Friday, October 13, 2017

Flemish Masters CD Notes and Translations


The Tallis Scholars Summer School course I attended in Oakham, England, in 2000 cemented my love for Renaissance music. The week-long immersion in Renaissance polyphony was an opportunity for singers from all around the world to sing together and learn about the ancient musical art form. Since then, I have spent my time performing and recording with various Seattle groups (The Tudor Choir, Byrd Ensemble, Compline Choir) and have witnessed, within the Seattle choral scene, a growing interest in the music. It was only after some encouragement by Anne Roberts that I decided to offer a course similar to the Tallis Scholars Summer School. I am convinced this is how we pass on the love for this craft—by inspiring others through these courses so they can carry it forward to the next generation.

I am happy to report that the inaugural course in the summer of 2017 at La Maison Verte in Roujan, France was a success. I hope it is the first of many. The course was mostly made up of singers from Seattle, with a few from the UK and one from Australia. The focus of the course was to prepare and record a CD of Flemish Renaissance music in a beautiful medieval church, L'Église Saint-Laurent. As one who regularly records choirs, I understand that some singers suffer from recording-PTSD due to past horrific recording experiences. This is unfortunate, as the recording session should be the place we make our best music, a product that can withstand many listens. If there is one purpose I have, it is to convince musicians that a positive recording environment yields the best results. This CD is evidence of that.

The main featured composer on the disc is Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594). Lassus is considered the chief representative of the late Flemish style and is one of the most celebrated composers of the late Renaissance. Legend states he was abducted three times for the beauty of his voice, though little evidence exists to confirm the claim. Lassus composed over 2,000 works, though his later compositions, particularly the polychoral motets such as Laudate Dominum and mass setting Missa super Bell' Amfitrit' altera, represent his best writing. It is unlikely Lassus learned the polychoral style in his native Flanders. While Flemish composers scored for eight voices, such as Crequillon’s Pater peccavi (not on disc), they favored uninterrupted counterpoint over double-choir music. Lassus likely developed the polychoral style during his time in Rome, as it was a standard technique employed by Venetian composers. The Venetians themselves seem to admire Lassus’s polychoral masses. Andrea Gabrieli, organist at St. Mark’s Basilica, visited Lassus in Munich in 1562 and many of Lassus’s works were published in Venice.

Franco-Flemish composers were skilled in canonic writing, but few were better than Jean Mouton (c. 1459-1522), who was known for his ability to write music of mathematical complexity, especially canons. Mouton composed Nesciens mater, a setting of a Marian antiphon for the Octave of the Nativity scored for eight voices, in a strict quadruple canon. Only four voices are notated and the other four imitate them at the interval of a fifth two measures later. In addition to this incredible compositional construction, the written tenor voice sings a paraphrase of the plainchant melody associated with the antiphon text.

Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521) is the superstar of the Flemish Renaissance cast and the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School. While Josquin’s music receives only four minutes on the disc, those minutes are well spent on Absalon fili mi, his best-known work. The four-part motet is a meditation on King David’s Lament for his son Absalon. Josquin was so famous and widely admired that many anonymous compositions were attributed to him by copyists, probably to increase their sales. Musicologist Joshua Rifkin proposes that Absalon could be one of these, suggesting contemporary composer Pierre de la Rue (c.1460-1518) as a possible composer.

Misattribution is also part of the story with Nicolas Gombert’s (c.1495-1560) own setting of David’s lament. Gombert’s motet Lugebat David Absalon was originally attributed to Josquin. Gombert’s version is scored for eight voices and is a contrafactum of two of his chansons (where the composer substitutes one text for another without making substantial changes to the music). The motet is filled with beautiful imitative descending lines (classic lament painting) and the pleading repetition of “O fili mi” (O my son!), making it one of the most moving Renaissance settings of David’s lament.

