Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Lady Mass by Nicholas Ludford for Henry and Katherine

The Vynes is a Tudor era house maintained by the National Trust. It's in Hampshire near Basingstoke and Henry VIII visited it, since it was the home of William Sandys, 1st Baron Sandys, one of his favorite courtiers.

The National Trust has organized an aural experience which recreates a sixteenth century celebration of Holy Mass:

An audio illusion that brings to life the sounds of a Tudor Lady Mass has been unveiled at The Vyne, where Henry VIII would have heard it almost 500 years ago. This unique National Trust soundscape immerses listeners in the prayers, chants, even movements of choristers and clergy.

You’ll hear the subtle change in volume of the priest’s voice as he turns from the altar, the clink of the thurible chain as incense is blessed, even the faint rustle of clothing. These details have been captured to enhance the sense of reality in The Vyne’s 16th-century chapel.

This is the first time a ‘soundscape’ of the Lady Mass – in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary - has been created as Henry VIII would have known it. It features 16th-century composer Nicholas Ludford’s elaborate polyphonic music for boys’ voices.

Nicholas Ludford was a favorite composer of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, according to this website:

The Lady Masses are the sole contents of Royal Appendix MSS. 45-48, four very neat and accurately copied partbooks which have the arms of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon stamped on their leather covers. Since a manuscript devoted to a single composer's works is exceptional, one wonders if Ludford himself produced them as a gift to the royal couple. The presence of Catherine's arms as well as Henry's gives as the outside dates for the manuscript's production 1509, the year of the royal marriage, and 1533, the year of the divorce; but the latest probable date would be several years before 1533, because the two royal establishments were separate from 1531, and the divorce had been in Henry's mind since the late 1520s.

The Lady Masses constitute the only sizeable body of three-part church music surviving from sixteenth-century England. The scoring for treble, mean and countertenor, without use of the bass register, and the frequent presentation of cantus firmi in the lowest voice are traits as apparently old-fashioned as the choice of three parts itself, but the style and cadence practice of the Lady Masses are very much of the early sixteenth century; in particular imitation is often present, and there are occasional brief sequences. Much of Ludford's writing in the Lady Masses has a notable grace and fluency, with a fondness for movement in parallel thirds which is slightly more pronounced in his work than in that of other composers.

And Gramophone reviewed this recording of one of Ludford's Lady Masses:

Nicholas Ludford is one of the most intriguing of early Tudor composers, a healthy proportion of whose surviving work has made it to the discography. Somewhat surprisingly, though, none of his set of seven Lady Masses has so far been committed to disc as far as I know. This new recording fills a gap in the catalogue, then – indeed, it does rather more than that, for these three-voice works are subtly different in style from Ludford’s festal Masses, the polyphony less florid, though just as beguiling. Ludford set only alternative verses of the Mass sections, leaving the others to be sung in plainchant, but Ensemble Scandicus go one better here, setting some of these plainchant verses polyphonically in an improvised style known as ‘faburden’, at times stretching to three added voices. This practice, though well documented, is seldom attempted in modern-day recordings, so their initiative is particularly welcome, opening as it does a window on to a literally unsung aspect of early Renaissance polyphony.

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