From Darkness Into Light
Musica Secreta, the UK’s premier female-voice early music ensemble, releases a new recording based on a major new discovery, the complete setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday by Antoine Brumel, one of the most celebrated composers of the Renaissance.
Brumel’s Lamentations have been known, performed, and recorded for many years in a much abbreviated form of two verses and the refrain, “Jerusalem, convertere.” The additional seventeen verses, which which were found hiding in plain sight in a sixteenth-century manuscript by Musica Secreta’s co-director Laurie Stras, reveal a monumental setting that is both intricate in its detail and imposing in its formal construction; a masterpiece brought from darkness into light.
This complete set of Brumel’s Lamentations was preserved for centuries in a manuscript that was not copied for display, nor for a great noble chapel; it has no illuminations, and virtually no composer ascriptions to lead the curious towards its musical treasures. But its copyist, an obscure friar, was a different kind of master, leaving tiny details in the decorations that leap out at the reader like direct messages from the past. He left another manuscript, copied for a Florentine convent, that is filled with tiny inscriptions and portraits of the nuns, and the music it contains gives us a similar aural portrait of the nuns’ daily life. The second half of the disc brings the music of this second manuscript into focus, with gems by Josquin des Prez and Loyset Compère sitting alongside the anonymous beauty of works that decorated the nuns’ worship throughout the year.
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Our latest disc presents another significant discovery from the archives, the complete setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday by Antoine Brumel, paired with anonymous works from a mid-sixteenth-century Florentine convent.
We also made a short documentary film about the historical context of the manuscripts – worth watching if only for the familiar beauty of Florence in September…
A tale of two Florentine manuscripts copied by the scribe Fra Antonio Moro leads the intrepid musicologist Laurie Stras to create another superb album with Musica Secreta. The first manuscript yields the complete Lamentations for Good Friday by Antoine Brumel (c1460-c1512), previously recorded by The Tallis Scholars (Gimell, 9/92), when only the verses beginning with letters Heth and Caph were known. Stras’s discovery almost doubles the length of the work and delightfully complicates its function. Falling, now, into five sections, liturgical performance seems unlikely, pointing instead to devotional use. Musica Secreta begin rather carefully, the almost equal part-ranges suiting their mix of female voices as singers’ personalities delicately delineate vocal lines. The work, and indeed the performance, really begins to reveal its true richness at the first refrain, ‘Ierusalem convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum’. Supported by the gentle uplift of Claire Williams’s organ-playing and the sinewy tone of Alison Kinder’s viol, the sopranos find a sweet resonance as they lean into the phrases without losing overall blend. The result is a wonderfully radiant sound that allows individual voices to ring through.
The second manuscript yields a collection of choral music for the entire liturgical year of a nunnery, much of it anonymous. Musica Secreta select eight motets including works by Josquin, Compère and the scribe himself. Of these, two anonymous works stand out: Jesus autem cum ieiunasset, for its direct portrayal of Jesus’s hunger after fasting, and the closing Salve regina, for its luscious web of imitative polyphony. Again, the equal registers suit this ensemble so well: frequently they create soft swirling textures around points of imitation coloured by the timbres of their voices. It’s warm, nimble and compelling throughout. As so often with Musica Secreta, the meeting of inspired musicology with passionate and committed performance generates something way beyond the sum of its parts.
Early Music America
For internationally acclaimed musicologist Laurie Stras, it was just another day in Florence — until it wasn’t. Leafing through a large, well-preserved music manuscript (called P.M.), she took pictures of any interesting musical and artistic details. When she revisited her images, what she found was astonishing. In one section of the manuscript, she recognized the refrain “Ierusalem, convertere” of the two known verses of the Lamentations of Jeremiah attributed to Antoine Brumel. But the same refrain was copied again, some 35 pages later. Moreover, the material on these additional pages shares with Brumel’s known verses not just this refrain but also a number of recurring musical motives. Stras thus realized that this manuscript quite plausibly held the entirety of Brumel’s Lamentations. (The Musica Secreta website contains a brilliant analytical guide of the work and further information on its discovery.)
