Organa sunt nimis ardua. Ita quod potest, potest sic. (“Those organs were very difficult to play upon. Impossible to do it better.”) This complaint by Thomas Packe made in connection with the Archbishop Morton’s visitation to Exeter in 1492, shows Packe (fl. 1487–1499) concerned about the quality of organ mechanics at the cathedral of Exeter in Devon, England. Packe’s complaint has been taken as evidence that he served as organist at Exeter. It is known that Packe earned a part of his living as priest of an endowment at the cathedral (founded in 1297 by Thomas Bitton), and it was his responsibility to celebrate the liturgy in memory of Bitton inside the cathedral’s so-called “Lady chapel.” This chapel with its altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary might have played a much more musical role in the decade of Packe’s activity at Exeter cathedral known to us (1489–1499).
Since the days of Bishop Brewer of Exeter, from 1224 to 1244, a mass in honor of the Virgin was celebrated daily in the Lady chapel, accompanied with music performed by the cathedral choir. This fact lends a certain probability to the assumption that in addition to his priestly duties in the chapel, Packe was involved in the performance of the music there as well.
The five surviving compositions by Packe that are known to us are preserved in the so-called Ritson manuscript (London, British Library, Add. 5665), a collection of nearly 100 polyphonic compositions in two to five parts composed from around 1450 to around 1500. Most of the works in this manuscript are carols (44) and other settings of Latin texts with liturgical or devotional character (26). In 1538, a royal proclamation ordered the expurgation of the name of St. Thomas of Canterbury from all religious buildings, liturgical books, and calendars in England. Vestiges of this instruction are visible in the two St. Thomas carols of the Ritson manuscript, an indication that the book was still in use at this date, and that someone bureaucratic remembered the book well enough to find the pieces and to fulfil the royal order.
Packe’s two settings of the mass Ordinary contained in the Ritson manuscript probably had their place during the daily liturgy in honor of the Virgin. Both show modest three-part writing appropriate for liturgical occasions of a lesser rank during the annual cycle. The notation pro hominibus xii notes cumpas at the beginning of the mass Gaudete in Domino indicates that this mass was originally intended for three male voices with almost the same range of 12 notes (also an indication that the performing institution had the option of boy’s voices). The two lower voices share a nearly identical lower segment of this range, whereas the upper voice is situated a fourth to a fifth above, an arrangement reflecting fifteenth-century chanson style which gives the upper voice a certain extra glamour. It is unknown which plainchant melody was used as the basis for the lowest voice (tenor) of the mass sections, which receive some unification through recurrent short motives; for example, the descending “major” triad on “G,” audible at the beginning of each. The three-voice texture is sometimes reduced to pairs, often according to the different text passages (listen especially to the Gloria and Credo), a compositional technique which seems to resemble, en miniature, the much more complex techniques of the large-scale choral works from Ritson’s most famous contemporary, the Eton Choirbook (written 1490–1502). The setting of the Marian antiphon, Salve Regina, at the end of this recording, also taken from the Ritson manuscript, goes back stylistically to the first climax of English Renaissance composition: Its threepart sections are based on a piece variously ascribed to Leonel Power (d. 1445) or John Dunstable (1390–1453), but the model for the duets is unknown.
The monophonic pieces on this recording come from very different periods of European chant history. The origins of the offertory Diffusa est—already present in the oldest known manuscripts containing the Gregorian mass proper (ninth century)— may go back to the seventh century (this chant tune has also been sung in honor of other female saints; for example, St. Agatha). The Introit Salve sancta parens (its hexametric text is taken from Sedulius’s Carmen paschale, dating from the fifth century), however, is only known to exist in sources from the twelfth century onwards. It reuses the melody of the classic Epiphany introit Ecce advenit. The Gradual Benedicta et venerabilis—likewise unknown in the earliest manuscripts—belongs to a small group of pieces which share their melody with the Gradual Domine praevenisti (once sung, for example, in honor of St. John the Evangelist). Introit, Gradual, and the late Communio Beata viscera in the high Middle Ages were part of a set of chants titled for its Introit Salve sancta parens and were traditionally performed in connection with the Lady mass from Purification to Advent. Because the mass in honor of the Virgin was treated as a festival mass, an Alleluia and a sequence were always sung, even during Lent. The two Alleluias on this recording are present in manuscripts from around 1000. The sequence Nativitas Mariae virginis, on the other hand, might be dated to the thirteenth century, as it probably has its origins in a Dominican context. Its rhymed text and hymn-like melody certainly belong to the hallmarks of the later medieval style.
Antiphonae ad introitum
(Sedulius; Ps. 44: 2, 11, 12)
Salve sancta Parens, enixa puerpera Regem,
qui caelum terramque regit in saecula saeculorum.
Ps. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum:
dico ego opera mea regi.
Audi, filia, et vide, et inclina aurem tuam,
et obliviscere populum tuum et domum patris tui.
Et concupiscet rex speciem tuam,
quoniam ipse est dominus tuus, et adora eum.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum.
Hail, holy Mother, thou who didst bring forth the King
who rules heaven and earth for ever and ever.
