Music for St Anthony of Padua

Music for St Anthony of Padua

St Anthony of Padua held a very particular significance in the devotions of Guillaume Dufay. The single holy relic in his possession was a piece of the Saint’s belt, or girdle, listed among the ‘jewels’ in the account of the executors of his will. But the main expression of his veneration was undoubtedly the Mass which he composed to honour St Anthony—the glorioso comite (‘glorious companion’) of the Alleluia. The beauty and invention of this Mass is unmistakable even today, half a millennium after its composition. Although, as we shall see, the pathos which from time to time breaks through its glittering surface bespeaks a deeply personal involvement in the music, this involvement extends far beyond the aesthetic concerns which drive our admiration of it today.

Life for the medieval man or woman was, in a very real sense, a preparation for death, and the effort to gain the favour of saints was an essential part of that preparation. Their intercession after death for the salvation of the soul was vital in the desperate effort to reduce the term of purgatory, the infernal expiation of the sins of life, that awaited all but the most saintly. Good works in life helped, but without the support and advocacy of saints, the soul had little chance when it came to be weighed in the balance. As the supreme intercessor, the Virgin Mary was the most powerful focus for supplication, inspiring a huge proliferation of ‘Marian’ devotion. An important musical expression of this in the fifteenth century was the large number of motets composed in her honour, and often concluding with a prayer explicitly begging for her advocacy. One particularly personal example by Dufay bears, as shall be seen, an intimate connection with his Mass for St Anthony. Other saints were chosen for their personal associations with the individuals themselves. We do not know the reasons behind Dufay’s personal veneration of St Anthony, though they could well date back to his early years in Italy, perhaps to the time, in the late 1420s and 1430s, when he was a singer in the Papal choir.

When death did come one had to be fully prepared, a task made all the more difficult because no one knew how or when it would strike. For medieval man the knowledge that ‘in the midst of life there is death’ was more than just a conceit; it was an ever-present consciousness. Such awareness finds its expression in every medieval testament, but Dufay’s own will, drawn up in 1474, the year of his death, encapsulates it with particular eloquence:

Our days have declined like a shadow and like water running down we are drawn to death with rapid steps; but though the necessity thereof be certain for all men, yet there is none that knoweth the day, or how it shall come, nor is aught happier in men’s lot—nay, there is no other happiness but this—than to close this present life with a good end. In order to attain this the more easily a man does prudently if before then, while he still enjoys good health, he takes thought for the disposal of his earthly goods, lest when he ought rather to raise his heart upwards, heavy cares come upon him, by which the mind, concerning itself with the lowest matters, is pulled back from the contemplation of its maker and the supreme good.

What follows, along with the detailed account of his executors, shows that, like all prosperous and devout men of his day, Dufay went to great effort and expense to prepare himself for his end, and for his progress in the life thereafter. Occupying a prominent place in this preparation was his Mass for St Anthony of Padua.

The enormous increase in the wealth of churches and cathedrals in the later fifteenth century was due in no small degree to the funds donated to them for such posthumous provisions. The endowment of elaborate annual Masses for the souls of the dead in turn brought about an unprecedented rise in the composition and performance of polyphonic Masses. Dufay, for example, specified three Masses—including his own setting for St Anthony—to be performed annually in polyphony in his memory, in addition to no fewer than thirteen low Masses and an annual ‘obit’ ceremony for the salvation of his, his family’s and his executors’ souls. Presumably his credit with St Anthony was already healthy by the time of his death: we learn from his executors’ account that his own Mass had been performed every year on the Saint’s feast day for many years before his demise. But it was after his death and presumed descent into the infernal regions that its supplications became particularly urgent.

