The most famous work of this 15th-century French polyphonist, the ‘Earthquake’ Mass is named after a plainchant, but perhaps also refers to the nickname given to his formidable employers, the Duke Alfonso d’Este of Ferrara. Brumel’s waves of immaculate multi-voice polyphony may impress us now, but the principal reason for the Mass’s survival at all is the esteem in which it was evidently held in its day: Lassus evidently performed it several times at the Court in Munich. Among Brumel’s contemporaries, only Josquin was held in comparable regard.
Brumel’s Requiem is one of the first musical settings of the text and liturgy to come down to us, and the very first to include a polyphonic setting of the central ‘Dies Irae’ sequence, in which the full horrors of what may await us after our demise are revealed with aweful clarity.
Thanks to the exigencies of musical archaeology, only in the last few years have we been able to come to appreciate Brumel’s full worth, thanks to modern scholarship resulting in good editions of his work and – no less importantly – excellent recordings, made by specialist ensembles with full access to all the latest research. Paul van Nevel and his Huelgas Ensemble have long been renowned as one such group.
“Brumel’s 12-part Mass ‘Et ecce terrae motus’ is a remarkable work, well worth reviving for modern performers and listeners. Paul Van Nevel deserves a vote of thanks for recognising its value, for restoring what
was missing in the first Agnus Del and for conducting this splendid performance.” Gramophone Magazine, May 1991