- Pierre de la Rue and Musical Life at the Habsburg Burgundian Court
Recent years have seen the release of numerous studies on major figures of the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance, including Dufay, Machaut, and Josquin. These new publications work with recently discovered archival information, reexamine accepted speculative conclusions, or benefit from the increased amount of interdisciplinary research into these eras. Still, we frequently lack complete information; as a result, scholars are left to grasp at proverbial straws to fill in the missing spaces.
The case of Pierre de la Rue (ca.1452–1518) is somewhat typical, and with this book Meconi set out to provide a better context of the composer and his works and in so doing sort through much of the "confused, inaccurate, and incomplete" information regarding his life and works (vii). In a generation in which others composers, most notably Josquin des Prez, tend to take the musicological limelight, Meconi provides much insight into La Rue and his employer of twenty-four years, the Habsburg-Burgundian court. Long overshadowed by the attention lavished by scholars on the "other" Habsburg chapels in Vienna and Innsbruck, the [End Page 659] French royal court, and the notable Italian musical establishments, the Habsburg-Burgundian court needed this musicological attention.
Organized into five chapters, this book addresses La Rue's place within the "Josquin Generation." Chapter 1, entitled "Biography," traces the composer's life and career by evaluating archival documents, including La Rue's testament and information from the extant records of Tournai. The most interesting section of this chapter, however, is the relatively extensive evaluation regarding earlier speculation that Pierre de la Rue was also known as Peter vander Straten. While Meconi was unable to conclusively prove or disprove this speculation, new evidence and her examination of previously known archival information suggests that it is unlikely that Peter Vander Straten was indeed Pierre de la Rue. Meconi's discussion of the date (17 November 1492) La Rue is said to have joined the Burgundian court chapel is also of considerable interest. Her thorough examination and interpretation of the archival information suggests that the composer actually joined the court chapel well before that date. Just how much earlier, however, is open to speculation.
Chapter 1 also includes some information on the Habsburg-Burgundian court, specifically on its travels and the numerous political transformations it experienced following the death of Charles the Bold. It is in the second chapter, however, that the Habsburg-Burgundian court is discussed in greater depth. In separate sections, Meconi provides information with respect to the court chapel's duties and organization, brief biographies of selected other notable Habsburg-Burgundian musicians, the music of the court, and La Rue's impact.
Chapter 3 is devoted to La Rue's sacred works, with general emphasis on his Mass settings, musical borrowings, and liturgical function. La Rue is known today primarily for his sacred music, especially his Mass cycles, and while the composer's output is too extensive to warrant in-depth discussion of each work, Meconi provides considerable information of a general nature, such as sources for his borrowings. Meconi also provides important insight into La Rue's practice of composing Mass cycles meant for a particular feast day. I found the section on "hidden borrowing," in which works (in addition to a primary cantus firmus) incorporate some content from another model, to be particularly interesting. For instance, La Rue's citation of material from Josquin's famous Ave Maria motet into his own Missa de septem doloribus is discussed in some detail. Meconi's discussion of the liturgical function of La Rue's Masses and motets is also very informative.
Chapter 4 concentrates on La Rue's secular music, which was less widely known during his lifetime and is infrequently studied today. Meconi does a good job discussing how this repertoire was suited to the Habsburg-Burgundian court. Two sections, entitled "Problems of Authenticity" and...