The 1975 Tour CD: The Music
By John Ronsheim
The Antioch Chorus was to have only one day off in the twenty-five days spent in Italy, but they elected to lose that freedom and spend most of that time recording all of our music (we did put on tape the Prolationum -- heard here -- using our half-track machine in Carcassonne at the then closed church St. Gimer). The bells of the Carmine Basilica in Florence began ringing right before we started to record in the refectory attached to that church where the important Masaccio frescoes are.
A few words for the uninitiated: the four voice antiphon/motet Ave Regina caelorum (the tenor line is derived from the Gregorian chant of that name) by Dufay (born c. 1400; d. 27 Nov. 1474) was requested by Dufay himself (found in his will written c. five months before his death) to be sung, if possible, during his dying moments. (The work was copied into the Cambrai Cathedral Choirbooks in 1464-65. The 1973 Antioch European Tour Chorus sang the Missa "Ave Regina" which was copied nine years later at Cambrai in 1473-74; no one knows which was conceived first.) It begins with two duos each lasting ten bars (or measures) in ternary meter (in these twenty bars, there are four cadences centering on the note C, the tones used suggest C major, and give a feeling of brightness). At bar 21 it bursts into a full C minor triad on the word "miserere" ("have pity") but quickly returns to the brightness and cadences at the end of the word "Dufay." Eventually, soon after the ternary meter changes to binary meter near the middle of the work, this touch of pathos is taken up again when Dufay personally asks for mercy. At this point one hears the minor tonal color, but the melancholy deepens for eight bars and produces a real feeling of what we all have experienced, a C minor to C major tonal cadence. The resolution is, once again, with the word "Dufay." This predates the earliest form of tonality by more than a century -- it will be over two centuries before a full tonal family of keys is established; one will find in Dufay occasional horizontal and vertical passages suggesting tonality, and this is a product of contrapuntal textures, etc. But at the same time, Dufay was naturally drawn to fairly bright, well-spaced chords, more heaven than hell -- real hell perhaps comes with Ockeghem, hence a possibility of something nearer to tragedy -- chiaroscuro does give Dufay the possibility of pathos just like it does for Mozart. Of course, the above was written hoping that the reader was aware that there was a system of modes existing and used before the tonal system was developed. The eight church modes (but they have only four final tones) were the basis of the Gregorian Chant centuries before anyone knew how to notate the pitches of these melodies -- rhythm is still a subject of considerable controversy; what should be known is that every mode has its final resting place pitch and this single pitch acts like a magnet and gives an ordering of the tones of the mode. Chords based on intervals of the third, i.e., the major and minor triads in tonal music are quite prevalent in Dufay, but the idea that every chord is built vertically on a root was not yet systematized; but somehow, human nature demands that the individual or tribe needs the idea of a "home." Consequently, each of the modal steps in these scales are part of a hierarchy but the final pitch gives meaning to the others and the fifth tone is second in importance; consequently, V to I is the most powerful quick method to resolve a cadential line which takes us back to the Dufay cadence found in Ave Regina. But before, this one last bit of historical theory: polyphony/counterpoint was developed over centuries utilizing the modal system (this includes the solmized Guidonian set of interlocking hexachords that each polyphonic voice uses in order to pass from one hexachord to another, which helps solve the additions of accidentals) along with a system of notating duration called mensuration whose principles were established c. 1260 and remained in use with various modifications until c. 1600. So, that