Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

For, Peter Phillips, the Tallis Scholars’ founder (in 1973) and director,
has chosen to pair the Missa Gaudeamus, based on the introit
‘Gaudeamus omnes in Domine’, with the Missa L’ami Baudichon which
draws upon a secular song, notable for its textual lewdness: a reference to
female genitalia in the French language text is excised in the only source
to present the text, now held in Verona.

In his CD liner note, Phillips explains that the Gaudeamus cantus firmus is
associated with All Saint’s Day from which it derives it liturgy, a view
proposed – not without dispute by other scholars – by Willem Elders in his Studien zur Symbolik in der Musik der alten Niederlander (1968)
and Symbolic Scores: Studies in the Music of the Renaissance

Further, the Missa Gaudeamus, which is assumed to date from the
composer’s middle period of the mid 1480s (though it is documented only in
Petrucci’s first book of masses in 1502), is said by Elders to be permeated
by ‘hidden’ and mystical numerical ‘codes’. These will probably be seldom
detectable or of little import to the listener. What will undoubtedly
strike the ear more emphatically is the resonant ambience of the initial
articulation of the chant – the engineers having exploited the sonorous
acoustic of the College of Merton College Oxford – which, cascading in
inspiring echoes from the Chapel’s walls, windows and alcoves seems
designed to inspire the fervent, flowing drive of the Kyrie and subsequent

Josquin seldom states the whole chant, excepting the Gloria and Credo where
it is embellished in the tenor; instead, snatches of the first six notes
which are characterised by an aspiring, invigorating ascending leap of a
‘pure’ 5th, infiltrate the music, sometimes suggesting a
sweeping, spacious expanse, sometimes ‘filled in’ with stepwise melodic

The effect is a homogeny of gesture – and on this recording, of timbre,
dynamics and mood also – which at times exerts a hypnotic, magnetic tug and
elsewhere seems a little unalleviated. This listener was swept up in the
mellifluous precision – of intonation, vocal entries, rhythmic interplay –
and forward drive of the Tallis Scholars’ committed rendition, Phillips
adopting swift tempi and pushing fervently onwards. But, I longed at times
for a little more dynamic contrast, both within and between phrases, and
timbral variety. The latter comes not through expressive or devotional
interpretation but only when Josquin reduces and varies his forces: most
notably in the Sanctus and Benedictus where the light and airy three-voice
(SAB) ‘Pleni sunt caeli’ takes off in the first ‘Hosanna in excelsis’, as
if a multitude have been inspired to ecstatic worship by such lucid
devotion. Similarly, the sparse counterpoint of the Benedictus, which
intimates a gravity sometimes absent elsewhere, is followed by a second
‘Hosanna’ of secure and assuring faith. Likewise, the dynamic cross-rhythms
of the opening Kyrie are succeeded by the ambiguous, fervently rhapsodic
weak-beat entries of the Christe, before being cleansed by the sparser
textures of the second Kyrie episode.

Not every such opportunity for such contrast is taken up: the ‘Qui tollis’,
following the vibrant Gloria, opens with the two lower voices moving in
slower rhythmic values, but Phillips pushes ever forwards. I think that a
little more spaciousness and pause for reflection would, occasionally, have
been advantageous, though it’s certainly the case that the excited ebb and
flow of voices in the Gloria creates real ardency and energy, and the move
from duple to triple meter for the concluding ‘Cum Sancto spiritu’ and
‘Amen’ is wonderfully persuasive and uplifting.

It is the Credo that is most compelling, though, as Josquin floods the
voices with florid but elegant developments of the cantus firmus and pushes
the higher three voices ever upwards; again, I’d have liked a little more
spaciousness here – for example during the textural contrasts of the
repetitions of ‘omnia secula’, where the relentlessness can obscure the
rhetorical power of individual utterances – though it is true that the
overlapping entries have a mesmeric power. And, as ‘Et resurrexit’ in the
‘Et incarnatus’ episode pushes forward one feels that sound is prioritised
over text. ‘Et unam sanctum’ follows with barely a pause or breath, though
Phillips does permit and welcome, enrichening broadening in the final Amen.