Stras notes that Brumel based his setting on the common Roman Lamentations tone used during services. However, since his setting has five refrains instead of the typical three, this work could not have been used liturgically, but was perhaps intended instead for private devotion. In fact, Stras suggests an origin in the flagellant confraternity of the Buca di San Paolo, which held elaborate feasts and theatrical performances for Maundy Thursday.
While so many of the works in the P.M. manuscript are anonymous, its copyist is not: Antonio Moro also compiled the Biffoli-Sostegni manuscript for a Florentine convent, and the two manuscripts share certain features, such as the predominance of equal voices. Therefore, given that nun musicians in convents routinely transposed existing works to suit their particular vocal ranges, and/or access to bass-range instruments such as the organ, sackbut, or viol, the Lamentations have also been transposed to suit this ensemble. Accompanying the premiere of the complete Brumel Lamentations here are several works from the Biffoli-Sostegni manuscript: Moro’s own Sancta Maria succurre miseris, and motets by Josquin, Loyset Compère, and other unnamed composers.
For anyone unfamiliar with earlier recordings by Musica Secreta, hearing such polyphony performed by an all-upper-voice ensemble (plus organ and viol) may be striking at first; however, the music soon sounds as though it were written with this kind of group in mind. Their balance, shaping of individual lines, attention to form and structure, and sensitivity to the text and its meanings all permeate the recording. The Lamentations, in particular, are offered with what might best be described as awe, an awareness of the momentousness of being the first modern ensemble to perform the work in its entirety. Their sheer love for this music is palpable, and it cannot help but stir something deep within the listener.
If just for the importance of the premiere of Brumel’s complete Lamentations, this recording would be practically an imperative. But it is so much more than that — a window into a world of musical practice, not just by nuns but also by the myriad members of a society in which convents played such a pivotal role, and it is performed beautifully.
Source: Early Music America
Early Music Review
Previously only two sections of Brumel’s Lamentations, Heth and Caph plus the refrain “Jerusalem, convertere”, were known – or at least thought – to exist. Laurie Stras’s booklet notes describe how the rest of this substantial work had all the time been visible in plain sight but unrecognised, until it dawned on her recently that it had been staring us in the face “for centuries”. She also explains how she came to deduce that this newly rediscovered source for the complete work had been compiled for a nunnery, hence the performance on this disc by the female vocal ensemble Musica Secreta, supported authentically by a continuo of organ and viol “to sustain lower parts.”
This is an extraordinary work. Brumel varies his treatment of the initial Hebrew letters, sometimes setting them in short and concise phrases, sometimes stretching out to quasi-instrumental preludes or even short fantasias, often exploiting different scorings. This in microcosm is true of the entire work. Given Brumel’s dates, c. 1460-1515, there seem to be so many pre-echoes of later music. For instance, just to focus briefly on English music of subsequent generations, in Nun, the fourth section, there is a strikingly Tudor-sounding dissonance at “fulsa et stulta”, while on the final word “sempiternos” before the refrain “Jerusalem convertere”, there is a cadence which crops up again at the word “perditionem” in Tallis’s In jejunio et fletu. Add to this the glaring “English” cadence in Gimel, section 5, at the word “confregit”. And he exhibits an almost Byrdian variety and intensity in his responses to the recurrences of the refrain “Jerusalem convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum”, most profoundly at the end of the second section, Joth. Other aspects of this remarkable work similarly can be heard to echo down through the music of his Franco-Flemish successors.
Musica Secreta perform this music radiantly. Brumel’s vision is projected sensitively, whether ruminative or ecstatic. Every part is clearly audible, and the balance between them is ideal. The continuo is discreet but effective. The rest of the programme consists of eight works, five of them anonymous, from a manuscript that was compiled by the same scribe as the Brumel source, and which was intended for use in a particular nunnery, giving Laurie Stras the clue that this source for the complete Lamentations by Brumel might also be for the use of nuns. One of the pieces Sancta Maria succurre miseris is by the scribe Antonio Moro himself. Another is Josquin’s Recordare virgo Mater while the other named composer is Compere, represented by his slight Paranymphus salutat virginem. Perhaps the best of these works is a luminous anonymous altermatim setting of the Salve regina with which the disc appropriately concludes. The quality of the performance and of the music bring this revelatory disc to a satisfying close.
