The 1973 Tour CD: The Music
By John Ronsheim
A few words for the uninitiated on the works on this CD: the last two Dufay (born c. 1400; d. 27 Nov. 1474) Ave Regina works, the antiphon, sung by the 1975 chorus, and the mass found here, were based on the Gregorian Chant antiphon, Ave Regina caelorum. The notes from this melody were given to the tenor parts, and Dufay composed in each work two parts above it and one part below it. This chant is embellished and rhythmicized; because of this, it reflects the other parts or vice versa, that is, the four parts are fully horizontally integrated producing a contrapuntal texture of much-imitative parts. Notice, in the Mass (probably first performed on 5 July, 1472 for the dedication of the Cambrai Cathedral; please see more on this and its relation with the antiphon/motet in the 1975 CD liner notes), that every movement begins the same way (called motto mass); it is in triple time (or ternary meter) and the four parts reflect one another in shape, all moving downwards. In the fifth part (out of nine) of the Kyrie (second Christe), one hears an upward movement derived from the "Gaude Virgo" portion of the Chant; this motion is developed here in this second Christe: this is the second important contour. A later example of this upward contour can be found developed in the Credo at the words dealing with "and ascended into heaven and he shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead whose kingdom shall have no end." Everything heads upwards and nothing could be made more extraordinary than recomposing what one just heard in one intense concentrated form ("taking on" what has gone on before), but this time in triplets (covering the same exact pitch area as before). It is like judging what has gone before (relating to the text on a complex and subtle level) and this brings to a close, again related to the text, what has appeared (the musical material in an intense rapid movement). In essence, this displays a number of ascending lines in all three parts. But to finish it off in triplet motion "takes the cake." But one also hears before this, the motto theme in the soprano. Many times, this author has said to himself that no other complete work in European music displays such a perfect harmoniousness. Listen carefully for the lyrically refined echoes between phrases, parts of movements, e.g., the recomposed opening Kyrie heard in Kyrie 2, 7 and 9. Kyrie 8 is like a concentrated compendium of the opening 8 bar motto theme with its variations and rhythms, e.g., the superimposed theme tail in the different parts. Heard in the complete work are canons, imitations, different parts being "shadowed," etc. It has an extraordinary clarity. Notice the "minor"-sounding "miserere" in the Agnus -- in the Ave Regina antiphon/motet one hears Dufay's name, but not in this work: see the 1975 liner notes on this. There is much parody (stealing and/or reworking the musical material) between the Ave Regina mass and motet. There is less conflict in Dufay than Ockeghem (perhaps a little like the differences between Handel and Bach). Notice how all the movements are quite alike in style, content and form (and the persistence of one pulse one second long, more or less). All the material in this piece of fabric in all five movements is made from the same piece of cloth, very different from 17th, 18th and 19th century music; the glorious eras of tonality depended so much on contrasting forms, periodic structure (until late Wagner: please read the 1975 liner notes), different tempos, timbre, etc. Has a more harmonious, lyrical and elegant work than this late Dufay composition ever been written? The balance and proportions are "perfect."