Super flumina Babylonis and Quomodo cantabimus came out of a remarkable musical exchange between Philippe de Monte (1521-1603) and English composer William Byrd (1540-1623). According to 18th-century musical antiquarian John Alcock, Monte’s Super flumina, a setting of Psalm 136:1, 3, 4, 2 (Vulgate), was sent in 1583 to Byrd, who continued the Psalm setting and composed Quomodo (Psalm 136: 4-7), beginning with the fourth verse set by Monte. The fourth verse of the Psalm, which both composers set -- “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” -- possibly reflects the desire of both to practice Catholicism in an age when it was not permitted. The two composers knew and respected each other. Monte traveled to England in 1554 as a member of the chapel of Prince Philip of Spain and may have met Byrd during his visit.

We know the least about Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505-1557). He was born in the Low Countries, became a priest and a member of the chapel of Emperor Charles V as either a singer or chapel master, and died in 1557, likely in a plague outbreak in Béthune. Crecquillon’s Ego flos campi, based on a text from the Song of Songs, was written for the Marian Brotherhood of Our Lady. Crecquillon features the Brotherhood’s motto, “Sicut lilium inter spinas” (As the lily among thorns), prominently in the seven-voice motet as homophonic statements within a predominantly polyphonic texture.

-Markdavin Obenza




Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes; laudate eum, omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus, et veritas Domini manet

O praise the Lord, all ye heathen: praise him, all ye nations.
For his merciful kindness is ever more and more towards us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever. Praise the Lord.


Nesciens mater virgo virum peperit sine dolore salvatorem saeculorum.
Ipsum regem angelorum sola virgo lactabat, ubere de caelo pleno.

Knowing no man, the Virgin mother bore, without pain, the Saviour of the world.
Him, the king of angels, only the Virgin suckled, breasts filled by heaven.



Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.


Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te. Benedicimus te.
Adoramus te. Glorificamus te.
Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam.

Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Deus Pater omnipotens.
Domine Fili unigenite, Iesu Christe.
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.
Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus Sanctus. Tu solus Dominus.
Tu solus Altissimus, Iesu Christe.
Cum Sancto Spiritu, in gloria Dei Patris.

Glory to God in the highest,
and, peace to his people on earth.
Lord God, heavenly King,
almighty God and Father,
we worship you, we give you thanks,
we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,
Lord God, Lamb of God,
you take away the sin of the world:
 have mercy on us;
you are seated at the right hand of the Father:
 receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,
you alone are the Lord,
you alone are the Most High,
 Jesus Christ,
 with the Holy Spirit,
 in the glory of God the Father. Amen.


Credo in unum Deum.
Patrem omnipotentem,
factorem caeli et terrae,
visibilium omnium et invisibilium.
Et in unum Dominum
Jesum Christum,
Filium Dei unigenitum,
Et ex Patre natum ante omnia saecula.
Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,
Deum verum de Deo vero.
Genitum, non factum,
consubstantialem Patri:
per quem omnia facta sunt.
Qui propter nos homines
et propter nostram salutem
descendit de caelis.

Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto
ex Maria Virgine:
Et homo factus est.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato:
passus, et sepultus est.

Et resurrexit tertia die,
secundum scripturas.
Et ascendit in caelum:
sedet ad dexteram Patris.
Et iterum venturus est
cum gloria judicare vivos et mortuos:
Cujus regni non erit finis.

Et in Spiritum sanctum Dominum,
et vivificantem:
Qui ex Patre, Filioque procedit.
Qui cum Patre, et Filio simul adoratur,
et conglorificatur:
Qui locutus est per Prophetas.

Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.
Confiteor unum baptisma
in remissionem peccatorum.
Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum
Et vitam venturi saeculi.

I believe in one God, 
the Father almighty, 
Maker of heaven and earth, 
and of all things visible and invisible. 
And in one Lord, 
Jesus Christ, 
Only begotten Son of God, 
Begotten of his Father before all worlds. 
God of God, light of light, 
Very God of very God. 
Begotten, not made, 
being of one substance with the Father: 
by whom all things were made. 
Who for us men
and for our salvation 
came down from heaven. 

