke of luck, every single contemporary recording of Josquin is quite 'wrong', from a historical-accuracy perspective, and as a result people should feel much more free to record Josquin any way they please, rather than sticking to a rather artificial set of ideas about 'early-music-sound'.

Have you heard the 90s iteration of Cappella Pratensis' Josquin? Probably my favorite Josquin, and very very different from the new Cappella Pratensis recordings...


 

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San Antone writes,

"The author of my book was making the argument that Josquin was the first of the "cult of personality" composers. I m not sure how this impacts on a appreciation of his work. Apparently after his death there were a number of attributions which have since been de-bunked."

I get what the author of your book is saying, but I don't know if I'd call Josquin "the first of the cult of personality" composers myself. At some point, composers went from being deliberately anonymous and selfless in motivation (like the great architects of the Gothic Cathedrals) to becoming known by name and greatly renowned throughout Europe. I'm not sure if that transition can be exactly pinned downed by year or decade or specific codex or publication (that may have named the actual composers), but it was certainly a general trend or change, in the transition from the late Middle Ages to the early Renaissance. & since Josquin was such a prominent figure of the 3rd generation of the Netherlandish School, and the most famous composer of that school in Europe, it's quite possible that this loss of anonymity among composers can be perceived to begin with Josquin. However, I don't know how much Josquin can be blamed for his own fame, if at all. He was after all a priest. Plus, you'd also have to prove that Dufay, Ockeghem, Busnois, Binchois, Faugues, Caron, etc., who came before Josquin, weren't of the same renown, but were only well known within various church & noble circles across Europe. (& I'd say that's a poor argument.)

As I see it, if Josquin was a central figure in any cult, it was a cult of the Virgin Mary, which were very popular in Europe at the time. Josquin scholar William Elders believes that there is a very strong probability that Josquin belonged to one. And if so, I'd seriously doubt that Josquin was the only composer that belonged to a Marian cult, considering how many of the Franco-Flemish composers were so devoted to her in their musical works. In which case, such a connection and devotion to Queen Mary or the divine feminine, if you will, tells us not only a lot more about who Josquin really was, but it also gives us more than just a superficial glimpse into the true & more enlightened motivation behind much of his music (the majority of which is Marian in devotion).

As for the many works that were once attributed to Josquin that are now disproved or at least of disputed authenticity, due to his great renown in Europe, Josquin's music was very good for business. Back then, if you attributed a work to Josquin, it was going to sell very well. So, a lot of that was done, unfortunately, which, in turn, has left scholars with many misattributions to sort through. However, I think they've got all that mostly worked out now, at least, as far as it can be worked out. Anyone disagree?

Hang on, cheregi, it's going to take me some time to respond to your post above...
 

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San Antone writes,

"The author of my book was making the argument that Josquin was the first of the "cult of personality" composers. I m not sure how this impacts on a appreciation of his work. Apparently after his death there were a number of attributions which have since been de-bunked."

I get what the author of your book is saying, but I don't know if I'd call Josquin "the first of the cult of personality" composers myself. At some point, composers went from being deliberately anonymous and selfless in motivation (like the great architects of the Gothic Cathedrals) to becoming known by name and greatly renowned throughout Europe. I'm not sure if that transition can be exactly pinned downed by year or decade or specific codex or publication (that may have named the actual composers), but it was certainly a general trend or change, in the transition from the late Middle Ages to the early Renaissance. & since Josquin was such a prominent figure of the 3rd generation of the Netherlandish School, and the most famous composer of that school in Europe, it's quite possible that this loss of anonymity among composers can be perceived to begin with Josquin. However, I don't know how much Josquin can be blamed for his own fame, if at all. He was after all a priest. Plus, you'd also have to prove that Dufay, Ockeghem, Busnois, Binchois, Faugues, Caron, etc., who came before Josquin, weren't of the same renown, but were only well known within various church & noble circles across Europe. (& I'd say that's a poor argument.)

As I see it, if Josquin was a central figure in any cult, it was a cult of the Virgin Mary, which were very popular in Europe at the time. Josquin scholar William Elders believes that there is a very strong probability that Josquin belonged to one. And if so, I'd seriously doubt that Josquin was the only composer that belonged to a Marian cult, considering how many of the Franco-Flemish composers were so devoted to her in their musical works. In which case, such a connection and devotion to Queen Mary or the divine feminine, if you will, tells us not only a lot more about who Josquin really was, but it also gives us more than just a superficial glimpse into the true & more enlightened motivation behind much of his music (the majority of which is Marian in devotion).

As for the many works that were once attributed to Josquin that are now disproved or at least of disputed authenticity, due to his great renown in Europe, Josquin's music was very good for business. Back then, if you attributed a work to Josquin, it was going to sell very well. So, a lot of that was done, unfortunately, which, in turn, has left scholars with many misattributions to sort through. However, I think they've got all that mostly worked out now, at least, as far as it can be worked out. Anyone disagree?

