Notation: Entered by Hand A in semi-mensural black notation on staff system 1. The initial on f. 2v is drawn in red, all the following initials are in black ink with yellow and/or red decorations, and emphasizing in the text has been done in yellow.
The notation shows a strange mixture of note values: longae with fermatas alternating with breves without fermatas. Of course, they may be read as virgae and puncta, but the square notation seems to be measured to some extent. The ending of each stanza includes an embellishment (bar 48) written as a ligature, which may not have any mensural meaning, but many occurrences in the two upper voices (S1 stanzas 1, 3-5 and 7-8; S2 stanzas 1-5 and 7) are clearly written as c.o.p.-ligatures, as two semibreves followed by a longer value. Probably the notation is meant to communicate an alternation between calm unmeasured notes and measured notes. Therefore the transcription shows a measured interpretation (the unmeasured version is sketched in no. 1b for the first stanza only).
In stanza 6 (ff. 7v-8) the word “benedicte” looks as if it has been highlighted with yellow colour in all voices. This is, however, caused by a modification of the original word “bernardine”, which has been partly erased and changed into “benedicte” with reuse of some letters. The chemical erasure has since then caused the dark brown ink to bleach, so now the name stands out in yellow or very light brown colour.
Disposition of parts: Each stanza fills out an opening. “Tenor” is written across the openings below the two upper voices [Superius 1-2]. [Superius 1] stands on the left hand pages, and [Superius 2] is at the right. On the right hand pages it can be difficult to distinguish the continuation of the tenor voice from superius 2; drawings of hands have been made to point out the connection, and the word “finis” has been added in a very small hand at the end of superius 2 on ff. 3 and 4.
Text: Tropes/verses for the responsory “Libera me, domine, de morte eterna”; 8 stanzas of eight octosyllabic verses riming ababbcbc. After stanza 1 the tenor has the textual and musical clue “Quando [caeli movendi]”; after stanza 2 “Quando [caeli movendi]”; stanza 6 “Dum ve[veneris]”; stanza 7 “Quando [caeli movendi]”; and after stanza 8 the clue for the repeat of the beginning, “Libera”. This produces the following sequence in performance: (R Libera me), V Bone Ihesu (1), R1 Quando, V Maria fons (2), R1 Quando, V O tu princeps ... Gregorii (3-6, saints)), R2 Dum veneris, V O Maria Magdalena (7), R1 Quando, V Turbe sanctorum (8), R Libera me.
 Bone Ihesu dulcis cunctis.
 Maria fons dulcedinis,
 O tu princeps angelorum,
 Johannes ardens lucerna,
 Stephane qui meruisti
 Gregori doctrine sator
 O maria magdalena,
 Turbe sanctorum omnium,
A three-part setting of eight tropes/verses for “Libera me” with identical music and precise clues for their combination with the monophonic responsory (see above). It is written for two high voices (a-f’ and d-e’) and a supporting “Tenor” (A-b), which stays below the upper voices. The highest voice (superius 1) is of a very restricted range; except for bars 29-37 it remains within the fourth c’-f’. The delimitation of lines with short or long vertical strokes is not consequently done in all stanzas, but stands out clearly for example on ff. 5v-6 (stanza 4; they have been normalized in the transcription). Variation only appears sparingly in the fully written out repetitions of the music; in stanzas 4-7 the tenor goes to a in bar 31 instead of f and thus avoids parallel fifths with the superius 1. Later hands have not been at work in this piece except for the replacement of the name of the Franciscan saint Bernardinus of Siena (canonized 1450) in stanza 6 by the Benedictine saint Benedict, whose name, however, does not rime!
It is difficult to pinpoint one of the voices as carrying a pre-existent tune. Possibly the two superius voices take turns in presenting the tune like they take turns in taking care of the tenor and superius functions. Formally the setting is through-composed, but the first four lines are clearly parallel in two by two lines (riming abab), the first pair ending on C and D, and the second pair on D and D. The four remaining lines end on C/F, A, C and D respectively, creating a welcome variation in sound. The rhythmical formulation of the parallel pairs of lines (longae with fermatas followed by breves without) is obviously related to the procedures in simple polyphony with calm declamation followed by a more active drive towards the cadence (cf. »Lugentibus in purgatorio«, ff. 10v-13).
Likewise, the structure of the upper voices, which move mostly in parallel thirds and sixths, is based on traditions from simple polyphony, here modified by the use of fourths in bars 1 and 4 in order to take advantage of a supporting voice supplying fundamentals. Furthermore, parallel fifths are not avoided; they appear between superius 1 and the “Tenor” in bars 47-48, and in stanzas 1-3 and 8 in bars 30-31. In many ways this setting complies with what Bonnie Blackburn has described as “a method of composition in which harmony rather than counterpoint is the guiding principle” (Blackburn 2001, p. 13), but at the same time it is closely linked to the tradition of simple polyphony, which also its old-fashioned page layout confirms.
If we look at a single stanza as a freestanding composition, it shows in its rhythmical disposition an amazing similarity to the motetti missales cycle (or substitution mass) Ave domine Jesu Christe, which is anonymous in its source, but ascribed to Loyset Compere by Ludwig Finscher. At the point of the Elevation (in the 7th motet “Adoramus te Christe” (cf. Compere 1972, vol. 2, p. 35, see also Finscher 1964, p. 92 and Merkley & Merkley 1999, p. 338), it has the same alternation between long note values with fermatas and shorter notes without – or alternation between free and measured rhythm. Similar passages can be found in other motet cycles by Compere. Loyset Compere and Gaspar Weerbecke are the foremost early composers of motetti missales. They may very well have experienced this sort of solemn singing during their youth in Northern France and Flanders.
Contemporary setting of the text:
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. lat. 10581, ff. 89v-101 »Bone Jesu dulcis cunctis« 2v
– A simple setting of eight stanzas of the original version of the poem (after 1450) for two equal voices found in a processionale from an abbey of the Order of Saint Clare in Meaux, dated c 1490-1510.
PWCH April 2014