Although the will endows the performance of annual polyphonic Masses for St Guillaume (Dufay’s name saint) and St Waudru (the patron of the great church in Mons where he held one of his canonries), only that for St Anthony is specified in detail. The composer left his own manuscript of the Mass ‘and several other antiphons’ to the Chapel of St Stephen where he was buried and where the Mass was to be performed. As for all the other Masses endowed by him, the chapel was to be illuminated by four candles, one each before his funeral monument (now preserved in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille) and three other ‘images’, one of which, as we also know from the will, was of St Anthony. The Mass was to be celebrated by the deacon and sub-deacon, along with the master of the choirboys and several of the ‘more able’ singers, apparently totalling nine singers in all. After the first posthumous performance, perhaps following a tradition established by Dufay himself, there was a dinner at the expense of his estate. The will also specifies polyphonic performances, after compline on the eve of the feast, of the response Si queris miracula and the motet O sidus Hispaniae. Since settings by Dufay of both these texts survive, they were presumably the works performed for this occasion. A performance of the latter, a dramatically imposing work in four parts and bearing two texts, ‘O sidus Hispaniae’ and ‘O proles Hispaniae’, concludes this recording. The text of ‘O proles Hispaniae’ can be seen beneath the image of St Anthony in the Flemish miniature which adorns the cover of this booklet.

Like all Mass endowments, those ordained by Dufay’s will were to continue until the end of time. We cannot know for how many years, even centuries, annual performances of his great Mass for St Anthony persisted in practice. All we can be sure of is the point when, as for so many of the great religious houses of France, the building which had sheltered it reached its sorry end. In 1796 the great Cathedral of Cambrai, the architectural jewel of the north, was sold and dismantled. With this single act of revolutionary zeal, the music of Cambrai Cathedral, like its great bells themselves, was silenced for ever.

For many years it was believed that the Mass for St Anthony of Padua had been lost. Quotations by the theorist Tinctoris from a collection of Mass Ordinary movements (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) ascribed to Dufay in a manuscript in Trent, Italy, refer to them as excerpts from the ‘Mass of St Anthony’. However, this was long thought to be the composer’s Mass for St Anthony Abbot, also referred to in his will. About fifteen years ago, however, this assumption was proven to be mistaken: David Fallows demonstrated that examples in a later treatise by Giovanni Spataro from Dufay’s ‘Missa de Sancto Antonio de Padua’ were drawn from the same work.

From Spataro, then, it was clear that at least parts of the Mass for St Anthony of Padua had survived. Yet the fact that this was a Mass for a particular saint implied that it also originally included ‘Proper’ movements setting texts dedicated specifically to that saint. Although no such movements ascribed to Dufay had survived, a great deal of circumstantial information pointed to an anonymously copied collection of Propers for St Anthony of Padua in another Trent manuscript. Here again, Fallows was able to marshal evidence from Spataro: the theorist refers to a very unusual change of mensuration (time-signature) ‘in the verse’ of Dufay’s Mass for St Anthony of Padua. Exactly this change occurs in the verse of the Gradual in the Trent cycle.

Various other pieces of information pointed in the same direction. This group of movements shares its manuscript with fifteen other Proper cycles, many of which are also apparently by Dufay. The evidence for this claim is complicated, but includes a handful of attributions for individual movements and the sharing of music between cycles. One Mass which fits both these criteria is that for St Francis, which directly follows the Mass for St Anthony in the manuscript, and which shares two movements—the Gradual Os iusti and Offertory Veritas mea—with it. Thus although we lack conclusive proof of authorship for each individual movement, it looks as if Dufay’s great work, long since silenced in performance, has nonetheless survived the centuries, and that the movements preserved in Trent are indeed his Missa de S Anthonii de Padua.

If the ten movements of the Mass do indeed belong together in performance, there remains little in their music to confirm their relationship. This is to be expected in the case of the Proper movements: each one highlights, in the top line, an elaborated version of the plainchant which was originally combined with the text in question. Since there is no musical relationship between the plainchants, the lack of relationship between their settings comes as no surprise. This situation is, however, surprising in the case of the Ordinary movements: listeners who are familiar with later Mass ‘cycles’ will expect to find these five movements linked together by shared musical material, typically a common melody heard in the tenor in each movement. Yet beyond the odd brief repeated musical motif, there is nothing in this Mass to signal to the listener that the movements belong together. Although the idea of the polyphonic Mass was still very new at the time, probably in the 1440s, when the Mass was composed, such a high level of dissimilarity between movements is unusual.

