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SIG 011
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SIG 011

de Machaut - Motets and Music from the Ivrea Codex

The Classical Shop
release date: August 2007

Originally recorded in 2007


The Clerks Group


St Andrews Church, West Wratting

4 & 5 May 1998


Stephen Johns


Mike Clements

Record Label



Total Time - 56:05
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Sanctus: Sanans fragilia








Gloria: Et verus homo Deus




Dame/Fins cuers doulz


Trop plus est bele/Biaute paree de valour


Lasse!/Se j'aim mon loyal ami








Tu qui gregem/Plange, regni respublica


Christe qui lux/Veni creator spiritus


Felix virgo/Inviolata genitrix






Clap, clap/Sus Robin




Qui es promesse/Ha! Fortune


Martyrum/Diligenter inquiramus


Amours/Faus samblant




Post missarum sollempnia/Post misse modulamina


Signum is delighted to announce the debut disc of the Gramophone Award winning Clerks’ Group on Signum Records.

This disc is a programme of 14th-century motets and mass movements represents two of the most important sources of French medieval music.

The Ivrea Codex now lives in the Chapter library of the cathedral of Ivrea, a small town in the foothills of the Italian Alps, south of the modern ski resort of Aosta (home to an important 15th-century music manuscript). This may seem an unexpected area in which to find major sources of medieval music, but in fact the position of these towns on one of the main routes across the Alps between France and Italy readily explains their importance in the Middle Ages. They lay on roads that linked centres of power, and accordingly they grew in importance themselves, sustaining cathedrals with musical traditions that provided a natural home for collections of sophisticated polyphony.

"Mediaeval music is not everyone’s cup of tea. As a period of history the 14th century seems just so long ago that it bears little on the experiences of people today. Artistically, however, the period was one of startling new sounds and colours, both visually and aurally. As far as music is concerned the name of Guillaume de Machaut stands massively above all others, but there was actually plenty of musical composition apart from Machaut. The music of the era is well worth hearing, and far more varied than one might suspect, but it does need some intellectual input from the listener.

Edward Wickham’s The Clerk’s Group present on this disc a selection of music from one of the important manuscript sources of 14th century polyphony, now living, rather touchingly, in the chapter house of the cathedral in the small Italian alpine town of Ivrea - hence the name. In common with many such collections the name of Machaut features largely and this disc includes several chanson melodies masquerading as motets. The idea that there should be several lines of text sung at once (in some cases sacred and secular at the same time) strikes the modern listener as strange. Clearly the obvious audibility of the words themselves was not considered of such importance to mediaeval composers as to us. The result of these differing but simultaneous lines of text is that the music receives a richness of colour from the varied vowel sounds. This wide palette makes for fascinatingly kaleidoscopic results. [Sample 1]

On this recording The Clerk’s Group consists of five singers and they are able to reproduce the complex lines of this intricate polyphony with clarity and, in many cases a clear sense of fun. The opening anonymous Sanctus belies the image of mediaeval music as dark and austere. [Sample 2] At other points Wickham manages to get his singers to produce an intensity of sound that is equally impressive in its quiet restraint. The opening of Tu qui gregem/Plange, regni respublica feels like a large sound, but in fact is merely a sound with intensity and direction. From that opening the piece develops and grows in a succession of quietly intense phrases of hocketts in the upper voices over a slow moving bass line. The architectural concept is impressively brought across.

Of the anonymous pieces most are Mass movements. The largest of these is a Credo at over six minutes long. Whoever this music is by, they knew what they were doing. Clearly this was composed with the professional musicians of Cathedral establishments in mind and the small forces with which Wickham performs this underline the essentially soloistic and virtuoso nature of the composition. In this regard the sparkling sound of Lucy Ballard is particularly enjoyable, although what the justification for using a female alto in this repertoire is it is hard to understand. In theory, all of this music was sung by men - castrati unlikely, falsettists probable. If today’s performer is going to go down the route of period pronunciation and one-voice-to-a-part performance then why not use all- male forces as well? In this case it is possibly just because Ballard makes a lovely noise; certainly this reviewer is pleased she is there, although musicologically she is unsupportable. ...As a well performed introduction to some of the finest, if rarer, music of the mediaeval period, this is a good disc."

Peter Wells - October 2002

 "...The ensemble’s blend is excellent and the recording is to be recommended, even to those among us who would not count themselves medieval enthusiasts."

Ian Colson

Classic FM Magazine - May 1999

"Taking a break from their splendid Ockeghem project for Gaudeamus, The Clerks’ Group travel back a further hundred years, presenting a programme of motets by Guillaume de Machaut. These are supplemented by pieces from the Ivrea Codex, which preserves music believed to have been written before 1360 and which constitutes the most important chronicle of ars nova.