Hang on, cheregi, it's going to take me some time to respond to your post above...
Here is the section I had read, with some bolded sections to underscore the point:

"The Tuscan diplomat Cosimo Bartoli (1503-1572) compared Josquin to Michelangelo-an extraordinary admission for a Florentine patriot-and Swiss humanist Heinrich Glarean (1488-1563) viewed the esteemed composer as the equal of Virgil. After Josquin's death, younger composers penned dirges in his honor filled with lofty praise, and Jean Richafort wrote an entire requiem mass for his deceased master. Before two decades had elapsed, his preeminence was asserted by no less an authority than Martin Luther, who claimed that other composers must serve the musical notes, but only Josquin could force them to do as he willed. No previous composer, even the most celebrated, such as Guillaume Dufay and Johannes Ockeghem, had gained such acclaim."

"Yet the most striking measure of Josquin's impact may be the sheer number of works falsely attributed to him-publisher George Forster later joked that Josquin had the unique skill of composing more music after he died than while alive. So powerful was his authority that the name Josquin became a kind of brand name or stamp of excellence rather than a proper attribution of a work's origins. Here we see the same process of legitimization and mainstreaming that is a recurring theme in this book. "

[...]

"One of the few surviving descriptions of Josquin's personality from his own time shows up in a letter to Duke Ercole I of Ferrara. It warns the duke, an ambitious patron of the arts, against hiring such a cantankerous, demanding individual. In this revealing text, singer Gian de Artiganova suggests that Heinrich Isaac would be a better choice, even though he was the inferior talent. Isaac was deemed "more good-natured and companionable," according to this observer, "and he will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to, and not when one wants him to, and he is asking 200 ducats in salary while Isaac will come for 120-but Your Lordship will decide."

"The duke did decide, in favor of Josquin, and the incident testifies both to how rebellious musical superstars could be under the new rules and to how much patrons were willing to tolerate in order to engage their services."
- Music: A Subversive History by Ted Gioia
 

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Cheregi,

There are a lot of points to respond to in your post, so I'll try to be selective.

First, yes, I know Cappella Pratensis's recordings with Rebecca Stewart & like them, too. I wouldn't quite say they are "very, very different" from what CP is doing today. But yes, they do sing more slowly & in a more hushed, quiet style, and there is a female voice or two within the mix; whereas CP today uses all male singers. Yet, Stratton Bull studied with Stewart, and therefore much of how CP approaches this music today comes from her teaching & guidance, such as the historical context for CP's singers standing clustered around a score on a single choir stand. Plus, Stewart likely selected Bull to succeed her (?). (Did you know that "Pratensis" is another name for Josquin's family?)

cheregi writes,

"Isn't it still true, though, for example, that we actually have extraordinarily little information on actual musical tempo, and what you posit as a motet which is complete without ornamentation may have been sung much more slowly, leaving plenty of room? More importantly, can't we take a look at middle eastern, Indian, and other classical musics, and easily find many examples where ornamentation would be applied much more liberally than what you're used to, which you might describe as 'out of place' but would sound perfectly natural to others? In other words, it seems to me that going from "adding ornamentation would be very out of place, & only complicate, distract from, and hinder both the style and mood of Josquin's composition" to "Josquin wrote exactly what he wanted, note-wise" is kind of circular, no?"

Yes, I don't believe we have any (or much) information on tempo. But I don't think that if you play a piece of music more slowly that it necessarily leaves more justification for ornamentation, or allows you to add more ornamentation within the context of the phrasing (or the mood and style of the piece). & even if it does, it doesn't change my point. Plus, there's a difference between music that is more improvisational in origin and character and adding ornament to a specifically notated musical composition (which must be more subtle & judicious and done in the same style as the written notes).

I'm inclined to think that the music from different continents has little to do with or possibly no bearing on the complexity of Franco-Flemish polyphony, unless you can prove that it influenced the Netherlandish School? Granted, they may have known Middle Eastern music, or aspects of it, which probably did reach them through certain Byzantine (Constantinople), Maltese, or Cypress connections or cross influences, musically--perhaps originating with the Knight's Templar's time in the Middle East, but not likely Indian music. However, that's a huge discussion, and not one that I'm able or qualified to talk about in any depth. Although I'd expect that Björn Schmelzer, Marcel Peres, and Paul van Nevel would have some interesting thoughts and ideas about a possible Middle Eastern connection to the Burgundian School. I also recall buying an interesting album by Doulce Memoire several years ago where they interspersed Turkish music with pieces by Dufay, etc.--partly sung by Turkish singers, in connection to the Ottoman Court in the time of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, entitled,"La Porte de Felicite":
.

