L'homme armé, Josquin Desprez

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L'homme armé, Josquin Desprez
Year of Composition:    
Harry Fackelman

Review

Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Sunday, December 16, 2001
IT'S A WRAP
various

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
The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, October 29, 1999
ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages
Herman Trotter

For sheer, unadulterated beauty, this concert must rank as one of the most memorable in the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's 22 years of public life. The program's title is "Renaissance Sax," chosen because all the music is either from, or related in some way to, that period (approximately 1400-1600 A.D.) in musical history.

Seven transcriptions of music by Josquin Desprez by the ensemble's soprano Susan Fancher and baritone Harry Fackelman must be considered its centerpiece. Desprez (c. 1440-1521) is a Flemish composer considered the greatest of the Renaissance. According to Nicolas Slonimsky, he achieved a complete union between word and tone, creating expressive and beautiful art forms displaying the beauty of both Netherlandish counterpoint and Italian homophony.

With an impeccable sense of tonal balance, the ASQ displayed all these characteristics supremely well, even without the crutch of words to lean against. The opening declamatory "L'homme arme," played while standing, was followed by "Absolon fili mi," with its firmly undergirding baritone support and haunting sense of repeated descending lines. The faster moving "De profundis clamavi" followed, with its great clarity and easily followed polyphonic lines turning in on themselves. It all seemed the kind of beauty that made one wonder, for the moment at least, why anyone felt the need to go beyond that.

But there were four more Josquin works to go, including some cat-and-mouse counterpoint in "Salve Regina" and an intriguing alto-baritone duo in the middle of the solidly constructed "O bone et dulcissime Jesu."

But the crown may have been two sections from the "Missa Pange Lingua." In the extremely sonorous Gloria there was a fascinating interplay between upper and lower reeds and, saving the best for last, in the rather lengthy Sanctus the instruments engaged canonic duos, first by soprano and alto, then later baritone and tenor, all holding the attention with a riveting intensity. If you can't get to the repeat concert, take heart. This and more Desprez will be recorded by the ASQ for release next year.

In other works, there was "The Harfleur Song" by Paul Harvey, richly sonorous with a lot of challenges and responses like a spirited conversation, and seven brief, delightful John Dowland songs. Henri Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les Jardins interdits," the best work I've heard by this composer, was full of easy but real dissonances, a slowly measured piece with references to old styles buried within. The exquisite little "Suite Francaise" by Poulenc had many treasures like the prayerful "Pavane" in autumn browns and golds.

L'homme arme, Josquin Desprez
Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez
De Profundis Clamavi, Josquin Desprez
Salve Regina, Josquin Desprez
O bone et dulcissime Jesu, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
Harfleur Song, Paul Harvey
Vue sur les Jardins Interdits (1973), Henri Pousseur
Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages

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.