Source: Early Music Review
Another new musical discovery from the era … is the complete Lamentations by Brumel, which musicologist Laurie Stras apparently stumbled upon recently in a library in Italy. Stras is associated with the ensemble Musica Secreta, which I remember from e.g. their Luzzaschi program of almost twenty years ago, but they’ve remained active, mostly around Renaissance or Baroque repertory associated with women & in Italy. Their new program, focusing on c.1500 Franco-Flemish polyphony, From Darkness Into Light, thus seems like something of a departure, although it also concerns Italian sources. In fact, the interpretations of these works are appealing, projecting an almost Italianate lightness that can seem dance-like at times, yet rejecting an “angelic” sort of vocal presentation. (And note that any potential incongruity between lamenting & dancing is answered by various traditional funerary dances around the world. It’s not that human movement is antithetical to mourning, then, but about the sort of movement involved….) There’s also support for lower parts from the organ, but this doesn’t interfere with textural clarity. And while the other brief pieces have their interest, the impetus for the album was obviously the Brumel, which had previously existed in only a much shorter version: These Lamentations appear to herald the upcoming Italian madrigal, forging a “sacred drama” presented in “acts” rather than a liturgy oriented on ritual performativity. The result thus continues to mark Brumel as anticipating later developments, here in a highly motivic proto-“operatic” sort of work (that could be seen as completely refiguring the medieval passion play — although Brumel probably never knew such music). And although the glimpse (& accomplishment) of later sixteenth century style here isn’t a priority for me, there’s little doubt that this signature work can become relatively popular, particularly among people who value notions of “Renaissance” far more than they do the pre-modern per se…. Whereas Brumel already had such a reputation, it’s perhaps (now) most strongly illustrated by this impressive cycle.
Todd M. McComb
We realiseren het ons vaak niet, maar veel Oude Muziek komt tot ons louter en alleen door toeval. Manuscripten die toevallig ‘ergens’ spontaan opduiken of worden gevonden. Zoals die archivaris die niet naar iets bepaalds op zoek is, maar tijdens het opruimen zomaar op een verstoft manuscript stuit, of een muziekwetenschapper die wel naar iets bepaalds zoekt en en passant op iets stuit dat hem volkomen onbekend is, maar van grote waarde blijkt te zijn. Wetenschap en toeval, ze gaan nogal eens hand in hand. En dan te bedenken dat een dergelijk manuscript, vaak al zo’n zeshonderd jaar oud, opstanden, oorlogen maar ook ander groot ongerief wist te overleven, al is er vaak wel ingrijpend restauratiewerk nodig om het schijnbaar onleesbare weer leesbaar te maken. Waarbij het echter ook kan voorkomen dat schitterende boekwerken, tot in de perfectie gebonden en voorzien van de fraaiste, met meesterhand ingetekende afbeeldingen, ongeschonden uit het stof van eeuwen oprijzen om vervolgens dankzij gekoesterde handen aan een nieuw leven te kunnen beginnen.
De Klaagzangen van Jeremia voor Goede Vrijdag van de Franse componist Antoine Brumel (1460-1512) is zo’n manuscript, daterend uit 1559 en ondergebracht in de Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence.
Het tweede manuscript waaruit wordt geput is uit 1560, dat wordt bewaard in de bibliotheek van het Conservatoire Royal in Brussel, deels bestaande uit geestelijke werken van anoniem gebleven componisten, maar daartussen ook werk van Josquin des Prez, Antonio Moro en Loyset Compère.
Zoals zo vaak in dit soort zaken mondde een en ander uit in een uitvoerige musicologische exploratie naar de achtergronden van de beide manuscripten en de uiteraard daarmee verbonden uitvoeringspraktijk, een zoektocht die in het cd-boekje tot in detail door een van de beide zangers annex dirigenten van het ensemble Musica Secreta, Laurie Stras, uit de doeken wordt gedaan.
