Bella Voce | The Armed Man: Live At St. Luke's Evanston

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The Armed Man: Live At St. Luke's Evanston

by Bella Voce

"Chicago's premier chamber choir" (Chicago Tribune) explores some of the many ravishing Renaissance works based on a surprising source: the French secular song "L'homme armé" ("The Armed Man"). Music of Josquin, Morales, Ockeghem, and Busnoys.
Genre: Classical: Renaissance
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. L'homme Armé (Live)
0:33 $0.99
2. Missa L'homme Armé Super Voces Musicales: Kyrie (Live)
7:39 $0.99
3. Missa L'homme Armé À 5: Kyrie (Live)
4:12 $0.99
4. Missa L'homme Armé À 5: Gloria (Live)
6:33 $0.99
5. Missa L'homme Armé À 5: Credo (Live)
9:51 $0.99
6. Missa L'homme Armé À 5: Agnus Dei 2 and 3 (Live)
4:22 $0.99
7. Alma Redemptoris Mater (Live)
5:57 $0.99
8. Gaude Virgo Mater Christi (Live)
2:58 $0.99
9. Ave Maria (Live)
3:36 $0.99
10. La Déploration Sur La Mort De Jehan Ockeghem (Live)
7:07 $0.99
11. Victimae Paschali Laudes (Live)
7:38 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Soprano: Kaitlin Foley, Henriët Fourie, Laura Lynch, Cynthia Spiegel
Alto: Lindsey Adams, Sammi Block, Sheetal Heinert, Natalie Warden
Countertenor: Micah Dingler, John Osterhagen
Tenor: Matthew Dean, Daniel Fulwiler, Keith Murphy
Bass: Michael Brown, Carl Frank, Matthew Hayden, Eric Miranda

Artistic Director: Andrew Lewis
Recording Engineer: Ken Rasek
Producer: Todd Stura

Full track list with composers:

1. L'homme armé (anonymous)
2. Josquin des Prez: Missa L'homme armé super voces musicales: Kyrie
3. Cristóbal de Morales: Missa L'homme armé à 5: Kyrie
4. Cristóbal de Morales: Missa L'homme armé à 5: Gloria
5. Cristóbal de Morales: Missa L'homme armé à 5: Credo
6. Cristóbal de Morales: Missa L'homme armé à 5: Agnus Dei 2 and 3
7. Johannes Ockeghem: Alma redemptoris mater
8. Josquin des Prez: Gaude virgo mater Christi
9. Johannes Ockeghem: Ave Maria
10. Josquin des Prez: La déploration sur la mort de Jehan Ockeghem
11. Antoine Busnoys: Victimae paschali laudes

Program notes by Bella Voce Artistic Director Andrew Lewis:

No other tune seems to have inspired so much invention in Renaissance composers as “L’homme armé,” or “The armed man.” Almost fifty masses, dated between about 1450 and 1700, have used the tune as the cantus firmus. Even such twentieth-century composers as Peter Maxwell Davies, Louis Andriessen, and Helmut Eder, among others, have found the tune useful. Perhaps most recently, in 1999, the British composer Karl Jenkins wrote The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace. The tune’s versatility comes from its malleable bits: a three-part structure, a contrasting middle section that reaches quite high, intervals of fourths and fifths, and descending lines as final phrases of sections. These elements all provide the composer with multiple ways to manipulate the melody, such as turning it upside down (inversion), backward (retrograde), or both upside down and backward (retrograde inversion).

Despite its fame, no one really knows the origin of the tune. Theories have abounded—that it was a folk tune, that Antoine Busnoys or Robert Morton composed it—but in 2003, Alejandro Enrique Planchart examined an enormous amount of material and concluded that the song was written by Guillaume Du Fay for the crusading Order of the Golden Fleece. A musical joke is embedded in the song: The crusaders included thirty-one chevaliers under Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, and Du Fay’s friend and fellow composer at the Burgundian court, Symon Le Breton, was assigned to accompany them. Thirty-one chevaliers plus Symon equals thirty-two; there are thirty-two measures in the song.

But who is the “armed man?” Planchart explains, “The poet and composer wrote the piece for the advancing host itself, and if the song speaks of fear and alarm, the fear and alarm are those which the crusading host expects to inspire. This kind of prosopopoeia is typical of battle rhetoric and as old as war itself. Christ is, of course, the ultimate head of such a crusading host, and as such he is indeed L’homme armé, but so are one and all the members of the order and, in an actual battle, every soldier in the field” (Alejandro Enrique Planchart, "The Origins and Early History of L’homme armé," Journal of Musicology, vol. 20, no. 3, p. 305–57).

