Gothic: Sacred and secular music from Gothic Britain (2CD)Boutique Labels
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2 CD set in an elegant, book-like package.
Sacred and secular music from one of Britain's greatest historic and artistic periods. This collection of music features some of the greatest English composers of the age, including the royal composers Henry VI and Henry VIII, along with their court and chapel musicians. Choral tracks are sung by Magdala, Oxford's leading mixed-voice choir, directed by Dr David Skinner, or by The Oxford Girls' Choir.
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CD1 - Good Companye: Music of the Chamber
2. Pastime with good companye
5. Trolly Lolly
War, chivalry and spectacle
6. Bear Dance
7. Montard Brawle
8. Pied du Cheval
9. Edi be thu
10. Agincourt Carol
11. There is no rose
12. Nobilis, humilis
13. Quene Note
14. Mi very joye
15. Roses in bloom
Life and Art in the city and household
17. Dou way Robin
19. Ah Robin, gentle Robin
20. Foweles in the frith
21. Trois sereus
People and piety
22. Alle, psallite
23. Veni creator
24. Nowell. Tydinges trew
25. Gloria laus
26. Alleluya psallat
All compositions on CD1 anonymous except tracks 1-4 and track 18 which are by Henry VIII, track 16 which is by Heinrich Isaac, and track 19 which is by William Cornysh, Jr
The Oxford Girls' Choir (tracks 9, 11, 12, 15, 17, 20, 22, 23, 25, 26)
Directed by Richard Vendome (organ solo track 16)
Recorded in the chapel of Hertford College, Oxford, and St Michael's Church, Summertown, Oxford, 1998
Singscape (track 24)
Directed by Sarah Tenant-Flowers
Recorded in St Michael's Church, Summertown, Oxford, 2003
The Medieval Consort (tracks 1-8, 10, 13, 14, 18)
Sara Stowe, voice and percussion, pipe and drum
Jon Banks dulcimer and harp
Matthew Spring, gittern and hurdy gurdy
Martin Souter, clavichord
Recorded in St Michael's Church, Summertown, Oxford, 2003
Serendipity (tracks 19 & 21)
Lisette Wesseling, Jessica Summers, Louise Eekelaar, sopranos
Philip Cartledge, tenor
Edward Breen, countertenor
Recorded in St Michael's church, Summertown, Oxford, 1998
All tracks produced by Martin Souter
CD2 - Gothic Spirit: Music of the Chapel
1. Kyrie Orbis factor Sarum Plainchant
2. Sanctus Henry V
3. Agnus Dei Anonymous (early 15th cent.)
4. Petrone Anonymous
5. Ave Maria William Cornysh (d. 1502)
6. Nesciens mater Walter Lambe (d. after 1504)
7. Glorificamus John Redford (d. 1547)
8. Eterne laudis lilium Robert Fayrfax (d. 1521)
9. Mater Christi John Taverner (d. 1545)
10. Felix namque Thomas Preston (d. after 1559)
11. Ave cuius conceptio Nicholas Ludford (d. 1557)
Directed by David Skinner
With Martin Souter, organ (tracks 4 & 10)
Recorded in the chapel of Magdalen College, Oxford, July 2003
Produced by David Skinner and Martin Souter
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Music in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England was prominent in virtually every quarter of society - rich and poor, lay and clerical. It existed in many different forms, from simple folk tunes passed orally from one generation to the next, to improvised part-songs (known as descant), and the 'higher' art of composed polyphony (notated music in two or more parts). It is mainly this latter form which has come down to us in manuscripts, but what survives represents only a small fraction of the music that circulated in late medieval England. Music (especially church music) was a dispensable craft, prone to being outmoded by new compositions and changing tastes and styles. An early fifteenth-century choir-book, for example, could, within a generation or two, be dismembered and the parchment used for other purposes. It is also the case that the Reformations of the mid-sixteenth century were particularly destructive with respect to music, and much of what remains has survived by mere chance. Still, there is plenty to sample.