exact eleven-bar pathetic cadence is also found in the Missa "Ave Regina" in the Agnus Dei. There are two differences: the antiphon/motet has the addition to the original text (called a trope) as mentioned before but the Mass has the more objective "have mercy on us," "us" instead of "Dufay"; the other difference is that the former work's final C chord lasts but one tactus/pulse (according to a document of 1496, this beat was equal to a human pulse beating normally, c. 60 times per minute) and goes immediately on to a new phrase, chord, and continues the text that will complete the sentence. The Mass comes to a complete stop, closing out a section of music before going on to a totally new section with text which will bring the Mass to its conclusion. When I conducted the shorter work, I took my cue from the Mass and it gave the impression that it is the end of a section. I write this now because it might give a clue to which of these two Ave Regina works was conceived first. It seems in the score that the antiphon/motet moves on too quickly at this juncture, that the text and music do not act in accord with one another, that it should happen as one hears it in this recording; but considering the text, it is not quite right, either. Which is the culprit, the text or the music, or is this writer making too much out of this? Which work came first? Perhaps both together? Did Dufay have a premonition about dying and/or was he ill when he conceived the shorter more personal work? Perhaps Dufay kept working on the Mass until it was copied the year before he died, even conceiving it before the antiphon/motet (and if one accepts this last point he then conceived a new work based on the yet to be completed Mass). Musicologists have difficulty writing about things they do not know ... canvases can reveal much in the art of painting, but Dufay's Ave Regina copyist, Simon Mallet, copied only the final conceptions ... what do we know other than these final decisions? Anyway, thirty-one bars before the end there are some fun but not easy-to- sing complex cross-rhythms leading to a brief tripla section (no doubt having something to do with the endings of both the Gloria and Credo of the Mass; much borrowing between the two works: called parody and the technique is more common in the 16th century, etc.) right before the last burst which leads to a lyrically dignified and elegant ending.
The total structure is well conceived; there is no letdown; Dufay is always inventing fresh material in a tightly-controlled set of musical parameters. It is a uniquely styled late work from one of the great masters of European music, never tiring to sing, always moving towards its goal: to reach a heightened end.
The cantilena Flos florum is truly a gorgeous, sensuous lyrical and personal song written with the top line having a constantly florid, evolving melody and with two lower lines making sure it moves on, giving the vertical a marvelous dimension of depth and color. We hum the instrumental parts. Somehow, this work always reminded me of Mozart at his best. It has real pathos and it projects the sensibilities of the time, which the historian Huizinga writes about in his remarkable book, The Waning of the Middle Ages; also, it is awfully close to the sensibility of Jan van Eyck's painting Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife.
A very elegant work!
The Alleluia is from Dufay's third mass, written c. 1426, and is more medieval in style and sound. It is somewhat heavy and lacks the grace of his better works (we needed a responsory).
Dunstable's Textless Motet is from the Collected Works, Volume VIII of the Musica Britannica. The tenor is isorhythmic, four phrases of the same duration, each duration having 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 pure Dunstable; meaning it has all the grace and "contenance angloise" -- harmonious, lyrical. He was attached to the Duke of Bedford who ruled as Regent in Paris. According to his epitaph, he was a musician, mathematician and astronomer. He influenced Dufay; one can hear it, that harmoniousness even in this little jewel.
