Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sacred Music in Quebec City

[A reader has sent this in to the NLM.]

On Saturday, 3 November 2007 the internationally acclaimed early music group
Pomerium, led by Alexander Blachly, gave a concert in the acoustically
wonderful Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste in Québec City, Québec. The church was
constructed in the 1880s, but is a wonderful example of French neo-baroque
architecture. The appreciative audience consisted in great part of those
attending the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society. Notable
members of that audience were Dr. William Marht, president of the CMAA and
Father Jerome Weber, noted authority on Gregorian chant and early polyphony.

The concert focused on the connection between the Sarum chant for Holy
Thursday, Venit ad Petrum and the secular tune L'homme armé. The former
melody is better known as the "caput" melody, for its astounding 101-neume
melisma on the final word of the chant, which was used successfully as a
cantus firmus by Ockeghem and Obrecht. The cantus firmus, however, had use
beyond its liturgical place in Holy Week. Anne Walters Robinson of the
University of Chicago in her article "The Savior, the Woman, and the Head of
the Dragon in the Caput Masses and Motet" in the Journal of the American
Musicological Society 59 (2006) demonstrates that the "caput" was read as
the "head of the dragon" which was shown to be slain by Christ, and later
placed as a cantus firmus for a Salve Regina setting by Hygons, portraying
the popular Marian exegisis of her role in conquering original sin. This
multilayered reading of the Church militant was eventually overtaken by the
the more easily perceived L'Homme armé Mass tradition.

The performance was superb, but not without its shaky moments (such as the
opening of the Morales Credo and the intonation in the sopranos in the final
Josquin Agnus). That said, one will rarely hear this music performed as well
as it was presented on Saturday evening. Hearing the Hygons Salve Regina for
the first time was a truly wonderful. It is symphonic in its scope and
should be heard more.


Venit ad Petrum (Sarum use chant for Holy Thursday)

Kyrie from Missa caput - Johannes Ockeghem (d 1497)
Gloria from Missa caput - Anon. 15th-c English (first use of tune as CF)
Agnus Dei from Missa caput - Jacob Obrecht (c1458-1505)
Salve Regina/Caput - Richard Hygons (c1435-1509)


L'Homme armé - anonymous 15th-c secular song

Kyrie from Missa L'Homme armé - Guillaume Du Fay (c1397-1474)
Gloria from Missa L'Homme armé - Loyset Compère (c1445-1518)
Credo from Missa L'Homme armé - Cristóbal de Morales (c1500-1553)
Sanctus from Missa L'Homme armé - Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Agnus Dei from Missa L'Homme armé - Josquin des Prez (c1452-1521)

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: