he Canti C appeared in Venice in 1503 as the twelfth publication of the famous pioneer of music notation Ottaviano Petrucci. After editions dedicated to the masses of Josquin, Obrecht, Brumel, Ghiselin and Pierre de la Rue, he prepared a new collection of French, Italian, Flemish and Latin songs. He searched for rarer works, including songs dating back to the 1460s. In addition to these wonderful classics, the program gives us the opportunity to enjoy daring new arrangements – such as Tart ara, J’ay pris amours and Le serviteur – while honoring the Flemish language.
Miriam Trevisan – voice | Claire Piganiol – harp, organetto | Elizabeth Rumsey – renaissance viola da gamba | Brian Franklin – renaissance viola da gamba | Baptiste Romain – renaissance violin, vielle, rebec; conductor
Or see also below: Program and Text & History foldout
Video blog for Canti C, In the Labyrinth of Revolution, February 26, 2023 (Hosted by Jonas Wolf ; Video shot and edited by Andrew Burn)
Interview with gambist Brian Franklin
Thomas Christ: In 1977 you came to Basel to study with Jordi Savall at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. You started teaching viola da gamba in Switzerland 40 years ago, have participated in many renowned ensembles and have recorded numerous early music CDs. How do you find early music as a native American, was the viola da gamba your instrument of choice from a young age?
Brian Franklin: I grew up in Toronto, Canada and had played cello at first, but also recorder and a little piano. Together with my older brother I listened to a lot of early music on records, everything from the Middle Ages to Bach. Actually, our neighbors were “to blame” because they had records with works by Bach played on original instruments. It’s always amazing how randomly some things turn out. At some point came the desire to play the viola da gamba. And there was even a small viol scene in Toronto in the seventies!
TC: The title of our February program “Canti C” refers to the third collection of songs by Ottaviano Petrucci (1503), who is considered the inventor of music printing and the first important music publisher. Your ensemble is called “Canti B,” referring to Petrucci’s second and smallest collection of songs (1502). How did you come up with that name?
BF: When you start an ensemble, it is often very difficult to find a suitable name. Scientific considerations are not always in the foreground. So I have to admit that in the ensemble “Canti B” we actually play only a few works from Canti B. In the beginning, we dealt a lot with Frottole, which was also published by Petrucci, which in turn created a clear link to his work. However, we simply liked the name “Canti B”.
TC: Is it true that we owe the high status of the viola da gamba primarily to the French? Louis XIV is said to have preferred the viola da gamba to the violin – or was the viola da gamba already in vogue as the leading string instrument during the Renaissance?
BF: The viola da gamba was indeed a leading string instrument already in the Renaissance, but not first in France, but on the Iberian Peninsula and in Italy, and somewhat later also in England, in German-speaking countries, and then in France.
TC: Were you also interested in building bridges from early music to other musical eras and genres, or to dance?
BF: My interest also went in the direction of contemporary music. I played in a trio with recorder and harpsichord for 20 years, we regularly commissioned works for our instrumentation and conceived concert programs with a mixture of early and new music. As a gambist, I had less experience with new music than my colleagues. That contemporary music is played on the recorder is almost common practice, and the harpsichordist composed himself. The ensemble no longer exists and I don’t really play new music anymore, but more Renaissance music.
TC: My last question is about the place of Renaissance music in today’s music scene: unlike Baroque music, music before 1600 is only just beginning to be rediscovered. Do you think it will soon enjoy similar popularity or will it remain more reserved for a niche audience?
BF: It would be very nice if Renaissance music would enjoy a similar popularity as Baroque music in the foreseeable future. Whether it will really come to that, I don’t know, of course, but I assume that the times of the absolute niche audience in Renaissance music are slowly but surely over. I remain optimistic and I am always happy when there is a possibility to play and also listen to beautiful and interesting concerts of Renaissance music. ReRenaissance thanks!
Petrucci seems to have led a life of bold experimentation. His first printing, the Odhecaton of 1501, was famously a single risk venture as well as a massive innovation effort.
A year later he broke with the choirbook pattern he had used for his earliest books and moved to partbooks with Misse Josquin an enormously harder business because you had to provide four roughly equal sized books with a limited number of pages in each, making it all work out with the eight-page gatherings that he used in all his books. But that turned out to be stunning success: Misse Josquin went into at least four editions and was followed by monographic mass books by almost all the other famous composers of the time, always in sets of little partbooks. Two years after that he boldly opened his frottola series, which ran to eleven volumes. And in 1507 he started in with lute tablatures, which may have been slightly less successful, because it ran to only six volumes.
But the one that seems to have been a disaster was Canti C, which was his attempt at a seriously big collection, 168 leaves containing 139 pieces. This was more than double the size of any of his other publications. And he never tried it again. The limits of its success can also be seen in the dearth of manuscript or printed copies of materials in Canti C compared with, for example the Odhecaton and Canti B or Misse Josquin: all three were mercilessly pirated by later publishers for example, but not Canti C.
Not that the contents had any less power. Canti C positively bursts with marvellous music, much of it well known from earlier copies. And most of it is less well known today than the music of those other three volumes. That is a great pity; and I am correspondingly hungry to hear this concert.
