Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez

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Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Year of Composition:    
Susan Fancher

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Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez
Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez, Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Susan Fancher, soprano
Russ Carere, alto
Stephen Rosenthal, tenor
Harry Fackelman, baritone

Sixteenth century master composer Josquin Desprez wrote some of the most strikingly glorious music I've ever encountered. I first heard Josquin's masterpiece Ave Maria in 1995, and I simply had to play it! Couldn't a quartet of saxophones replace the four original voices? When I ran the idea by Northwestern University's renowned medieval and renaissance music scholar Theodore Karp, he replied, "Why not?!" Permission granted-I was off and running.

Ave Maria was received so enthusiastically by audience members as well as saxophonists that I was inspired to do more transcriptions. My colleagues in the Amherst Saxophone Quartet were particularly supportive, and voila, this CD was born. We included Harry Fackelman's transcription of Josquin's moving lament Absalon, fili mi made some years earlier, and I chose several more motets and all five movements of the Missa pange lingua to complete the program.

As Professor Karp declared, why not, indeed! The "ideal" 16th century sound was created by four or more equal voices of similar character singing in homogeneous timbre. Thus the saxophone quartet is exceptionally well-suited to perform this music. The rise in importance of instrumental music in the 16th century illustrates the desire to create musical forms complete within themselves, not relying on words to carry deeper meaning.

Josquin Desprez was born in the northern France/Belgium area in ca. 1440. The most important musical figure of his time, he summarized the complishments of the preceding generations of Dufay and Ockeghem, just as Beethoven summarized the accomplishments of the first Viennese school. Though he lived mostly during the 15th century, Josquin Desprez's life spanned the Middle Ages and the modern world, and he is identified with the polyphony of the 16th century.

The motet was the most important form of early polyphonic music, and with Josquin in the 16th century, the motet became a main vehicle of expression for composers. Each and every one of the motets featured on this recording is truly a masterwork of Renaissance counterpoint. Missa Pange lingua is a paraphrase mass based on Pange lingua, a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ. It is a late work, possibly Josquin's last mass setting, and was not published until 1539, nearly 20 years after the composer's death. His works include 18 masses, 100 motets, 70 chansons, and many other secular works. (Susan Fancher)

Ave Maria 5:11
De profundis clamavi 4:42
Absalon fili mi* 5:32
Salve Regina 3:37
0 bone et dulcissime Jesu 5:05
Domine, exaudi orationem meam 8:52
Missa Pange lingua:

  • Kyrie 2:59
  • Gloria 4:33
  • Credo 7:02
  • Sanctus 8:10
  • Agnus Dei 6:52

Total time: 62:53

*transcribed by Harry Fackelman, all other transcriptions by Susan Fancher

Recorded December 1999 in King Hall, SUNY Fredonia Produced by: Susan Fancher and Bernd Gottinger Recording and Mastering Engineer: Bernd Gottinger

The stained glass window on the cover is Christ the Teacher by Willet, 1941, located in the Holmes Chapel of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, NY. It was given in honor of N. Loring Danforth by the Danforth family.

Design: Caramax Studio and Catalpa Classics
ASQ Photographs: K.C. Kratt
©2001 Amherst Saxophone Quartet 30701


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Sunday, December 16, 2001

Some of the best music is released at the end of the year. Here, The News critics give us their top picks.

Simply irresistible Here are some suggestions for classical CDs that will have an irresistible appeal to the various appetites of the music aficionados on your gift list. When the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's Susan Fancher heard the original four-voice version of Josquin Desprez's "Ave Maria" she was smitten and vowed: "I have to play that." The upshot is that she transcribed many Desprez selections for four saxophones, which has resulted in two concerts and now a self-produced ASQ recording (No. 30701) "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez," available at major record outlets. The combination of the ASQ's creamy satin sonority and impeccable balance with Desprez's unerringly engrossing voice leading, ear-riveting counterpoint and blissful harmonies make this CD an absolutely mesmerizing listening experience. For sheer sonic beauty, it's pretty close to nirvana.

Salve Regina, Josquin Desprez
O bone et dulcissime Jesu, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
L'homme arme, Josquin Desprez
Domine, exaudi orationem meam, Josquin Desprez
De Profundis Clamavi, Josquin Desprez
Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez
Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Monday, December 3, 2001
Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Jan Jezioro

The Amherst Saxophone Quartet performed numbers from its recently released CD during a show Friday in Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Can vocal music, written in the 15th century be successfully played on an instrument invented in the 19th century by a group of musicians at the beginning of the 21st century? The answer is, most emphatically, "yes," when that music is performed by the Amherst Saxophone Quartet. The ASQ offered a concert Friday evening in Westminster Presbyterian Church celebrating the release of its new CD "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez."

