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--Josquin des Prez--
Josquin des Prez was one of the greatest Dutch composers. Born about 1450, he worked through much of his career in church positions. A student of Johan Ockeghem, a Flemish contrapuntist, he developed this considerably during his career. A singer in papal choirs under two popes, Josquin also spent time in Florence and Burgundy. One of his star pupils wrote a book of music methodology in which Josquin is described as 'princeps musicorum'. Josquin's contrapuntal style differs from straight polyphony in points of emphasis, but were universally admired in his time, and continue to be used in churches to this day. Josquin died in 1521.
--L'homme arme--
This is a very popular Renaissance melody upon which dozens of masses were set in the period. There are two by Josquin des Prez alone. The earliest sources of the tune come from the fifteenth century, by which time there were already half a dozen masses composed using this idea. The rough translation provided is 'Fear the armed man; word has gone out that everyone should arm himself with chainmail coat of iron'. This might have been inspired by the crusades.
--Missa L'homme arme super voces musicales and Missa L'homme arme sexti toni--
These two mass settings are very different. The first, super voces musicales, repeats the melody line form L'homme arme frequently. It is a bit more 'old fashioned' than the later mass, which adopts a major key. The later mass, sexti toni, incorporates more voices - it ranks among his most accomplished pieces, reminiscent of Palestrina and Josquin in many ways (Peter Phillips even makes a comparison to the modern composer Philip Glass for the minimalism in the final Agnus Dei, but don't let that scare you).
--Liner Notes--
Being internationally acclaimed, the Tallis Scholars' CDs typically present their commentary and texts in English, French, German and Italian; that is true of this disc, including a musical setting of the anonymous chanson L'homme arme on page 16. The cover art also typically represents visual arts contemporary with the compositions - here it is an illustration from the Livre du Cueur d'Amours Espris, from the Austrian National Library of Vienna. One drawback is that there is little information on the Tallis Scholars or Peter Phillips in the booklet.
--The Tallis Scholars--
The Tallis Scholars, a favourite group of mine since the first time I heard them decades ago, are a group dedicated to the performance and preservation of the best of this type of music. A choral group of exceptional ability, I have been privileged to see them many times in public, and at almost every performance, their singing seems almost like a spiritual epiphany for me, one that defies explanation in words. Directed by Peter Phillips, the group consists of a small number of male and female singers who have trained themselves well to their task.
Their recordings are of a consistent quality that deserve more than five stars; this particular disc of pieces of Josquin des Prez deserves a place of honour in the collection of anyone who loves choral music, liturgical music or Gregorian chant, classical music generally, or religious music. The music on this disc was originally recorded in 1989 at the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, Norfolk, one of their favourite recording sites.
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