The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539

The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies

Delphian DCD34284. 67’14

The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539 of the title refers to a collection of sacred music assembled by the choirmaster of Milan Cathedral and sent, for reasons that are unclear, to Peter Schöffer, a Protestant publisher in Strasbourg. They were published in 1539 as Cantiones quinque vocum selectissimae. One of the mysteries is why such strongly Catholic music should be published in the equally strongly Protestant Strasbourg? In a collaboration with Cambridge University researcher Dr Daniel Trocmé-Latter, Siglo de Oro has selected 12 of the 38 Latin motets from the collection. These include pieces by Arcadelt, Willaert, and Gombert together with some lesser-known (or, indeed, completely unknown) composers such as Johannes Sarton.

The music ranges from almost madrigal-like simplicity to complex polyphony. The former include Maistre Jhan’s Pater noster and Jhan du Billon’s Postquam impleti sunt dies. At the other end of the scale is Johannes Lupi’s expansive Apparens Christus. Adrian Willaert’s Laetare sancta ecclesia is a lively piece honouring St. Augustine of Hippo. I particularly liked Dominique Phinot’s Exsurge quare obdormis and the concluding Laus Deo, pax viuvis by Nicolas Gombert.

There is a slightly distracting vibrato from the upper vocal line in Maistre Jhan’:’s Pater Noster – Ave Maria but, otherwise, the consort singing is excellent with a fine sense of consort in both the larger scale and the most intimate pieces. The recording is relatively closely focused but has an attractive background acoustic bloom.

Dr Daniel Trocmé-Latter’s programme notes give a detailed background to the publication, with no clear solution to the various mysteries surrounding it, He promises a forthcoming publication and downloadable scores of the 38 pieces from the Cantiones.

Pierre Cadéac: Salus populi ego sum
Jacques Arcadelt: Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes
Johannes Lupi: Apparens Christus
Adrian Willaert: Laetare sancta mater ecclesia; Peccavi super numerum arenae maris
Maistre Jhan: Pater Noster – Ave Maria
Johannes Sarton: Haec dies quam fecit
Dominique Phinot: Exsurge quare obdormis
Jhan de Billon: Postquam impleti sunt dies purgationis Mariæ
Simon Ferrariensis: Ave et gaude gloriosa virgo
Nicolas Gombertor Jacquet of Mantua: Veni electa mea
Nicolas Gombert Laus Deo, pax vivis