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Frye [ffry, ffrye, Frey, Frie], Walter

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Frye [ffry, ffrye, Frey, Frie], Walter

(d before June 1475). English composer. His period of activity is surmised from the similarity of his style to that of Plummer and Bedyngham. Frye may have been the ‘Walter cantor’ in charge of the lay choir at Ely Cathedral in 1443/4 and 1452/3, who had left by 1465/6. A Walter Frye, very likely the composer, joined the London Gild of Parish Clerks in 1456/7 (see H. Baillie, PRMA, lxxxiii, 1956–7, pp.15–28, esp. 20). Frye is next found in the service of Anne of Exeter, elder sister of Edward IV and Margaret of York (A. Wathey, unpublished research). Anne paid him an annuity of £10 from late 1464 until at least 1472, and he may have been in her employ from the late 1450s. After the attainder of her husband in 1461 Anne appears to have spent most of her time at her brother’s court; Frye’s period of service with her also took in the marriage of her sister to Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. The composer’s connection with Anne makes it almost certain that he was the Walter Frye whose will, drawn up on 12 August 1474, was proved at Canterbury on 5 June 1475, since one of his executors was Treasurer of the duchess’s household. There is, however, no mention of music in the will. Legacies to his brother John of Wells[-by-the-sea], to Nicholas Kene, former rector of Blakeney (both on the north Norfolk coast) and to John de Boston (Lincolnshire) suggest that his family came from that area; legacies for unpaid tithes to the church of St Gregory by Paul’s (a parish surrounding St Paul's Cathedral) and smaller amounts to the rector of All Hallows the Less, London, and the vicar of Chertsey, show where he must have lived.

Frye’s works survive almost exclusively in continental manuscripts, and this can be attributed to two factors: first, the connection of Anne of Exeter with Charles the Bold, which explains the transmission of his works in Burgundian sources; and secondly the general scarcity of English manuscripts with songs or mass music from the period between 1450 and 1475 and the fact that surviving sources do not often name composers. His musical style is relatively free from continental influences and is much closer to the older styles represented in the Ritson Manuscript (e.g. MB, iv, 1952, 2/1958, nos.89, 90, 97, 109, 113, 115). Nevertheless, his shorter works enjoyed a remarkable vogue in Italy, the Tyrol, southern Germany, Bohemia and even Hungary, and seem to have exercised their charm on the later chansons of Binchois and Du Fay.

Three of these shorter works, Tout a par moy, So ys emprentid and Ave regina celorum, between them occur 42 times in 26 different sources, only one of which is English; Ave regina also appears with notation in three paintings. These compositions were quoted by musical theorists and rearranged and plagiarized by later composers; but it is the masses, which survive in unique copies, that seem to have influenced the music of Busnoys and Obrecht. A fragmentary Kyrie by Frye survives in the Lucca fragments (I-La 238; see StrohmM, p.164); John Hothby may thus have known his sacred music at first hand when he listed Frye’s name among those of eminent musicians in his Dialogus in arte musica at Lucca in the late 1470s (ed. A. Seay, JAMS, viii, 1955, pp.86–100, esp. 95).

The settings of the Ordinary of the Mass with manuscript ascriptions to Frye are all based on tenor cantus firmi, and the three complete cycles are further unified through motto themes. All possess the euphony through the use of full triads characteristic of English music from the time of Dunstaple; the duets comprise smooth but rapid successions of consonances, springing from discant style, with frequent breve rests in both voices simultaneously (another English trait). All the Credo settings omit parts of the text, but, since the bassus of the Credo in the Flos regalis Mass has a cue for the missing ‘Confiteor’, these omissions may be simply the result of scribal editing and not, therefore, authorial.

The earliest of Frye’s masses is probably the three-voice Nobilis et pulcra. The chant is drawn from a responsory, with verse, for St Catherine of Alexandria; it normally lies at the bottom of the texture and is sometimes lightly ornamented at cadences. The Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei each present the chant in a different rhythm, after the manner of the Mass Rex seculorum ascribed to Dunstaple; but Frye introduced an element of isorhythm, since the tenor of the Kyrie is virtually identical with that of the Gloria, and the openings of the tenors of all the movements are closely related. (The unusual pairing of Kyrie and Gloria may have been undertaken because they are sung in the liturgy in uninterrupted succession.) The movements of this mass have no introductory duets, but within each there are duets for every combination of voices; Frye avoided clear formal divisions when one pair of voices gives way to another.

