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Larry Kart

Listening to early Renaissance music, Dufay especially

29 posts in this topic

I have a fair amount of stuff myself but find that most recordings leave me baffled -- as in, I guess I don't know how to listen to this music. And it's not just that its really old and really different music; I don't have the same problem with such Medieval and late-Medieval masters as Leonin, Perotin, and Machaut, which is older than Dufay's music, at least as complex, and probably more different from how we've typically come to make and understand music. (I should add here that all this may be as much performance/interpretation dependent as anything else, because Leonin and Perotin didn't really click for me until I'd heard them performed by the group Red Byrd, which handles the music quite differently than performers on previous recordings of that repertoire that I know.)

In any case, the problem I have with Dufay (and/or most Dufay performances) is a "how to listen" one. One reads that in many of his works there is a cantus firmus in the tenor, and one would assume that a likely way to make sense of all that's going on is to find that cantus firmus and hear everything else (and there always is a great deal else) in terms of variations, though damn it I've found no critic/commentator/annotater/musicologist/historian etc. who will just come out and say that or offer any other sort of "how to listen" guidance. Further, in most recordings I can't hear/find that cantus firmus and thus pretty much can't test that out, which may just be my problem, though I suspect again that it's performance-related -- in particular, thanks in part to church acoustics (most recordings of this repertoire are made in stone churches) and in part to the prominence given to male altos in most of the ensembles that perform this music, the male-alto (or counter-tenor) top line typically tends to be excruciatingly dominant, and what the tenor and bass voices are singing sounds quite subsidiary.

If this is how this music is supposed to go, then maybe I just don't, and probably never will, get it. But I have a few recordings that don't sound that way -- by the largish male-female ensemble Pomerium (no male altos), by the four-man Orlando Consort, and an older (late '60s) recording of a Dufay mass led by the late David Munrow. Both Pomerium and Munrow pretty much "shape" things; ones know which "voice" among all that may be present in the music at any one time is meant to be (at least in the view of these performers) the most prominent, and it's seldom the top one. The Orlando Consort "shapes" much less if it at all; with them it's the equality of their four voices (and very good voices, too) that one hears; at least it's not a matter of an insistent male-alto top line beating your brains out.

So these are my dilemmas here. Any thoughts/answers?

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David Munrow is important revival performer but you can skip the rest and, musically, you can skip much Munrow also. Some friends of mine used to take off their John McLaughlin cheesecloth shirts and shag British hippy chicks whilst listening to David Munrow records but that was a different era. The Orlando Consort started off strong in Tudor polyphony but crapped out on the continent.

If you can spare fourteen bones, hop on this from Amazon:

My link

If this doesn't make the Machaut to Dufay connection, both in song and sacred music, you might be stuck.

Hit the library or look for a used copy of oop Ensemble Gilles Binchois recording Missa Ecce Ancilla Domini (Virgin). Also La Reverdie recorded two Dufay programs for the Arcana label; chances are you won't stumble into these but worth seeking out if you get the bug.

The best of the limeys to my ears are the three Hyperion cds by the Binchois Consort.

GOOD LUCK!

Moms

Edited by MomsMobley

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David Munrow is important revival performer but you can skip the rest and, musically, you can skip much Munrow also. Some friends of mine used to take off their John McLaughlin cheesecloth shirts and shag British hippy chicks whilst listening to David Munrow records but that was a different era. The Orlando Consort started off strong in Tudor polyphony but crapped out on the continent.

If you can spare fourteen bones, hop on this from Amazon:

My link

If this doesn't make the Machaut to Dufay connection, both in song and sacred music, you might be stuck.

Hit the library or look for a used copy of oop Ensemble Gilles Binchois recording Missa Ecce Ancilla Domini (Virgin). Also La Reverdie recorded two Dufay programs for the Arcana label; chances are you won't stumble into these but worth seeking out if you get the bug.

The best of the limeys to my ears are the three Hyperion cds by the Binchois Consort.

GOOD LUCK!

Moms

Thanks for the advice. I do have that OOP Ensemble Gilles Binchois recording of Missa Ecce Ancilla Domini and the Binchois Consort's Missa Puisque je vis. My memory of both of them is of being beaten to death at times by male altos/counter tenors (or as a friend once put it, "bargain-counter tenors"), but I'll listen again to those and check out the DIM disc.