No, I didn't know who Adelina Patti was. Thanks for the introduction. Of course I agree that ornamentation was a regular part of the music making in later ages, such as the Baroque and Classical eras, that's indisputable. I don't know how that exactly relates to Josquin's time, but judging from the 1562 anecdote apparently it does. However, IF you accept that the 1562 anecdote is reliable & authentic, and therefore valid, then it tells us 'unequivocally' that Josquin didn't want any ornamentation to be added to what he'd composed. Considering that his music reaches a level of perfection that very few composers in music history even get close to, and few, if any, equal or surpass, IMO!, I tend to see it as music that nothing can be taken away from, and nothing can be added to. So, I view the 1562 anecdote as pretty much stating the obvious, since it is how I would expect a genius of Josquin's caliber to act. (By the way I see Dufay & Ockeghem's music in a similar way.) However, I do realize that not everyone views Josquin in the same exalted terms that I do, as in essence 'divinely inspired'. Which is how Giorgio Vasari saw the great painters of the Renaissance, and for me, Vasari's high estimation of their rare genius applies to the "I fiamminghi" composers, as well. In other words, I don't see these 'creators' as normal people, at least not in certain ways, any more than I would view Sir Isaac Newton as an average person, because clearly he wasn't. (Although of course I'm sure they all had their human flaws & shortcomings, as we are all flawed. I'm not naive.)

Cheregi writes,

"So, for example, the quote about Josquin as 'master of the notes'... I think there are so so many different ways to interpret that! I've seen that before and have always thought, first of all, that it just meant 'Josquin is really good at making his music sound beautiful and tuneful and melodic without audibly making sacrifices in order to follow the rules of counterpoint, whereas other composers sometimes write in ways that make it seem like they are struggling to communicate a good musical idea within the prescribed rules' - it doesn't strike me as being a quote about performance practice at all, and even if I were to read it that way, I certainly wouldn't necessarily infer what you infer..."

I agree, the Martin Luther quote can be interpreted in a number of different ways. And of course we have to bear in mind that we're reading an English translation of what Luther actually said, and English interpretations aren't always very good or accurate or reliable in conveying the original intent and meaning of the speaker's words. & yes, I realize that Luther may have just been saying that Josquin was a master at composing notes, and could make them do whatever he willed, while other composers couldn't do so, at least not to same extent. But, for me, the quote carries some implication towards the singing of those notes, as well, and suggests that Josquin likewise had a masterful control over his notes via his own highly virtuosic singing (which apparently he was known for), and probably that of his fellow singers, too (as the accepted leader of any group of singers that he sang with). In other words, I don't think that Luther is necessarily separating Josquin the master composer from Josquin the virtuoso singer, the two being one and the same to a Renaissance mind, perhaps? But I admit that may be a stretch.

Nor can I help but see Luther's quote as having a direct connection to the information offered by the 1562 anecdote, either. Which I believe is very credible because, as previously stated, it makes a ton of sense in relation to how perfectly Josquin composed his music, and how incredibly rare that is. Even without the anecdote, I'd be shocked if Josquin was open to much, if any ornamentation in his music. As I see it, only a singer that lacked humility and/or musical taste would dare add to what Josquin had already composed to perfection, & especially in his presence!!, as the anecdote relates. After all, Josquin was the most renowned composer in Europe at the time & for good reason. So, the anecdote rings true to me. But you don't have to agree.

(If, on the other hand, I am wrong & the anecdote is spurious, then yes, everything you say about the Catholic church in the 1560s is likely true in relation to it, and those are very perceptive points. I just don't agree with them, in relation to Josquin.)

When I wrote that ornamentation would be "out of place" in Josquin's music, I was specifically referring to the mood and style of his more austere and simplified works. If a composer writes something that is austere, they're not likely going be open to ornamentation that changes or alters the intended mood of that work. In other words, since Josquin had deliberately composed such works in an austere and simplified style, it only follows that to add extraneous ornamentation would likely risk changing the style and mood of the piece. Therefore, I can't imagine that he'd be happy about such additions, because clearly that's not what he was aiming for in these works--they are not intended to be ornate in any way.

Plus, I believe that singers can recognize & bring out the specific emotion and human feeling within Josquin's music (& texts) despite that it was composed 500 years ago, without having to add ornamentation, which only gets in the way. For example, the Orlando Consort sings Josquin's motets as well as any ensemble I know, and they don't add any extra articulation of their own to Josquin's music. Yet the human emotions and human feeling within the music are fully realized, deeply felt, and beautifully brought out. In other words, the Orlando singers didn't need to get in the way. & I don't think it would have worked nearly so well if they had. For me, that recording by itself strongly suggests that the 1562 anecdote is true. (Here it is again, since evidently I don't think that I can link to this remarkable recording too many times!:
.)

cheregi writes,

... as a result people should feel much more free to record Josquin any way they please, rather than sticking to a rather artificial set of ideas about 'early-music-sound'.

