Ma fin est mon commencement
'This recording is the anachronistic result of the conjunction of three factors. To be more precise: a 21st century organist plays 14th and 15th century music on a 17th and 18th century organ. But what is anachronism? Isn't every interpretation or musical performance anachronistic anyway? To be sure, from what we know, 18th century organs do not have much in common with their 15th century counterparts. And the sonic world we live in, even the way we listen to music, has changed. Let us always keep in mind that to think we can listen to early music with a virgin ear is illusory: we have been affected by centuries of musical evolution (or call it musical history).'
Fighting words from French organist Louis Thiry. They come from the sleeve notes to a new CD which I found in a FNAC store in Avignon recently, and which has given me much pleasure. Ma fin est mon commencement is a recording of transcriptions by Thiry of polyphonic vocal works from the 14th and 15th century. The title comes from the three voice rondeau from Guillaume de Machaut, and the other composers featured are Guillaume Dufay and Josquin Des Prés.
This very worthwhile project comes from the enterprising (and delightfully quirky) French label Éditions Hortus. They specialise in sacred music from the 19th and 20th centuries, with a particular focus on vocal and organ works. Louis Thiry is organist at the 'Charles-Nicolle' University Hospital Chapel in Rouen, and uses the original 18th century Lefebvre organ there for the recording. This instrument has a remarkable history. It was originally constructed in 1631 by a Scottish builder (Guillaume Lesselier, aka William Lesley!) after an earlier organ was destroyed by Hugenot pillaging. The replacement instrument was extended and modified by Charles Lefebvre in the 1730's. In 1801 the organ was donated to the University Hospital Chapel as St-Nicholas was abandoned after the Revolution, and finally demolished in 1840. The elegant chapel was built in the late 18th century, and the old Hospice Général there was served by a congregation of Sisters of Our Lady of Charity. The organ which has been housed there for more than two hundred years is a remarkably original example of pre-Revolution organ making, and has been extensively, and expertly, restored. In 1976 it was listed as a historic monument.
In the very thought provoking sleeve notes Louis Thiry asks: 'Why play such decidely vocal pieces on the organ? I can only offer the following answer: I like the music and I like the instrument.'
I can only add I like the resulting recording very much as well - Ma fin est mon commencement
Header photo - This is the fabulous Millau Viaduct in France, designed by Foster and Partners. No direct connection with the music, but in my view this is not a bridge - it is a performance installation. Just like Janet Cardiff's 40 Piece Motet, and Louis Thiry's transcriptions. Image linked from Foster & Partners.
CD Sleeve - Musicweb-international
Lefebvre organ - Hopitaux de Rouen
This CD can be bought from the FNAC web site. It is in French, but it is very professional, and I have used it without problems.
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Take Josquin. It is Joske, meaning little, small Joe.
The same goes for mannequin. Which means manneke: little man.