Si je trepasse
Alexander Utendal (c. 1543-1581)
Fröhliche neue Teutsche und Frantzösische Lieder, Dieterich Gerlach (Nuremberg) 1574
It’s time to welcome another composer, as we continue our jouney through the contemporary Ronsard settings. This set is, to me, very special – because it was not seen by Genevieve Thibault when she compiled her monumental bibliography, and so finding it existed was, for me, very very exciting! The full title is Fröhliche neue Teutsche und Frantzösische Lieder, lieblich zu singen auch auf allerley Instrumenten zugebrauchen, nach zonderer art der Music Componirt, mit vier fünff und mehr stimmen. The book consists of 13 German songs (printed, of course, in ‘black letter’ Gothic), and 13 French songs, printed in a clear Roman script! Here’s the contents page:
As you can see, most of the 13 French songs are by Ronsard, so you’ll be seeing plenty more of Utendal’s work 🙂
Who was he, and why this mixed-language collection? Utendal was one of that band of Flemish ex-pats who travelled across Europe earning fame and, sometimes, fortune from their music. Coming from Flemish Ghent he moved eastwards to the Holy Roman Empire rather than west to France or south to Italy; and ended up at the court of Ferdinand II of the Tyrol, in Innsbruck. He wasn’t the first significant composer there: Jacob Regnart (no relation to ‘our’ Regnard) was his predecessor and wrote fine polyphony.
Utendal is a ‘late’ voice, and so his music is already turning towards more baroque styles: he often writes a prominent ‘tune’ with accompaniment rather than classic polyphony. (He was himself an alto, so perhaps took his own melodies.)
This makes his music ideal for treatment as a ‘lute song’: here the tenor line is sung with the other parts on the lute. The tenor was often, earlier in medieval and renaissance music, the ‘tune’, though it was buried in the middle of the texture – hence its name, the ‘tenor’ being the one who ‘holds’ (Latin: tenet) the tune. In tat sense this performance is perhaps looking backwards rather than forwards. But it is an accomplished piece: Utendal knew what he was doing, it’s just not the same style someone like Lassus was writing in.