The four-voice Mass Flos regalis is based on a chant of uncertain origin, which is used, without ornamentation, in a different rhythmic guise in each movement. (The tenors of Sanctus and Agnus are similar, however.) It is normally carried by an inner voice. The four-voice writing is remarkably assured, compared with the contemporary four-voice compositions in GB-Lbl 3307; the three lower voices cross a great deal, and many of the cadences converge on to a full triad. In the duet sections, the various combinations of upper and lower voices are exploited with great virtuosity; the duet writing is decidedly original in its use of ostinato patterns, sequences, variation and occasional melodic or rhythmic imitation.

Despite its isorhythmic technique, the three-voice Mass Summe Trinitati seems the most modern of Frye’s complete masses (but see Kirkman for a different interpretation). The cantus firmus is a Trinity Sunday responsory, also used for the reception of a king and queen; it lies in the tenor and rarely crosses below the contratenor. The whole mass is in duple metre. The chant occurs in almost identical rhythm in each movement, though sections of it are omitted in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei. A motet (in I-TRmp 88) with the otherwise unknown text Salve virgo mater pya (apparently a Marian sequence) has the same motto opening as this mass and is built on the same tenor. Its form corresponds most closely to the Credo of the mass, but its upper voice has much nearer affinities with that of the Gloria and recalls the links between the Kyrie and Gloria of the Mass Nobilis et pulcra. This suggests that the motet may in fact be a contrafactum of a Kyrie, since continental copyists often omitted the Kyries of English tenor masses: the Trinity Sunday Kyrie prescribed by the Sarum use was Conditor Kyrie omnium, whose verses accord well with the length of the motet.

The (almost complete) upper voice of a short Kyrie ascribed to Frye in the Lucca fragments fits note for note against the tenor of Frye’s song So ys emprentid, if four bars’ rest is interpolated at one point, and it paraphrases the upper voice of the song in several places. A three-voice setting is suggested by the modest scale of the movement; a contratenor is required to make good the harmony at two cadences and to complete a short duet. The setting covers only the even-numbered Kyrie invocations; it is the earliest known English mass movement on a secular tenor.

Andrew Kirkman has suggested that an anonymous short votive mass in B-Br 5557 may also be by Frye.

Only one other sacred piece by Frye is unquestionably not a contrafactum: the three-voice setting of the prose Sospitati dedit, for Matins of St Nicholas (in GB-Cmc Pepys 1236, ed. in CMM, xl, 1967), which is Frye’s only known work to survive exclusively in an English source. The chant is fitfully paraphrased in both the upper and lower voices. The ‘Deo gracias’ and ‘Amen’ in Kenney’s edition can hardly be part of the piece, since the setting of ‘Sospes regreditur’ (bars 69–75) indicates a return to the antiphon in which this prose is embedded and since the additions are in the wrong mode.

Two of Frye’s English songs survive also with sacred Latin texts; one must, therefore, question the origin of his other short pieces in a similar style even if they survive only with sacred texts. An example is his three-voice Ave regina celorum mater Regis angelorum, even though 13 manuscripts and three paintings all contain this text, and a further source (Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, 78 C 28) without text has the illuminated initial ‘A’. It is in ballade form and may have originated with an English text, despite Reese’s shrewd observation that some manuscripts repeat a phrase of the text and thus convert the well-known antiphon into a responsory that fits the music better. Later composers added various other voices to this piece, and its tenor was borrowed by Obrecht for a motet and mass of the same title; Agricola in turn borrowed Obrecht’s tenor as the basis for his Salve regina. Frye’s Ave regina celorum, whatever its original form, played an important part in establishing the taste for the song-motet or sainte chansonette.

The three-voice composition O florens rosa also occurs with the text Ave regina celorum ave domina: two different copyists may each have supplied his own contrafactum text. Of its three sections, the first and last end alike, as would be the case in an extended ballade; the idiom appears to have been closely modelled on Dunstaple’s O rosa bella. The three-voice Trinitatis dies, with a text unknown elsewhere, appears to be a rondeau: the intermediate cadence is even marked with a corona. Its rhythmic freedom, within a prevailing duple metre, suggests a late date. A two-voice work without text ascribed to Frye in CZ-Ps DG.IV.47 is in the form of a ballade; each half of the work begins with Frye’s favourite device of a rising minor 3rd followed by a stepwise descent (generally to the tonic). Alas, alas, alas is my chief song, a three-voice English ballade, occurs also with the contrafactum text O sacrum convivium; its relationship with the lovely Alas departyng (a two-voice piece) does not seem as close as Bukofzer (1942) claimed.

