--Josquin des Prez--
Josquin des Prez was one of the greatest Dutch composers. Born about 1450, he worked through much of his career in church positions. A student of Johan Ockeghem, a Flemish contrapuntist, he developed this considerably during his career. A singer in papal choirs under two popes, Josquin also spent time in Florence and Burgundy. One of his star pupils wrote a book of music methodology in which Josquin is described as 'princeps musicorum'. Josquin's contrapuntal style differs from straight polyphony in points of emphasis, but were universally admired in his time, and continue to be used in churches to this day. Josquin died in 1521
Plainchant is basically another word for chant of Gregorian or other styles, being monophonic and in free rhythm. The particular piece here, Pange lingua, was originally a hymn for the feast of Corpus Christi. The first track on this CD presents the plainchant version without embellishment; perhaps as one would have originally heard it in a medieval monastery.
--Missa Pange lingua--
This mass, set for four voices, was possibly Josquin's last mass setting of his long career. Likely dating as late as 1520 (it wasn't published until 1539), it is a mature piece, no longer chasing after musical puzzles to be solved, but rather free and flowing in form. Gustave Reese (quoted in the liner notes) describes it as a 'fantasy on a plainsong.' Soprano is highly used in this mass.
--Missa La sol fa re mi--
This mass is an earlier one, published in 1502, and sets the task of setting a mass based on medieval scales (think here 'Sound of Music' and the do-re-mi) - the pattern of five notes, A-G-F-D-E is evident throughout the parts of the mass, particularly in the tenor. This is a technical and sophisticated masterpiece.
All of these pieces are wonderfully performed, and taken together, they make a wonderful snapshot of Roman Catholic/high Anglican sensibility from the time of triumphant church, just before the Reformation (but still influencing high-church worship and music to this day). They also serve to show a wonderful history of development from the simple to the complex, and the virtues of the music at both stages.
Being internationally acclaimed, the Tallis Scholars' CDs typically present their commentary and texts in English, French, German and Italian; that is true of this disc, which unfortunately does not contain the text of the mass or the plainchant Pange lingua. The cover art also typically represents visual arts contemporary with the compositions - here it is The Deposition, painted circa 1510 - 1515, a piece by Gerard David, who was an historical contemporary of Josquin des Prez. One drawback is that there is little information on the Tallis Scholars or Peter Phillips in the booklet.
--The Tallis Scholars--
The Tallis Scholars, a favourite group of mine since the first time I heard them decades ago, are a group dedicated to the performance and preservation of the best of this type of music. A choral group of exceptional ability, I have been privileged to see them many times in public, and at almost every performance, their singing seems almost like a spiritual epiphany for me, one that defies explanation in words. Directed by Peter Phillips, the group consists of a small number of male and female singers who have trained themselves well to their task.
Their recordings are of a consistent quality that deserve more than five stars; this particular disc of pieces of plainchant and Josquin des Prez deserves a place of honour in the collection of anyone who loves choral music, liturgical music or Gregorian chant, classical music generally, or religious music. This particular recording was made at Merton College, Oxford, in 1986.