Yet it is this very variety, a quality perhaps more prized in music in Dufay’s time than in our own, that is the key to the Mass’s greatness. Any initial bewilderment at the lack of aural ‘tags’ to help find a way into the vast expanse of music is quickly recompensed by a burgeoning awareness of its limitless invention and extraordinary beauty. This is an awareness that repays repeated hearings with an endless fund of insight and satisfaction; and although all musical works are appreciated in different ways by each new generation that encounters them, it may yet give us some sense of the special place that the Mass occupied, through its many annual performances in his lifetime, in the mind of its composer.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the passages that strike us as most contemplative are found in the Proper movements, those sections whose texts relate directly to the occasion for which the Mass was intended. The opening Introit, with its gently undulating surface studded with flashes of rhythmic vigour, is surely one of the most eloquent beginnings in the fifteenth-century Mass repertory. And it is difficult to hear the Offertory, the one movement in four parts, without being awestruck by its hushed reverence, particularly at its ethereal conclusion on ‘cornu eius’.

But this is also a highly virtuosic piece: the rhythmic complexities in its Gloria and Credo, in particular, guaranteed it the attention of theorists for decades after its composition, and made it, as Fallows has observed, by far Dufay’s most talked-about work. These complexities usually take the form of proportional relationships between the parts, as in the three-against-two minim relationship at ‘Qui cum Patre’ in the Credo, and the bewildering four-against-three of ‘altissimus, Jesu Christe’ in the Gloria.

Yet it is also the Gloria that contains what is surely the Mass’s most deeply personal moment: at the words ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram’ the music suddenly changes gear and shifts into an idiom instantly reminiscent of two more familiar works by Dufay. A move into a ‘minor’ mode is accompanied by a concentration in the top line on the diminished fourth (an interval comparatively rare in fifteenth-century usage) from F sharp to B flat, with the tenor marking out the augmented interval from E flat to F sharp underneath. Another work which was very close to Dufay’s heart contains a strikingly similar passage: his four-voice setting of the Marian antiphon Ave regina caelorum. The composer asked for this motet to be sung, if time allowed, at his deathbed after he had received the last rites. In the event time was too short and it was heard instead at his funeral the following day after his setting of the Requiem Mass (which has not survived). The motet must, as Fallows has noted, have been written specifically for this purpose, since its added passages of text pleading to the Virgin Mary for the composer’s soul would have made it unsuitable for performance in the regular liturgy. Underscoring its importance for Dufay, exactly the same passage is quoted note-for-note at the words ‘miserere nobis’ in the Agnus Dei of his Missa Ave regina caelorum. Although the passage in the St Anthony Mass is not identical with this, the combination of the striking identity of its idiom and the supplicating texts in all three cases can scarcely be accidental. Thus the plea in the Mass, ‘who take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer’, finds its echo in the motet at ‘have mercy on thy supplicating Dufay’.

It seems fitting that, though the perpetual repetitions intended for Dufay’s great Mass by its composer have long since ended, modern technology now allows us to commit it to another kind of permanence, that of a recording. With this development, unimaginable to Dufay, his great musical prayer can reach ever more ears, guaranteeing it, though not in any way he could ever have foreseen or intended, a sort of perpetuity. Ours may not be the heavenly ears for which it was intended, but we can be confident that they will, in their own way, appreciate it just as well.

Music for St James the Greater

Music for St James the Greater

Saint James the Greater occupied a role of great significance in the medieval imagination. Apostle of Christ, foster son of the Virgin Mary and brother of St John the Evangelist, James was also, as the text of Dufay’s motet Rite majorem testifies, one of three witnesses of the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was also the first Bishop of Jerusalem and the first apostle to die for the Faith, being put to the sword by Herod Agrippa. For medieval men and women, though, he was first and foremost the patron saint of pilgrims, and Santiago de Compostela, the location of his shrine in north-eastern Spain, yielded in importance as a focus of pilgrimage only to the Holy Land and Rome.

