The Spy's Choirbook
Almost 50 choirbooks now survive from the copying workshop of Petrus Alamire, who happens to have been active as a political informer alongside his more upfront activities as a singer, composer and music copyist. The lovely choirbook in the British Library has Henry VIII’s coat of arms on the first motet, and David Skinner here proposes that it was a personal gift from Alamire to the king in about 1516 – though nobody has yet convincingly contradicted Honey Meconi’s carefully argued proposal (1998) that it was a diplomatic gift from Margaret of Austria at the end of Henry VIII’s French campaign of June to October 1513.
Either way, what we have here is a complete recording of the entire choirbook in its manuscript order: 34 four-voice motets from the first decade of the century by French and Franco-Flemish composers, giving a magnificent panorama of the repertory. Most of them have never been recorded before.
Most of the music is performed by the mixed voices alone, a small group sounding gorgeous throughout. For a few particularly grand motets they are joined by the wind players, who perform alone in five of the pieces. But perhaps the main thrill is the sequence of five settings of Dido’s last speech from the Aeneid, Dulces exuvie, by La Rue (possibly), Agricola, Josquin, Mouton and Ghiselin, then immediately followed by one of the most haunting motets of all time, Absalon fili mi, ascribed elsewhere to Josquin but now widely believed to be by Pierre de la Rue.