Josquin des Prez
Missa L’homme armé
Ave Maria. Absalon fili mi
Jeremy Summerly, conductor
Josquin des Prez, the most admired composer of his time for his polyphonic writing, composed two Masses on the famous melody L’homme armé as cantus firmus. L’homme armé is a music of unknown and controversial origin but of fortunate development, since it inspired numerous Masses in the XV and XVI centuries. Des Prez’s Masses on L’homme armé are based on the Roman liturgical text and they are called Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales and Missa L’homme armé sexti toni to distinguish one from the other. The latter is the one presented in the album. As its name indicates, the Missa L’homme armé sexti toni (“the sixth mode”) is so called because des Prez transposed the melody to make his last note F, instead of the most common G.
Three other compositions are presented in addition to the Mass. The motet Ave Maria is des Prez’s only composition that can be dated before 1485 and dates back to 1476. It was chosen by printer Ottaviano Petrucci for the first collection of des Prez’s motets, Motetti A (1502), which defines it as an excellence of the genre. Absalon, fili mi is a motet from David’s lament, which des Prez composed to commemorate the death of Giovanni Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, who was assassinated in 1497. At the end of the album, there is a piece by another composer, Jheronimus Vinders, who lived a generation after des Prez and who dedicated to the illustrious composer a Lament on the death of Josquin.
The Oxford Camerata, made up of twelve members only and directed by Jeremy Summerly, is the best you could wish for this repertoire, as it is testified by its long concert and recording activities. Des Prez’s music is sublimely performed by it, so that the deep religiosity of the songs stand out immediately. It is also a feature of the a cappella singing to be more immediate and evocative than music which includes orchestral accompaniment.
This recording is more than ever recommended for anyone who is looking for an introduction to this repertoire or desires to renew its acquaintance.