Given the known details of James’s life, it might be wondered how he came to be associated with Spain. In fact, the tradition linking him with that country began many centuries after he had died. It seems to have originated in the ninth century and was explained by various legends, of which the following two were among those which gained widespread currency. The first holds that, after death, James was placed in a boat with its sails set and which the next day arrived on the shores of Spain. A still more fantastical tradition has the Saint’s relics miraculously conveyed from Jerusalem to Spain in a marble ship. The ship was spotted entering port by a knight, whose horse took fright and plunged into the sea. Saving himself by boarding the ship, the knight stumbled upon the body of the Saint. He also, so the story goes, found his clothes covered in scallop shells, one of the traditional symbols of Saint James, and one which is commonly found on the tombs of pilgrims who had made the pilgrimage to Santiago.

Vital though such legends were, however, for sustaining the aura surrounding Saint James, the high status of his shrine really grew out of its association with Charlemagne: according to a legend first documented in the twelfth century—more than three centuries after Charlemagne’s death—Saint James appeared to the King in a dream. He complained that his bones were lying unrecognized and unvenerated in Santiago, at that time still under the control of the Moors. James revealed the road, marked out by stars, to Santiago and charged Charlemagne to go there and liberate his shrine from the infidel.

Imbued in this way with powerful political and Christian significance, the shrine of St James grew enormously in importance as the Saint became a symbol of the defence of Christianity against the Moors. By the twelfth century his veneration was fully established, as we learn from the famous Codex Calixtinus:

… It is a source of wonder and gladness to see the choirs of pilgrims in perpetual vigil by the venerable altar of Santiago: Teutons in one place, Franks in another, Italians in another … Some play the cittern, others lyres, kettledrums, flutes, flageolets, trumpets, harps, violins, British or Welsh crwths, some singing with citterns, others accompanied by divers instruments.

By the time of Dufay the cult had been in full swing for more than three hundred years, backed up by myriad legends of miracles and, not least, by powerful political and religious support. Pilgrimage to Compostela was considered desirable for anybody who was anybody in late-medieval Europe; the journey made by Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is emblematic of its great popularity in England. Remnants of such veneration can be seen in medieval churches today in the scallop-adorned tombs of pilgrims and in medieval stained-glass windows depicting the Saint himself as a pilgrim, complete with pilgrim’s hat with scallop motif, pilgrim’s staff, or ‘bourdon’ (more on this below) and pilgrim’s purse, or ‘skrip’.

It is not difficult, then, to see why Dufay might have written a Mass for Saint James; much more difficult is to ascertain the specific circumstances of where and for whom. Various theories have been advanced, though none as yet proved. Margaret Bent has presented a plausible theory that the Mass could have been associated with Pietro Emiliani, Bishop of Vicenza in the late 1420s, around the time the one surviving copy of the complete Mass was made in the Veneto, and possibly in Vicenza itself. Emiliani, who may have been closely associated with the compilation of the manuscript in question, could have had the Mass composed from scratch or customized by the composition of the Alleluia, the only movement, its text and chant otherwise unknown, whose text specifically mentions Saint James. Bent has determined that Emiliani paid for pilgrims to go to Compostela to venerate the Saint on his behalf, providing a likely scenario for the compilation of the Mass.

An older view held that the Mass could have been composed for St Jacques de la Boucherie in Paris, a church well known as a starting point for the pilgrimage to Compostela. More significantly, this was the church where Robert Auclou, whose name and position (‘curatus Sancti Iacobi’) appear in acrostic in Dufay’s motet Rite majorem (also performed on this recording), was curate from 1420. Rite majorem, its colourful text recounting well-known miracles of Saint James (see, for example, Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend), has long been associated with the Mass on the basis of the clearly audible stylistic similarities between the two works. Ernest Trumble has pointed out the possible further significance of the fact that, following the Mass which they would have attended before departing from the church for Compostela, pilgrims would have had their staffs, or ‘bourdons’, blessed. Thus this final item of ritual before departure would have followed the communion, whose text is set in Dufay’s Mass in the parallel-motion technique known as ‘fauxbourdon’. The possible punning significance of the use of this technique in a Mass for the pilgrim saint has not been lost on scholars in the past, but a scenario such as this would give it a powerful extra charge.

