Notes and Editorial Reviews
Michael Form (rec, cond); Les Flamboyants
Text and Translation)
Other selections by
ANONYMOUS, JOSQUIN, OBRECHT, BUSNOIS, J. MARTINI, GHIZEGHEM, VIGNE
The capable liner notes of this album express surprise at two points. First, that Jean Japart was one of only two musicians for whom Josquin wrote musical
deplorations—the other being Johannes Ockeghem—which would seem to imply that Japart was held highly in Josquin’s estimation. The other point, tied to it, is that Japart “composed no Masses or large-scale motets … but devoted himself exclusively to smaller secular forms such as the chanson and instrumental music.” Why should Josquin put a master of the miniature on such an exalted level?
Yet the answer seems clear enough. First, all we know about Japart for certain is that he was born in Picardy around 1450, and was a very handsomely paid singer in 1477 at the d’Este court in Ferrara. His name vanishes again in the ducal records in 1481. He might be the “Jaspare” that turns up as a Sangmeester at the Church of Our Lady in Bergen-op-Zoom between 1504 and 1508, as a few musicologists have suggested, but that’s pure speculation based on the names and nothing else. Under such circumstances, there’s hardly any reason to suppose a highly respected musician whose known work spans only four years never produced any Masses or larger motets before his arrival in Ferrara, or after his departure.
Second, Josquin no doubt thought much of Japart’s music for the technical flair it displayed, a quality also apparent in Ockeghem’s music. This goes to the issue of music not as an art but as a craft; while Japart operated in his known works on a much smaller scale than Ockeghem, they shared an obvious love of setting elaborate musical hurdles that each surmounted with ease. A typical example is the density of his contrapuntal lines weaving together
Il est de bonne heure me
, with irregular rhythms between the parts contributing an additional element of challenge that Japart surmounts gracefully. Another uses the popular and beautiful chanson
J’ai pris amours
, heard here in an anonymous three-part setting, a four-part setting by Antoine Busnois, and two four-part settings of Japart. Busnois’s version is clever, focusing on selective inversion, but the Japart one inscribed “Fit aries piscis in licanosyparthon” sets the cantus as a retrograde canon transposed down a 12th. Busnois’s treatment is leisurely in its creative exploration—indeed, it could be seen as setting the stage at a considerable distance for the great English viol fantasias of the Elizabethan era—but Japart’s short, elegant version is a bit of virtuosic brilliance.
Several other selections by Japart are played on this album alongside contemporary versions by Obrecht, Josquin, Antoine de Vigne, etc. Kudos to Michael Form, the recorder player who leads Les Flamboyants, for researching his subject thoroughly, drawing upon both Petrucci’s turn-of-the-16th-century Venice publications that are the main source for Japart’s extant music, supplemented by manuscripts in Paris’ Bibliothèque Nationale. As for Les Flamboyants, the nine-person Swiss ensemble (with mezzo Els Janssens-Vanmunster and tenor Michael Feyfar) made up primarily of period strings, varies textures and tempos, and produces a spacious textural range that never precludes clarity. This is even more important in Japart’s music than in the average polytextural motet or its instrumental arrangement in this period, given the contrapuntal intensity of the composer’s ingenuity.
I have but one complaint: Texts are offered in the original language—usually French—with German translations only. Given that the notes are supplied in German, French, and English, it’s a pity Christophorus didn’t supply English translations of the sung texts as well. Unless of course they are offering up a subtle compliment, assuming their English-speaking audience is fully fluent in French.
No. I didn’t think so, either.
That aside, this is a delightful excursion into the music of a seldom-heard late 15th-century Franco-Flemish composer, whose mastery of polyphonic writing was second to none.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Fortuna d'un grand tempo by Jean Japart
Written: Flanders, Belgium
J'ay pris amours by Jean Japart
Written: by 1502
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