Ook in dit werk van de grote polyfonist Brumel zijn de contrasten briljant uitgewerkt. Het is gecomponeerd in het indrukwekkende ‘alternatim’, d.w.z. dat de ingenieus vormgegeven meerstemmigheid wordt afgewisseld door (eenstemmig) gregoriaans, nog eens versterkt door de expressieve rijkdom van de wringende harmonieën in een niet minder inventieve stemvoering. Interessant is ook dat het in deze uiterst fijnzinnig toegepaste compositietechniek niet altijd op slag duidelijk of we in de melodie een of meerdere stemmen horen! Zoals we ook worden geconfronteerd met verre van conventionele cadensen en virtuoze soli. Uit dit alles kan worden opgemaakt dat Brumel niet alleen naar nieuwe wegen zocht (en vond!), maar ook dat hij ons een bijzonder geïnspireerd werk heeft nagelaten. Wat gelukkig niet wil zeggen dat de overige koorstukken op deze cd minder aandacht zouden verdienen. Integendeel zelfs, want het blijken ware zestiende-eeuwse juweeltjes, eveneens passend in de Lijdensweek.
Musica Secreta heeft deze lamentaties opgenomen met negen vrouwenstemmen, aangevuld met orgel en viool. Dat de dames het hier voor het zeggen is logisch, want zo was het ook in de zestiende eeuw, toen de nonnen deze muziek zongen. Maar misschien nog belangrijker is de uitvoering, want die is ronduit schitterend, dankzij een volmaakte dictie, de vlekkeloze Latijnse uitspraak, de net zo perfecte balans tussen de stemmen en de beide instrumenten. Dan is er het expressieve, zeer geïnspireerde en daardoor inspirerende karakter van het geheel en in het kader daarvan de getoonde moed om ook de vele dissonanten in dit werk ruim baan te geven ten faveure van de contrastwerking. Het ensemble putte daarbij uit de beide overgeleverde in groot formaat overgeleverde koorboeken, waardoor het niet nodig was om van individueel uitgewerkte partijen gebruik te maken. Zo moeten de nonnen, die de boeken eerst bezaten, in vroeger tijden deze muziek ook hebben gezongen!
De titel van dit album, ‘From Darkness Into Light’, wordt in de muziek zelf ook weerspiegeld: alsof Brumel wilde uitdrukken dat hoe donker het ook mag zijn, er altijd wel een lichtpuntje te ontdekken valt. Hoewel behorend tot het sombere tenebrae-ritueel in de laatste drie dagen van de Lijdensweek, bieden Brumels lamentaties ook uitzicht op het stralende Licht zoals dat een eeuw later zo voortreffelijk door Rembrandt, in 1653, in ‘De Drie Kruisen’ in beeld werd gebracht.
Aart van der Wal
Source: Opus Klassiek
As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book – even a shopping list or scribbled memo – which will reveal much about the composition.One can thus imagine the excitement experienced by Musica Secreta’s co-director Laurie Stras, when the discovery of what she describes as ‘seventeen verses, which were found hiding in plain sight in a sixteenth-century manuscript’ revealed Antonine Brumel’s setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah to be much more monumental, intricate and imposing than previously imagined.
The result – Musica Secreta’s recently released From Darkness Into Light (on the Obsidian label) – is a compelling fusion of scholarship, instinct, creativity and hypothesis. So much depends, in such matters, on circumstance: clues are tantalising but confirmation rare; conviction relies on the heart as much as the head. For example, as Stras points out in an online guide to accompany the recording, we do not even know the date of Brumel’s death for certain: ‘Richard Sherr, the esteemed historian of Roman musical culture in the 1500s, presumed that Brumel died in 1512, based on the circumstances of a letter written in mid-May 1512, from Mantua, that suggests he might have been mortally unwell. And while the Florentine Vincenzo Galilei, writing near the end of the sixteenth century, said that Brumel had been called to Rome by Pope Leo X in 1513, musicologist Daniel Heartz rejected this as muddled thinking on Galilei’s part, based not on Galilei’s knowledge but on his assumptions.’
Brumel’s Lamentations have been known and heard – in performance and recording – in the form of two verses and a refrain, ‘Jersualam, convertere’. Stras has revealed them to be a much more expansive setting in five ‘movements’ spanning 45 minutes – quite unusual, even remarkable, for a work composed c.1480-1520 – which, while having no specific liturgical function, are likely to have been performed during Holy Week.