On the one hand, I agree with you, and said as much that we need to keep an open mind to various approaches to Josquin's music, including Graindelavoix's. But, on the other hand, I wouldn't go as far as you and say that musicians can do whatever "they please" with Franco-Flemish music, as if we know nothing at all. Surely, that negates a lot of good scholarship? For me, there are certain historical parameters--such as the number of singers placed on part--that must first be thought about and strongly considered in relation to how they may provide a deeper insight into and illuminate the written score and text in performances. That is key, IMO. But yes, otherwise I agree, we have to remain open (because Schmelzer, Peres, and the like may have special insights to add, such as the possible connection of this music to the Middle East or to monasteries, etc.).

cheregi writes,

"That said, I quite like the sound of many of the same recordings you favor, and I think it is absolutely true and kind of funny that Graindelavoix sound sort of goat-y!! (I'll grant this if you'll grant that some of the 'traditional' ensembles sound kind of muppet-y...)"

I'm afraid I've never watched the muppets! I know what they are, but I don't know what you're referring to. So I can't agree or disagree that any modern ensemble sounds "muppet-y". Although I hope that you're not talking about the Orlando Consort's Josquin? which, to me, represents that ensemble at their very best, and offers some of the finest counter tenor singing I've ever heard, from Robert-Harre Jones, since I do know who Kermit the Frog was...
 

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SanAntone,

Your book looks very interesting. I didn't know about the Tuscan diplomat who compared Josquin to Michelangelo in stature. But I don't think the comparison is a stretch, not even for a Florentine "patriot", considering that the Florentine Leonardo da Vinci and Josquin moved within the same circles. After all, there was a reason why the Italians wanted the 'I Fiamminghi' in Italy. No doubt they understood and fully recognized the special gifts and genius of the Franco-Flemish composers. Indeed the Flemish Renaissance influenced the Italians a lot more than people generally realize.

I have heard the comparison made before. There was a notable musicologist, whose name escapes me at the moment, who once claimed that Josquin's motet, "Miserere Mei Deus" was on the same sublime level as, or the musical equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling:
(speaking of one of Josquin's more austere and simplified works). Just as I've heard others claim that Michelangelo's Last Judgement is Dante's Divine Comedy in the flesh...

Yes, a lot of works were once attributed to Josquin, but I believe scholars today have gotten past all that, for the most part; at least, as far as is possible.
 

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Cheregi,

There are a lot of points to respond to in your post, so I'll try to be selective.
Thank you for the detailed response! I'll similarly try to be selective (but no promises...)

First, yes, I know Cappella Pratensis's recordings with Rebecca Stewart & like them, too. ... (Did you know that "Pratensis" is another name for Josquin's family?)
I didn't know that about Josquin, that's good to know!

I may have overstated the case with 'very very different', but - I should inform that A) I do happen to know from email exchanges with Rebecca Stewart that the Cappella was rebooted without her involvement, and she does not regard the group's current incarnation as being at all connected to her own deeper principles and aims regarding performance of modal polyphony, which can B) be found here - apologies for the long article, but I recommend at least skimming it as it is extraordinarily interesting - outlining, almost, a whole spiritual relationship to sound in general...

I'm inclined to think that the music from different continents has little to do with or possibly no bearing on the complexity of Franco-Flemish polyphony, unless you can prove that it influenced the Netherlandish School?
Sorry, I neglected to explain my point in my rush to jump to the next idea - I didn't mean to highlight the possibility of actual musical influence from those cultures. Basically I am trying to demonstrate two things (which in the next paragraph I will provide some additional evidence for, should you wish to investigate): 1. from looking at different musical cultures around the world, Arabic, Indian, et cetera, we can see that there is astounding variety in terms of what sounds or ornaments might be considered pleasant or natural-sounding. 2. from listening to early recordings from the 1910s and 1920s of musicians educated during the 19th century, we know that even if we stay within the European tradition and only move backwards in time, i.e. temporally rather than geographically, we only have to go back a hundred years before we find a set of aesthetic criteria for 'what constitutes a beautiful performance' which is already somewhat alien to our own critera today. The conclusion I draw from these two points is that 'the past is a foreign country', effectively, and that the field of plausibility is wide open - not that Josquin may have a cultural background in common with contemporary Indian or Arabic classical musicians, but that his aesthetic criteria may easily be as foreign to ours (though not necessarily in the same ways) as ours are from a contemporary Arabic or Indian classical musician.