Johannes Ockeghem (other spellings for his given name include Jean de, Jan, Jehan; of his surname, Okeghem, Ogkegum, Okchem, Hocquegam, Ockegham, and other variants survive) is believed to have been born in Saint-Ghislain in modern-day Belgium in 1410 and to have died, probably in Tours, in 1497. Ockeghem was the most renowned musician of the Franco-Flemish school before Josquin des Prez, having served three successive French kings (Charles VII, Louis XI, and Charles VIII).

Ockeghem’s Missa L’homme armé was, along with Du Fay’s and Busnoys’s, one of the earliest mass settings based on the famous tune. Because few of Ockeghem’s works have survived, twentieth-century scholars formed an erroneous picture of Ockeghem’s polyphonic style as florid and complicated. While it’s true that he did masterfully write such polyphony, Ockeghem actually had a penchant for uncomplicated, equal lines that avoided strong cadences, all set in a very low register. The motets "Alma redemptoris mater" and "Ave Maria" show the breadth and expanse of his style.

Josquin des Prez (1450/55–1521) is widely regarded as the master of the High Renaissance style of polyphony. The successor to Du Fay, Busnoys, and Ockeghem, Josquin served as a kind of bridge (much as we think of Beethoven bridging the Classical and Romantic eras) between the florid and complicated Franco-Flemish style of the early Renaissance and the more homophonic, uncluttered style of the Italian Renaissance. Josquin served for six years in the Papal Choir and worked also for Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, one of the most generous and illustrious patrons of the arts.

Josquin wrote two masses on the “L’homme armé” tune. We perform the Kyrie from his more famous setting, Missa L’homme armé super voces musicales. The edition is by Jesse Rodin, the enterprising leader of Cut Circle, a fabulous vocal ensemble specializing in Renaissance music. Josquin’s setting is quite low, creating a very close, overlapping texture. The motet “Gaude virgo mater Christi” is a robust, rhythmic setting of the text and features very close imitative polyphony—so much so that it almost sounds minimalist to modern ears. Josquin’s lament on the death of Ockeghem, “La déploration sur la mort de Jehan Ockeghem,” contrasts sharply with “Gaude virgo.” This lament is almost in slow motion, has very little text painting, and is unrelenting in its use of long notes in all voice parts and its avoidance of cadence. Additionally, the texture is low. It seems that Josquin is paying homage to Ockeghem by writing in the latter’s style. Another aspect of this homage is that Josquin bases his lament on the one that Ockeghem himself wrote on the death of Binchois.

Antoine Busnoys’s (1430–92) most active period as a composer was while he was at the Burgundian court, making the acquaintance of Guillaume Du Fay. Pietro Aron, the Italian theorist and composer, ascribed the “L’homme armé” tune to Busnoys. Aron came close—he was able at least to locate its origin to the Burgundian court—but, as has been shown, the tune was almost certainly written by Du Fay. Busnoys’s association with the tune is what first piqued my interest in him, but it is his motet “Victimae paschali laudes” that really sent my heart racing. The work begins simply enough but then explodes into torrents of rhythmic virtuosity that are as terrifying to sing as they are enjoyable.

During the great Habsburg Dynasty, including Charles V’s reign in Spain from 1516 to 1556, and that of his only surviving child, Philip II, from 1556 to 1596, Spain experienced a tremendous flowering of the arts. El Siglo de Oro, or the Golden Century, produced the seminal painters El Greco and Diego Velásquez, the novelist Miguel de Cervantes, the dramatist Lope de Vega, and three illustrious composers: Tomás Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero, and Cristóbal de Morales. Bella Voce performed Morales’s Missa pro defunctis in 2009. That experience prompted me to program his setting of the Missa L’homme armé, which is beautiful and sweet, a kind of Spanish reaction toward the unification of various national styles that Josquin first began.

Morales’s output is huge. He wrote at least a hundred motets, eighteen settings of the Magnificat, five settings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and ten mass settings—including two on “L’homme armé,” one for four voices and the other for five. Bella Voce performs the richer five-voice setting, which treats the cantus firmus more freely, distributing chunks of it throughout the voices.



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