The English, it seems, were particularly musical. Desiderius Erasmus, the great Dutch humanist, writing in the early sixteenth century, observed that
In college or monastery it is still the same: music, nothing but music … money must be raised to buy organs and train boys to squeal. They have so much of it in England that the monks attend to nothing else; a set of creatures who ought to be lamenting their sins fancy they can please God by gurgling in their throats.
Not a flattering account it must be said, but the statement does reflect that music was very much a staple national pastime. Certainly before the onslaught of Henry VIII's Reformation there were some 200 professional liturgical choirs of various sizes and competence, from the great chapels of royal foundation to the more humble surroundings of the parish church. On the secular side, there were bands of musicians and players who roamed the countryside, performing to whom ever would pay for their services, be they noble or religious households. The present collection provides a survey of both the secular and sacred in 'Gothic' music.
The music recorded on the first disc represents the many styles and genres of music that would have been heard in a secular context, be it the court, a simple household, or even a dining hall or cloister of a religious institution. Common themes include courtly life, the fortunes of love and war, political and topical subjects, as well as themes of a religious or moral nature (though these works would not necessarily have been performed in church); many of the themes were set, depending on the occasion, in either a serious or light vein, or, occasionally, somewhere in between. The 'Henry VIII Manuscript' (British Library, Add. MS 31922), containing a number of compositions by the King himself, is equalled in importance only by the so-called 'Fayrfax Manuscript' (British Library, Add. MS 5465), which is our chief monument of music at the court of Henry VII; a number of secular compositions also survive in the Ritson Manuscript from the same period (British Library, Add. MS 5665).
The Henry VIII Manuscript is thought to date from around 1518. Certainly many of the works contained in the book describe the jollity, liveliness and passion of the early years of Henry's court with themes of hunting, singing and dancing; also included are love songs which have, as John Stevens described, 'a markedly erotic tone', as well as a selection of carols and a small number of purely instrumental compositions. There is no evidence to suggest that the book ever belonged to the King, but with the inclusion of works by a number of Chapel Royal musicians (including Cornysh, Farthing, Lloyd and Fayrfax), it is likely that at least it moved within courtly circles. The presence of compositions by foreign composers such as Agricola, Heinrich Isaac, and Compère, highlights the international musical influences at work in Henry's court. Henry VIII was trained in the musical arts from an early age, and was noted as an accomplished musician on the organ, lute and virginals. He was also a competent singer and a great patron of music, having increased his private household of musicians (many of whom were foreign) to no less than 58 in number by 1547. Paradoxically, Henry is also responsible for shutting down the country's most lavish musical foundations when monastic and collegiate establishments were dissolved in the 1530s and 40s.
With respect to sacred music, the majority of surviving musical sources contemporary with period amounts to a small collection of manuscript choir-books and part-books that, if assembled today, could all easily rest on a single shelf of no more than three or four feet in length. Principal among these are one particular choir-book of the early fifteenth century and three choir-books and two sets of part-books of the early sixteenth century. The Old Hall manuscript (London, British Library, Add. Ms 57950) was prepared for the chapel of Henry V's brother, Thomas Duke of Clarence (d. 22 March 1421). Compositions in the manuscript attributed to 'Roy Henry' have been variously been linked with all three early 15th-century kings of that name, although earlier attributions to Henry VI or Henry IV have been ruled out in favour of Henry V. The survival of English music manuscripts of this type is extremely rare, and Old Hall is certainly the most important collection of English sacred music from the end of the 14th and early 15th centuries. Much of the music is for three voices, such as the chordal Sanctus recorded here, but the musical styles can also be somewhat complex with much florid writing. One of the most beautiful and 'modern' compositions in Old Hall is the four-part anonymous setting of the Agnus Dei, which seems stylistically to look forward to the mid fifteenth century.