And now a work of immense invention, power, completeness (the only work I can say that might match it for its grandeur is the first movement of Bach's B-minor Mass, but it is only one movement), the Missa Prolationum of Ockeghem (b. c. 1410; d. 6 Feb. 1497). It is a complete mass of five movements, having no music drawn from an outside source, i.e., no chant in this work. The canonic structure of the entire work is as follows: it is mainly a series of double canons (some in augmentation) at progressive intervals from the unison to the octave, leading up to the liturgical climax achieved by the elevation of the host and utilizing rhythmic or duration proportions, i.e., each of the four parts sings in a different meter (signature or prolation -- in modern terms of proportions, 2/4, 3/4, 6/8, 9/8 often giving proportional canons or exact imitations on different lengths of notes. (To quote our own Michael Eckert from his paper, read on 6 Feb. 1997 at the Ockeghem celebration conference in Tours, France, 500 years to the day of Ockeghem's death: "the mensural structure of the Missa Prolationum is based on minim equivalence between simultaneously sounding voices notated under major and minor prolation, certainly the most feasible relationship for constructing four-voice mensuration canons. The only other example of such minim equivalence in Ockeghem's surviving masses occurs in the Offertory of the Requiem ..." -- one might add that major is triple and minor is duple. To quote the Oxford Dictionary for prolate: "extend, increase, lengthen; especially to lengthen a word, etc. in articulation"; prolate and prolation have the same etymology -- the mass takes its name from the fact that each voice is in a different prolation). The Kyrie uses canons at the unisons, 2nds and 3rds; the Gloria, 4ths; the Credo, 5ths; the Sanctus, 6ths, 7ths and at the shout of adoration, that elevation of the host, the octave. The Agnus Dei returns to canons at the 4ths and 5ths. The Kyrie is quiet. The Gloria is an immense "ocean," waves build up and cadences are avoided. The harmony, the chords, the verticals (they are a rich array of constantly changing and familiar sounds without the tonal logic justifying their movement in tonal terms) are gathered all from the linear lines and fed to our ears. But this is not tonal music, and it is impossible to hear it as they heard it because we hear everything filtered through all the music we know that has been written since the 15th century, and particularly since the tonal periods. In fact, we can't but be tonal babies; consequently, we read tonality into this 15th century music. These "chords" have no real pragmatic roots, as explained above; there is no rationale to help explain what we seem to hear ... how illusory it is. ... Perhaps this might partly explain why a bunch of Antiochians (they were not the typical student, at least psychologically, i.e., less willing to accept ready-made answers to life, etc.) in the '73 and '75 choruses could get so "high" on this music, that this illusorily tonal music provided no real answers because the music lacked so much of what they were provided with at birth ... if one harmonically analyzes some Beatles music, one might hear a kind of tonal fantasy. ... So using the word "avoided" is "fiction" as we tonal babies hear it; in one sense, Ockeghem's freedom was of another kind: one could almost say that this is "free verse" music -- of course this is not true because Ockeghem was certainly "a child of his own time," but in reality he is just more imaginative and more musically prodigious than others in manipulating what the musical past offered him. Tonal music required many forms (a subject impossible to pursue from lack of space), but perhaps the gist of it can be gleaned from this about Wagner: this composer inherited the classical hierarchic musical syntax, e.g., two bars combine to form a phrase, two phrases a half-clause, two half-clauses -- antecedent and consequent -- a period; a four-bar group may shrink to three bars or extend to five without affecting the principle; because these regularities are firmly heard and felt in the listener's conscious, they will know it when it is an aberration, not permanent, and perhaps the listener will gain an immense pleasure if the composer had the tools and imagination. (There is a difference between the words imagination and fantasy; the former word would be more associated with a specific linear musical tradition, while fancy has more to do with doing as one pleases, disregarding, more or less, historical time, etc. The Beatles owed everything to tonality and other traditions as well, but they were fanciful musical children, so to speak, playing triads upon the harmonic rock of tonality ... but without the Black tradition they would not have. ... ) Wagner's genius, in a sense, only flowered after he discovered how to avoid the cadence: he had to find a way to be able to build the most idealistic set of waves possible, leading to the ultimate climax, as is found in Tristan and Isolde, the final wave ... orgasm, if you wish -- perhaps Wagner's real final aim, though, is the "spiritual" resolution of the cadence ...; but this is all bound up with the meaning of the word prolongation, and this was discovered in the music dramas found in The Ring, not the set forms idea found in opera. Here he learned how to suspend or annul the rules that were explained above, discarding periodic structure, etc. The important thing, apropos Wagner, is that he could visit "distant lands" only because he always knew where "home" was ... he traveled because he could always return (and always did) as long as the listener knew that Wagner was just away from the stable place he left, i.e., the key that he had established, his was still in the classical tradition -- though this did lead to atonality. ... Ockeghem did not have the opportunity to visit "distant lands" (perhaps he is permanently there, in the tonal babies' world), i.e., 23 major and minor keys, because the tonal system had not been invented. The Gloria and Credo begin and end on so-called F major triads (the whole work seems to emanate from the tone F), but this is linear modal music and we "tonal babies" hear, as explained above, a rich series of tonally related chords (but they don't act like tonally related chords as in Wagner's wanderings which are logically conceived, e.g., the Prelude to Tristan and Isolde wanders away from the home of the tone of A and the key of A minor -- but one constantly has the security of knowing that there is a "home"... it is that era of wanting to know everything, etc.) but Ockeghem was in an entirely different world. Ockeghem, in this work, has tremendous melodic imitations; remember that the alto melodically and rhythmically imitates the soprano and likewise, the bass to the tenor (double canons), i.e., two simultaneous canons, but they are so integrated in echoing each other that if one does not keep one's ear on all four parts, one might hear that four is two equaling one and that tightly binds the movements.