Ps. My heart overflows with a goodly theme;
I address my verses to the king.
Hear, O daughter, consider, and incline your ear;
forget your people and your father’s house.
And the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end.
Benedicta et venerabilis es, Virgo Maria:
quae sine tactu pudoris inventa es mater Salvatoris.
Virgo Dei Genitrix, quem totus non capit orbis,
in tua se clausit viscera factus homo.
Thou art blessed and venerable, O Virgin Mary,
who with purity unstained was found to be the Mother of our Savior.
Verse: Virgin Mother of God, He whom the whole world was unable to contain enclosed Himself in
thy womb, being made man.
Versus Alleluiatici I
Ave Maria, gratia plena:
benedicta tu in mulieribus.
Verse: Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with
Thee, blessed art thou among women.
Versus Alleluiatici VI (Ps 44:5)
Specie tua, et pulchritudine tua intende,
prospere procede, et regna.
Verse: With your splendor and your excellence
extended, proceed prosperously, and reign.
In nativitate Marie virginis
(Analecta Hymnica 54, p 288)
1. Nativitas Marie virginis,
Que nos lavit a labe criminis,
Dies est leticie.
2. De radice Yesse propaginis
Hanc eduxit sol veri luminis
Sue templum glorie.
3. Stella nova noviter oritur,
Cuius ortu mors nostra moritur,
Eve lapsus iam restituitur
4. Ut aurora surgens progreditur,
Velud luna pulchra describitur,
Super cuncta ut sol elegitur
5. Virgo clemens et virgo unica,
Virga fumi, sed aromatica,
In te celi mundique fabrica
6. Te signarunt ora prophetica,
Tibi canit Salomon cantica
Canticorum, te vox angelica
7. Verbum patris processu temporis
Intrat tui secretum corporis
In te totum et totum deforis
8. Fructus virens arentis arboris,
Cristus, gygas inmensi roboris,
Nos a nexu funesti pignoris
9. O Maria, dulce commercium
Intra tuum celasti gremium,
Quo salutis reis remedium
10. O vera spes et verum gaudium,
Fac post vite presentis stadium,
Ut optatum in celis bravium
The Virgin Mary’s birth
1. The Virgin Mary’s birth
that washes away the stain of sin,
we celebrate today;
this is a day of joy.
2. From the root of Isaiah’s tree
the true light of the Sun let her come forth.
With a sure hand he formed her
into a temple to his majesty.
3. The new star rises in a new path:
and with its rising dies our own death.
The fall of Eve has now been healed
4. Like the morning’s reddening light,
like the beautiful moon she is portrayed,
chosen like the Sun to shine over all,
the Virgin full of love.
5. Mild virgin, incomparable virgin,
you, branch of wafting aromatic incense,
the buildings of heaven and earth
have their pride in you.
6. The prophets prepared the way for you,
The Song of Solomon sings of you,
Angels’ voices proclaim witness
7. The Word of the Father steps in the fullness of time into the concealment of your body.
The Word was completely and totally in you and at the same time completely and totally without.
8. You are the greening fruit upon the dry tree.
Christ, the hero who comes forth with vast power,
he has saved us from the demands of deathly shackles.
9. O Mary, within your womb
you have hidden a delightful exchange
in which the heaviness of sin can
experience the healing of the savior.
10. O You true hope, you true joy,
we pray that after we have run the race of this life,
we will win the long-awaited prize in heaven.
Antiphonae ad offertorium (Ps 44:3)
Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis:
propterea benedixit te Deus in aeternum,
et in saeculum saeculi.
Grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you
Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae;
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est,
et sanctum nomen ejus,
Et misericordia ejus a progenie
in progenies timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam brachio suo;
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede,
et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis,
et divites dimisit inanes.
Suscepit Israel, puerum suum,
recordatus misericordiae suae,
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham et semeni ejus in saecula.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper,
et in saecula saeculorum.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm:
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He has sent empty away.
He has helped His servant Israel,
in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to His posterity forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.
Salve regina, misericordiae;
vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exules filii Evae.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo, advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte;
et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
Virgo mater ecclesiae,
Aeterna porta gloriae,
Esto nobis refugium
Apud patrem et filium.
Virgo clemens, virgo pia,
Virgo dulcis, o Maria,
Exaudi preces omnium
Ad te pie clamantium.
Funde preces tuo nato,
Et pro nobis flagellato,
Spinis puncto, felle potato.
O dulcis Maria, salve.
Hail, O queen of compassion,
our life, our sweetness and our hope, hail.
To you we cry, exiled sons of Eve.
To you we sigh, lamenting and weeping
in this vale of tears.
Therefore, our advocate,
turn thy merciful eyes back towards us,
and Jesus, the blessed fruit of thy womb,
show him to us after this time of exile.
Virgin mother of the church,
Eternal portal of glory,
Be our refuge
In the presence of the Father and the Son.
O merciful one:
Merciful maiden, devout maiden,
Sweet maiden, O Mary,
Hear the prayers of all
Calling faithfully to you.
O faithful one:
Pour out prayers to your Son,
And for us, beaten,
Pierced with thorns, given gall to drink.
O sweet Mary, Hail.