It was around this time that composed polyphony had undergone a major transformation. The forces deployed for church music had augmented to include boys' voices and a true bass line encompassing a range of up to 23 notes from the lowest to the highest voice, whereas previously overall vocal range rarely exceeded sixteen notes. The result of this change was music conceived on a much broader canvas and scope, with construction of symphonic proportions. This explosion of activity reached its culmination in the last decades of the sixteenth century as exemplified by the contents of the Eton choir-book, our main source of English church music from the last quarter of the fifteenth century. The book was compiled in c. 1505 for use in the chapel of Eton College, and contained music for the evening offices of Vespers and Compline, including 67 Latin antiphons and 24 settings of the Magnificat (although many of these works are now missing or incomplete owing to the loss of just less than half of the book's contents). Many of the composers represented were either employed at Eton or within its vicinity (St George's, Windsor), or their career patterns involved close associations with the College; a number of compositions seem to have been acquired as far a field as London (and Westminster), Oxford, Cambridge, Winchester and Arundel. The two Eton composers on this recording, William Cornysh (d. 1502) and Walter Lambe (d. after 1504), are among the most famous musicians of their day. Cornysh (father of the William Cornysh, Jr, whose compositions are featured on disc one) was based at Westminster Abbey for much of his adult career, while Lambe was a singing-man at Arundel College in 1476, and later took up the post of Instructor of the Choristers at St George's, Windsor, where he remained (with brief sojourns to Arundel) for the rest of his life.
During the reign of Henry VIII musical composition was largely dominated by three towering figures: Robert Fayrfax, John Taverner and Nicholas Ludford. Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, was a favourite musician of Henry VIII and among the leading composers of his generation. The chief repositories of his works are the so-called Caius and Lambeth choir-books, where the works of Fayrfax's successor, Nicholas Ludford are also preserved. Eterne laudis lilium is copied into the Lambeth choir-book and stands among Fayrfax's most accomplished works; it is also the case that the circumstances surrounding its origins can be traced with some certainty. On 28 March 1502 Elizabeth of York, Queen to Henry VII, paid the considerable sum of 20 shillings to Fayrfax 'for setting an Anthem of oure lady and Saint Elizabeth', now generally believed to be Eterne laudis lilium. The text, which traces the female line of Christ's genealogy, contains a number of tributes to Elizabeth, while the first letter of each line spells out the phrase ELISABETH REGINA ANGLIE.
John Taverner (d. 1545) is, arguably, the most famous of all early Tudor composers, and one who had a rather colourful musical and political career. He is first found as a singer in the collegiate chapel at Tattershall, from which place he was coaxed by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to be, in 1526, the first Instructor of the Choristers at Cardinal College, Oxford (now Christ Church). At Oxford, Taverner became involved in evangelical circles, and his music that can be dated from these years certainly reflects some of the ideals of the 'new learning' that was to shape Archbishop Thomas Cranmer's reforms under Edward VI. One important concern was the clarity of text, which, in much of the church music composed up to 1547, was not a primary objective of many composers; Taverner, however, with his evangelical leanings, seems to have been a leading exponent in inventing new ways of textual declamation. Mater Christi sanctissima is a good example of the new techniques. Such devices as note-against-note counterpoint and antiphonal writing are here apparent, as well as close-knit imitation and an abundant use of homophonic or chordal writing.
In contrast to Taverner's 'Oxford' style of composition, Nicholas Ludford (d. 1557), who was employed for much of his adult career at the royal free chapel of St Stephen (later to become Parliament House) in the Palace of Westminster, was more traditional. Ave cuius conceptio, with its contrasting verse and full sections, is a typical example, and here Ludford's counterpoint is not dissimilar to that of Fayrfax, though the later composer's harmonic ear seems somewhat more progressive. While rich sonorous textures still play a prominent role, the music is, perhaps, more tuneful, and cells of musical ideas are further developed and the imitative writing extended. Ave cuius can be divided into five sections, reflecting the text which celebrates the Five Corporal Joys of the Blessed Virgin (her Conception, Nativity, Annunciation, Purification, and Assumption), a popular religious poem that is found in a number of early manuscript and printed prayer books.
'Gothic' music such as that represented in this survey, however, declined with the death of Henry VIII in January 1547, and was altogether abandoned with the introduction of the new English prayer-book in 1549. Still, the great musical architecture of the early sixteenth century was not forgotten. The earlier techniques of composition, after six years of writing simpler, vernacular music under Edward VI, flowered during the reign of Elizabeth I to become a new, more humanistic vehicle of musical expression, as illustrated in the works of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. For music, the Renaissance had finally arrived in England