The Great Cipriano

 Although perhaps not a household name now, Cipriano de Rore was probably the leading composer of his day.   Born in 1516 at Ronse (Renaix), a small Flemish town west of Brussels, he followed the trend of so many northern composers of the time in moving to Italy. He may even have studied in Venice, but firm evidence of his exact whereabouts is lacking until his employment at Ferrara in 1546. He remained there for at least a decade, and these were certainly his most fruitful years.  However, when the Duke, Ercole II died and was followed by his son Alfonso II, Rore’s star seemed to wane. Alfonso’s taste in music differed – he was later to be responsible for the formation at his court of one of the most experimental ensembles, the Musica Secreta, featuring virtuosic women performers.

 Ironically Rore was now employed at the court of Parma where he would have met at least two of the singers who were later to sing in the Ferrara ensemble. However, he was not satisfied in Parma, and sought employment at St Marks in Venice.  But this did not work out either, and he died a year later in 1565.

 Rore’s output was largely of madrigals, and it is within this genre that he was most experimental.  Monteverdi’s brother praised his music as leading the way to the new, more expressive style that he described as the ‘secunda prattica’ and which paved the way towards recitative and opera.  However, his sacred music too, though more conservative in style, is often daring harmonically and highly expressive.  The seven-voice Missa Praeter rerum seriem belongs to the Ferrara years and was dedicated to the Duke Ercole II. The text ‘Hercules secundus dux Ferrariae quartus vivit et vivet’ is written in long slow notes as a cantus firmus in the 2nd alto part throughout the mass. The composition itself is modelled on the motet of the same name by Rore’s predecessor at Ferrara, Josquin des Pres. In common with its model, Rore includes two bass parts which provide a rich and dark texture, but Rore adds a second soprano part to Josquin’s one, thus providing a greater balance of sonority and some ingenious reworking of Josquin’s music.

 Little is known of the life of Clemens (d.1556), but the fact that his nickname non Papa, was given to distinguish him from the contemporaneous Pope Clement VII (1523-34) must be an indication of his fame. Ego flos campi is a lovely haunting setting from the Song of Songs that shows Clemens’ skill (shared with Rore) in writing complex overlapping triple time passages that sound clear and graceful.

 Jacobus Vaet (ca. 1529-1567) is another fine composer whose music is only now gaining recognition. Continuo lacrimas uses the Requiem plainchant as a cantus firmus, and was probably written as a lament on the death of Vaet's friend Clemens non Papa in 1556.  It is certainly very reminiscent of his style and there are many puns on his name.

 ©Deborah Roberts November 2003