There is much finely observed and detailed scholarship in evidence in this recording and the materials associated with it. It is noted that there are five refrains, not three; and the verses do not divide in correspondence with the liturgy, so adaptation would be required for liturgical function. But, there is also evidence of creative thinking. Given that ‘[t]he five sections with their refrains do not correspond with any existing musical or liturgical structure, but they do map exactly onto another art form, extremely familiar to the Florentine elite’, there is a suggestion that Senecan tragedy, ‘the literary model for many Elizabethan dramas’, provides a model with its five-act narrative arc: ‘the Exposition, the Beginning of action, the Complication of action, the Reversal of fortune, and the Catastrophe. Each section of Brumel’s Lamentations then becomes an act in a drama, and the refrains take the place of the classical Chorus, concluding each act.’
There is no clear route through such scholarly and theoretical debates, other than to let the music itself speak. From the start of the first ‘Act’ of Brumel’s Lamentations (Heth. Cogitavit Dominus) the mood is confidently declamatory and pressing of pulse, and the intensity grows, the urgency compels, as the Lord’s breaking of the wall of the daughter of Zion threatens dissolution and anarchy. There is an energetic uplift to the ensemble sound at the start of the second Act ( Joth. Sederunt in terra) though this is complemented by some gritty harmonic ‘obstructions’ and a taut dialogue between flowing counterpoint and more ingrained homophony.
The sound is bright but also grainy at times; individual voices fly free though they are anchored by the organ’s unobtrusive but solid foundations. ‘Perfect’ harmonies are repeatedly troubled by ‘problematic’ piquancy – there are some terrific/terrifying false relations! – but the over-riding impression is one of life-relishing forward momentum. There is a wonderful registral expansiveness which tells of the elder daughters of Zion who ‘sit upon the ground and keep silence’ as ashes are thrown upon their heads. ‘[T]he virgins of Jerusalem have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Juda hang their heads to the ground,’ we are told. The music is unpredictable and vitalised, episodic and striving.
The third Act (Lamed. Matribus suis dixerunt) is riven with restlessness and anxiety, as the wounded, fainting daughters question their mothers, ‘Where is the wheat and the wine?’ The vivacity and optimism of the account of the daughter of Zion, whose grief ‘is great like the sea’, is astonishing, and speaks of an underlying faith of which most of us can, I suspect, scarcely imagine. Act 4 flourishes with assertive forays, ‘Your prophets have seen vain and foolish things for you’, which release the highest voices to reach and soar. At times there is such energy and power in the singing that one feels one’s feet lift from the floor. The sense of individual voices crying out – ‘He has made my flesh and skin old’, ‘He has … surrounded me with gall and travail’, ‘He has set me in dark places, as they that are forever dead’ – is almost overwhelming emotive, as melodic lines assert themselves within a fraught but flowing discourse, and the dissonances coalesce almost painfully.
In the final Act, the individual voices seem to come together in a collective, homophonic expression of despair that the Lord ‘has made my paths crooked’ and ‘has turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces’, the organ binding individual voices to a common cause. Even if tense dissonances express pain experienced, there is hope: ‘Jerusalem, return to the Lord your God.’
The historical source of Brumel’s Lamentations that Stras discovered was undecorated and not for display, but its friar-copyist, Fra Antonio Moro, left clues for the modern-day musical detective to interpret. He also left another Florentine manuscript – the Biffoli-Sostegni manuscript – which belonged to two nuns, Suor Agnoleta Biffoli and Suor Clemenzia Sostegni, and which is filled with details and minutiae revealing much about the nuns’ daily lives.
The second half of this disc draws upon that Florentine manuscript, with anonymous works settling alongside those of masters such as Josquin, Antonio Moro and Loyset Compère. A 16th-century Ave maris stella seems somehow to ‘free’ the voices and in the unison episodes there is a wonderful sense of joy and life: the final upwards-reaching cadence is quite extraordinary. Similarly, the organ impels the voices with terrific buoyancy in Moro’s five-part Sancta Maria. Listening, I began to wonder about – and feel a surprising persuasive pull towards – lives and loves, faiths and fidelities in such distant times and places. The repetitive tropes of the brief 16 th-century Jesus autem cum ieiunasset are no less entrancing, though the strong lower voices of the contemporary Multiplicati sunt qui tribulante me, with its succinct final cadence, seem to speak even more assertively of assured devotion.