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Also, Moms, working my way through your numerous Amazon reviews, I really like this:

"The history of music ... suffers from a discourse of 'development'. Perceptive listeners can still be trapped in the notion that the imitative counterpoint of Josquin is more 'advanced' than the seldom-imitative polytextual polyphony of Dufay. Quatsch! Nobody has ever written more 'advanced' music than Dufay... not Josquin, not Bach, not Beethoven, not Wagner, not even Brian Wilson....

Music in Europe did CHANGE rather dramatically in the short span of time between Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474) and Josquin Desprez (1455-1521). The most easily quantifiable change was the shift in 'prolations', from preponderantly "perfect" (triple) tempi to "imperfect" (duple) tempi. You can hear that change by comparing any performance you have of Dufay to any of Josquin's disciples like Mouton or Willaert. That change was symptomatic of a change in the most basic mode of "hearing" music, which I can describe as a change from Time to Space. The aesthetic core of Dufay's music is the passage of Time; one hears it 'horizontally' - in the flow of Time captured as immediate sensual perceptions. The consummate craft of Dufay's music is its rhythmic inventiveness. By comparison, Josquin's music is 'all about' melody, which is a sort of derived experience based on Memory. No memory, no melody! Thus Josquin's music is less about Time and more about Space, or Spaces ... music conceived architecturally and heard as much vertically as horizontally. (My emphasis.)

And in fact what I don't get in most of the Dufay recordings I've heard (either because I just don't get it, which I think is unlikely, or because the performers don't have a good enough understanding of/grasp on it) is his, as you say, crucial, based on "immediate sensual perceptions ... rhythmic inventiveness."

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I don't have anything to add to the Dufay discussion.

But I'd like to welcome MomsMobley to the forum, and say what a fantastic screen name that is!

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Welcome Moms. Almost had the feeling I was experiencing a reincarnation of clem.

Edited by paul secor

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BTW, in my previous post the longish second paragraph that begins "Music in Europe did CHANGE..." is Moms', not mine. I forget to place quote marks there. But "my emphasis" is me.

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Welcome Moms. Almost had the feeling I was experiencing a reincarnation of clem.

That's what I thought, but I didn't want to say so for fear of scaring Moms away. BTW, check out Moms' numerous Amazon.com reviews:

http://www.amazon.co...ef=cm_cr_dp_pdp

That's also what I thought as I read his post. Do we know for sure that he's not?

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Welcome Moms. Almost had the feeling I was experiencing a reincarnation of clem.

That's what I thought, but I didn't want to say so for fear of scaring Moms away. BTW, check out Moms' numerous Amazon.com reviews:

http://www.amazon.co...ef=cm_cr_dp_pdp

That's also what I thought as I read his post. Do we know for sure that he's not?

I don't. But, again, I wouldn't make a big deal of this. If it is Clem and he wants to come back in this form, fine with me. Let's just react to what Moms says, if we feel like it.

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Welcome Moms. Almost had the feeling I was experiencing a reincarnation of clem.

That's what I thought, but I didn't want to say so for fear of scaring Moms away. BTW, check out Moms' numerous Amazon.com reviews:

http://www.amazon.co...ef=cm_cr_dp_pdp

That's also what I thought as I read his post. Do we know for sure that he's not?

I don't. But, again, I wouldn't make a big deal of this. If it is Clem and he wants to come back in this form, fine with me. Let's just react to what Moms says, if we feel like it.

Agreed. But I think it's interesting that at least 3 of us--and probably more--had the same reaction. Whoever Moms is, I hope he/she sticks around.

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Welcome Moms. Almost had the feeling I was experiencing a reincarnation of clem.

That's what I thought, but I didn't want to say so for fear of scaring Moms away. BTW, check out Moms' numerous Amazon.com reviews:

http://www.amazon.co...ef=cm_cr_dp_pdp

That's also what I thought as I read his post. Do we know for sure that he's not?

I don't. But, again, I wouldn't make a big deal of this. If it is Clem and he wants to come back in this form, fine with me. Let's just react to what Moms says, if we feel like it.

Agreed. But I think it's interesting that at least 3 of us--and probably more--had the same reaction. Whoever Moms is, I hope he/she sticks around.

Whoever he/she is, he/she/it seems to be really into Renaissance and Baroque music. I hope he/she/it/they stick around, as this is an area of music I am also just stepping my little toe into.

