Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez

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Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez
Year of Composition:    
Harry Fackelman

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Absalon Fili Mi


Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez
Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez, Amherst Saxophone Quartet
Susan Fancher, soprano
Russ Carere, alto
Stephen Rosenthal, tenor
Harry Fackelman, baritone

Sixteenth century master composer Josquin Desprez wrote some of the most strikingly glorious music I've ever encountered. I first heard Josquin's masterpiece Ave Maria in 1995, and I simply had to play it! Couldn't a quartet of saxophones replace the four original voices? When I ran the idea by Northwestern University's renowned medieval and renaissance music scholar Theodore Karp, he replied, "Why not?!" Permission granted-I was off and running.

Ave Maria was received so enthusiastically by audience members as well as saxophonists that I was inspired to do more transcriptions. My colleagues in the Amherst Saxophone Quartet were particularly supportive, and voila, this CD was born. We included Harry Fackelman's transcription of Josquin's moving lament Absalon, fili mi made some years earlier, and I chose several more motets and all five movements of the Missa pange lingua to complete the program.

As Professor Karp declared, why not, indeed! The "ideal" 16th century sound was created by four or more equal voices of similar character singing in homogeneous timbre. Thus the saxophone quartet is exceptionally well-suited to perform this music. The rise in importance of instrumental music in the 16th century illustrates the desire to create musical forms complete within themselves, not relying on words to carry deeper meaning.

Josquin Desprez was born in the northern France/Belgium area in ca. 1440. The most important musical figure of his time, he summarized the complishments of the preceding generations of Dufay and Ockeghem, just as Beethoven summarized the accomplishments of the first Viennese school. Though he lived mostly during the 15th century, Josquin Desprez's life spanned the Middle Ages and the modern world, and he is identified with the polyphony of the 16th century.

The motet was the most important form of early polyphonic music, and with Josquin in the 16th century, the motet became a main vehicle of expression for composers. Each and every one of the motets featured on this recording is truly a masterwork of Renaissance counterpoint. Missa Pange lingua is a paraphrase mass based on Pange lingua, a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ. It is a late work, possibly Josquin's last mass setting, and was not published until 1539, nearly 20 years after the composer's death. His works include 18 masses, 100 motets, 70 chansons, and many other secular works. (Susan Fancher)

Ave Maria 5:11
De profundis clamavi 4:42
Absalon fili mi* 5:32
Salve Regina 3:37
0 bone et dulcissime Jesu 5:05
Domine, exaudi orationem meam 8:52
Missa Pange lingua:

  • Kyrie 2:59
  • Gloria 4:33
  • Credo 7:02
  • Sanctus 8:10
  • Agnus Dei 6:52

Total time: 62:53

*transcribed by Harry Fackelman, all other transcriptions by Susan Fancher

Recorded December 1999 in King Hall, SUNY Fredonia Produced by: Susan Fancher and Bernd Gottinger Recording and Mastering Engineer: Bernd Gottinger

The stained glass window on the cover is Christ the Teacher by Willet, 1941, located in the Holmes Chapel of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, NY. It was given in honor of N. Loring Danforth by the Danforth family.

Design: Caramax Studio and Catalpa Classics
ASQ Photographs: K.C. Kratt
©2001 Amherst Saxophone Quartet 30701


Buffalo News, The (Buffalo, NY)
Sunday, December 16, 2001

Some of the best music is released at the end of the year. Here, The News critics give us their top picks.

Simply irresistible Here are some suggestions for classical CDs that will have an irresistible appeal to the various appetites of the music aficionados on your gift list. When the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's Susan Fancher heard the original four-voice version of Josquin Desprez's "Ave Maria" she was smitten and vowed: "I have to play that." The upshot is that she transcribed many Desprez selections for four saxophones, which has resulted in two concerts and now a self-produced ASQ recording (No. 30701) "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez," available at major record outlets. The combination of the ASQ's creamy satin sonority and impeccable balance with Desprez's unerringly engrossing voice leading, ear-riveting counterpoint and blissful harmonies make this CD an absolutely mesmerizing listening experience. For sheer sonic beauty, it's pretty close to nirvana.

Salve Regina, Josquin Desprez
O bone et dulcissime Jesu, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
L'homme arme, Josquin Desprez
Domine, exaudi orationem meam, Josquin Desprez
De Profundis Clamavi, Josquin Desprez
Ave Maria, Josquin Desprez
Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez
The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY)
Friday, October 29, 1999
ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages
Herman Trotter

For sheer, unadulterated beauty, this concert must rank as one of the most memorable in the Amherst Saxophone Quartet's 22 years of public life. The program's title is "Renaissance Sax," chosen because all the music is either from, or related in some way to, that period (approximately 1400-1600 A.D.) in musical history.

