Author Topic: The Early Music Club (EMC)  (Read 173006 times)

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: The Early Music Club (EMC)
« Reply #1180 on: March 06, 2018, 11:30:17 AM »
I agree about the inexpressive rhythms, what I called inflexibility in pace. I don't mind their harmonic treatment - it is not more conservative then many of the other ensembles, except for TSATF.

This essay by Rob Wegman (taken from Sound and Fury Gombert 1) has some interesting things to say on dissonance in Gombert, and the difference between Josquin and Gombert (It'll possibly make you think of Bach and the Galant, Josquin the analogue of  galant, Gombert the analogue of Bach  . . . )

Anyway I wanted to post it because it just may be that Sound and Fury's approach is idiomatic, and "many of the other [conservative] ensembles" aren't.

« Diversi diversa orant » — The Music of Nicholas Gombert

Nicholas Gombert's MISSA QUAM PULCHRA ES rolled off the presses of Pierre Attaingnant's publishing house at Paris in 1532. It was an ambitious work: nearly fifty minutes of densely-textured polyphony in six parts, an elaborate contrapuntal fantasia based on the motet QUAM PULCHRA ES by Noel Bauldewyn.

Gombert's Mass embodied the sound of a new era, a new generation — sometimes called the Es post-Josquin generation » — and dramatically underlines how fast musical styles were changing in the second quarter of the sixteenth century. Josquin himself had died in 1521, only ten years before Gombert composed his set-ting. And yet, how far removed do we seem from the soundworld of the older master. Although his name was still on everybody's lips, musically he seems to have been already relegated to the past.

One can sympathize with the ageing Swiss music theorist Heinrich Glarean, author of the treatise DODEKA-CHORDON of 1547. Glarean felt that after the o perfect art » (ARS PERFECTA) of Josquin and his contemporaries — music he had grown up with, and had loved all his life — the art of composition had degenerated and declined. The main reason, he felt, was that modern composers tended to show off their contrapuntal wizardry, so much so that they neglected to give delight to the listeners. The theorist insisted on clarity of diction, on sensitivity to text, on contrapuntal transparency, and, above all, restraint — all of which he found to his satisfaction in Josquin's motets. But the six voices of Gombert's Mass seem to be ploughing on relentlessly, as if intoxicated by their own artistry, indifferent to whatever text they must enunciate, and oblivious to what listeners can cope with. To Glarean's ears, the Mass must have sounded over-wrought, opaque, and downright impenetrable.


Finck complained that Josquin's music had been « bare » (literally: o naked ») because there were so many rests. In the older master's music, too many voices were silent for too much of the time. For Glarean, on the other hand, that would have been the mark of restraint: if you have six voice-parts at your disposal, you want to use those forces judiciously and with discretion, depending on what the text demands and what the listener is able to take in. A good example is Josquin's six-part motet BENEDICTA ES, CELORUM REGINA of c.1515: the full, six-part texture is reserved only for key moments and conclusions; everything else is in reduced scoring.

For Finck, in turn, that would have been a waste of resources: why have endless passages in thin scoring when you can have richly-textured polyphony all the time? Many singers might well have agreed. It can sometimes be a frustrating experience to sing Josquin, especially when you spend much of your time counting rests till you are allowed to contribute your little bit to some point of imitation, or some exchange between voice-pairs. If you want to keep on going, if you want to sing your heart out, Gombert is your man. He'll give you barely enough time to catch your breath.

 There are other important differences. The classic Josquin is a strategist, an architect, a planner, who builds up or winds down to or from moments of great musical intensity, reducing or expanding the texture, some-times stepping up the musical pace, sometimes bringing it almost to a standstill — but never without a sense that all this is natural and somehow necessary. (Once again the classic example is BENEDICTA ES.) Gombert, on the other hand, does not seem to have a compositional plan, a well thought-out strategy, other than to keep going relentlessly, to avoid everything that might disrupt the flow of his music. If it is exceedingly hard to single out and recall « key moments » or o purple patches » in his music, it is because every moment sounds pretty much the same as the next.

Telling, in this regard, is the way Gombert handles his final cadences. In Josquin's BENEDICTA ES, the magnifi-cent conclusion of the motet is anticipated long in advance. But Gombert's final cadences arrive with so
little warning or preparation that one realizes only a split-second later, in retrospect, that they were meant to conclude the piece. In fact, Gombert creates the impression that even the voices themselves do not always realize that there has been a final cadence. Usually there are three or four parts who keep going for a little longer, until they finally join in with the final chord. If Josquin's voice-parts operate like a tightly-disciplined army, collectively marching, rushing forward, stopping, or turning at the general's command, Gombert's voice-parts seem to behave rather like an unruly crowd — as if the composer himself has scarcely any control over what they are doing.

Certainly they operate in a space that seems too narrow to contain them. Like prisoners in an overcrowded cell, they are restlessly moving within the span of two-and-a-half octaves, trying not to hit the same notes, trying not to move in parallel fifths and octaves, and above all, trying not to produce dissonances with one another.