The overall vocal balance is controlled, though the soprano entries
sometimes sound rather too dominant (interestingly, Elders notes, the
discantus part of the Missa Gaudeamus, in common with Josquin’s
two other Masses in honour of Our Lady, is written wholly in the G clef,
suggesting the use of boys’ voices). Moreover, the flattening of particular
pitches within the modes does not seem to be a consistently applied

But, Phillips structures the Agnus Dei persuasively: the second repetition
of the text – sung by the overlapping, intertwining, dialoguing soprano and
alto soloists – is a lovely palette cleanser for the final, sombre
statement in which the alto descends to serious depths, carried downwards
by the same scalic motifs which raise up the heaven-bound soprano.

There’s nothing very heaven-bound, one might think, about the Missa L’ami Baudichon: in pre-7th century French ‘baud’
means joyful and it is commonly assumed that ‘Baudichon’ is the nickname
for a ‘lusty swaggering youth’. But, if the text derives from the secular,
the music seems to strive for the divine and infinite. This is usually
considered to be one of the earliest of Josquin’s Mass settings, although
the attribution has been doubted: David Fallows, for example, has suggested
that the extensive duos are more indicative of Dufay’s writing than that
of Josquin, concluding (in his 2009 book), ‘I really do not believe this
can be a work of Josquin: logic aside, it simply feels to me wrong, even
though it has more than its fair share of truly marvellous moments’.

And, ‘marvellous moments’ there are in plenty. The richness of resounding
organ stops seems to lift the start of the Kyrie, the simple descending
melody – not unlike ‘Three Blind Mice’ – borne aloft with a broadness and
expanse missing in the Missa Gaudeamus. And, the Tallis Scholars
seem inspired to more emotive and visceral expression. The vibrantly rolled
‘r’ in ‘Christe’ evinces real human devotion and passion, and the strong
colour and energy of the bass line seems to lift the other voices: the
sopranos have a lovely brightness and freshness, while the inner voices
move with joyful vigour.

This sense of aspiration and confidence continues in the Gloria, where
initially the soprano and bass lines endeavour in complementary fashion, as
if contouring the expanse of the heavenly spheres. When they are joined by
the alto and tenor, the full choir radiates real human energy – all its
glories and imperfections. The lack of elaborate contrapuntal (and
numerical?) argument between the alto and bass in the ‘Qui Tollis’ is
direct and affecting, and seems to inspire the singers to inject more
individual colour into their respective lines, creating greater dynamic
variety and a lively conversation. The ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ which closes
the Gloria is invigorating and visceral in timbre, while the wide vistas of
the Credo rove and roam, rhythmically energised, modally inflected.

Two duos articulate the ‘Et incarnatus’ and ‘Crucifixus’ – by ST then AB
respectively – before all four voices join together for ‘Et resurrexit’:
and here, the opening bare fifth and subsequent homophonic richness are
almost rudely confident and direct, though such features give way to
lighter, tripping, decorative interjections, around the tenor’s bold,
almost defiant, long-held notes. The Sanctus is similarly confident –
harmonically and texturally ambitious – and resonantly sung. And, the
experimentation and exploration in ‘Pleni sunt’ which temporally pits two
in soprano against three in alto and inflects the invigorating lines with
modal nuance, is responded to by all four voices with joyful brightness:
‘Hosanna’ indeed.

One might suggest that these two Masses are the work of different
composers, but Phillips comments of the two ‘sound worlds: the one
intensely worked, the other joyful, bright, easy-going’: ‘I would say
genius on this scale knows no rules.’

This recording of

Missa Gaudeamus and Missa L’ami Baudichon

by the Tallis Scholars is released on 2nd November by Gimell.

Claire Seymour


image_description=Gimmell CDGIM 050
product_title=Josquin Masses – Missa Gaudeamus and Missa L’ami Baudichon
product_by=The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips
product_id=Gimmell CDGIM 050 [CD]