This album celebrates in musical guise the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, fought on 25 October 1415. In doing so it also casts its net wider, embracing other aspects and events of the epic Hundred Years’ War (begun under Edward III), of which Agincourt formed but one part—albeit a heroic and iconic part. The lively topicality of the two bookend carols—the historically evocative Anglia tibi turbidas, and the still familiar Agincourt Carol—set the context for a repertory of Latin sacred music for the royal chapels, some of it very likely performed in France by the professional singers and chaplains whom Henry V insisted on taking with him on campaign.
These compositions—and the wider repertory from which they are drawn—demonstrate vividly the energy and drive, the sheer colour and variety of the English repertoire at this juncture in national and European history. The programme naturally involves the most prominent musicians of the first half of the fifteenth century, whose very names formed an illustrious ornament of the great princely chapels: Leonel Power and John Dunstaple foremost among them. But a striking feature of the culture of English polyphony at this time is precisely its strength in depth—and we also feature works by the gifted yet shadowy ‘Forest’, along with a number of striking anonymous pieces.
Henry V’s enormous retinue on campaign included not only an extended secular entourage covering all the usual and expected needs, but also a fully functioning liturgical and musical chapel, with clerics, chaplains and singers, accompanied as they must have been by all their service and music books. This active mixture of the sacred with the secular may surprise us today, but was typical of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century royal image-creation, and nowhere more sophisticatedly so than in the glittering, if tautly controlled, court of Henry V. In this, as in other areas of the business of kingship, Henry organized his affairs with his signature sense of princely determination and precision, with a keen eye for both detail and cohesion.
Our musical choices have fallen on pieces that can plausibly be associated, in various ways, with some of the contexts and events of the campaign itself, and with the ensuing English occupation of Normandy and other areas of northern France. Given the performing resources Henry had taken with him on campaign, musical elaboration would have been on hand to suit any ceremonial or ritual need or eventuality. We may readily appreciate that the sophisticated, often structurally complex and musically demanding compositions of this great artistic tradition thus describe a world in which music and politics, ritual performance and aristocratic self-image, were all closely conjoined.