My foray into the world of classical music didn’t last long. I can tolerate the style Haydn and Mozart to a point, but they have no sustainable appeal for me. They don’t make me want to explore the world of composers born much past the first decade or so of the 18th century.
Instead, my attention has headed in the opposite direction, into Renaissance and late Medieval music. I’ve owned some of the music from those periods for some time such as Lassus, Taverner, Tallis, and Machaut, but to these I’ve added less recently works by Palestrina, and more recently, some by the Flemish School.
Guillaume Dufay (c. 1397 – 1474) is an older composer than I had realised. His work is, like quite a lot of those below, scattered throughout my collection, with instrumental versions here, and individual songs there. I have O gemma lux, performed by the Huelgas-Ensemble (harmonia mundi), which is a collection of isorhythmic motets, The Masses for 1453 performed by Cantica Symphonia (Glossa), and Music for St James the Greater performed by the Binchois Consort (Hyperion).
Josquin des Prés (c. 1440, or 1450/55 – 1521) probably wrote Missa Di Dadi and Une mousse di Biscaye, which the Tallis Scholars (Hyperion) perform together on the same album. The formed is based on playing dice, and the latter a romantic song between a Frenchman and a Basque girl, anticipating Lassus’ parody masses based on songs about teenage girls. He seems to be known as Josquin more often than he’s known as des Prés, des Prez, Despres, Desprez, etc. because, I assume, no one can decide how his surname should be rendered.
Robert Fayrfax (1464 – 1561) composed for the Tudor kings, Henry VII and Henry VIII. I have four of the albums by The Cardinall’s Musick (Gaudeamus ASV), but am missing Vol. 4, and find an album of collected works for download available from Presto Classical, which is vastly better value for money than the most costly Gaudeamus ASV re-releases.
I’ve had John Taverner’s (c. 1490 – 1545) Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas (Taverner Choir; EMI Reflexe) for a very long time (nearly thirty years at the time of writing), but acquired the high-pitched Missa Corona Spinea (The Tallis Scholars; Hyperion) more recently. I’m a little puzzled about the content of the former, which has seventeen tracks as opposed to the four of the Tallis Scholars version (Gloria, Credo, Sanctus & Benedictus, and Agnus Dei). Curiously, where the Taverner Choir album and the Tallis Scholars one match, the times for the tracks are similar.
Adrian Willaert (c. 1490 – 1562) was another Flemish composer who spent most of his time in Italy, one of whose works may have been mistaken for a piece by Josquin. Some of his music has that bare, medieval style (I assume I’m hearing 4ths or 5ths). I have his Missa Mente tota & Motets by Cinquecento (Hyperion).
According to information on the Hyperion website, Nicolas Gombert (c. 1495 – c. 1560) is one of those composers between Josquin and Lassus who tends to have been forgotten. He was condemned to the galleys for violating a choirboy, and then released for composing music of such a quality that he was pardoned. Quite how the emperor, Charles V, got to hear music by Gombert while he was on the galleys, I don’t know. Perhaps he formed a Glee Club. The two albums I have are Missa Tempore paschali by Henry’s Eight (Hyperion) and Tribulatio et angustia (The Brabant Ensemble; Hyperion), which is a collection of motets that may have partly been a response to his extra-ecclesiastical interests.
Thomas Crecquillon (c. 1505 – 1557) is the composer of Missa Mort m’a privé, sung by the Brabant Ensemble (Hyperion), but his “Congratulamini mihi” appears on an album of music by Francisco Guerrero, who wrote a mass based on this piece. Another work of his, “Ung gay bergier”, also features on Flute Music of the 16th and 17th Centuries performed by Nancy Hadden et al., as well as “Content desir”.
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 1585) is another composer whose music I’ve known for a long time, namely his Latin church music sung by the Taverner Consort and Choir (EMI Reflexe), which includes Spem in alium (which I have twice), and Videte miraculum (thrice). The former, which I like, occurs across a lot of albums as a party piece. I also have Gaude gloriosa performed by The Cardinall’s Musick (Hyperion).