For example, I have a friend who designs trumpets for instrument manufacturers. He tells me that in China, Korea, and Japan, there is a very, very strong preference for trumpets with an aggressively bright tone - a tone so bright it would be considered obviously, unequivocally ugly and distasteful in any European or American market. To a traditionally-educated Japanese ear, gagaku sounds stately, regal, and even beautiful, rather than ear-splitting or mournful as it does to most westerners. The liner notes for this album of traditional Vietnamese chamber music describe the very distinct emotional/affective associations of each of the different modes on display, serene angry mournful joyous etc., which to a traditionally-educated Vietnamese person would sound as intuitive as our major and minor distinction, but personally I can barely begin to tell the differences, let alone derive the 'correct' emotion from each one.

To focus again on Europe - I am a big fan of this 1904 piano roll recording (i.e. recorded not as audio but as information about key presses - so we can hear it in nice modern sound quality, but the machine itself makes the performance a bit more rhythmically and dynamically 'robotic' than it doubtless was in reality) of Carl Reinecke, born in 1824, by all accounts a real mainstream conservative, stylistically. I'm not saying this is how Mozart 'should be played', of course. I'm just saying norms and expectations shift much more, and much faster, than we might have thought. Here is a quartet showing off what I consider, based on listening to many such recordings, a fairly standard approach to portamento and vibrato even into the early 20th century. And for more vocal examples, I highly recommend this chapter of this book-length online study of early recordings.

All this, implicitly, is to push back against your notion, for example, that the 1562 note's veracity is affirmed by the fact that "it makes a ton of sense in relation to how perfectly Josquin composed his music", or that ornateness is clearly "not what he was aiming for in these works" - my point is that I give almost no weight to my instincts in cases such as these, because I am so very aware of how much musical 'instincts' can vary from person to person and time to time! That said, while I think it is most likely the 1562 note is inauthentic, I think it is plausible that it is authentic - in which case we can shift our focus away from ornamentation, and instead discuss, for example, voice type (we really can't say Graindelavoix-esque roughness makes less sense than cherubic Englishness), or portamento (not considered a form of ornament even in the 19th century - ornamentation being only actual extra notes per se)...

All that said, though, actually there is a separate discussion to be had, legitimately, about the influence of Arabic musical traditions on medieval Europe. Medieval and later instruments such as the lute, rebec, guitar, naker, and shawm are all called by transliterations or corruptions of Arabic names (al-'ud, rabab, qitara, naqqara, zamr), and the instruments themselves are extremely close to the Arabic designs - we have no reason to believe playing techniques were not also imported. Medieval troubadour poetry is extremely closely modeled on poetic forms from Muslim Spain, themselves of course adapted from broader Muslim-world traditions. And as far as I understand, there's mounting evidence to suggest that many early plainsong melodies originate in the near-east - again, why not singing technique and ornament as well?

But, on the other hand, I wouldn't go as far as you and say that musicians can do whatever "they please" with Franco-Flemish music, as if we know nothing at all. Surely, that negates a lot of good scholarship? For me, there are certain historical parameters--such as the number of singers placed on part--that must first be thought about and strongly considered in relation to how they may provide a deeper insight into and illuminate the written score and text in performances.
I'm very grateful for the scholarship, and the effect that it has had on developments in performance, to be sure. But, I believe (as I think you do too) that a performance which ignores scholarship also has plenty of room to be a powerful and moving artistic experience. I guess where I think you and I diverge here is that I see even those performances which incorporate all the scholarship as likely to be only a little bit closer to 'accuracy' than those which ignore scholarship completely! So, sure, one-voice-per-part is more correct than 10-voices-per-part, granted, but I'm not much bothered about it (notwithstanding that the 10-voice-per-part model will probably simply sound worse, but that's a separate issue) since the one-voice-per-part is also probably singing with a basically contemporary voice-technique which has little to do with Josquin... And, again, I love these recordings too, I'm not saying they can't be really rewarding aesthetic experiences in their own right!

I'm afraid I've never watched the muppets! I know what they are, but I don't know what you're referring to. So I can't agree or disagree that any modern ensemble sounds "muppet-y". Although I hope that you're not talking about the Orlando Consort's Josquin? which, to me, represents that ensemble at their very best, and offers some of the finest counter tenor singing I've ever heard, from Robert-Harre Jones, since I do know who Kermit the Frog was...
Well, I think Graindelavoix sound goat-y even though I also simultaneously enjoy their work immensely... by the same token I think there is something sort of kermit-y about, yes, even the truly very wonderful Orlando Consort recording, which is also among my favorites!

Sorry for the absolute wall of text - I am excited about these ideas and happy to have someone to engage with them from a differing viewpoint!
 

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Thank you for the detailed response! I'll similarly try to be selective (but no promises...)

I didn't know that about Josquin, that's good to know!

I may have overstated the case with 'very very different', but - I should inform that A) I do happen to know from email exchanges with Rebecca Stewart that the Cappella was rebooted without her involvement, and she does not regard the group's current incarnation as being at all connected to her own deeper principles and aims regarding performance of modal polyphony, which can B) be found here - apologies for the long article, but I recommend at least skimming it as it is extraordinarily interesting - outlining, almost, a whole spiritual relationship to sound in general...