The English text of the three-voice ballade So ys emprentid survives only in the Mellon Chansonnier, and even there it is incomplete. Two other manuscripts present an incomplete French text, Soyez aprentis en amours, which resembles the sound but not the sense of the original, and Ramis de Pareia cited the song under this title in his Musica practica of 1482 (ed. J. Wolf, Leipzig, 1901/R, p.65); this reference was repeated over 60 years later by Pietro Aaron, but with an example not from Frye’s song, in his Lucidario of 1545 (book 2, f.7v). The song occurs also in four further chansonniers, with a quite different French text, Pour une suis desconforté, and in yet another source with the sacred text Sancta Maria succurre miseris; it is Frye’s only song with an English concordance (GB-Ob 191). Besides Frye’s own Kyrie on this ballade, a three-voice isomelic mass by Guillaume Rouge is based on its tenor; but the latter, unlike Frye’s Kyrie, does not preserve the original rhythm. This tenor is borrowed also for the four-voice motet Stella celi extirpavit, another work in which isomelic variation is used, and the first half of the tenor is repeated at the end in a new rhythmic guise; the style of this work is very English, unlike Rouge’s mass, and the two works hardly constitute a mass-motet cycle as Snow has claimed. Bent (JAMS, xxi, 1968, pp.137–56, esp.148) reported that a similar tenor is employed for a Christmastide cantio in CZ-Ps DG.IV.47, Nobis instat carminis odas laudibus (an acrostic on ‘Nicolaus’).

The rondeau Tout a par moy survives in nine manuscripts. All of them present the same text; although one manuscript contains an ascription of the piece to Binchois, the style as well as two other ascriptions suggests that Frye was the composer. Since this piece occurs with the French text in the Mellon Chansonnier (ed. L.L. Perkins and H. Gavey, New Haven, CT, 1979), in which three English songs have their correct English texts, it is likely to have originated as a French setting. (The poem was popular and was quoted and copied in a number of non-musical sources, including two poems by Jehan Molinet, Dialogue du gendarme et de l’amoureux and Oraison à la Vierge Marie.) According to Tinctoris, the work was performed by Gerardus of Brabant, singing the tenor and the upper voice simultaneously (Weinmann, p.34); the theorist made his own two-voice arrangement of the work, as did Alexander Agricola (for three and four voices) and an anonymous composer (for five voices). Josquin, in his Mass Faisant regrets, used the first four notes of the second half of Frye’s tenor as a cantus firmus and borrowed an ostinato figure from Agricola’s version; but since he quoted the entire upper voice (not used by Agricola) in his Agnus Dei, he must have known Frye’s song also in its original form.




Frye, Walter


Edition: Walter Frye: Collected Works, ed. S.W. Kenney, CMM, xix (1960) [K]

mass settings

Mass ‘Flos regalis’, 4vv (without Ky), ed. in EECM, xxxiv (1989)

Mass ‘Nobilis et pulcra’, 3vv (Ky troped ‘Deus creator omnium’), ed. in EECM, xxxiv (1989)

Mass ‘Summe Trinitati’, 3vv (without Ky), ed. in EECM, xxxiv (1989)

Kyrie ‘So ys emprentid’, ?3vv (only frag. upper voice survives, unpubd, I-La 238)


Missa sine nomine, 3vv, B-Br 5557 (anon., attrib. Frye in Kirkman)


Ave regina celorum mater Regis angelorum, 3vv with three different 4th voices (that in I-TRmp 90 added in a later hand); to sources listed in K, add D-Mbs Cim. 352b (olim Mus.ms.3725), ff.158rv; Mbs Clm5023, 2vv; Pl-Kj B40098); SK-BRmp Inc.33 (formerly Hungary, Kassa [Kaschau], Dominican Library), ed. and facs. in Rajeczky, 230ff; for paintings including the work see facsimiles in Grandmaison and Carapezza; 4 kbd arrs. ed. in EDM, xxxviii (1958), 214–5, and xxxix (1959), 399, 415–6. It may well also be the missing Ave regina listed in the index of I-MC 871, see Pope and Kanazawa

O florens rosa, 3vv

Salve virgo mater pya, 3vv, anon. (perhaps a contrafactum of the missing Ky from the Mass ‘Summe Trinitati’)

Sospitati dedit, 3vv, also ed. in CMM, xl (1967) and Sparks (inc.); the Deo gracias and Amen in K can hardly be part of the piece

Trinitatis dies, 3vv (perhaps a contrafactum of a rondeau)


