Josquin 500: Pie memorie

Josquin 500
Pie memorie: A valediction in voices and viols
Linarol Consort, Binchois Consort
, Andrew Kirkman
Recorded in Leominster Priory. Available online until 31 October 2021

The Linarol Consort’s Josquin 500 festival, marking the 500th anniversary of Josquin des Prez’s death, is taking place during August and September 2021 with a series of live and streamed events. There are several options for booking online access to the events. The first of these events was Pie memorie: “A valediction in voices and viols” with The Linarol Consort & The Binchois Consort, recorded at a live concert in Leominster Priory on 20 August 2021 and available online from 27 August, the anniversary of Josquin’s death, until 31 October 2021. The premise for this concert was to imagine Josquin’s friends, colleagues and admirers coming together to pay their funeral respects in a house near the church of Condé sur Escaut. Viols and voices join in songs and motets of lamentation, including Richafort’s Requiem, as they hoped to aid Josquin’s soul’s route to salvation.

A pre-concert talk by Andrew Kirkman (also available online) set the scene for the concert. It included questions about whether Richafort’s Requiem Mass was actually composed for Josquin’s death. Such was Josquin’s popularity that vast amounts of music were attributed to Josquin after his death, leading to the quip that he “wrote more music since his death than before he died”.

The first piece, Nunc Dimittis is possibly modelled on Josquin’s Memor esto verbi tui, rather than being by Josquin himself. The four voices were mirrored by the viols, a most attractive sound that is not often heard. But it raised an issue for me that continued through the concert: the persistent vibrato of the highest voice. In all other respects the almost soprano timbre was attractive, with none of the edge the countertenors sometimes exhibit, but the continuous rhythmic shaking of the voice, unfortunately made more obvious by being the highest voice, was a distraction.

The six-voice Se congie prens used two singers with the four viols. As is so often the case, Josquin’s decorative flourishes made it hard to pick out the canon at the heart of the musical structure. The secular Faulte d’argent, sung by five singers alone, also hid a canon on a popular song. It was quoted in Richafort’s Requiem, which closed the concert. The lament Nymphes, nappés set the mood for the rest of the programme – “It’s all sad from here on in”. It is based on the same chant melody as the Richafort Requiem and used all six singers of The Binchois Consort together with the four viols of The Linarol Consort.

Regretz sans fin was followed by the melancholy Venia in morte Josquini by Benedictus Ducis, played by the four viols alone – a wonderfully plaintive sound that suited the mood perfectly. Ducis was a German composer who, according to the comprehensive programme notes, “beat his wife somewhat” and had a little too much fondness for drink, the two perhaps connected. The first half ended with Josquin’s moving Pater noster / Ave Maria, composed just before his death. It was intended to be sung in front of the statue of the virgin on his front wall of his market place house in Condé sur Escaut.  The joint plea to God and Mary seems to be a clear indication of Josquin’s awareness of his impending demise.

The second half of the programme was devoted to Richafort’s 1532 Requiem/Missa pro defunctis which may or may not have been composed in memory of Josquin. It includes two Josquin quotes: the Circumdederunt me cantus firmus from the chanson Nymphes nappés, and, in the Gradual and Offertory, C’est douleur non pareille, the phrase from Josquin’s chanson Faulte d’argent that, tellingly, referers to the ‘pain without equal’. Both quotations are heard in canon in the middle of the six-part texture.

The festival continues with live and online events, including a Zoom talk and workshops. More information here.