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8.554656 - LA RUE: Mass of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin / Missa Pascale
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Pierre de La Rue (c.1460-1518)

Missa de Septem Dolorlbus; Missa Pascale; Pater de caelis; Vexilla Regis

Born probably at Tournai in about the year 1460, Pierre de La Rue is mentioned as a tenor and then as a singer-composer in the records of the Confraternity of Our Lady at 's-Hertogenbosch from 1489 to 1492. For a short time first chaplain to the Burgundian-Habsburg court of Brussels-Mechelen, he twice accompanied Philip the Fair to Spain, in 1501 and 1506. He spent the rest of his career in Flanders, serving for nearly a quarter of a century the Burgundian-Habsburg rulers in the Chapel of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, Philip the Fair (King of Castile), Joanna of Spain, Marguerite of Austria (Regent of the Netherlands) and finally the young Archduke Karl, the future Charles V. In 1505 he was appointed canon of the collegiate church in Courtrai, but was dispensed from the obligation to live there. He settled at Termonde, leaving in 1516 for Courtrai, where he died on 20th November 1518.

Sacred works hold the principal place among Pierre de La Rue's compositions and survive in over 150 manuscripts and publications. He wrote thirty Masses, seven parts of Masses, 24 motets and 3'7 chansons. Twelve contrafacta are Latin motets based on pre-existent works. Marguerite of Austria, the melancholy Regent, twice widowed, collected a large number of works by her favourite composer in two richly illuminated manuscripts. In the 150 magnificent manuscripts copied for the Burgundian-Habsburg dynasty up to 1530, Pierre de La Rue is represented twice as much as his contemporary Josquin Desprez. In over forty years following his death the sacred works of Pierre de La Rue continued to be published, by Lutheran printers in Wittemberg and Nuremberg, while in France Pierre Attaignant and other publishers issued his chansons. Musical theorists of the sixteenth century mention him for his ability in counterpoint and Sebald Heyden in 1537, Glareanus in 1547 and Morley in 1597 give examples from his Masses. In the eighteenth century Charles Burney recalls his name and in the nineteenth his music was first rediscovered by Ambros in Vienna and Thibaut at Heidelberg.

Pierre de La Rue's reputation as a composer of Masses was firmly established by 1500. The Misse Petri de La Rue were published by Ottaviano Petrucci in 1503. All these Masses are found at least once in a manuscript by Alamire, the copyist of the Burgundian-Habsburg dynasty in the Netherlands.

The five-part Missa de Septem Doloribus beatissime marie virginis is found in five manuscripts of Burgundian origin preserved in Brussels, Jena and the Vatican. It was probably written after Match 1497, when Pierre de La Rue became chaplain to the Grande Chapelle of Philip the Fair. The Feast of the Seven Sorrows – the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple (St Luke), the flight into Egypt (St Matthew), Jesus in the Temple (St Luke), Jesus carrying the Cross (St John), Jesus crucified (St John), Mary carrying the body of Jesus (not biblical) and the entombment of Jesus (St Luke) – celebrated on the eve of Palm Sunday, was established in Cologne in 1423. Thanks to the support and interest of Philip the Fait, the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in 1495 received the approval of Pope Alexander VI and Marguerite of Austria founded at Bruges the Convent of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, where she planned to retire. In 1482 Pope Sixtus IV had added a Mass to the Missal and in 1495 Father Michel François, a Dominican friar in Lille arid confessor of Philip the Fair, published in the Quodlibetica decisio a defence of this new feast-day.

The cantus firmi of the Missa de Septem Doloribus are taken from four different sources: Dolores gloriose in the first tenor of the first Kyrie, Trenosa compassio of the Christ eleison and Ferit gladius of the second Kyrie to the end of the Mass, drawn from the fifteenth-century sequence Salve virgo generosa. In the second Osanna Pierre de La Rue uses the sopranos' concluding text and melody from the four-part motet Ave Maria by Josquin, issued by Petrucci in 1502.