And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost
of the Virgin Mary: 
And was made man. 

And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate: 
suffered, and was buried. 

And the third day He rose again 
according to the scriptures. 
And ascended into heaven, 
and sitteth at the right hand of the Father 
And He shall come again 
with glory to judge the living and the dead: 
His kingdom shall have no end. 

And (I believe in) the Holy Ghost, Lord 
and giver of life: 
Who proceedeth from the Father and Son. 
Who with the Father and Son 
together is worshipped and glorified: 
Who spake by the Prophets. 

And in one holy catholic and apostolic church. 
I acknowledge one baptism 
for the remission of sins. 
And I look for the resurrection of the dead 
And the life of the world to come. 


Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,
Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.
Osanna in excelsis.

Benedictus qui venit
in nomine Domini.
Osanna in excelsis.

Holy, holy, holy
Lord God of Hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.


Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.


Absalon fili mi,
quis det ut moriar pro te, Absalon?
Non vivam ultra,
sed descendam in infernum plorans.

Absalon my son,
if only I had died instead of you, Absalon!
I shall live no more,
but go down to hell, weeping.


Lugebat David Absalon, pius pater filium,
tristis senex puerum:
Heu me, fili mi Absalon, quis mihi det ut moriar,
ut ego pro te moriar, O fili mi Absalon!
Rex autem David filium, cooperto flebat capite:
Quis mihi det ut moriar, O fili mi, O fili mi!

Porro rex operuit caput suum,
et clamabat voce magna:
Fili mi Absalon, O fili mi.

David mourned for Absalon, a pious father for his son,
a grieving old man for his boy:
Ah me! my son Absolon, would God I had died for you,
O my son Absalon!
Kind David wept for his son with covered head:
Would God I had died for you, O my son!

Then the King covered his head
and cried with a great voice:
O my son Absalon, O my son!


Super flumina Babylonis,
Illic sedimus et flevimus
Dum recordaremur tui, Sion.
Illic interrogaverunt nos,
Qui captivos abduxerunt nos,
Verba cantionum.
Quomodo cantabimus
Canticum Domini in terra aliena?
In salicibus in medio eius
Suspendimus organa nostra.

By the streams of Babylon,
there we sat and wept
when we remembered you, Zion.
There they questioned us,
those who had led us into captivity,
about the words of our songs.
How shall we sing
the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
On the willows in its midst
we hung up our harps.


Quomodo cantabimus canticum Domini in terra aliena? Si oblitus fuero tui, Jerusalem, oblivioni detur dextra mea. Adhaereat lingua mea faucibus meis, si non meminero tui; si non proposuero Jerusalem in principio laetitiae meae. Memor esto, Domine, filiorum Edom in die Jerusalem.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I should forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand fall idle. Let my tongue stick in my throat, if I do not remember you; if I do not keep Jerusalem as the greatest of my joys. Remember, Lord, what the sons of Edom did on that day in Jerusalem.

Ego flos campi et lilium convallium.
Sicut lilium inter spinas sic amica mea inter filias.
Sicut malus inter ligna silvarum, sic dilectus meus inter filios.
Sub umbra illius quem desideraveram sedi, et fructus ejus dulcis gutturi meo.
Introduxit me Rex in cellam vinariam ordinavit in me charitatem.
Fulcite me floribus, stipate me malis quia amore langueo.
fons hortorum puteus aquarum viventium quae fluunt impetu de Libano

I am the flower of the field, and the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
As the apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow, whom I desired: and his fruit was sweet to my palate.
He brought me into the cellar of wine, he set in order charity in me.
Stay me up with flowers, compass me about with apples: because I languish with love.
The fountain of gardens: the well of living waters, which run with a strong stream from Libanus.