However, the liturgical evidence of the choice of Propers in Dufay’s Mass is far from clear, and Barbara Haggh has suggested rather that Dufay may have composed the Mass for Auclou elsewhere, possibly in Rome or Bologna. The latter was proposed some years ago by Alejandro Planchart as a possible site for the composition of the Mass. Certainly Dufay and Auclou, whose careers were further intertwined through shared associations with the Papal Court, Cambrai Cathedral and St Donatian’s, Bruges, were both in Bologna in the later 1420s in the orbit of the papal legate there, Cardinal Louis Aleman. Thus the motet could have been composed in Bologna, either with the Mass or as a later appendage to it.

Much has traditionally been made of the stylistic variety encompassed by the nine movements of this Mass ‘cycle’, something which has been seen as a likely reflection of composition in a series of stylistic ‘layers’. Such a division seems to be articulated by the Mass’s manuscript sources: the first three Ordinary movements—albeit in somewhat garbled readings—in the Trent Codices, the complete Ordinary (labelled ‘de apostolis’) in the Aosta Codex, and, finally, the entire Mass in the Bologna manuscript Q15. Further grist for the same mill has been drawn from Dufay’s varied approaches to borrowed chants: tenor statements of appropriate chant melodies in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei versus absence of obvious chant references in the first three Ordinary movements (with one exception: each third section of the Kyrie paraphrases the Kyrie chant Cunctipotens, a melody usually associated with feasts of apostles). By contrast, the first three Proper sections, which are generally more elaborate than their Ordinary counterparts, are each built solidly on chant paraphrases in the tenor. Finally, outside the whole scheme stands the fauxbourdon Communion, its chant laid out in parallel fourths in the two upper parts.

However, the mill has undoubtedly been driven by anachronistic assumptions: as David Fallows has noted, establishment of standardized procedures for musically linking the movements of a polyphonic Mass was still some way off at the time the Mass for Saint James the Greater was composed. It may, rather, be more fruitful to see the Mass’s stylistic diversity as a reflection of liturgical considerations, Proper movements separating Ordinary movements, with, in turn, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, parts of the Eucharist per se, standing apart from the Ordinary sections (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo) which preceded it. Such a view may draw support from the presence of the sort of brief repeated ideas identified by Fallows at various points in the Mass, precisely the sort of motivic common ground which one might expect to have resulted from an uninterrupted span of composition.

Diverting in the abstract, however, concern with such details dissipates as soon as we enter the sound-world of the music. To experience the profundity of Dufay’s Mass, with (at least to modern voices and ears) its broad consistency of vision, is quickly to see surface detail blend into the whole, to the point that it almost seems prudent simply to let the music ‘speak for itself’.

A few observations will suffice. The texture of the Mass for Saint James the Greater is typically one of finely chiselled rhetorical gestures passing from voice to voice. Always far above the routine, this sometimes, as in the Alleluia, rises to a pitch of heightened eloquence. As in the same composer’s Mass for St Anthony of Padua (performed by The Binchois Consort on Helios CDH55271), it is in the Offertory, the moment at which we are ushered into the liturgy of the Eucharist proper, where this expression reaches its summit. As in all the most deeply affecting music of its age, the pacing in this movement seems wonderfully judged, the extraordinary interlocking ‘triadic’ figures between the upper voices at ‘sonus eorum’ providing a fitting prelude to the concluding alternations of shared melodic phrases on the ‘[verba] eorum’ which brings this remarkable movement to a close. At the other end of the expressive scale, and also as in the St Anthony Mass, it is in the Hosanna of the Sanctus where this deep contemplation is finally released in what are perhaps the most expansive musical gestures of the Mass. It is surely not too fanciful to see in the Mass for Saint James the Greater a mirror of the spiritual journey of the Mass itself, from dignified preparation through mystical enactment to fulfilment and final peroration.

It is possible that the motet Rite majorem was intended for a liturgical performance in close association with that of the Mass: Planchart has observed that the text of the motet, with its ‘life and miracles’ format, closely mirrors the similar text of the Prose for St Nicholas, Sospitati dedit. A parody of the latter frequently did duty as the Vespers prose for St James, and it may be that a similar purpose was envisaged for Rite majorem.

