Antoine Busnoys was probably born in the tiny village of Busnes in northern France and spent the last three decades of his life in Flanders, working for the Burgundian Chapel. In contrast, his most famous contemporary, the Flemish-named Johannes Ockeghem, spent most of his life at the French court. The two composers would have, therefore, spent the bulk of their careers working for different monarchs, often in opposing camps.
Between 1461 and 1465, however, their paths crossed in Tours. During this time, Busnoys was mostly employed as a singer in the Cathedral, while Ockeghem held the highly respected position of treasurer at St. Martin’s Church.
The first three known L'Homme Armé masses (by Dufay, Ockeghem and Busnoys), were probably composed around this time. (Those of you who participated in our project-weeks on Dufay and Ockeghem will remember singing the Sanctus movements from both of these masses.) During the course of the next project-week, we would like to study the complete Missa L’Homme Armé by Busnoys. This should give us the opportunity of addressing the question: ‘who was inspired by whom’. One indication of chronological order might be given by the relative presence or absence of techniques based on improvisational practice.
It remains unclear, whether the chanson rustique L’Homme Armé is by Busnoys, as Pietro Aaron argued in 1523, or by Morton or Dufay. It has been argued that the ‘mélodie’ was already a popular French ‘hit’, to which one of these composers wrote the setting that we know. In 1465, Busnoys finally ended up joining Ockeghem at St. Martin in Tours. (This collegiate church contained the tomb of St Martin and was then considered one of the most important churches in France.)
One year later, we find Busnoys in Poitiers. His employment there must have greatly improved the local practice of vocal polyphony, as he not only instructed the local choirboys but also attracted many singers from outside of Poitiers, some of which lived in his home. This would seem to imply charisma and pedagogical deftness on Busnoys’ part, as well as an exceptional musical talent, as suggested by the many superlatives that surround his name in contemporary sources. Indeed, he was described as: ‘extremely skilled in music’, ‘exceptionally qualified in music and poetry, and best able to instruct the boys, especially in music and morals’, ‘a most dignified and eminent man’.
A large section of his extant secular oeuvre seems to predate 1467, at which time he resurfaces at the court chapel of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. One of the works we would like to spend time on is his motet In Hydraulis. As was so often the case, the text was composed by Busnoys himself. The piece is a tribute to Ockeghem, who is compared in turn to Pythagoras and Orpheus. Busnoys also mentions himself, in all modesty, as a servant to Charles the Bold. The temperamental Charles endeavored to expand the borders of his realm by waging numerous wars abroad. It may seem somewhat curious to us today that this genuinely warcrazed monarch would be such a passionate and profound music enthusiast as well. Indeed, he not only significantly expanded his court chapel but also brought his court musicians along on most of his military campaigns.
Interestingly, Busnoys was only given a permanent position at the court from 1470. Until then he had been working freelance (in the modern sense!): he was given
no yearly salary and, instead, was paid on an ad hoc basis for specific occasions like composition commissions or performances. He was possibly even in charge of the duke's musical instruction He was also given payment for all kinds of diplomatic activities, including the recruitment of singers from other courts.
At the same time, the duke attached great importance to the production of choirbooks, notably the famous B-Br 5557 manuscript. (Those of you who participated in our Frye week will remember that this manuscript contains five English masses, which were compiled for the wedding of Charles and Margaret of York in 1468.) The choirbook was assembled during Charles's reign from various fascicles by various scribes. The works by Busnoys, which are a later addition, are copied by a single careful hand, which very likely was that of Busnoys. They also contain a number of corrections.
This choirbook is also the only source for his motet Anthoni usque limina, which we would like to work on as well. The cantus firmus is made up of a single note d, which may perhaps have been meant to be played on a bell. Its rhythm is given by means of a complicated canon. The beginning and ending of the text spell out the complete name of the composer: ‘Anthoni usque limina … fiat omniBus noys’.
We will also be working on what might have been his earliest sacred work, also from B-Br 5557, Anima mea liquefacta est / Stirps Jesse, based on the Song of Salomon. As befits Eastertide, we will of course include Busnoys’ glorious setting of Victimae paschali laudes.
However, no proper picture of Busnoys can afford to omit his chansons. About 75 are known to us—more than any other composer in all of the French chansonniers of his time! Out of this vast number, we have chosen: Bel accueil
(Fair Welcome) and the somewhat despairingly titled Je ne puis vivre ainsi
(I cannot live like this).
(31 December 2012)
Martin Erhardt/Rebecca Stewart/Milo Machover
- The project week is intended for both singers and singing instrumentalists, amateurs, students and professional people interested in receiving aural, modal and language-oriented training.
- Solmisation is used as a basic tool. Performance is always from facsimiles of the relevant sources.
- Each voice is notated separately and mensurally. This visual approach is an additional help in opening the ears and in developing a flexible and transparent voice. To reach this end all instrumentalists become ‘vocalists’.
- As we expect the participants to be prepared, all the material (Singer and Reader) will be sent around the 12th of March.
- Location: Johanneskirche, D-06110 Halle (Saale).
- Beginning of lessons: Easter Monday, 1 April, at 6 PM.
- from 2nd of April: Daily instructions roughly from 10 AM to 1 PM and from 2:30 to 6:30 PM.
- Final concert of all participants: Sunday, 7th of April, 5 PM, Johanneskirche, Halle.
- Languages of instruction: English and German.
- Course fee: €160 (copy costs included). To be paid in cash during the week.
- Sleeping accommodation: free sleeping accommodation is possible for a maximum of 8 persons who are prepared to sleep in one large room: at An der Johanneskirche 2, next door to the church. A kitchen and shower/bath are available. Please bring your own (air) mattress and (warm!) bed-linen or sleeping-bag.
- It is also possible to sleep in single or two-bed rooms in guest appartments very close to the church. The costs vary from €10 to €20 per night.
- Babysitting available at a small fee!
- Application deadline: 5th march 2012
- Singer and specialist in Early Western music Prof. Dr. Rebecca Stewart, born in California, received her PhD in ethnomusicology in 1974 after having worked for many years in Hindustani Classical music. After moving to The Netherlands she taught music theory and created and lead the Baroque singing department at the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague. In 1989 she started the Early Modal Music Department at the Brabants Conservatorium in Tilburg. She was founder and leader of the Cappella Pratensis and is now head of Cantus Modalis.
- On the one hand, Martin Erhardt is teaching historical improvisation and music theory in Weimar and Leipzig and recorder in Halle—on the other hand, as a recorder player, harpsichordist, organist, portative organ player and singer, he is giving concerts with several highly spezialized ensembles for medieval, renaissance and baroque music. He is the director of the Leipziger Improvisationsfestival and author of the textbook Improvisation mit Ostinatobässen. www.erhardt-martin.de.
- Milo Machover, born in New York, received his musical education in and around Paris and has studied the flute in Freiburg. Since 2001, he has specialized in medieval and renaissance music as a singer and renaissance flute player and has been a member of the ensembles Non Papa, Cantus Modalis, Schola Stralsundensis and Nusmido. Since 2011, he has been teaching early ensemble music in Frankfurt.