The Requiem of Dufay has been lost; consequently, the earliest one known comes from Ockeghem (born c. 1410; d. Feb. 1497). It too makes an extensive use of a chant, this one from the Missa pro defunctis (Mass for the Dead), paraphrasing and elaborating on it, much in the highest part. There is no work like this in the history of European music. It is totally unpredictable (what an ear and sense of time); in the Introitus, how long will the three note "chords" last and move elsewhere? And often they move together and even parallel (the way they move causes an anxiety that is not normal); with its intense austere richness, every pitch is important (no cliches in this work!); this and the Kyrie imitations and canons are absolutely exquisite, the simplicity has a madness about it; it rings of delicacy but it is irrational; listen to how the lines imitate, sometimes one line going faster and the other slower but then in midstream, the course is changed ... listen to how the Kyrie dissolves into depth right before the Graduale and how it takes off, moving, moving, with a strong pulse, deeper, darker, reflecting the words; then occurs one of the most moving examples of two part writing this author has ever known; what an extraordinary relationship these two voices have -- they rock back and forth, etc., just two "simple" lines, also dissolving into four lines and even then perhaps moving to a place not so comforting (this is probably a fairly early work of Ockeghem but already one hears a lack of cadences). Then all of a sudden, no low pitches (in the first part of the Tractus) and this duo moves quite differently from the earlier duos -- Ockeghem never repeats himself. Then the low duo and then another contrast: marvelous three parts with its tears, particularly how they come in the tenor, spaced out with silences and longing for God. Then from two to three to four voices, odd rhythmic imitations, entrances, asking over and over in different voices, almost in a mocking mood: lacking God? And now dropping into the dark place; it surely must have sounded like it was really in Hell in those days (Ockeghem's deep low voice must have helped give him the idea of a bass line -- until Ockeghem, the tenor was the lowest part: it helped give him the possibility of projecting a completeness -- heaven and hell, that is, good and evil). Notice the swerving line and rhythmic interruption asking for the faithful to be delivered from a Bosch-like hell. Notice the powerful, rhythmic, pulsed step-like movement, like souls marching together in Hell; then again the upper two-part contrast of timbres asking to bring them out into the ethereal holy light. This performance ends with the text and music of the death to life prayer in almost stillness, a musically aesthetic decision, not repeating a previous section. This conductor believes the tempo chosen for this Offertory naturally mirrors both the psychic and physical tempo, not what some might reason (this is not a light comedy, which the faster tempo could suggest). Of course, during this time, verticals/chords were not yet systematized; the powerful lines suggest that every vertical is inevitable, regardless of its unpredictableness, irrationality, etc.
The Dunstable (b. before 1390, d. 1453) is number 34, Textless Motet from the Collected Works, Volume VIII of the Musica Britannica. The tenor is isorhythmic, four phrases of the same duration, four ascending scale-wise tones, each beginning on successive scale steps, constructed in the manner of a solmization exercise. We sang this during communion and hummed the work as long as the communion lasted. It is concentrated music, the essence of Dunstable. According to his epitaph, he was a musician, mathematician and astronomer. He was attached to the Duke of Bedford who ruled as Regent in Paris. Dufay learned from him and imitated his "contenance angloise."
The Ockeghem Cuiusvis Kyrie performances were taken at a very slow beat (tactus), but somehow it suits the breadth and the ethereal quality of the music. The tactus was, according to Gaffurius in 1496, equal to the pulse of a human being breathing normally, c. 60-70 per minute. See the tour notes for more on this work, except for the remark that somehow the Phrygian mode offers more pathos than the other modes (we did the whole mass later at Antioch in that personally preferred mode). Perhaps it should be mentioned that the musical mass sings the text that always remains the same throughout the year. The text is usually sung in the 2nd, 3rd, 9th, 14th and 17th place (out of c. 20 for the whole mass).
It must be said that these performances have little rubato, are quite direct and do not break the flow as so many self-conscious recorded performances do. The long lines and the total impact of whole movements are naturally projected. The dynamic levels are not "made." The young voices without vibrato give it a special sound/color. The connection of Dufay and our tour is in wine: Dufay was in charge of making sure his place of residence, e.g., Cambrai, had wine (he assigned the accounts of the wine cellar). He also bought wine, e.g., Champagne, for specific cellars. Did Ockeghem and Dufay meet? Documents report that Ockeghem stayed at Dufay's house for two weeks in 1464 and perhaps in 1462. One can only wonder what they learned from each other (did the older man give the younger man composition lessons?). For sure, their finest works were individuated and distinctive. What a pair! See what the world has missed not hearing their music? It is as if we had never seen a painting by Jan van Eyck, Bruegel or Bosch.
P.S. I have written the following in the notes about the music for the 1975 tour CD: without Rick Ray, both the 1996 reunion and these CDs would not have happened; we all owe to him the chance to "summon up remembrance of things past."