This is a tightly structured motet, its lower voices presenting the same melodic succession and two statements of a rhythmic pattern in each half, while an isorhythmic scheme heard twice in the upper duo in the first half is exchanged for another in the second. The organization goes further than this, though: the two upper voices in the second half exchange the melodic contours they had outlined in the first half, while at the same time introducing a pervasively imitative idiom which had been entirely absent up to the half-way point. Controlled though it may be, however, the motet is in no way austere: far from encasing it in an unyielding armature, its structure gives rise rather to an inwardness and concentration which lend it a deeply absorbing quality.

Compared with the contemplative Rite majorem, the style of the next motet, Balsamus et munda cera, smacks of a more public statement. Its text reveals that it was composed to celebrate the distribution of wax figures of the Lamb of God (‘Agnus Dei’), a ceremony which took place on the Saturday after Easter in the first year of a pope’s reign and every seven years thereafter. Because of this its performance can be dated with unusual accuracy to 7 April 1431, the appropriate date in the reign of Eugenius IV. As in Rite majorem, the two upper voices are cast in two isorhythmic pairs, a twice-repeated rhythmic succession in part 1 being followed by another in part 2. By contrast, in the two lower voices the two parts of the motet present a pair of musical mirrors, the notes of each first half being repeated in reverse order in the second. Again, though, this structure is experienced by the listener not as a musical straitjacket but as a coherent mould into which the composer pours a beautiful interplay of imitative ideas over a firm rhythmic and contrapuntal support. While the background structure remains mostly below the surface, it can be harnessed—as when the beginning of the second isorhythmic pair in the upper voices unveils new musical ideas at ‘morte repentina’—to exhilarating effect.

By contrast with the complexities of these motets, the Gloria/Credo pair which follows them on this recording presents a texture sewn together from phrase-settings crafted out of a free interplay of little melodic/rhythmic gestures. These movements are best known for their long, separate Amens which quote French and Italian popular songs. Obvious enough from their four-square nature, these quotations are highlighted in one manuscript by the presence of what were evidently their original words: ‘Tu m’as monté sur la pance et rien n’a fait’ (‘You have mounted me on the paunch and done nothing’) and ‘Otre te reface Dieu que ce m’a fait’ (‘May God do to you what he has done to me’) in the Gloria and ‘La vilanella non è bella, se non la dominica’ (‘The peasant girl is only pretty on Sundays’) in the Credo. The Italian text is clearly one of those vestiges of extempore traditions which from time to time pierce the surface of written Italian ‘art’ music: William Prizer has found the same words (albeit with different music) in a barzelletta by Antonio Capriolo of Brescia in Petrucci’s ninth book of frottole (1509). The joyful connotations of the Easter texts which appear alongside these passages in the manuscript, and which are heard on this recording, may explain the choice of these ‘up-beat’, if irreverent, interpolations.

For the last piece on this disc, Saint James is joined by his fellow apostle, Saint Andrew. Apostolo glorioso was apparently composed for the rededication to Saint Andrew in 1426 of a church in Patras, where, according to medieval tradition, he had been crucified and buried. The reason why Dufay would have composed a motet for an event in the Peloponnese is revealed in the fact that the Archbishop of Patras was a member of the Malatesta family of Pesaro, a dynasty for whom Dufay worked at various times in the early 1420s.

Apostolo glorioso is in Dufay’s most brilliant and extrovert style, its five-voice texture emphasizing the splendour of its vigorous rhythms and high tessitura. With its glittering, festive introduction and four sections in two accelerating pan-isorhythmic pairs it forms a relentless and irresistible paean to its chosen saint. If ever a medieval prayer for intercession reached its intended hearer, this must have been it.