The performance featured a generous selection of numbers from the CD, almost all of which were beautifully transcribed for saxophone quartet by the ASQ's soprano player Susan Fancher. The ASQ nicely captured the tempered sadness of the melancholy lament on baritone Harry Fackelman's version of the motet "Absalon fili mi."

The very nature of the well-blended sound of a saxophone quartet, which occasionally proves an obstacle when a composer is looking for sound variety, proved to be a strong point in these versions of music written for a group of equal voices, with a homogenous tone color.

From the smooth, creamy lines of the opening "Domine," through the mellifluous sound that the players brought to the "Ave Maria," the selections by Desprez had a wonderfully soothing effect. The two sections of the "Misse Pange lingua" were especially memorable, from the euphonious sounding "Gloria" to the evening's final piece, the "Sanctus," highlighted by duets for soprano and alto, and tenor and baritone.

The ASQ has always demonstrated the ability to build a strong program, and this was no exception. Poulenc composed his "Suite Francaise" using dance tunes by French Renaissance master Claude Gervaise, transforming them with his unique wit and charm. This very modern "old" music was tossed off with the ASQ's trademark clean, precise articulation, especially apparent in the breakneck speed of the "Petite Marche."

Henri Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les Jardins Interdits" was offered as a "palate cleanser," but even this work's restless outer sections surrounded a peaceful center that demonstrated a distinct affinity with the rest of evening's program.

A delightful set of songs by John Dowland, transcribed by tenor Stephen Rosenthal, was followed by "The Harfleur Song" (1978), by English composer Paul Harvey, where the full sound of the quick tempo dance-like piece, was played as Renaissance music with a twist.

Domine, exaudi orationem meam, Josquin Desprez
Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
Vue sur les Jardins Interdits (1973), Henri Pousseur
Songs, Book III , John Dowland
Harfleur Song, Paul Harvey
Westminster Church: Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Sunday, February 28, 1999
Quartet's newest member contributing quickly
Garaud MacTaggart

Soprano saxophonist Susan Fancher, the latest addition to the Amherst Saxophone Quartet, has made an immediate impact.
Not only has the group gotten the services of another fine musician, but her versatile arrangements are adding some new life to an already interesting ensemble.
This was apparent at Saturday afternoon’s fine Slee Hall concert where three of the five compositions played were set by Fancher, and one came into the quartet’s repertoire by the happy fact of her marriage to composer Mark Engebretson. The only standard work for saxophone quartet played by the group was a piece by Alexander Glazunov.
Two snippets from 15th century master Josquin des Pres opened the program. “El Grillo” was a lively little tune, but the somewhat longer “Ave Maria” was a meatier example of Josquin’s superb part writing. Next up was a wonderful rendition of the Glazunov quartet with thinly disguised Russian folk themes rearing their heads in the finale.
The Engebretson piece, “Tell no more of Enchanted Days,” led off the second half of the concert and proved to be quite interesting.
As a saxophonist himself, Engebretson crafted the music to lie well beneath the musician’s fingertips while engaging in a series of standard late 20th-century compositional tools.
Included in this palette of sounds were over-blowing, quarter tones and, during the second movement, one part where the tenor saxophonist, Stephen Rosenthal, moved his instrument closer to a microphone and then played on the keys without blowing into the mouthpiece. It provided an interesting percussive effect as the keys made subtly different sounds depending on their location on the body of the instrument.
Fancher’s arrangement of Steve Reich’s “New York Counterpoint” is, evidently, already a fixture in the arsenal of other saxophone quartets. It features a prerecorded group (on CD) of seven saxophones playing music while a live quartet of saxophonists plays against and with the recording. It is, essentially, another one of those experiments with tape loops and real-time music that has been a feature of much later 20th-century music but updated with a digital twist.

Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Quatuor (1931), Alexander Glazunov
Tell no more of Enchanted Days (1992), Mark Engebretson
New York Counterpoint (1985), Steve Reich
Quartet's newest member contributing quickly

Composer Biography

1450 — 1521

Desprez, Josquin was born in the northern France/Belgium area. We have little knowledge of his early life, but it is known that in 1459 he was a singer at the Cathedral in Milan. In 1472, Josquin left the service of the duke and entered the service of the Sforza family, the governing family of Milan. As evidence of their rulership, they employed many artists, including singers, instrumentalists, sculptors, and painters. The Sforza family was, for example, one of Leonardo da Vinci's patrons.

Just as Beethoven summarized the accomplishments of the Viennese school, Josquin summarized the accomplishments of the preceding generations of Dufay and Ockeghem. He is on the border between the Middle Ages and the modern world. His works include 18 masses, 100 motets, 70 chansons, and other secular works.