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La messe Gaudeamus - Fresques Musicales de St. Bonnet-le -Chateau

The Gaudeamus mass was published by Petrucci in Venice in 1502/3 but its composition cannot be traced with precision. Like most of his contemporaries, Desprez was little respectful of the plainsong tradition. Themajority of his masses are based on profane tunes (L’homme armé, Allez regretz, L’ami Baudichon) and although he used a liturgical motif in the Gaudeamus, he deliberately discarded the religious meaning in order to intensify the musical expression.


The Gaudeamus (“Let us rejoice…”) then was the introit for the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady (15th of August) and Desprez only kept its joyful sentiment which frames and combines the different sections of the ordinary. Sometimes he turns it into an almost comical ostinato given to the tenor (first part of the Gloria), other times he treats it in a 4-part imitation (Kyrie I, Sanctus, Hosanna, Agnus) or with only one or two voices, the other voices remaining contrapunctal. To leave the hearing at rest, he may even give up the motif in several entire sections (Christe, first part of the Gloria, Agnus II, etc.). Like all the religious scores of the time, the first edition of the Gaudeamus mass poses very difficult questions for the singers and the players : no indication about the instrumentation is given and they are some lenghty passages without any word. From the iconography and from some relevant sources, we know that this kind of music was played by consorts of voices and of instruments. The point was to ascribe the proper part to each of them. All the worded pieces and, when necessary, certain syllabes evidently requiring vocalizations were assigned to the singers. The instruments sustain the voices and play an otherwise non specified counterpoint. Occasionally, the voices only sing a short incipit : as in the “organ masses”, the officiating priest probably did not sing but recited the text at low voice while the instruments performed, in order that “the words shall be said”.

Roger Cotte




Saint-Bonnet-le-Château

On the borders of Forez and Velay, the small town of Saint-Bonnet-le-Château is dominated by a collegiate church whose crypt is famous for its beautiful frescoes.

They were painted at the beginning of the XVth century and the angels and the musical instruments which are depicted are of special interest to the musicians., Scattered all around the vault of the subterranean chapel, the twelve paintings exactly follow the pattern of the twelve signs of the Zodiac in the position they take during Christmas night.

Such allegories are common in sacred buildings of the Romanesque period. Generally, cancer and leo (or their equivalents) are found on the Western portal (opposite to the altar and to the chevet) where they flank the Christ in majesty. They mark the apogee of the course of the sun and recall the glorious Ascension of Our Lord. They can be seen in the representation of the Paradise on the Western wall (in the usual place of the portal and of the rose window, lacking in the crypt for practical reasons) and they are symbolized by the peal of bells and the straight cornett. The peal of bells (in french, the word carillon comes from the latin quaternio, meaning a set of four bells) alludes both to the quaternary and to silver which is symbolically associated to the Moon and therefore to cancer. Moreover, the quaternary is a discreet reminder of the Cross.


Before the XVIIth century and the introduction of the church serpent, the straight cornett was commonly used to sustain plainsong. Because of its colour (unless the serpent and the curved cornett, it was never covered with leather), its well established symbolism was associated by the painters with the light. Even in the XVIIth century, Reverend Father Mersenne gave it the same meaning, albeit for a different reason : “Its sound is similar to the brightness of the sun” (L’Harmonie universelle, 1636). Given the astrological correspondances Moon/Cancer and Sun/Leo, one can easily understand why the cornett is placed at the right of the Paradise. It must be added that the cornett goes here with a set of oboes of no traditional symbolistic meaning. The straight cornett accompanies the Gaudeamus tune (introit of the feast of the Assumption) which is sung by the angels of the vault.



Following the course of the sun, we find the curved cornett on the small northern vault. It does not sound differently from the straight cornett, but its symbolical value is at the opposite. When dealing with the four elements of cosmogony, Hieronymus Bosch and his school placed the straight cornett with the Fire (the Sun) and the curved cornett with the Earth (and consequently with the Underworld). So does the painter in Saint-Bonnet : the curved cornett is set in a representation of Hell, in correspondance with the sign of virgo. In fact, the zodiacal Virgo has nothing to do with the Christ’s mother : astrologically, it refers to the sterile female beauty. With other instruments, the curved cornett plays the bawdy “L’homme armé”, a tune quite fit to Satan’s cave but very famous in these times – several composers used it in their masses !


One can easily ascribe the small positive organ to libra, a sign of balance and of harmony. The instrument plays a short liturgical piece from an Oxonian manuscript circa 1400.

The small harp with brass wires is allocated to scorpio. The tradition assigns each sign of the Zodiac to a different part of the human body : in this case the stomach supporting the harp. The jigg (a small viol one must hold between his legs in the same manner as our modern cello) corresponds with sagittarius and has a double meaning. The bow is a semantic evidence (The Archer is the other name of Sagittarius) and the sign refers to the thighs, the place where the jigg is played. The instrument converses with the arm viol (viola da braccio) attributed to capricorn (the sign of Jesus’ birth) through intricate symbolical correspondances. The seers perhaps inspired the painter by a favourite figure named Carcer in Latin (grotto, crib). This figure is marked by a six-point pattern, a symbol of Capricorn which strongly suggests the form of the case of the old viol. Two low dances played by the rebec (a primitive form of the viol) give another idea of the timbre of the instrument.


Here, we break off the zodiacal trip for a few moments in order to listen the second choir of angels on the vault which sings the Gloria with accompaniment on the same straight cornett.





The attribution of the lute to aquarius (the Water-carrier) probably alludes to the symbolism of the double strings – which would be worthy of a more thorough explanation. It is clearly visible in h, an hieroglyph popularized by the horoscopes.


The form of the mandore (a close relative of our mandolin) evidently suggested the painter its attribution to pisces (the Fishes). Both instruments play four pieces of different character, separately or in consort.


Double-stringed like the modern zither, the psaltery has a trapezoid case which strongly suggests either the head of aries (the Ram) or its hieroglyphic representation as ^. It plays a short Minnesänger melody.


The clavichord is ascribed to taurus (the Bull) related to brass by the alchemists. A foreshadowing of our piano, it is worked by brass strings which are struck by small metal shoes placed at the front end of the keys. The painter’s idea is easily explainable.


The bagpipes are allocated to gemini, a sign of duality (the two pipes), of air, of lungs, of arms, of love and of Spring. They play a brief trouvère tune.


Another band of angels, still with accompaniment on the straight cornett, plays an Ave Regina cælorum which concludes the Saint-Bonnet musical fresco – a pictorial hymn to the Universal Harmony depicted through Jesus’fate and praises to the Blessed Virgin.


Messe Gaudeamus - Josquin des Prés


1 Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie (2’35’’)

2 Gloria: intonation, Et in terra, Qui tollis peccata mundi (5’20’’)

3 Credo: intonation, Patrem omnipotentem, Et incarnatus est, (9’12’’)

Et in spititum, Et unam sanctam

4 Sanctus: Pleni sunt coeli, Hosanna, Benedictus, In nomine Domini (5’11’’)

5 Agnus Dei I - II - III (4’22’’)


Fresques Musicales de Saint-Bonnet-le-Chateau


6 Gaudeamus (groupe vocal et cornet droit) Plain chant (53’’)

7 L'homme armé, fantaisie instrumentale Josquin des prés (26’’)

(cornet courbe, harpe à fils d'archal

grosse flûte à bec, vièle à archet)

8 Felix namque (fantaisie pour orgue positif) Anon. v.1400 (1’08’’)

9 A l'entrée d'Esté B. DE NESLE, fin XII (2’30’’)

Estampie royale (harpe à fils d'archal) Anon. XIIIe (5’36’’)

10 Virelai G. DE MACHAUT (2’10’’)

(viole de gambe (gigue) et viole de bras) 1300-1377,

11 Deux basses danses (rebec et percussions) Ms. de la Cour de Bourgogne (1’47’’)

12 Gloria (groupe vocal et cornet droit) Plain-chant (51’’)

13 Clausula « Domino » (pour luth et mandore) École de Notre-Dame (35’’)

14 Plus dure que diamant (pour le luth) G. DE MACHAUT (2’14’’)

15 Cancion del Emperador sobre LUIS DE NARVAEZ (2’37’’)

« Mille regretz » (pour le luth)

16 La alta, Saltarello (pour mandore et luth) F. DE LA TORRE (1’24’’)

17 Mayenzeit (pour le psalterion) N. VON REUENTHAL (43’’)

18 Fantaisie sur une chanson française Anon. 1452 Ms. de Berlin (59’’)

(pour le clavicorde)

19 En Mai, la Rousée (pour la cornemuse) Trouvère anon (28’’)

20 Ave Regina (groupe vocal et cornet droit) Plain-chant (48’’)