Missa Puisque je vis & other works

Missa Puisque je vis & other works

The Missa Puisque je vis has been on the fringes of the Dufay canon since 1963, when Laurence Feininger suggested the attribution in his edition of the Mass. Like many of Feininger’s ascriptions to Dufay, this one was made on stylistic grounds which he promised to defend in a monograph that never, in the event, appeared. While his suggestions met with understandable scepticism, the discoveries of subsequent scholarship have garnered strong support for some of his ascriptions on the basis of external evidence. It seemed clear that his connoisseurship—especially considering the state of knowledge in the period in which he was working—was of a remarkably high order, and that any Feininger attribution is worthy of the closest consideration.

The aural impression of the Mass strongly underscores the plausibility of Feininger’s suggestion: to listen to the Missa Puisque je vis against a background of familiarity with Dufay’s musical language is to be immersed in a style that is instantly recognizable. And whether or not (as seems unlikely) we will ever be able to prove Dufay’s authorship of this piece, those who admire his music will quickly appreciate that it is on a level entirely comparable to that of his firmly attributed late Masses. In particular, the Mass shares much with his Missa Ecce ancilla Dominiwhich, with a copying date in the early 1460s, is probably its close contemporary. Both Masses are cast in a texturally open and melodically lucid style of the greatest elegance and flexibility.

Like the majority of Masses of the later fifteenth century, the Missa Puisque je vis is built on the music of a courtly song praising an unattainable lady who, in the context of the Mass, becomes the Virgin, prime intercessor for human souls. The text of the song, whose tenor—in standard fashion—forms the tenor of the Mass, makes the double meaning clear: ‘Ever since I saw the gracious glance and the beauty of my lady and mistress I am filled with joy and regain my happiness, relieved of all the ills I have suffered. Hoping that I may be ever better in her sight, all my life to serve her youthfulness … I wish to hold to the amorous path and the road to love by the straightest route …’ The song survives in ten manuscripts, anonymously in all but one, where it is ascribed to Dufay himself.

The desire for the heavenly intercession of the Virgin again motivated the composition of our first motet: Compère’s justly famous Omnium bonorum plena. Here again an ostensibly secular song is enlisted in the entreaty, in this case the tenor of Hayne van Ghizeghem’s celebrated De tous biens plaine, which even shares its text incipit (‘Full of all good things’) with the Latin first line of the motet. While, as in the Mass, only the music of the song is heard in the motet (its tenor in the motet’s tenor, while other voices allude to the song here and there), the double meaning of its absent text resounds just as strongly: ‘My mistress is full of all good things; everyone owes her the tribute of honour, for she is as perfect in virtue as was ever any goddess. Seeing her I have such joy that there is paradise in my heart. I have no care for other riches than to be her servant …’ In contrast to the Mass, though, the prayer for intercession in this motet is placed in the mouths of specific individuals: the singers who are named in its text, with Dufay, ‘moon of all music, and light of singers’, heading up the list in pride of place. This prayer for the ‘masters of songs’ suggests, as Rob Wegman has noted, a sense of brotherhood and concern for mutual welfare in the manner of a confraternity, and while no certain occasion for a meeting between all these luminaries is known (David Fallows plausibly suggested a meeting of the Burgundian Court, the French Royal Court and the singers of Cambrai Cathedral at Cambrai in 1468) the motet attests to a powerful sense of commonality among ‘those who sing’.

The following two tracks are fruits of our on-going search for motets evincing the virtuosity, sweep and quirkiness typified by the style of Antoine Busnois (see our earlier recordings A Marriage of England and Burgundy and Busnois: Missa L’homme armé; Domarto: Missa Spiritus almus). Though known from Petrucci’s 1504 collection Motetti CConcede nobis, Domine (the one non-Marian work on this recording) is clearly expressive of an earlier aesthetic. It was probably composed in the 1470s or ’80s, around the same time as Salve maris stella, which is found uniquely in the Verona manuscript 755, a source copied in the 1480s. Whoever composed these striking works, they are linked—at least to contemporary ears—by a sense of drive and formal coherence rare before Josquin. Rather like the contemporary Venetian artistic strain dubbed by Berenson the ‘Giorgionesque’, these motets seem at the very least to be linked by emulation of the style of one of the fifteenth century’s great originals. Both are presented here for the first time, Concede nobis, Domine with new words for its textless second half composed by Leofranc Holford-Strevens.

