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Cambridge liturgical weekend 2014

November 2014

Following what must be presumed to have been a tolerably successful encounter with Manchicourt and Guerrero in 2013, Edward Wickham kindly agreed to make St Catharine’s available again and to direct this year’s event, which took place on the weekend 19-21 September. The thirty-two singers, as was the case last year, were mainly TVEMF members, and we were delighted to welcome our familiar friends from Denmark, Finland and Holland once again.

This year’s programme again featured two highly regarded composers, Jacobus Clemens non Papa (ca. 1510-15-1555 or 56) and Philippe Rogier, (1561-96), whose music is less frequently performed nowadays than that of their contemporaries. Clemens’ original name was the rather less grandiloquent Jacob Clement and there is much speculation about his acquisition of the sobriquet “non Papa” which appears in the edition of his works published by Susato, and its less well-known variants, “Clemens haud Papa” and “Clemente nono Papa”. Whatever the truth of the matter, it seems reasonable to discount the explanation in Wikipedia that its purpose was to distinguish him from Pope Clement VII, since that cleric died in 1534.

Clemens, who held positions at Bruges, ‘s Hertogenbosch, Ypres and Leiden during his relatively short life, was an extremely prolific composer, whom Allen W Atlas, in Renaissance Music (Norton, 1998) describes, along with Gombert and Willaert, as one of the three great motet composers of the second quarter of the sixteenth century. 233 of the 512 works attributed to him are motets, and his next most numerous type of composition is represented in the collection of 150 psalm settings (the souterliedekens or ‘little psalter songs’) for three voices, with vernacular texts and melodies taken largely from German popular and folk songs, designed to provide moral edification by being sung at home.

The work by Clemens which we performed was his Mass Ecce quam bonum based on his four-part motet whose text is taken from Psalm 133 (Ecce quam bonum et quam jucundum, habitare fratres in unum). Like all but one of Clemens’ fifteen masses (the Missa Defunctorum) it is a parody mass; other composers whose chansons served as bases for Clemens’ parody masses include Manchicourt, Gombert, Willaert and Sermisy. The Mass is set for five voices except in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei where the tenors are divided and sing in canon. This is one of the few examples of canonic writing found in the works of Clemens and, according to the New Grove, one which symbolises (in some unexplained manner) the idea habitare fratres in unum. If that is correct, it may be that the writing of the canon in unison, rather than at the often employed intervals of a fourth or a fifth, is a particularly emphatic demonstration of the idea of dwelling together in unity. Under Edward’s calm and meticulous direction we fairly soon became acquainted with the work, albeit with a certain amount of coming and going as basses and tenors alternated (and at one point came together) on the naughty step, and there were also brief experiments with scrambled singing and surround sound.

Philippe Rogier was born in Arras and his musical career began in 1572 when he was taken to Spain as a boy treble. He was ordained a priest and was granted various benefices by Philip II, to whose court he was appointed vicemaestro di capella in 1584 and maestro on the death of Gerard de Hele in 1586. Some decades after his death, the great Spanish writer Lope de Vega paid tribute to him in a poem describing him as the ’honour, glory and light of Flanders’. In his short life he composed 243 works, of which only 51 survive from the destruction by fire of the royal chapel at Madrid in 1734. The collection in the library of King John IV of Portugal was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake of 1788.

The work which we performed, and which provided a powerful finale to the service, at which the Mass was sung liturgically without the Credo, was the six-part motet (SSAATB) laboravi in gemitu, the text of which is Psalm 6 (Domine, ne in furore), v.6. In the Roman Catholic liturgy the text is used at Compline on Mondays and in the office for the dead at matins (Liber Usualis, 283, 1783). For your reviewer, the motet evocatively portrays the emotional state of the narrator, with the plangent opening section depicting the weariness of his groaning and the repeated melismata, ascending in pitch and increasing in intensity, on ‘lavabo’ and ‘rigabo’ simulating the flowing of the tears with which he nightly waters his bed.

Its authorship has long been the subject of controversy. Although it was included in Lavern J. Wagner’s edition of eleven motets by Rogier (Recent Researches in the Music of the Renaissance, vol. II, A-R editions, 1966), the controversy continued; see, for instance, Peter Philips’ article ‘Laboravi in Gemitu: Morley or Rogier?’, Music and Letters (1982) 63 (1-2), 85-90. Even today, it appears in the list of Morley’s sacred music on CPDL, but how it came to be ascribed to him is unclear. The CPDL entry for Rogier refers to it as “believed to be adapted by Morley based on a work by Rogier”. However, we may note that neither in the extensive list of “Practitioners, the most part of whose works we have diligently perused for finding the true use of the Moods” at the end of Morley’s A Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music, nor in the main text, is there any mention of Rogier.

For another socially and musically satisfying weekend, our sincere thanks go to Edward for directing the event and to Neil for his organisation of the event including, once again, the production of the music, embellished, as always, with the editorial accidentals which give rise to the debates about whether they should be adopted or rejected, without which no event of this nature can be complete. It is a pleasure and a privilege to participate in an event such as this and we look forward to further opportunities to sing in Cambridge.

Sidney Ross

© Sidney Ross 2017

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