Gombert actively encourages this impression that they are unable to avoid bumping into one another. Scholars have often called attention to the unusually high incidence of dissonance in his music. Consider EXAMPLE 1, which shows bars 22-25 of the Kyrie of MISSA QUAM PULCHRA ES (about one minute into track 1 on the present recording). I have placed an asterisk above each note that creates a dissonance with some other note sounding in another voice at the same time. Many of these are so-called passing dissonances, occurring on off-beats, and not especially noteworthy. But what is remarkable, indeed staggering, is the number of dissonances on down-beats, on places of rhythmic emphasis: out of fourteen down-beats in the example, nine are marked by dissonance. And this example is not an exception: it is typical of page after page of Gombert's writing. In MISSA QUAM PULCHRA ES, there is scarcely a moment or a dissonance is occurring between some pair of voices.

None of this is to suggest that Gombert was somehow incompetent as a musician. On the contrary: it takes extraordinary skill to be able to spice up your counterpoint with such generous seasonings of dissonance, and yet not to break the rules — at least not completely. At the same time, there is so much dissonant friction going on, all the time, that Gombert's music could not possibly have been considered stylish, or idiomatic, at an earlier date. True, he observes the letter of the laws of counterpoint, as much as he can, but he seems to violate the spirit.

EXAMPLE 2 shows how one would have had to change the same passage if it was to sound acceptable, say, in the 1490s or before. Not every dissonance needs to go, of course, but the downbeats at least consist of pure consonant sound, as would have been imperative throughout the fifteenth century. Not that the second example is better, or even more « correct D, than the first — it just reflects a different way of thinking about music and sonority.

For instance, in the 1490s, it would not have been enough just to remove the dissonances like I have done in EXAMPLE 2. In order to bring out the consonant sonorities one would also have had to slow down the music considerably, otherwise the sounds would rush by too fast to be properly appreciated. Yet it would be impossible to bring out that same quality in EXAMPLE 1, no matter how much one would slow down the music. There is too much activity, too much discordant interference, for any single sonority to resound to advantage. In fact, if one slowed down Gombert's music, it is the dissonances that would probably begin to sound intolerable. His counterpoint needs to move at a relatively brisk pace if it is to work.

 Yet there is a more critical difference. In EXAMPLE 2, the « cleaned-up » version, the voices work together as a team, building sonorities that can be heard and appreciated as entities, as chords. In EXAMPLE 1, on the other hand, each of the voices seems to have an almost perverse pleasure in not going along with what the others are doing, disrupting their consonant sonorities, or at least joining them only after a pointed delay — always lingering on dissonant notes before resolving them, always persisting in the logic of its own motion. If Josquin controlled and managed his voice-parts like an army general, Gombert creates a soundworld in which each of the voice-parts seems to be constantly struggling against all others — and the listener gets to listen in on the struggle.

The consequence is that Gombert's music lacks definition, lacks clarity and transparency of sound, that it is quite difficult for the listener to stand back from the experience of hearing it, and to single out even one point of conceptual stability. Instead of an orderly progression of consonant sonorities, one hears constant
motion and friction between voice-parts. There is scarcely a sonority or it contains some admixture of dissonance, however fleetingly. And yet each sonority makes way for the next so quickly that one can barely bring to consciousness what is happening exactly at any one moment. What emerges instead is an overall acoustic effect, a general sound quality that must have been quite to the taste of the 1530s: a kind of constant « buzzing » effect, a-darkening of texture, making up in stentorian power for what it loses in mellowness and sweetness. It is this effect, this tendency for individual pitches to become almost indistinct in a wash of vibrant vocal noise, that Gombert relishes, and that he seems afraid to lose by allowing the pace of his music to slacken even momentarily.

Quite why music of this kind became so fashionable in the 1520s is difficult to say. Music like that of Gombert and his contemporary Willaert is an acquired taste, obviously, and it can be quite hard to deal with if one has lived on a diet of Josquin. Yet whatever it is that we value in Josquin's music, clearly the generation that came after him saw no point in cultivating that quality any longer. In fact they left the older man's style so firmly behind that one is almost inclined to speak of a reaction against him — as if composers distanced themselves from Josquin precisely by canonizing the man and his work. Or perhaps it is our own canonization of Josquin that plays tricks on us here. There are plenty of works attributed to him that clearly anticipate the stylistic trends of the 1520s, yet Josquin scholars have persistently rejected these works as spurious precisely because they do not conform to their stylistic image of the composer — an image based largely on his middle-period works. Perhaps, if we can bring ourselves to reconsider Josquin's authorship of late works like INTER NATOS MULIERUM and MISSA QUEM DICUNT HOMINES, it might be possible to understand Finck's claim that Gombert was a pupil of Josquin, and maybe even perceive a more gradual stylistic transition in the 1520s than the dramatic rupture that Gombert's MISSA QUAM PULCHRA ES seems to mark. Rob. C. Wegman

(sorry if it's full of typos, I've used some software to convert the image to text but I haven't checked the output yet.)
« Last Edit: March 06, 2018, 11:32:45 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Fidgety

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Re: The Early Music Club (EMC)
« Reply #1181 on: March 06, 2018, 11:37:17 AM »
This one is good:

Knights, Maids & Miracles : The Spring of Middle Ages
La Reverdie

And La reverdie has others of a similar nature.

Available as a download for $9.49 here:

Not many mis-pricings left around the web, but that's one.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2018, 09:23:59 AM by Fidgety »
"There is no progress in art, any more than there is progress in making love. There are simply different ways of doing it." – Emmanuel Radnitzky (Man Ray)

Offline Traverso

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Re: The Early Music Club (EMC)
« Reply #1182 on: March 16, 2018, 08:46:38 AM »
Available as a download for $9.49 here:

Not many mis-pricings left around the web, but that's one.

A fine box indeed.

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