Sorry, I neglected to explain my point in my rush to jump to the next idea - I didn't mean to highlight the possibility of actual musical influence from those cultures. Basically I am trying to demonstrate two things (which in the next paragraph I will provide some additional evidence for, should you wish to investigate): 1. from looking at different musical cultures around the world, Arabic, Indian, et cetera, we can see that there is astounding variety in terms of what sounds or ornaments might be considered pleasant or natural-sounding. 2. from listening to early recordings from the 1910s and 1920s of musicians educated during the 19th century, we know that even if we stay within the European tradition and only move backwards in time, i.e. temporally rather than geographically, we only have to go back a hundred years before we find a set of aesthetic criteria for 'what constitutes a beautiful performance' which is already somewhat alien to our own critera today. The conclusion I draw from these two points is that 'the past is a foreign country', effectively, and that the field of plausibility is wide open - not that Josquin may have a cultural background in common with contemporary Indian or Arabic classical musicians, but that his aesthetic criteria may easily be as foreign to ours (though not necessarily in the same ways) as ours are from a contemporary Arabic or Indian classical musician.

For example, I have a friend who designs trumpets for instrument manufacturers. He tells me that in China, Korea, and Japan, there is a very, very strong preference for trumpets with an aggressively bright tone - a tone so bright it would be considered obviously, unequivocally ugly and distasteful in any European or American market. To a traditionally-educated Japanese ear, gagaku sounds stately, regal, and even beautiful, rather than ear-splitting or mournful as it does to most westerners. The liner notes for this album of traditional Vietnamese chamber music describe the very distinct emotional/affective associations of each of the different modes on display, serene angry mournful joyous etc., which to a traditionally-educated Vietnamese person would sound as intuitive as our major and minor distinction, but personally I can barely begin to tell the differences, let alone derive the 'correct' emotion from each one.

To focus again on Europe - I am a big fan of this 1904 piano roll recording (i.e. recorded not as audio but as information about key presses - so we can hear it in nice modern sound quality, but the machine itself makes the performance a bit more rhythmically and dynamically 'robotic' than it doubtless was in reality) of Carl Reinecke, born in 1824, by all accounts a real mainstream conservative, stylistically. I'm not saying this is how Mozart 'should be played', of course. I'm just saying norms and expectations shift much more, and much faster, than we might have thought. Here is a quartet showing off what I consider, based on listening to many such recordings, a fairly standard approach to portamento and vibrato even into the early 20th century. And for more vocal examples, I highly recommend this chapter of this book-length online study of early recordings.

All this, implicitly, is to push back against your notion, for example, that the 1562 note's veracity is affirmed by the fact that "it makes a ton of sense in relation to how perfectly Josquin composed his music", or that ornateness is clearly "not what he was aiming for in these works" - my point is that I give almost no weight to my instincts in cases such as these, because I am so very aware of how much musical 'instincts' can vary from person to person and time to time! That said, while I think it is most likely the 1562 note is inauthentic, I think it is plausible that it is authentic - in which case we can shift our focus away from ornamentation, and instead discuss, for example, voice type (we really can't say Graindelavoix-esque roughness makes less sense than cherubic Englishness), or portamento (not considered a form of ornament even in the 19th century - ornamentation being only actual extra notes per se)...

All that said, though, actually there is a separate discussion to be had, legitimately, about the influence of Arabic musical traditions on medieval Europe. Medieval and later instruments such as the lute, rebec, guitar, naker, and shawm are all called by transliterations or corruptions of Arabic names (al-'ud, rabab, qitara, naqqara, zamr), and the instruments themselves are extremely close to the Arabic designs - we have no reason to believe playing techniques were not also imported. Medieval troubadour poetry is extremely closely modeled on poetic forms from Muslim Spain, themselves of course adapted from broader Muslim-world traditions. And as far as I understand, there's mounting evidence to suggest that many early plainsong melodies originate in the near-east - again, why not singing technique and ornament as well?

I'm very grateful for the scholarship, and the effect that it has had on developments in performance, to be sure. But, I believe (as I think you do too) that a performance which ignores scholarship also has plenty of room to be a powerful and moving artistic experience. I guess where I think you and I diverge here is that I see even those performances which incorporate all the scholarship as likely to be only a little bit closer to 'accuracy' than those which ignore scholarship completely! So, sure, one-voice-per-part is more correct than 10-voices-per-part, granted, but I'm not much bothered about it (notwithstanding that the 10-voice-per-part model will probably simply sound worse, but that's a separate issue) since the one-voice-per-part is also probably singing with a basically contemporary voice-technique which has little to do with Josquin... And, again, I love these recordings too, I'm not saying they can't be really rewarding aesthetic experiences in their own right!

