Early Music

Cypriaan de Rore and the Flemish polyphonists

Cypriaan de Rore is one of the most important composers in the history of the madrigal, which was the leading secular genre in the second half of the 16th century in Italy. This highly expressive style was not only influenced by French chansons such as Jean Japart’s Jay pris amours and Pierre Sandrin’s renowned Doulce memoire, but also by the polyphonic style of the motets composed by Franco-Flemish composers such as Alexander Agricola, Josquin des Prez and Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina. Cypriaan de Rore was born in Ronse, a small town in Flanders. Alongside with other Northerners such as Adriaan Willaert he merged the contrapuntal Flemish polyphonic style with the Italian poetic texts to create a highly expressive secular genre. The madrigals are often based on serious texts, like Petrarca’s Signor mio caro. De Rore aimed to express the emotion and the varying moods in each line of this poem through imitation and canonic technique, descending and ascending melody lines and carefully chosen proportions between the melody, text and rhythm.

“Signor mio caro, ogni pensier mi tira
devoto a veder voi, cui sempre veggio:
la mia fortuna, or che mi pò far peggio?
mi tene a freno, et mi travolge et gira.
Poi quel dolce desio ch’Amor mi spira
menami a morte, ch’i’ non me n’aveggio;
et mentre i miei duo lumi indarno cheggio,
dovunque io son, dì et notte si sospira.”

“My dear lord, every thought in me,
as always, with devotion, turns to seeing you,
but fate holds me (what more could she do to me?)
reined in, and twists me round and round.
Then sweet desire that Love breathes into me
leads me to death, so that I barely feel it:
and between my two guiding lights I cry out,
wherever I am, day and night, sighing so.”


Alexander Agricola (ca. 1450-1506)


Cypriaan de Rore (1515/16-1565)

Anchor che col partire

Cypriaan de Rore (1515/16-1565)

Io cantarei d’amor

Pierre Sandrin (1490-1561)

Doulce memoire

Adriaan Willaert (ca. 1488-1562)

Petite camusette

Adriaan Willaert (ca. 1488-1562)

Vecchie letrose

Pierre Attaignant (ca. 1494-1552)

Tourdion – Quand je bois du vin clairet

Anonymus (16de eeuw)

Tsou een meysken gaen om wijn

Cypriaan de Rore (1515/16-1565)

Signor mio caro, Carità di signore

Jean Japart (1474-1507)

Jay pris amours

Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

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The Art of Imitation

The theory of imitation and expression is one of the most essential elements in the history of Western music. In their program The Art of Imitation Delle Donne Consort takes the audience on a journey through the 15th till 18th century Europe, with pieces based on the principle of imitation.  

Our journey starts with a chanson from France, composed by Ninot le Petit. The double canon L’ort villain jaloux is a great example of the expressive French chanson style where the music describes the text through word-painting. The next Franco-Flemish composer is Alexander Agricola, who was born in Ghent, but was active in Italy and in France. Jam fulsit sol de sidere starts as a canonic fanfare, representing the holiness and the gloryness of Maria.  

Jacob Obrecht and Heinrich Isaac bring us to the next generation of Franco-Flemish polyphonists. Obrechts Rompeltier is based on a folk melody, which is a playful provocative love song about a woman who is not with her husband and sees an opportunity to ‘rumble’ with someone else. Heinrich Isaac is one of the most prolific composers of his time. He was both active in Italy – engaged with the great medici family – and in Austria, where he became the court composer of King Maximilian I. His A la battaglia was written in 1487 for the celebration of the Florentine victory, it represents the battle between Genoa and Florence for the Sarzanello Castle.  

Our next stop is with Orlando di Lasso, another Franco-Flemish composer who also lived and worked in Italy. Being one of the most important composers of the Renaissance period, like Palestrina, he reaches the last climax of the era. His compositions range between the extremes: he composed both sacred and secular music, both simple songs and masterworks of counterpoint. The piece Iniquos Odio Habui that was based on a psalm, carefully paints the characters of the text using musical figures that underline the words. Always trying something new and extreme, Lasso was one of the first composers experimenting with chromatics.  

Let’s now take a step back in time and go to England, where the composers Hugh Ashton and James Harding worked and lived. Hugh Ashton, an english churchman, who composed Hugh Ashton’s Maske on a ground played by the bass, while the three upper voices play variations of the theme. They appear lyrical or rhythmical, sometimes with beautiful dissonants that arise from the different lines of the voices. The subtle movement evolves into turbulence, especially when the bass leaves its theme and plays a variation himself. The last two variations are faster and rhythmically enlaced, yet dissolve harmoniously. Our trip through England is concluded by the two beautiful fantasias by James Harding, that develop the imitation principle using highly expressive motives.  

Returning to the European mainland, the next step in our journey is Spain. Francisco Guerrero’s motets like Dulcissima Maria are cornerstones of Spanish polyphony, brilliantly preceded by the extremely successful organist Antonio de Cabezón’s variation on the popular song El canto la Dama le Demanda (song of the demanding woman), which is among the earliest high points of the genre.  

At the end of our journey, we arrive in Germany with Samuel Scheidt, the first internationally renowned German composer for the organ and Johann Sebastian Bach, who is considered one of the most significant composers of all time. Does he still need an introduction?  


Ninot le petit (ca. 1500-1520)

L’ort villain jaloux

Alexander Agricola (ca. 1450-1506)

Jam fulsit sol de sidere

Jacob Obrecht (ca. 1457-1505)


Heinrich Isaac (ca. 1450-1517)

A la battaglia

Orlandus Lassus (1532-1594)

Iniquos odio habui, LV 233

Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)

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Hugh Ashton (ca. 1485-1558)

Hugh Ashton’s Mask

James Harding (ca. 1560–1626)

Two fantasias a 4

Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599)

Dulcissima Maria

Antonio de Cabezón (1510-1566)

Diferencias sobreel canto de ‘La Dama le demanda’

Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)

Fantasia a 4 voci super Io son ferito ahi lasso – SSWV 103

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Contrapunctus I, BWV 1080