Richard Wexler: Antoine Bruhier – Life and Works of a Renaissance Papal Composer

Brepols, 2014
555pp, €75.00
ISBN 978 2 503 55329 0

This massive volume –  a habit with Brepols – is a  fascina­ting book. The term “life and works” doesn’t just imply a study of the music as well as the background, but a complete edition of the music as well. There are 74 pp dealing with prelims and introduction, pp. 77-223 covers commentary on each piece, and the 20 scores run from p. 231-555. These are substantial pages, size 27.0 = 18.5 cm, weight 1.310 kg – rather a stress on the wrist!

The secular music fits in with the repertoires I used to know well, but have lost track somewhat now they are not within reach – I kept on coming across references to them, and wish my copies were easily retrievable – Lowinsky’s Medici Codex,  Picker’s The Chanson Albums of Marguerite of Austria, MS Magl. XIX. 164-167 (Garland facsimile), Uppsala 76a (Garland facsimile) + some printed sources, let alone thorough studies by familiar names. Bruhier, however, was never a major figure, so it is complicated to see how the author worked.

It seems likely that Bruhier came from northern France, but his main occupation was in Italy. He was in the service of Sigismondo d’Este around 1505-09. Later he became a singer at Leo X’s private chapel, the most intimate of the three musical establishments, comprising mostly four singers. Leo died on 1 December 1521 and Bruhier vanished, with no surmises on his future.

The most surprising of the secular items are the blatent ones about sexual behaviour – and this is repertoire for the Pope! There are also Masses, but no liturgical motets, though more general religious motets survive for leisure use. There are four Masses, all in four parts except for Missa Hodie scietis a5, with low clefs (C2 C3 C4 F4 F4); Missa carminum and Missa Mediatrix nostra have C1 C4 C4 F4, Missa Et lalala has C1 C3 C4 F4. They require around 50 pages each.

Much of the life of Bruhier is deduced from his and other composers’ activities, and a few new facts could make significant changes. Wexler has, however, produced a thorough volume covering everything related to the man and his music, and it does imply a certain element of the unusual. I wish more scholars mixed biography, musical activity and the scores – and the price is reasonable for something so revelatory. But the music isn’t accessible for or usable by singers, and even if you got permission to copy, the pages don’t open flat. Can Brepols do a deal with an appropriate publisher? – it’s a bit early for King’s Music.

Clifford Bartlett