Well, I think Graindelavoix sound goat-y even though I also simultaneously enjoy their work immensely... by the same token I think there is something sort of kermit-y about, yes, even the truly very wonderful Orlando Consort recording, which is also among my favorites!

Sorry for the absolute wall of text - I am excited about these ideas and happy to have someone to engage with them from a differing viewpoint!
Somewhere I've learned, it may have even been here, that Rebecca Stewart is going to release a CD soon. It just seems blindingly obvious that Capella Pratensis under Stratton Bull is a different animal than under Stewart.

I'm not sure you can make any generalisations about how many voices were on a part in Josquin, it may have depended on the size of the church, the number of singers available etc. I've seen those big scores that they all used to crowd round, they're enormous, you could probably fit a dozen singers round them.

There's no point in arguing about singers' voices, what one person loves another loathes and it's a complete waste of time to either praise or blame their timbre.
 

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Somewhere I've learned, it may have even been here, that Rebecca Stewart is going to release a CD soon. It just seems blindingly obvious that Capella Pratensis under Stratton Bull is a different animal than under Stewart.

I'm not sure you can make any generalisations about how many voices were on a part in Josquin, it may have depended on the size of the church, the number of singers available etc. I've seen those big scores that they all used to crowd round, they're enormous, you could probably fit a dozen singers round them.

There's no point in arguing about singers' voices, what one person loves another loathes and it's a complete waste of time to either praise or blame their timbre.
I feel like I learned of that new CD from you? Or perhaps we both saw the same thing. Regardless of course I'm very excited about it.

As for numbers of singers, I was under the impression that there was some fairly conclusive evidence in favor of reduced forces, but I'm not sure - and of course an aesthetic preference for smaller forces is all over 20th and 21st century academic music more generally, so that might easily be at play in the world of interpretation of evidence...

As for arguing about singers' voices, the reason I keep bringing up that I like the Orlandos as well as Graindelavoix, etc., is specifically so as to avoid falling into a conversation about preference, which I agree is pointless and unproductive - I'm just talking about what we can and cannot say about historical accuracy - which may also be pointless, but I keep learning more relevant information about this topic and I value making sure my interpretation of that information stands up to scrutiny.
 

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Mandryka writes, "It just seems blindingly obvious that Capella Pratensis under Stratton Bull is a different animal than under Stewart."

No one was arguing that there aren't distinctive differences between Capella Pratensis under Bull and under Stewart. However, Bull sang in Capella Pratensis under Stewart, and studied with her, and there are some important similarities, too. He didn't abandon everything that he learned during his formative years with Cappella Pratensis--such as the precision of attack & the clarity of consonants, emphasis on perfect intonation, and the rhetorical independence of each vocal line within the polyphony. Indeed, both CP groups have been strong advocates for the historical basis of a relatively small group of singers clustered around a single choir stand and score (it's just that Stewart uses slightly more singers, judging by the richer choral sound that Cappella Pratensis produced under her). In addition, when the two groups have opted to observe this historical practice, they have sung from facsimiles of 15th century manuscripts, and use a Latin pronunciation that was particular to the Low Countries in the 15th century. In other words, they're both trying to accurately reproduce how the music of Ockeghem and Josquin sounded in a church some 500 years ago. To my mind, that's not insignificant.

On the other hand, yes, as noted, Stewart is occasionally open to a richer choral timbre than CP today (by using slightly more singers), and a chant-like blend that some have characterized as having a greater stillness and gentleness, and therefore a more relaxed spiritual effect; a practice that is closely tied to Stewart's conviction that these works, like chant, were strictly sung as a form of worship to God. Therefore, the singing under Stewart can come off as more genuinely devout to some listeners. (I don't agree that Stewart's approach is necessarily more spiritual and devout, but I wouldn't argue against it, either.) The older CP also tends to sing more slowly in their tempi choices, which isn't surprising, considering that Stewart uses a slightly larger ensemble and adopts this chant-like approach. However, I wouldn't say that all of that is foreign to Cappella Pratensis today, but yes, there are differences.

Another important difference is that unlike Stewart, Bull doesn't use any female voices, which only further accentuates the differences between the two groups. To my ears, Stewart's approach can sometimes sound more distinctly feminine, and to me, the music making has something more in common with what I've heard from nuns in convents. There is a certain masculinity and robustness that is missing. I don't see that as necessarily good or bad, or valid or invalid--just different.

At the same time, I can see why Bull changed or modified the singing of Cappella Pratensis, because it would have made no sense for him to do exactly what Stewart does, particularly with an all male ensemble. Early Renaissance music can also, at times, be full of strong rhythmic clashes and dissonance, too, and I'd say that Stewart's approach works less well in that regard.

