Motets to the Virgin from the Renaissance



Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris

Les Sacqueboutiers, Ensemble de cuivres anciens de Toulouse

Lionel Sow, direction

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We have tried to offer a glimpse into Marian devotional music during the Renaissance, a time when Western Christianity celebrated Mary with one and the same voice. The selected pieces illustrate the richness and variety of Renaissance counterpoint with Gregorian themes underpinning polyphony, the development of canonic imitation and the beginning of polychoral writing.

Because of the diversity of this 4- to 12-part music, we carefully selected the voices and the number of singers for each piece, trying (as much as possible) to model our performance on that of a Renaissance cathedral choir. It is documented that the number of children at Notre-Dame choir rose from 8 in the 15th century to 12 after 1550.

In our recording, the superius is sung by children (5 to 8 to the part, depending on the pieces) whereas the altus, tenor and bassus parts are sung by 12 male adults (countertenors, tenors, baritones, basses). Musicologist Jean-Pierre Ouvrard’s research on the characteristics of each voice was central to our reflection :

“The treble […] is light, with purity of tone; the tenor voice is firm, the contratenor is nimble and wide-ranging, and the bassus sounds both low and loud (“as if it were a large organ pipe”).”

Trois pièces de Caroline Marçot s’insèrent dans ce programme, comme pour en revivifier l’écoute. Une grande connaissance du répertoire de la Renaissance donne à ses oeuvres une intimité de conception avec celles des maîtres du passé. C’est jusqu’au coeur de son langage qu’on retrouve l’équilibre entre les dimensions horizontale (mélodique) et verticale (harmonique), l’égale importance de chaque partie. Le sens rhétorique et la conception formelle ciselée de ses œuvres répondent aux architectures sonores de la Renaissance.

Encadrant ce programme, deux motets de Josquin utilisent le texte Inviolata. Deux écrins polyphoniques pour ce poème, l’un à cinq voix empreint de douceur, l’autre dont la péroraison à douze voix nous offre un véritable éblouissement sonore.”

Three contemporary pieces by Caroline Marçot hold a modern mirror up to the earlier works. The composer’s familiarity with Renaissance music makes for a certain conceptual intimacy between her pieces and those of the ancient masters. At the very heart of her musical language, one finds the typical balance between horizontal (melodic) and vertical (harmonic) compositional elements, and the equal importance attached to each part. Her sense of rhetoric and elaborate formal structures echo the sonic architectures of the Renaissance.

This program opens and ends with a different setting of Inviolata by Josquin, one a sweet 5-part motet, the other a 12-part peroration that is true polyphonic pyrotechnics.

Lionel Sow