Alas, alas, 3vv

Myn hertis lust, 3vv, probably by Bedyngham to whom it is twice ascribed; to sources in K add D-Mbs Clm 5023 (‘Ave verum gaudium forma’, 2vv) and I-APa Notarile di Amandola 918, f.18v (1v only, textless)

So ys emprentid, 3vv, perhaps by Bedyngham; to sources in K add D-Bkk 78 C 28 (without text), GB-Ob Rawl. C.813 (frags. of text only) and I-APa 918, f.18 (1 v only, textless)

Textless ballade, 2vv, ed. in Plamenac (1960)


Tout a par moy, 3vv, perhaps by Binchois; K includes text for refrain only, though the complete poem is in five music MSS as well as Le jardin de plaisance (ed. E. Droz and A. Piaget, Paris, 1910–25, i, pp.lxxvii, ccii), F-Pn Rothschild 2798 [I. 6.17] and D-Bkk 78 B 17 (ed. in M. Löpelmann: Die Liederhandschrift des Cardinals de Rohan, Göttingen, 1923, no.138); kbd arr. as ‘Tant apart’, ed. in EDM, 1st ser., xxxix (1959), 410

Frye, Walter







K. Weinmann: Johannes Tinctoris und sein unbekannter Traktat ‘De inventione et usu musicae’ (Regensburg, 1917, rev. 2/1961 by W. Fischer)

M.F. Bukofzer: ‘An Unknown Chansonnier of the Fifteenth Century (the Mellon Chansonnier)’, MQ, xxviii (1942), 14–49

S.W. Kenney: ‘Contrafacta in the Works of Walter Frye’, JAMS, viii (1955), 182–202

D. Plamenac: ‘Browsing through a Little-Known Manuscript (Prague, Strahov Monastery, D.G.IV.47)’, JAMS, xiii (1960), 102–11

S.W. Kenney: ‘Four Settings of Ave regina celorum’, Liber Amicorum Charles van den Borren (Antwerp, 1964), 98–104

S.W. Kenney: Walter Frye and the ‘Contenance angloise’ (New Haven, CT, 1964)

I. Pope and M. Kanazawa: ‘The Musical Manuscript Montecassino N879 [recte 871]’, AnM, xix (1964), 123–53

M. de Grandmaison: ‘Montreuil-Bellay, a Great Anjou Border Castle’, The Connoisseur (1966), Oct, 72–6

S.W. Kenney: ‘In Praise of the Lauda’, Aspects of Medieval and Renaissance Music: a Birthday Offering to Gustave Reese, ed. J. LaRue and others (New York, 1966/R), 489–99

B. Rajeczky: ‘Mittelalterliche Mehrstimmigkeit in Ungarn’, Musica antiqua Europae orientalis: Bydgoszcz and Toruń1966, 223–36

R.J. Snow: ‘The Mass-Motet Cycle: a Mid-Fifteenth-Century Experiment’, Essays in Musicology in Honor of Dragan Plamenac, ed. G. Reese and R.J. Snow (Pittsburgh, 1969/R), 301–20

G. Thibault: ‘L’oratoire du château de Montreuil-Bellay: ses anges musiciens – son motet polyphonique’, Quadrivium, xii (1971), 209–23

P.E. Carapezza: ‘Regina angelorum in musica picta: Walter Frye e il “Maître au feuillage brodé”’, RIM, x (1975), 134–54

D. Fallows: ‘English Song Repertories of the Mid-Fifteenth Century’, PRMA, ciii (1976–7), 61–79; repr. in Songs and Musicians in the Fifteenth Century (Aldershot, 1996), 61–79

G. Curtis: The English Masses of Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 5557 (diss, U. of Manchester, 1979)

R.C. Wegman: ‘New Data Concerning the Origins and Chronology of Brussels, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Manuscript 5557’, TVNM, xxxvi (1986), 5–25

G. Montagna: ‘Johannes Pullois in Context of his Era’, RBM, xlii (1988), 83–117

R.D. Chadwick: Principles of Hypotaxis and Parataxis As Applied to Two Late Medieval Works: Salisbury Cathedral and the ‘Missa nobilis et pulchra’ by Walter Frye (diss, Ohio U., 1990)

A. Kirkman: ‘The Style of Walter Frye and an Anonymous Mass in Brussels, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Manuscript 5557’, EMH, xi (1992), 191–221

P. Peretti: ‘Fonti inedite di polifonia mensurale dei secoli XVI e XV negli archivi di stato di Ascoli Piceno e Macerata’, Quaderni musicali marchigiani, iii (1996), 85–124

D. Fallows: A Catalogue of Polyphonic Songs, 1415–1480 (Oxford, 1999)

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