I also find it more striking and thought provoking and even startling to hear a group of men, including deep rich basses, sing works that were composed by male composers out of a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary, in order to show the divine feminine great honor and reverence, than I find it to hear a more feminine approach to the same music as sung by nuns in a convent, or a treble chorus, who will invariably reimagine the original low-voice scoring of this music. Though I'm not necessarily claiming that one is better than the other.

Nevertheless, an all male choir is unquestionably more historically accurate to the early Renaissance, since there were no mixed choirs.

Mandryka writes, "I'm not sure you can make any generalisations about how many voices were on a part in Josquin, it may have depended on the size of the church, the number of singers available etc. I've seen those big scores that they all used to crowd round, they're enormous, you could probably fit a dozen singers round them. "

No one has argued that an ensemble couldn't conceivably get a maximum of a dozen singers all crammed around a single score. Earlier in the thread, I argued that you clearly can't get the Westminster Choir around a single choir stand, or any other large choir, such as Philippe Herreweghe's, or even a chamber choir of more than 12 singers. Though it might be possible that they could have used a maximum of 12 singers when they sang the rarer 6 part works--since that would have constituted a double choir (though I expect it would have gotten crowded and tight). But were 12 singers commonplace in Renaissance churches? And, would it have been necessary or desirable to use 12 singers in the much more common 3, 4, & 5 part works of the Renaissance? & most importantly, did the composers generally write their polyphony with 12+ singers in mind? I don't think there's any evidence to support this. Certainly not according to the paintings or illustrations of the day, where the most I've seen is 9 singers in front of a single score. And certainly not according the size of the Cantoria in the Sistine Papal Chapel during Josquin's time, either. While the 8 singers of Capella Pratensis today look like they can barely fit around a comparably sized 15th century facsimile score. For instance, how many more singers can you add to the group in the following photograph of Capella Pratensis? I'd say maybe two at the most (to make 10 singers), but even then, it would start to get uncomfortably crowded. & with the addition of four more singers to make a group of 12, I can't imagine that it wouldn't become a lot more difficult to manage, though granted, maybe not impossible:

[IMG[/IMG] (EDIT: sorry, I'm having trouble posting the photograph of Capella Pratensis standing around a facsimile score.)

(If the photograph doesn't reproduce here, here's a You Tube clip to the current Cappella Pratensis singing around a facsimile 15th century score, where again, I count 8 singers or a double choir:
. Here too is a clip from the Cappella Pratensis documentary film on Jacob Obrecht, where they are again 8 persons singing around a single facsimile score: I'd say it looks crowded enough:
.)

& I'm not even addressing all the negative aspects of what happens to such intricately composed, highly complex Renaissance polyphony when it is sung by choirs of 12+ singers. In other words, there are certain practicalities here that the Renaissance composers couldn't have generally ignored. They wouldn't have been able to. Hence, they didn't.

I wish people could see that the early Baroque choral tradition in Germany of single and double choirs--i.e., 4 and 8 singers, respectively, didn't manifest out of thin air. Rather, that tradition came straight out of the Renaissance. Could choirs become more elaborate? Sure, in certain works. But it all depended on the specific work in question and how many parts it was written for. Did the size of the church sometimes factor into the equation, along with the available monies?, possibly, to an extent, on certain occasions, but I don't think in the way or for the reasons that people sometimes seem to think. In my view, the idea that composers writing such intricate, highly complex polyphony wouldn't have minded muddied textures and large parts of their scores getting lost in a haze of church echoes when sung by more than two singers on a part is total nonsense. Besides, if and when they wanted to compose for larger forces and grander occasions, clearly, they composed differently.

For example, Bach's weekly Cantatas are not composed for the same sized forces as his Mass in B minor. In fact, all of Bach's Cantatas--and there are hundreds of them--were composed for just 4 parts, or a single choir. Only one fragment cantata remains--which is of disputed authorship--that Bach may have composed for a double choir. In other words, he was expecting that his weekly cantatas would to be sung by fewer singers, and therefore, he tailored the music accordingly--both chorally and orchestrally--to different contrapuntal demands. The same is true for Buxtehude and Telemann, whose choral works scholars have proven were sung one voice to a part by small ensembles. These examples are no different from the Renaissance. On the other hand, when composers wanted to compose for larger forces, they wrote for more parts, but didn't create more polyphonically & rhythmically complex music--in fact, it's just the opposite. & that's the key to understanding all of this, in my view.

It's not until we get to Berlioz and Verdi that we find this ridiculous "Romantic" notion or ideal that a gigantic choir is somehow better and can suffice for all styles and periods of music.

Did anyone watch the Jennifer Bloxam video that I posted earlier? where she explains all this in relation to Josquin's time in Rome?

In case not, here it is again:
.

Yesterday, Jesse Rodin's book, "Josquin in Rome", arrived in the post. I hope to read it over the next month, and will be curious to see if and how Rodin can shed new light on this subject.
 
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