Sung on Easter Sunday, the Missa Pascale is found in six manuscripts of Burgundian origin, preserved at Mechelen, Brussels, Jena and the Vatican. Six of the cantus firmi are borrowed from the Sunday Easter Office, Matins, Lauds and Compline. The Kyrie and Patrem are based on the Easter Introit, with the unity of the Mass derived from the thematic resemblance of several of them. In two manuscripts the text of the cantus firmi, sung by the first tenor, is copied complete and given priority over the text of the Ordinary of the Mass. In the other manuscripts the two texts are given one below the other or are differentiated by the colour of the ink.

As in the Missa de Septem Doloribus, the style of Pierre de La Rue is characterized by the taste for bicinia, alternating between lower and higher voices, imitation and canon, with a preference for lower vocal registers. Full musical phrases provide counterpoint, sometimes with consecutive fifths. The four lower voices are placed apart from the upper, creating incomplete chords, often without the third or the fifth, or leading to unisons or octaves.

Unlike the Masses of Pierre de La Rue, which are found generally in five sources, the motets of which the attribution is almost certain are rarely found in more than two, the reason that some have not come down to us. Petrucci published some motets in anthologies among works by other composers. Of the eleven publications of the beginning of the sixteenth century only one motet is signed 'Petrus de la Rue'.

Pater de caelis, Deus is not found in any manuscript source. In six parts, it is freely composed, with a text based on responses associated with the Trinity. Three voices are in canon at the fifth and at the ninth. Zarlino, in his Istitutioni harmoniche, mentions with admiration this motet que face Pierre de La Rue a sei voce (which Pierre de La Rue made in six parts).

Vexilla Regis / Passio Domini, in four parts and in the Dorian mode, is the only motet by de La Rue with two texts and their plainchant. In the discantus, tenor and bassus is a hymn in honour of the Holy Cross, written in 569 by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609), sung over the centuries at Vespers on Passion Sunday. The countertenor sings two passages from the Gospel of St Matthew.

Michel Sanvoisin

Translation: K. A.

It is clear that the Habsburgs particularly favoured the two Masses here recorded because the Emperor (or his representatives) repeatedly paid to have them copied into ornate large choirbooks, lavishly decorated with elaborately illuminated initial letters and miniatures. These expensive choirbooks were either collected by the court as anthologies of favourite Masses or were sent as impressive gifts to powerful foreign allies such as Frederick the Wise or the Pope. The Habsburgs felt that Pierre de La Rue's music should be shared with other courts, partly for artistic reasons and partly to enhance the court's international prestige. The present two Masses come from a total of eight such choirbooks, each produced under the direction of the same head scribe/musician known as Alamire.

Although the Alamire choirbooks have remarkably similar versions of these Masses, it appears that the best source for the five-part Missa de Septem Doloribus is Brussels MS 215-216, which is in fact two Renaissance music manuscripts for the same feast day. The first (215) is devoted entirely to polyphonic Masses and the second (216) to monophonic chants for the Feast of Seven Sorrows.

The edition for this performance of Pierre de La Rue's Missa Pascale is based on the so-called Mechelen Choirbook, a beautifully produced anthology of Masses (six by Pierre de La Rue) copied in about 1511 for Marguerite of Austria. Alamire's scribes carefully copied two texts into the tenor part: the text for the Mass itself is given in black and was the one meant to be sung, whereas the text copied in red was not meant to be sung but was only intended to remind the tenor that his music was borrowing heavily from eight chants which Pierre de La Rue had drawn from Easter Matins, Lauds, Compline, and the Introit.

Vexilla Regis / Passio Domini is taken from Brussels MS 228, produced by Alamire's workshop around 1516-23, possibly as an anthology of Marguerite's favourite chansons and motets. This motet was also included in a small music manuscript sent by the Habsburgs to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon: who was related to the Habsburgs by marriage.

The works on the present recording are performed from the complete edition, Pierre de La Rue, Opera Omnia (Neuhausen: The American Institute of Musicology and Hänsler-Verlag 1989)

J. Evan Kreider


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