Musick Fyne

4 Aug 2007 in Highland, Music

Music for the Renaissance Sangscule of Inverness

JAMES ROSS explains the background to the Renassiance Music that will feature in Musick Fyne’s latest programme in Inverness

THROUGHOUT the 15th and 16th centuries Scotland boasted an enviable tradition in the education of church musicians in schools which were attached to all the main cathedrals in the land, the so-called Sangscules (Song Schools).

At the time of the Reformation the system fell briefly into neglect, but in the last quarter of the 16th century, King James VI personally oversaw a revival in the fortunes of these institutions, and it is probably in association with this revival that a manuscript called The Art of Music was compiled.

It is described as being collected out of various ancient sources, and is clearly an attempt to record, and therefore save for posterity, the music and compositional techniques associated with the Sangscule tradition.

It is from the pages of The Art of Music that we have gleaned the Mass Conditor which forms the core of our concert this evening. The circumstances of the rediscovery of this four-part Faburden ‘Mass Conditor’ are rather unusual.

It had long been realised that a sequence of musical examples illustrating a section on Faburden composition in The Art of Music probably belonged to one composition, but it was only when I transcribed these recently that it became clear that they probably constituted the complete polyphony of a work of distinctive quality and style.
Faburden is a very simple system of composition setting pre-ordained harmonic progressions to a plainchant melody in the tenor part. However the present composition goes far beyond this basic level, with a considerable level of elaboration and invention in the free-composed parts. These highly original polyphonic sections alternate with sections in simple chant in a system known as alternatim, a very popular compositional device in the sixteenth century.

We are presenting the work in a liturgical sequence, which opens with a Scottish motet ‘Omnes gentes attendite’ in praise of the Virgin Mary and possibly by the Scottish Renaissance master Robert Johnson.

The Easter processional ‘Laudate pueri’ is in pure Faburden and is taken from a highly important manuscript of around 1550 known as The Inverness Fragments [see pdf for more on this] and associated with the Inverness Sangscule, based at the Parish Church (now the Old High Church) and probably very close in location to the OHC Hall!

The organ played a fundamental part in Scottish religious celebrations up to the Reformation, and Sangscule masters were generally also organists – this was certainly the case at the Inverness Sangscule.

We include two organ pieces in our programme, the first from The Art of Music where it appears in association with the Mass Conditor and the second a compilation of two heavily reconstructed pieces from The Inverness Fragments, while a number of appropriate plainchant items provide a further liturgical context for the mass movements.

The mass ordinary ends with an unusual setting of the ‘Ite Missa est/Deo gracias’ also from The Art of Music, although clearly unrelated musically to the Mass Conditor. This sequence of music for a Scottish Sangscule concludes as we process out to the Inverness setting of the Easter recessional Laudate pueri.

Musick Fyne, directed by James Ross with Gordon Tocher (organ), perform this programme at the Old High Church, Academy Street, Inverness, on 7 September, and St Margaret’s Church, Aberlour, on 8 September. Musick Fyne and Coronach will combine with Dance Ecosse for two performances of ‘The Triumphs of Oriana” at Strathpeffer Pavilion on 28 September, and Universal Hall, Findhorn, on 29 September.

To read more on the discovery of the Inverness Fragments, download James Ross’s supplementary article in pdf format below

© D. James Ross, 2007