Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Two Franco-Flemish Polyphonic Masses

Here are a couple of more wins for YouTube’s suggestions algorithm, two very nice Masses of the late Franco-Flemish school of Renaissance polyphony. The first is by Philippe Rogier, who was born ca. 1561 at Arras in the Spanish Netherlands (now in France); the kings of Spain recruited so many musicians and singers from that area that they maintained a full choir of them, known as the Flemish chapel (“capilla flamenca”), in addition to the native choir, the “capilla española.” Rogier became the assistant director of the Flemish chapel in 1584, and director of all the music at the court of Philip II of Spain two years later. He was ordained a priest at an uncertain date, but died in Madrid in 1596 at the age of only 35. He was a prolific composer, with well over two hundred compositions, the majority of them sacred works, listed in the 1649 catalog of the library of King John IV of Portugal where they were kept. This library was destroyed by the terrible Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and the corpus of Rogier’s surviving works counts fewer than 60 pieces, over half of which are motets. Here is one of his seven surviving Masses, the Mass Domine, Dominus noster for three choirs.

Rogier’s contemporary and fellow Netherlander, Géry de Ghersem, was born at Tournai ca. 1574, and as a boy, sang in the capilla flamenca under his direction. In 1604, he returned north, and found a position in Brussels as the director of music for the court of Albert VII, archduke of Austria and sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands; he was also ordained a priest, and worked in several different positions until his death in 1630. He apparently did most of his composing while he was in Spain, and almost all of his corpus, which was very large (perhaps even larger than that of his friend and teacher Rogier), was also destroyed in the library of John IV. In his will, Rogier had asked Ghersem to publish a group of six of his Masses and dedicate them to the King of Spain; Ghersem did this, while adding one of his own to the collection, the only work of his that survives complete, based on a motet by Francesco Guerrero, Ave Virgo Sanctissima.

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