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Just want to say thanks to Moms. I listened today to two of those Dufay discs he recommended (the Binchois Consort and the Ensemble Gilles Binchois) with his account of "the aesthetic core of Dufay's music [being] the passage of Time; one hears it 'horizontally' - in the flow of Time captured as immediate sensual perceptions, etc." in mind, and damned if it didn't at last begin to work for me, as I began to focus on the music's "leading edge," so to speak, and more or less let the vertical aspects take care of themselves (not that this is what they do; the vertical info, which is considerable, instead serves to subtly color/alter the horizontal flow.

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I've been enjoying Dufay's music recently - I picked up the Jeremy Summerly/Oxford Camerata disc on Naxos. I also recently picked up the Clerks Group's performance of various Johannes Ockeghem sacred music; I believe the label is ASV.

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Ensemble Gilles Binchois is one of those very few performers for which I would buy any cd, regardless of what's on it.

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young Orlando Consort Dufay above, new (older) Orlandos Loyset Compere disc out on Hyperion

 

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BTW, I'm no longer sure at all that Moms is the same person as the guy whose Amazon reviews I linked to  (and said were Moms') in several previous posts on this thread, who used the pseudonym Giordano Bruno:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno

Whoever that guy is, he certainly is smart and opinionated, quite similar to Moms in his laying-down-the-law tone, and his opinions on early music performances are Moms-like and when I've followed them seldom have led me wrong. But Mr. Bruno alludes at times to being a classical bassoonist  and recorder player -- probably not a professional but a high-level amateur -- and I don't think Moms is that.

Edited by Larry Kart

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Interesting how Moms is exploring the past - hers and others. Is everything ok?

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BTW, I'm no longer sure at all that Moms is the same person as the guy whose Amazon reviews I linked to  (and said were Moms') in several previous posts on this thread, who used the pseudonym Giordano Bruno:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giordano_Bruno

Whoever that guy is, he certainly is smart and opinionated, quite similar to Moms in his laying-down-the-law tone, and his opinions on early music performances are Moms-like and when I've followed them seldom have led me wrong. But Mr. Bruno alludes at times to being a classical bassoonist  and recorder player -- probably not a professional but a high-level amateur -- and I don't think Moms is that.

I have no opinion on whether "Giordano Bruno" = Moms...it's the Internet, so anything is possible, though.

I've read a lot of GB's Amazon reviews of Renaissance music, and purchased quite a few CDs based on them. But I've gotten slightly more careful. If you follow the "Comments" following  GB's reviews (which occasionally develop into thread-like conversations), it becomes apparent that he tends to issue rave reviews of new releases, but later revise his opinion downward after repeated listening/comparison. (A case in point is the 10-CD Victoria box, which I fortunately did not buy.)

Edited by T.D.

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Interesting how Moms is exploring the past - hers and others. Is everything ok?

LK-- oboe d'amore, oboe dementia-- who can say, who can say?

Chuck-- thanks for asking & tho' I've neglected to post there, many thanks for the new Roscoe, a capstone-- not to imply you or Roscoe are done-- on a tremendous discography. And not to wholly suggest the music (biz) would have fared better had others taken similar care, exhibited quality control but-- w/o naming names of albums & artists-- it certainly couldn't have hurt.

re: digging up classical threads, not to discourage anyone from exploring, studying the music but I realized 'what are you listening to' had become nearly black-hole of dialogue, 'streaming' the primary culprit but also the (mostly) major label mega-classical box era which promotes quantity over quality, depth. (Harmonia Mundi has a few such offerings too, all of which are more enterprising than nearly anything recently entombed by 'Universal,' BMG/Sony, Warner/EMI.)

I suggest it would be better for everyone if their current listening fits an existing thread, go there, or if you're REALLY listening to a composer, era, genre etc that engages, inspires... start a new thread, then others can listen too & join in.

doing Dufay again, I've long enjoyed the Huelgas Ensemble's disc of isorhythmic motets tho' I've also leaned to wary of some of Paul Van Nevel's interpretive decisions in various of his projects.

 

Edited by MomsMobley

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Moms, do you like 'em young? Is that what you mean by early music?

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Moms, do you like 'em young? Is that what you mean by early music?

he would just be following the example of Machaut...

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The omni-hip Moms got the reference.

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