Friday, September 15, 2023

A Very Beautiful Polyphonic Mass for the Seven Sorrows

This past Monday, I attended a supremely interesting online talk by Dr Emily Thelen, hosted by the Catholic Institute of Sacred Music as part of a recurring lecture series. Her subject was the devotion to the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, and particularly, its emergence in the later 15th century in the Low Countries, and how it was promoted by some of the secular rulers of the area through art and music. I cannot pretend to do justice to the lecture by summarizing it; fortunately, it will soon be posted on YouTube so we can share it here. However, I can do justice to the work which was her principal subject, a manuscript by one Pierre Alamire, by posting these videos of the magnificent Mass of the Seven Sorrows which it contains, recorded by the Belgium-based Early Music ensemble Capilla Flamenca.

Alamire is a nom-de-plume, the pitch signature A and the musical notes La-Mi-Re. He was born in Nuremberg, Bavaria, ca. 1470, with the last name Imhoff or Imhove, which became van den Hove when he moved to the Dutch-speaking parts of the Low Countries in his youth. He was very talented not only as a composer, but also as a creator of beautifully illuminated musical manuscripts, which were highly sought after. As a result of his renown in this field, he traveled a good deal, which led to him serving for a time as a spy for King Henry VIII of England and Thomas Cardinal Wolsey.

The manuscript which Dr Thelen describes in her talk contains inter alia this Mass by the French composer Pierre de La Rue (1452 ca. - 1520), made at the behest of Philip I, Duke of Burgundy (1482-1506; born 1478), who was a great promotor of the devotion to the Sorrowful Mother in a period of great social and political turmoil within his domains.

The name “Capilla Flamenca”, by the way, is Spanish for “the Flemish chapel.” This refers to the fact that the Spanish Habsburg court under the Emperor Charles V and his successor was so generous in its patronage of music that it maintained two full-time choirs, a native choir, the “capilla española”, and another of musicians brought down from its possessions in the Low Countries. 
Agnus Dei

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