Basevi Codex

Basevi Codex
Music At the Court of Margaret of Austria
Dorothee Mields, Boreas Quartett Bremen

AUDITE 97.783. 61’30

What a beautiful recording. Outstanding singing from Dorothee Mields, exquisitely delicate recorder playing from the Boreas Quartett Bremen, fascinating early 16th-century music from a little-known source, and an insight into the musical world of the Burgundian court in Mechelen. Despite a lovely back story to the CD and the music, this is one of those recordings that you can just lie back and listen to for sheer musical pleasure. If relaxed wafting is not for you, read on for more background.

I have been reviewing concerts in Antwerp for many years, and have often noticed that instead of the usual gifts of flowers or drinks to the performers (and I have several personal experiences of the impracticality of such gifts), a music edition is frequently offered, often through the auspices of The Alamire Foundation. One such gift was offered to the recorder quartet Boreas Quartett Bremen. It was a copy of the Basevi Codex, a manuscript from the early sixteenth century from the court of Princess Margaret of Austria (daughter of the Habsburg emperor Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy) in Mechelen. The original came from the workshop of Pierre Alamire and is one of the most important sources for Franco-Flemish secular chansons and motets. Early in the 16th century, the Italian Agostini family of Siena commissioned a beautifully designed copy. In the 19th century, a collector named Basevi acquired the codex and donated it to the music conservatory at Florence, where it remains as I-Fc MS Basevi 2439.

The image above is from the middle of the Codex. it shows a young woman in a meadow looking up at three stars (an allusion to the heraldry of the Agostini family). Below her is the Roman she-wolf feeding Romulus and Remus, the emblem of Siena (as well as Rome). The Codex contains 87 mostly secular three and four-part songs in French, Dutch, Latin, and Italian. Although the composers’ names are shown (including the likes of de la Rue, Compère, Brumel, Ockeghem, Agricola, Obrecht, and Isaac), only the beginnings of the texts are usually shown – many of them well-known. The texts had to be reconstructed for this recording. Several of the tracks are purely instrumental – which perhaps may have been the original intention.

The detailed and well-written programme notes include background on Alamire, Margaret of Austria, the Burgundian Court, and the background to the recording. The arrangements for recorders and voice are very well-judged. But what is noteworthy about this recording is the superb balance between the voice of Dorothee Mields and the recorder consort. Mields’ voice seems to emerge from the consort as if she was another instrument rather than a vocal soloist. This matches perfectly the genre and mood of the music. Her voice is exquisitely stable in tone and colour.

A link to further information, including a free download of the CD’s programme notes (and purchase and download options), can be found here. A promotional video can be viewed here.