Wickham has taken settings of the parts of Mass from the codex, together with one motet ("Clap Clap/Sus Robin") in the ars antiqua manner. Credited to that most prolific of sources, Anon, these pieces demonstrate a variety of styles within the ars nova school. As the exact date of the compositions is unknown, we can speculate that the variety illustrates the evolution of music at the time, but it is just as likely that it reflects the composers’ response to different text and performing contexts. Whatever, this is a nicely balanced programme, and the Clerks bring the same clarity, poise and spirit to this music as they do to their more accustomed repertoire."

Barry Witherden

Classic CD - June 1999

"The Clerks’ Group is pared down here to its simplest line-up, with a single voice to a part. This makes sense in fourteenth-century repertories, and it gives The Clerks a freshness and directness that has been at times lacking in recent recordings. A new departure is the repertory explored, obviously earlier than anything the group has previously attempted, and no longer merely composer-based. Machaut gets top billing, but much of the programme is anonymous and derives from a single source, the Ivrea Codex (copied in the latter years of the century). This consists of settings of individual Mass movements, for the most part chordally conceived, declamatory and decidedly extrovert. In that sense it contrasts nicely with the introversion of Machaut’s three-voice songs, and shows off The Clerks at their best. The singers also indulge themselves with a memorable rendition of one of this repertory’s most famous pieces, Clap, clap! Sus Robin. It may no longer need saying, but I’ll say it anyway; don’t be put off by the anonymous tag.

One gets a clear enough impression from this recording of the lines of stylistic demarcation that Machaut draws in his work: the three-voice songs are audibly ’experimental’ in their chromatic turns, while the four-voice Latin motets prize rhetorical effects of texture and large-scale design (although the manner in which successive voices are introduced in Tu qui gregem/Plange, regni and Felix virgo/Inviolata is equally strange, the latter’s soft tones contrasting sharply with Gothic Voices’ interpretation on Hyperion, 1/84). Those familiar with previous recordings of the songs (for example the two versions of Dame, je suis cilz/Fins cuers doulz, again with Gothic Voices, as above) will hear differences in the editions used (here, by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson); they may also hear that The Clerks’ declamation of French is not as clear as that in Latin-texted pieces (whether Machaut’s or the works from Ivrea), resulting in less strongly imaged performances of the most wilfully characterful music here. As an all-Machaut recital this would face formidable competition, but the Ivrea music leavens the programmes and fills a gap in the catalogue very elegantly."

Fabrice Fitch

Gramophone - October 1999

"The Clerks’ Group extend their repertoire in these performances of motets by Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377) together with items from the Ivrea Codex - which preserves 14th-century French vocal music. Pervious recordings by this small choir, one voice to a part AA (one male/one female/TT/Bar, have been made for ASV. One of a series of three devoted to Ockeghem (1410-1497) won the 1997 Gramophone magazine Early Music Award.

The Group now marks its recent association with SIGNUM RECORDS - a very enterprising young company - by presenting a further series of three CDs, this time of music from the 14th century, the first of which is under review. Nine motets by Machaut are interleaved three at a time with seven disparate items from the Ivrea Codex. Texts are given in full, carefully translated; and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson has provided succinct and intelligible notes.

Knowledge of Machaut’s treatment of texts is essential to follow: for example the simultaneous presentation of Christe qui lux et dies together with Veni creator spiritus in one of the Latin motets. Three of the nine motets are in Latin, the others in French. The Latin motets are in four voice parts, the others in three. The six solo voices of the Group are never all to be heard together on this recording. The most accessible motet at a first hearing is to be found in track 6 start with this and you will be entranced by its hauntingly expressive character.

Ivrea is a small town south of the modern ski-resort Aosta. The codex contains Ars Nova motets, liturgical Mass settings, and secular songs, presented anonymously for the most part. To let the recording play through results in some rather striking contrasts. A Sanctus is followed by a very irreligious item, where it is just as well that what ’the woman’ would have of her ’Robin’ is immediately followed by sterner matter.

The singing generally has a welcome freshness and vigour, with voices free of intrusive vibrato and of irritating mannerisms. Edward Wickham as Director perhaps overburdens himself as Baritone as well, and falls a little below pitch on occasion; but he certa9inly moves things on and instils some buoyancy. There is a certain lack of freedom in the hocketing; and I found the employment of a male and of a female alto disturbing; mo matter how well sung, the female upper voice can give the unwanted effect of a soloist accompanied by the other voices.

If, as the Psalmist had it millennia ago, ’ a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday’, this recording may be regarded as a n attempt to reconstruct what was available to the Almighty from about 3.30 in the morning of the second millennium AD. Many significant and controversial decisions and compromises have to be made to get this early music off the page - musica ficta, rhythm, voice-production, tempo, pitch, pronunciation, and so on. The Almighty would surely recognise the value of this enterprise. Note the reduced price, and order with confidence."


Organists Review - February 2000

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