The same transition from general veneration to specific plea for intercession that shaped the text of Omnium bonorum plena and so many other Marian motets also characterizes Salve maris stella. The cryptic words of this motet pray for Mary’s mediation on behalf of a ‘true hero’ named as ‘Charolus’ (in the tenor and bass) and ‘Henricus’ (in the top part) whose plea, to judge from references in the text, has some association with the sea and safe maritime travel. While the motet may have originated as a prayer for safe passage on a pilgrimage, Rob Wegman has suggested to me a more specific possible scenario in the person of Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII of England, and the occasion of his invasion of England in 1485. Since Henry had been living in Brittany for some years, his assault on his intended kingdom involved the crossing of the English Channel, the putative source of the seafaring motifs in the text of the motet. His ultimately successful venture (ending in the death of Richard III on Bosworth Field) was preceded by an abortive one two years previously, when stormy seas had thwarted his attack, as recounted by the contemporary chronicler Polydore Vergil (I thank Professor Wegman for this material; I have modernized the English):

… Henry had prepared an army of 5,000 Bretons and furnished a navy of 15 ships which began to sail with prosperous wind the 6th ides of October in the year of health 1483 … but a little before a sudden tempest arose, with which he was so afflicted that his ships were constrained by force of a cruel gale of wind to turn their course to one way and another; some of them were blown back into Normandy, others into Brittany. The ship in which Henry was, with one other, tossed all the night long with the waves, came at the last very early in the morning, when the wind grew calm, upon the south coast of England … from here Earl Henry, viewing afar off all the shore beset with soldiers, which King Richard … had everywhere placed, gave open commandment that not one man of them all should [land] before the remainder of the ships should come together … but … after that he saw none of his own ships within view, he hoisted up sail, and with prosperous wind came into Normandy, so that a man may think the very blast of the wind drove him back from danger. (Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia, London: J B Nichols, 1846, p. 210–11)

Such an experience would certainly have provided ample motivation, on the occasion of Henry’s next attempt, for a prayer to the Virgin to ‘Pray to thy son that … he may drive away the reproaches that the sea of the world now heaps up’ and lead the would-be king to ‘safe shores’. If such was indeed the motet’s aim, then it would seem its prayers were answered. Vergil informs us that:

… after he had made his prayers to God that he might have a happy and prosperous journey, he set sail from the mouth of the Seine with just two thousand armed men and a few ships, the calends of August, and with a soft southern wind. (p. 216)

This hypothesis does nothing, of course, to explain the presence of the name ‘Charolus’ in two of the voice parts, though this could reflect, as Wegman has proposed, an attempt to adapt the motet for another magnate, for example the contemporary Charles VIII of France.

The recording’s most personal invocation to the Virgin is its last: Dufay’s own. This sung prayer has long occupied a prominent place in western music history on account of the deeply expressive nature of its utterance, clearly audible to us more than five centuries after its composition. Its fame also stems from the allusion to its most personal moment in the Agnus Dei of the same composer’s Missa Ave regina caelorum and (as argued in my sleeve notes to our recording of that work on CDH55271) the Gloria of his Missa de S Anthonii de Padua. Though composed by the mid-1460s, when it was copied into a choirbook of Dufay’s home Cathedral of Cambrai, it was clearly conceived from the beginning with a view to the composer’s end, as a personal plea to shorten his time in purgatory. This is vividly expressed through Dufay’s famous request, in his will, that the motet be sung by the choirboys and three men at his bedside at the point of his death, a request that, sadly, as we learn from his executors’ account, could not be fulfilled ‘due to the brevity of time’. The performance took place instead the next day as part of the composer’s exequies.

Even more startling than the personal tropes, added to the standard words of the Marian antiphon, is the nature of their musical settings. This is particularly true of the latter of the two, where—almost a century before the earliest documented equation between the minor mode and ‘sadness’—the composer without warning suddenly switches into a dark minor sonority with notated melodic diminished fourths. It is almost as if Dufay is consciously appealing to the prayers—and sensibilities—of a future age, one which, like presumably his own, could not fail to miss the poignancy of his utterance.