Cipriano de Rore (1515/16 – 1565) is another composer whose work turns up across a lot of albums of mine. I know his name best in connection with the work Anchor che col partire, which I have two instrumental versions of. He was best known as a madrigalist, but the only complete vocal work I have is Missa Praeter rerem seriem by the Huelgas-Ensemble (harmonia mundi) and Missa Doulce mémoire & Missa a note negre by The Brabant Ensemble (Hyperion).
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525 – 1594) appears to have endured where other composers of the time had to wait to be revived. I’ve had Missa L’Homme Armé and Missa Assumpta est Maria (performed by Pro Cantione Antiqua; Allegro) for some time, but have also added Volumes 1-6 of various pieces performed by the Sixteen (Coro), which includes another version of “Missa L’Homme Armé” (Vol. 6), although I’ve never been able to determine whether the two are merely different editions of the same work, or the work was a somewhat fluid entity.
As I mentioned above, Francisco Guerrero (1528 – 1599) wrote a mass based on Crecquillon’s Congratulamini mihi. He is the only other Spanish composer of the period to appear in my collection along with Victoria. The Cardinall’s Musick (Hyperion) perform Missa Congratulamini mihi along with various other pieces.
Jacobus Vaet (c. 1529 – 1567) was a prolific, but short-lived composer, who worked for the Habsburg emperor, Charles V, and was the Kapellmeister of Archduke Maximilian, who later became emperor, a post which he attained around the age of 25. His death was sudden, but the cause is unknown. I have his Missa Ego flos campi by Cinquecento (Hyperion).
I’ve had Motets et Chansons by Orlando de Lassus (1530/32 – 1594) sung by the Hilliard Ensemble (EMI Reflexe) for a long time, perhaps about thirty years, and it’s an album I’ve always liked. Lassus is another whose name is wholly inconsistent, his surname being Lasso perhaps more frequently, and his first name also being the more French, Orlande, or the more north European, Roland. He seems to have been quite fond of parody masses based on scurrilous sources which must’ve had the more virginal vergers blushing in their cassocks. I added Lagrime di San Pietro, performed by Gallicantus (Signum), to my collection a few years ago, and more recently, Missa super Dixit Joseph & motets (performed by Cinquecento; Hyperion), Prophetiae Sibyllarum (performed by the Brabant Ensemble; Hyperion), and Psalmi Davidis Poenitentiales, (performed by Collegium Vocale Gent; harmonia mundi).
Giaches de Wert (1535 – 1596) was Dutch in origin, but spent much of his life in Italy from a young age, and I have one album of his music, Divine Theatre, by Stile Antico (harmonia mundi), which is a collection of Wert’s motets.
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548 – 1611) is one of a fairly short list of Spanish composers in my possession, alongside Milán, Narváez, and Guerrero. I have Hail, Mother of the Redeemer by The Sixteen (Coro), and their rendering of Requiem 1605, as well as Missa Gaudeamus et al. performed by The Cardinall’s Music (Gaudeamus ASV). Although he was roughly contemporary with Gesualdo, his music is in a more noticeably antique style.
Carlo Gesualdo (1566 – 1613) is so different that no one tried anything resembling his music for a long time afterwards. He wrote some marvellous music, but was a couple of crochets short of a bar, which may have been as much a consequence of innate mental illness as it was a consequence of the religious world in which he was raised. I have Books 3-6 of his madrigals (3 and 6 performed by La Compagnia del Madrigale, and 4 and 5 by La Venexiana; all Glossa), the Responsoria (performed by La Compagnia del Madrigale; Glossa), and the Sacrae Cantiones (performed by The Marian Consort; Delphian).
Like other periods of music, there are the usual suspects (e.g. Palestrina, Josquin, Lassus) and then there are the masters who have largely been forgotten, whose work tends to be all that survives of them and little else even if they were quite famous back in the day.