How could another movement follow the Gloria's intensity and architecture? The Credo even tops it in length and line. It contains an extraordinary amount of detailed information and it is never tiring. It goes on and on, avoiding any musical substance that would harm those enormous long lines (perhaps the reason Ockeghem never finished Missa "Fors seulement" is that he begins with such a fabulous and complete melody and counterpoint that it would be pointless for him to continue ... ). The eye is on the whole almost like no other music conceived; tonal music can hardly attain this kind of long line, e.g., sure we have exceptionally long phrases from Haydn's Opus 20, no. 1, 3rd movement, to Webern's Opus 21, after the double bar ... to say it once more, Ockeghem, without a codified vertical system somehow "codifies" the verticals through four immense horizontal parts, all parts making the horizontal and verticals the same. Yes, after the Gloria's final cadence, how could another movement follow? The Credo opens with such an intense reaching in pitch, interval and duration, such a powerful gesture of belief in sound, that it succeeds in presenting a whole new level of awesome intensity, hence it can go on at a higher level and achieve an ending on its own surpassing the past climaxes. A bird's-eye view of the Credo: after the "awesome intensity" of the opening, a sequence of three-bar individuated alto and bass lines are answered in canon by the soprano and tenor at the interval of the fifth; then all four parts begin to interlock and the double canons are now between the upper two parts and lower two parts, eventually cadencing. Then the second part of this Credo begins with "resurrection," beginning in the upper parts until that astonishing swinging bass entry and then the "on and on" drive to the climax begins: the cadence (16th century music does not come like this, including Josquin and eventually, individualism is lessened: style and predictability take over, the end of the vital part of the Renaissance). Then the Sanctus: reverence but no less strong (and listen to those crazy rhythms at the end of the Benedictus). How would this monumental work end? It could only end in one way: the way it does. Natural, almost straightforward, direct, almost chorale-like (although several-plus centuries before Bach, somehow connecting up with his finest polyphony and projecting that strength of character); it is classic: restrained but not either (balance!); no climaxes: the climaxes are within the music itself, no need to become: you have arrived. And all this strength has refinement. Imagine: all this is vocal music, no instruments to help out, only vocal color. Never a dull moment, all driving being within the becoming. The chorus did not let Ockeghem down. Thank goodness we have this recording. And thank goodness we had the energy Ockeghem demanded!
The 1996 reunion had something of this about it; of course, the listener must not compare, etc. The spirit was not lacking. We only had a few hours to prepare the music we had not sung together for over 20 years. The '73 chorus had never sung the Prolationum but they were more than willing to join the spirit found in the music. We knew we had previously met the challenge and found ourselves in the music years ago and that is what counted now. Now it was a human thing. Notice how the voices changed (that is easy!). 40 alums from these two choruses and it was just plain fun! Now we, yours truly and Richard Ray (without Rick, both the reunion and these CDs would not have happened: we all owe to him the chance to "summon up remembrance of things past") offer this poorly recorded testament taken from an ordinary video camera recorded on a cheap video tape.