BBC Proms: Josquin

BBC Proms: Josquin des Prez
The Marian Consort
Cadogan Hall, 9 August 2021

Josquin des Prez: Praeter rerum seriem
Sethus Calvisius: Praeter rerum seriem
Josquin des Prez: Benedicta es, caelorum Regina
Adriaan Willaert: Benedicta es, caelorum regina
Josquin des Prez: Inviolata, integra et casta es
Vicente Lusitano: Inviolata, integra et casta es

Josquin des Prez (c1450/1455 – 1521) is one of the composers’ anniversaries celebrated during this years BBC Proms season, 500 years after his death. In this lunchtime concert, the Marian Consort, making their Proms debut, gave a programme of musical borrowings, contrasting three of Josquin’s greatest motets with three later musical homages that each reworked Josquin’s own music for a new age. Josquin pieces were themselves borrowings, as they use pre-existing melodies.

Josquin des Prez’s opening motet Praeter rerum seriem starts in low registers as two voices (soon expanded to six) weave their short melodic threads around the devotional cantus firmus in either the discantus or tenor voice. Sethus Calvisius (1556 – 1615) retains the six-part structure, opening with the same music as Josquin but then thinkening the texture. He was a German music theorist, composer, and astronomer. He was born in Thuringia and studied in Leipzig where he eventually became director of the Thomanerchor, remaing there until his death. He was offered several university professorships in mathematics.

Josquin’s Benedicta es, caelorum Regina makes us of canon between upper and lower voices. The texture thins from six to three and then two as the piece develops. Adrian Willaert (c1490 – 1562) expands the texture to seven voices. He was born in the Netherlands and, after studies in Paris, moved to Italy c1515, eventually becoming the maestro di cappella of St. Mark’s, Venice. An anecdote about his early experience in Rome reflects the influence of Josquin. Shortly after after he arrived, he overheard the Sistine Chapel choir singing one of pieces, under the assumption that it was by Josquin. When he told them he was the composer, they removed it from their repertoire.

Little is known about Vicente Lusitano (d after1561), other than that he was born near the Portuguese/Spanish border and was of African descent. His 1551 book of Motets is the first known music to be published by a black composer. His take on Josquin’s Inviolata, integra et casta es expands the voices from five to eight

The Marian Consort ended with an encore, Hieronymus Vinders’ O mors inevitabilis, a lament on the death of Josquin. With a double cantus firmus, the harmony evolves beneath almost consistent soprano high C’s.

The singers of The Marian Consort, directed by Rory McCleery, produced a well-coordinated sound, helped by clear and generally unaffected voices and a fine sense of consort, so important in this polyphonic repertoire where all the voices need to be heard equally. Their tuning, notably at the all important cadences, was perfect.

This review is based on the live BBC Radio 3 broadcast, rather than live.