Clemencic Consort: Dunstable, Cathedral Sounds

dunstable cathedral sounds

There is a long stretch between the earliest known polyphony—the works of Perotin and the other masters of the Notre Dame school—and the next high point in the 15th century with the works of Ockeghem, Obrecht, and others. In between lie the Black Death, the birth of the Renaissance, and other major cultural developments, of course; musically there is a school of early polyphony called the contenance angloise, literally the “English guise,” so named because the composers on the Continent who adopted the English techniques were said to be putting on an English face. Without the composers of this school, the course of the evolution of Western music would be dramatically altered. With this background, this recording of the works of John Dunstable, foremost composer of the contenance angloise, takes on historic significance.

Even without the historical setting, this recording earns its musical significance on its own merits and on superlative performances by the Clemencic Consort. The ensemble, comprising three male voices and Dr. René Clemencic on a reproduction positive organ, is superbly tight, and the polyphony is rich and vibrant. In fact, the musical ideas in the polyphony, including the use of Gregorian melodies as a cantus firmus on which the piece is built, are consonant with the work of composers who flourished a hundred years or more later. It is difficult to remember that this music, which sounds as though it came from the height of the Renaissance, was written within fifty years of the plague’s devastation. Dunstable’s work is thought to be influenced by contemporary understandings of astronomy—one of the few surviving artifacts that attests to his existence (many of his scores having perished during the Dissolution of the Monasteries) is a note in his hand in a book on astronomy at Cambridge. Whatever the source for his inspiration, his music is presented on this recording with warmth and humanity.

Allegro Music is reissuing a number of other pivotal recordings from the Arte Nova label (this recording was originally released in 1995), and on the basis of this performance the rest of the series is certainly worth checking out.

Originally published at Blogcritics.

Home stretch

Whew. Lisa and I are finally starting to feel as though we are over the hump for our renovation projects. The tile guy is a day ahead and will finish our upstairs bathroom today, meaning that the remaining fixtures will be installed by the end of the week and we can start painting. Last night I sanded the new plaster on the first floor—in the process realizing we had unpainted surfaces in every room in the house, thanks to the new shower and the radiator niche patching—and Lisa tacked the dust away. We’ll paint tonight.

Incidentally, for the sanding we used a vacuum equipped sander with drywall sanding screens, which I can’t recommend highly enough. Very little mess was created and it did the trick, removing the few ridges and blots left behind by the plastering work. We didn’t use a name-brand sander, just a generic kit from one of the home warehouses, and it seemed to work just fine.

There are still a few loose ends that I need to make sure the contractors get wrapped up, though. In particular, the grab bars for the downstairs shower, which we need for her dad, haven’t arrived yet, and we are still waiting for a few odds and ends of trim—soap dishes and such. But we’ve come a long way and I am looking forward to having the final stages over and done with.

Oh—and they might even be able to get the front door and storm door replaced this week, too. Swoon. Likely later, though.

Just in time, too: Lisa’s folks arrive Wednesday for the holidays, and her brother will fly in late Thursday—while her niece will drive down from Vermont on Friday or Saturday to hang out with us for a few days. The new bathrooms will get a real workout.