Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Missa Albanus - Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521):

Saturday Chorale  points to this video - a beautiful 15th Century mass by Robert Fayrfax (a name new to me).   Read SC's post below the video.



I've picked Fayrfax's Missa Albanus for this week's "Sunday Playlist" to serve as a further introduction to Fayrax and his work. It's a lovely piece of music with soaring ethereal polyphony that is very restrained and spare and all the more beautiful for that, it's a piece of music I listen to often. During his life Fayrfax was recognised as a leading composer by King Henry VIII who acknowledged his status as a  leading composer of his generation and rewarded him handsomely. A Lincolnshire man, Fayrfax was born in Deeping Gate on April 23, 1464. There's no surviving record of his schooling or of his earliest musical training but he's known to have had Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443–1509), Countess of Richmond and Derby and King Henry VII's mother as a patron. Her patronage would have led to Fayrfax being established at court and by 1497 he was sufficiently well thought of both as a musician and as a courtier to be appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He studied music in both Cambridge and Oxford receiving the degrees of MusB (1501) and MusD (1504) from Cambridge and was awarded Oxford University's first ever doctorate in music in 1511. He's known to have been present at such important state occasions as Henry VII's funeral, Henry VIII's coronation, the burial of Prince Henry, and the meeting of the kings of England and France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. He died in 1521.

His "Missa Albanus" Mass setting was most likely written for choir of St Alban's Abbey, like his Marian antiphon "Maria plena virtute"  it's based on a nine note theme found in a plainsong antiphon "Primus in Anglorum", in the rhyming Office of St Alban "O Albane Deo grate". It's a fairly traditional English festal Mass which omits the Kyrie which would have been troped under the Sarum rite usage his setting also truncates the Credo. The four movements – Gloria, Credo, Sanctus & Benedictus, and Agnus Dei are of approximately equal length and are each introduced by a head motif which looks forward to the cantus firmus. His treatment of the cantus firmus was very original he presents his theme backwards – both inverted and in retrograde inversion, this supplements his use of contrasting freely composed three part sections and cantus firmus based sections for the full choir.  It's sung below by The Cardinall's Musick conducted by Andrew Carwood.

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