Kaiser Maximilian I
In a year packed with major anniversaries – Leonardo, Queen Victoria, Gandhi, Napoleon – it may have slipped your attention that 2019 also marks 500 years since the death of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. A generous and knowledgeable patron of the arts, Maximilian’s Hofkapelle was a hub for some of the age’s greatest sacred musicians. But it’s the court’s secular repertoire – what the theorist Tinctoris termed the cantus parvus (‘small songs’) – that is the focus here, in this delightful anniversary tribute.
Ensemble Per-Sonat and their director Sabine Lutzenberger have put together a varied recital of musical miniatures that combines dances, love songs and secular chansons to give a vivid picture of the daily life of Maximilian’s court, where music might be after-dinner entertainment, seduction tool or accompaniment to dancing. Ockeghem’s hugely popular love song ‘D’ung aultre amer’ is heard first in its elegant, mercurial original, then in one of many anonymous arrangements – crisper and more playful than Lutzenberger’s own yearning solo account.
What emerges most strongly here is the sense of music on a cusp. Many of the modal dances, with their primitive two- or three-part counterpoint, look back to earlier decades, while in the sophisticated works by Heinrich Isaac and Ludwig Senfl (whose exquisite love songs, particularly the former’s ‘Kein frewd hab ich uff erd’ and the latter’s ‘Kein Freud’ ohn’ dich’, are a highlight) anticipate the musical future.
Touchingly, the programme closes with the brooding, sober beauty of Josquin’s ‘Proch dolor/Pie Jesu’, whose text mourns the death of an emperor – probably Maximilian himself. Two texts and three voices are tightly woven into a canonic path from which there is no deviating – a metaphor that needs no explanation.
The joy of this release is in the detail: the close recording that brings out the grit and gasp of the period strings, their rich colours illuminated against the white purity of the voices, the many stories of unlikely or curious provenance that emerge in the booklet notes. Only the omission of song translations blots this otherwise impeccable disc.