The freedom and energy of the anonymous 16th-century Verbum caro factum est sweeps up the listener in its glorifying cadence and propels one into the unison affirmation of an anonymous Salve Regina, the harmonic and sonic richness – and episodic confidence – of which seems to defy and deny our 21st-century assumptions and complacencies.
The liner book contains Latin texts and English translations, and explanatory essays are supplemented by more extended online analysis of the historical and musical context. This is a recording that will delight scholars and laymen, theorists and practitioners, alike.
Source: Opera Today
A major discovery, Brumel’s Lamentations recorded complete for the first time, alongside music for a Florentine Convent, on this magical disc from Musica Secreta. Musica Secreta, directed by Deborah Roberts & Laurie Stras, continues its exploration of Italian Renaissance sacred music particularly associated with religious communities with this latest disc on Obsidian, From Darkness Into Light which combines Antoine Brumel’s Lamentationes Hieremie Propheta, in feria sexta Parasceve, recorded complete for the first time, alongside music from a manuscript copied in the 16th century for a Florentine nunnery, largely anonymous but with motets by Josqiun, Antonio Moro and Loyset Compere.
The second half of the disc comes from the Biffoli-Sostegni manuscript which was copied in Florence in 1560 and which Laurie Stras (who did the research on which this disc is based) postulates comes from either the convent of San Matteo in Arcetri or the convent of San Jacopo, and the manuscript documents the convent’s entire liturgical year. It has not had much expose partly because the majority of the works are uncredited, though it is a substantial and elaborate manuscript. It was copied by one Antonius Morus (Antonio Moro), and it turns out that he copied another manuscript the previous year, now known the initials on the front page, P.M. and Stras examined this whilst in Florence.
P.M. contains Antoine Brumel’s Lamentations of Jeremiah alongside other uncredited works. What Stras found, by accident, was that a substantial chunk of the ‘uncredited’ works were, in fact, further verses of Brumel’s Lamentations so what is recorded on this disc for the first time is Brumel’s setting of the Lamentations from the Good Friday lessons, with verses which correspond to those in a Franciscan breviary published in Venice in 1478. (You can read more at the Musica Secreta website).
Stras does not think the P.M. manuscript comes from a convent or monastery, but from a lay brotherhood, and she suggests it may have belonged to the flagellant confraternity, the Buca di San Paolo.
So for the Brumel, what we have is over 40 minutes of complex, delicate polyphony sung by four upper voices, nine women plus organ and viol. Brumel’s music does have a clear dramatic shape, he includes all the musical material for the work in the first section and then dramatically structures the text by repeating musical refrains. But this is not innately dramatic music, that is not the point. Brumel does not wring the last ultimate of chromatic intensity out of moments the way Gesualdo would do, instead he creates something which is almost contemplative.
The sound-world is quite distinctive, with its use of four high voices (the total span of the music is around two octaves), and the results have an almost aetherial quality, at first delicate and intricate but you come to realise that there is a strength to it to. This was probably not liturgical music so much as music intended to instruct, and to induce thought and contemplation about the text being declaimed. The sound-world from Musica Secreta is beautifully crafted and balanced, with a fine feel for the shape of the polyphony and a lovely transparency of sound. Just occasionally you are aware of individual voices, but overall the result is a fine, characterful ensemble.
The accompanying works, which would have been sung by the nuns in Florence, seem to occupy a remarkably similar sound-world despite the differences in origin of the music. All are finely realised, and as a programme the results are completely mesmerising. Once your ears have become familiar with the sound-world, you start to recognise differences and felicitous details.
This is a further important window into conventual music from Musica Secreta, bringing a pair of relatively forgotten manuscripts to life. There are probably many more riches to be found, and the group is to be complimented both on their enterprising scholarship, and the resulting disc with performances which really do glow from within.
Source: Planet Hugill