The Tallis Scholars director on how you decide what is, or isn't, by a master
I have never been a great fan of long series. Even as an ordinary buyer of discs I found my interest would rarely survive volume 3; as a co-owner of Gimell my concern that everyone’s interest might emulate mine and evaporate early on became more nuanced and commercial. Nonetheless I decided that Josquin’s Masses were worth the risk. Few in number and each a distinctive masterpiece, I liked the idea that the eventual nine discs would act as a career-encompassing project, since the first one had been recorded in 1985 and the last could help to celebrate the anniversary of his death in 2021.
But the problem with Josquin is deciding what is really by him. If we were to believe all the sources the ‘complete Josquin masses’ would take on nightmarish proportions; if we were to eliminate every Mass a scholar of repute has rejected, we wouldn’t have a series left at all. I was party to the process by which one of the greatest painters of the Venetian renaissance – Giorgione – was stripped by one zealous academic of all but five of his creations. The turf wars which followed this debunking were not pretty.
Since I had no desire to seem to be taking sides over the Josquin canon and no axes to grind, I took the line that we wanted to record great music, preferably by the master himself, but if necessary we would include works which clearly reflected his genius. So I consulted all the experts and where one of them thought there was a reasonable chance Josquin had been involved I included the music in question. This was especially the case with the Missa Di Dadi, as well as those which are obviously early compositions in which the style has not fully formed.
A classic case of doubt concerning an early work is the so-called Cambrai Credo. Stylistically it has little in common with mature Josquin: the four voices are boxed together – no soprano part – and they can leap about like madmen. Yet John Milsom has argued that this Credo may have been a dummy run by Josquin for two other Credos, including that of the Missa De Beata Virgine which is one of the two featured Masses on our new disc. So we included it, and I’m glad we did. It is very good fun to sing and expert enough to suggest that indeed a young composer may be mastering his trade.
Meanwhile, on the subject of series, I hope I will be forgiven for dropping a plan to record all the masses of Palestrina. There are a 107 of them, and they are all authenticated.
Listen to an excerpt from the Credo quarti toni, performed by The Tallis Scholars. The work features on a disc of Josquin's Masses De Beata Virgine and Ave Maris Stella, released on Gimell (CDGIM 044) on Monday, October 31.