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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 17 (2011) No. 1

Published 2015

Artus Aux-Cousteaux. Octo cantica Divae Mariae Virginis (1641) in 8 vols. Plainchant restored by Jean-Yves Hameline. Magnificat primi toni; Magnificat secundi toni; Magnificat tertii toni; Magnificat quarti toni; Magnificat quinti toni; Magnificat sexti toni; Magnificat septimi toni; Magnificat octavi toni. Versailles: Éditions du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, 2009. [Each score 12pp. (primi toni 13 pp.). ISSN 1954–3301 (36–43). €9.5 each.]

Reviewed by Peter Bennett*

1. Introduction

2. Chant and Polyphony

1. Introduction

1.1 The Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles’s (CMBV) recent edition of works by Artus Aux-Cousteaux (1590?–1664?) makes available for the first time the set of eight Magnificats, each issued separately, that make up the composer’s 1641 publication Octo cantica Divae Maria Virginis secundum octo modos. Working variously in Saint Quentin, Amiens, and the Chapelle Royale of Louis XIII, Aux-Cousteaux’s most important appointment was probably at the Sainte-Chapelle, where he was an haute-contre (1634–42) and then maître de musique (until 1651). As one of the few identified composers of sacred music working during the reign of Louis XIII, and one of the even fewer whose works were widely published, this edition of these works is welcome, although as with much of this kind of music it is, on the whole, conservative and functional rather than particularly groundbreaking. Nevertheless, these settings are interesting enough to perform and certainly help fill out our picture of sacred music in France during the first part of the seventeenth century.

1.2 As part of the Collection Choeur within the wider Patrimoine Musical series, the edition is provided with minimal editorial material and intervention, overseen by an unnamed in-house editor. The volumes in this series are generally intended as performance editions, and since the polyphony of the Magnificats is generally straightforward and all of them are taken from a single Ballard publication, which in itself presents few editorial challenges, such an approach is entirely appropriate. Where these volumes differ from others in the “Collection Choeur” and “Cahiers de Musique” series, however, is that the problems arising from finding suitable chant melodies for the alternatim versets (none are provided in the source, even for the opening “Magnificat” verse) are the subject of a prefatory essay by Jean-Yves Hameline, the findings of which provide the scholarly justification and context for the chant melodies provided in the edition.

2. Chant and Polyphony

2.1 While one would not expect the provision of appropriate chant verses to provide any significant musicological challenges, the scarcity of surviving chant sources in France at this time, the relationship between evolving Parisian and Roman practices, and the problems of the rhythmic (or not) performance of French chant, do in fact make the choice of chant source and its presentation in modern notation extremely problematic, and in this case there is no perfect solution. That said, I am not convinced that Hameline has addressed this problem in the most appropriate way. In attempting to find a suitable chant source, Hameline points out that a later, 1655 Ballard edition of the same Magnificat texts by Aux-Cousteaux (but with entirely new settings) does provide chant for the first statement of “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” for each of the eight modes, thereby enabling us to establish the intonation and termination of the chant used, if not the mediation. It is this later chant that has been used as the basis for the edition, but for the mediation, Hameline has turned to Jean Millet’s 1666 Directoire du chant Gregorien, a later, peripheral source of chant which is used to provide both the pitches and underlay for the mediations, the underlay for the terminations, as well as a prosodic framework for all the reciting tones. The edition thus presents each chant verse as a basic framework from the 1655 Aux-Cousteaux edition with inserted mediation formulas, each with a reference to the page of the Millet volume from which it is taken.

2.2 The problem with this approach—generating a hybrid chant from two sources at least fourteen and twenty-five years later than the polyphony it is meant to complement—is twofold. Firstly, one could object on principal to such an endeavor, since the edition constructs an artifact that undoubtedly never existed, and does it, moreover, from sources that are strikingly mismatched. But secondly, a more practical objection arises when one considers the numerous polyphonic versets where the chant has clearly been set in the tenor voice. In the “Sicut erat” of the Magnificat in the second mode, for example, the tenor clearly takes all its pitches from the chant (not at all surprising), but the melody it outlines is much simpler than the preceding chant provided by Hameline, which he constructed by adding Millet’s complex mediation formulas. If the tenor part is anything to go by as it is in other comparable and contemporary instances, for example in the works of Antoine Boesset, these formulas (or anything like them) were not used; rather, the chant remained relatively straightforward, unencumbered with slurs and melismas. In fact throughout all these settings, the simple nature of the chant incorporated into the polyphony suggests that even the chants in Aux-Cousteaux’s 1655 publication were not what he intended in this earlier work. Perhaps a more appropriate model would be the chant incipits provided by Nicolas Formé for his eight Magnificat settings, probably composed in the late 1630s for the Chapelle Royale, which offer a much more straightforward reading of the chant, and one with origins and conservative associations much closer to those of the Sainte-Chapelle; even more closely connected would be the incipits from the Octo cantica Virginis Matris of 1612/25 by Jean de Bournonville, a composer briefly associated with the Sainte-Chapelle and probably Aux-Cousteaux’s teacher. In both cases, the chants would be an almost exact temporal and geographical match for the Aux-Cousteaux works.

2.3 The fact that the chants themselves seem ill-matched to the polyphony suggests to me that Hameline’s suggestions for performance are probably inappropriate, too. Since the Chapelle Royale certainly used Roman chant books during the reign of Louis XIII (i.e., free from the later innovations of plain-chant musical), and since the Sainte-Chapelle probably followed suit, the trills, chromatic alterations, and ports de voix which he includes from Millet’s publication are unlikely to have been used. They may certainly have been appropriate at religious houses such as Montmartre, and later at Saint Cyr, where newly composed chant repertories were coming into use and where a more adventurous composed repertoire was also being performed, but not in the conservative atmosphere of the court with its essentially sixteenth-century compositional style.

2.4 In summary, this edition is a welcome addition to the available repertoire from the era of Louis XIII and would serve the practical needs of choirs well. That said, most performers will probably want to consider alternatives to the chant provided.

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