Seven transcriptions of music by Josquin Desprez by the ensemble's soprano Susan Fancher and baritone Harry Fackelman must be considered its centerpiece. Desprez (c. 1440-1521) is a Flemish composer considered the greatest of the Renaissance. According to Nicolas Slonimsky, he achieved a complete union between word and tone, creating expressive and beautiful art forms displaying the beauty of both Netherlandish counterpoint and Italian homophony.

With an impeccable sense of tonal balance, the ASQ displayed all these characteristics supremely well, even without the crutch of words to lean against. The opening declamatory "L'homme arme," played while standing, was followed by "Absolon fili mi," with its firmly undergirding baritone support and haunting sense of repeated descending lines. The faster moving "De profundis clamavi" followed, with its great clarity and easily followed polyphonic lines turning in on themselves. It all seemed the kind of beauty that made one wonder, for the moment at least, why anyone felt the need to go beyond that.

But there were four more Josquin works to go, including some cat-and-mouse counterpoint in "Salve Regina" and an intriguing alto-baritone duo in the middle of the solidly constructed "O bone et dulcissime Jesu."

But the crown may have been two sections from the "Missa Pange Lingua." In the extremely sonorous Gloria there was a fascinating interplay between upper and lower reeds and, saving the best for last, in the rather lengthy Sanctus the instruments engaged canonic duos, first by soprano and alto, then later baritone and tenor, all holding the attention with a riveting intensity. If you can't get to the repeat concert, take heart. This and more Desprez will be recorded by the ASQ for release next year.

In other works, there was "The Harfleur Song" by Paul Harvey, richly sonorous with a lot of challenges and responses like a spirited conversation, and seven brief, delightful John Dowland songs. Henri Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les Jardins interdits," the best work I've heard by this composer, was full of easy but real dissonances, a slowly measured piece with references to old styles buried within. The exquisite little "Suite Francaise" by Poulenc had many treasures like the prayerful "Pavane" in autumn browns and golds.

L'homme arme, Josquin Desprez
Absalon Fili Mi, Josquin Desprez
De Profundis Clamavi, Josquin Desprez
Salve Regina, Josquin Desprez
O bone et dulcissime Jesu, Josquin Desprez
Missa Pange lingua, Josquin Desprez
Harfleur Song, Paul Harvey
Vue sur les Jardins Interdits (1973), Henri Pousseur
Suite Francaise (1935), Francis Poulenc
ASQ's 'Renaissance Sax' is one for the ages

Composer Biography

1450 — 1521

Desprez, Josquin was born in the northern France/Belgium area. We have little knowledge of his early life, but it is known that in 1459 he was a singer at the Cathedral in Milan. In 1472, Josquin left the service of the duke and entered the service of the Sforza family, the governing family of Milan. As evidence of their rulership, they employed many artists, including singers, instrumentalists, sculptors, and painters. The Sforza family was, for example, one of Leonardo da Vinci's patrons.

Just as Beethoven summarized the accomplishments of the Viennese school, Josquin summarized the accomplishments of the preceding generations of Dufay and Ockeghem. He is on the border between the Middle Ages and the modern world. His works include 18 masses, 100 motets, 70 chansons, and other secular works.


Buffalo News, The
Sound thinking

Never accuse the Amherst Saxophone Quartet of not knowing when to take a winner and run with it. In October 1999, its program called Renaissance Sax featured seven transcriptions of works by the Flemish composer josquin Desprez. The concert was so rapturously received, by public and press alike, it is repeating it, almost verbatim. at 7:30 p.rn. today in Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Not only that, the quartet has taken those seven Desprez nuggets, added four more, and has produced a new CD called "Renaissance Masterworks of Josquin Desprez" which it will unveil at this evening's concert.

In addition to the Desprez selections, the concert includes four other repeats from 1999, all with some direct or oblique Renaissance reference: Poulenc's "Suite Francaise," selections by John Dowland, Pousseur's 1973 "Vue sur les jardins Interdits" and Paul Harvey's 1978 "The Harfleur Song." Tickets are $10 adult or $5 student/senior. Call 839-9716.

At 8 p.m. Saturday, the quartet will be guests of Buffalo Contemporary Dance at a concert in the Flickinger Performing Arts Center, Nichols School, 1250 Amherst St. Tickets are $15 adult, $10 student/senior. Call 633-5697
—Herman Trotter

ASQ, Sound thinking