(Translation: Marc Lewon)
Favus distillans – Johannes Ghiselin (active 1491-1505)
Vostre a jamais / Je n’ay deuil – John Ghiselin
Helas hic moet my liden – John Ghiselin
Tart ara mon cuer sa plaisance – Jean Molinet (1435-1507)
Tartara – Henry Isaac (c1450-1517)
J’en ay dueil que je ne suis morte – Jean de Okeghem (c1410-1497)
Rose plaisant odorant comme graine – Jean [Philipon] Dusart (†1485)
La hault d’alemaigne – Mathurin Forestier (active 1500-1535)
Ay mi ay mi wat zal ic doen – anonymous
Le serviteur – Martin Hanart (†1582)
Prenez sur moi vostre exemple amoureux – Jean de Okeghem
Vueit ghy – anonymous
Forseulement – Alexander Agricola (c1446-1506)
Forseulement – Jacob Obrecht (1458-1505)
Forseulement – Gilles Reingot (active 1500)
Myn hert heeft altijts verlanghen – Pierre de la Rue (c1452-1518)
J’ay pris amours – anonymous
J’ay pris amours – anonymous
Like the two earlier collections of instrumental music edited by Petrucci, Canti C is a testament to the rise of secular music around 1500. These prints set in motion the spread of polyphonic Franco-Flemish chansons to different social circles. With Canti C, Petrucci wanted to build on the success of Odhecaton A and Canti B. Canti C far exceeded the scope of his previous publications, with a total of 139 pieces. In addition to a large number of four-part pieces, it includes some notable two- and five-part pieces for the time, as well as a final section of 24 three-part pieces. The program presents music from the 1460s and 1470s, as well as more recent works that revisit and showcase that material: a tribute to the great composers of the past.
The Flemish composer Johannes Ghiselin, also known as Verbonnet, plays a more important role in Canti C than in the two previous instrumental volumes. His setting of the motto of Charles the Bold (“Je l’ay empris”) indicates that he was probably active at the Burgundian court in the 1470s.
A pupil of Johannes Okeghem, he was also one of Josquin des Prez’s closest companions at the chapel of Ercole I d’Este in Ferrara. After Ghiselin fled the city in 1505 from the plague epidemic, he was mentioned in the books of the Guild of Our Lady in Bergen op Zoom in 1507, whereupon his trace is lost.
The program opens with his three-part paraphrase of the antiphon Favus distillans. This text from the Song of Songs was traditionally sung on the feasts of the Assumption and the Nativity of Mary. In Ghiselin’s piece, the two upper voices move in a homogeneous and florid manner, while the tenor renders the Phrygian Gregorian melody in long values. Vostre a jamais / Je n’ay deuil is a song that has survived without lyrics, probably a five-line rondeau. As a tribute to his teacher, Ghiselin composed the countertenor part around the opening motif of the rondeau J’en ay deuil que je ne suis morte by Johannes Okeghem. This song, already widespread in the Loire Valley in the 1460s, focuses on the pain of a woman who longs for death as a result of the loss of her friend. The four polyphonic voices in this work are unusually distant from each other in terms of the time of its composition, creating an impression of distance and isolation.
The rondeau Tart ara mon cueur sa plaisance is the only composition by Jean Molinet whose attribution is certain. This poet and historiographer, who was active at the Burgundian court in the 1460s and 1470s, is associated with many important musicians of his time. He carried on a poetic correspondence with Antoine Busnoys, Loyset Compère, Verjus, and apparently also consorted with Okeghem, since he wrote two epitaphs on the composer’s death, one of which was set to music by Josquin des Prez. Tart ara mon cueur sa plaisance stands out as an early example of a four-part song and for its obvious popularity, which made it one of the most copied songs of its decade. Heinrich Isaac, who was active in the same cultural circles as Obrecht and Ghiselin, composed more than 20 instrumental pieces based on pre-existing songs. His Tart ara is a long fantasia on Molinet’s tenor, beside which the superius and bassus move very freely, exchanging melodic phrases, reversing them, and playing with the motivic sequences so beloved of Isaac.
A native of Hainaut, Okeghem spent most of his active career at the court of the French king and probably never traveled to Italy. As one of the most important musicians of the Respected in the 15th century and highly regarded by his contemporaries for both his artistic and human qualities, his death in February 1497 was mourned by the poets and musicians of the time, including Guillaume Crétin, Jean Molinet, Josquin, John Lupi, and Loyset Compère. Petrucci decided to conclude Canti C with the canonic rondeau Prenez sur moi vostre exemple amoureux, one of Okeghem’s works, which had been criticized by music theorists of the 16th century has been most discussed, especially because of its enigmatic key signature. The single voice presented to the players must be performed in three voices in a strict canon, with each voice beginning in a different key at intervals of fourths. The combination of these lines is not only a technical masterpiece, but also gives the music a nostalgic, dreamy atmosphere.
Okeghem’s reputation among the composers of his time is perhaps no better illustrated by the praise of poets or theorists than by the many works of the 15. and early 16th century that are based directly on his songs or quote his music. Fors seulement occupies a special place among these compositions: In Canti C there are five arrangements of this rondeau. Among the three versions we have selected, Jacob Obrecht’s is certainly the most striking, transposing the cantus firmus into the hypophrygian mode, placing it in the countertenor, and combining it with the original initial motive in the other voices.
Compared to the previous two volumes, Petrucci has included in Canti C more pieces with Dutch titles. Myn hert heeft altijts verlanghen, Vueit ghy, Ay mi ay mi wat zal ic doen and Helas hic moet my liden testify to a certain preference for this language and remind us of the origins of most of the composers represented here. In general, these Flemish songs have survived only moderately. They were also not often used as models for other compositions, which makes them rarely heard works.
Prof. Baptiste Romain
Historical Museum Basel