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Simone de Bonnefont
c.1525 - 1557
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S. de Bonnefont
Simone de Bonefont (ca. 1525-1557), a nearly unknown Renaissance composer who lived in France in the Auvergne. Nothing is known about his life and education. He lived as a canon and Choirmaster at Clermont-Ferrand cathedral. Only four of his works survived among that a marvellous Missa pro mortuis. Two of them are published in 1557.
Author:Wim Goossens
Missa pro mortuis
Period:High Renaissance
Composed in:1556
Musical form:Missa pro defunctis a 5 vocibus inaequalium
Text/libretto:Latin mass from the Officium Defunctorum
Label(s):Cyp 1682
This Missa pro mortuis is for five voices and has been printed in Paris in 1556.
Contributor:Tassos Dimitriadis
This missa pro defunctis, Missa pro mortuis set for five voices, consists out of the following seven movements:
Introitus Requiem aeternam
Kyrie Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie
Graduale Si ambulem
Offertorium Domine Jesu Christe
Sanctus Sanctus & Benedictus
Agnus Dei Agnus Dei
Communio Lux aeterna

Only some Missa pro defunctis has survived or has been set by composers in the South-Netherlandish area around 1556.
We mention out of the South-Netherlandish generation (Franco-Flemish generation): Jacobus Clement (1550), an anonymous version in the Choirbooks of Leiden, Johannes de Cleve (1565), Jacobus Flori (1565), Jacob Vaet (1560) and two settings by Jacobus de Kerle (1562 and 1573 lost). This Missa pro Mortuis has all characteristics of the skilled techniques from the South-Netherlandish composers out of the Renaissance and is set for five voices CATTB. Through all this setting De Bonnefont uses in the Cantus the quiet long notes (mostly breves or semibreves) taken or imitated from the plainchant, not as high the sopranos practise today, but really adjusted to the quality and range of the choirboy-voices of those days. The three tenor voices and Bassus are larding and surrounding the voice of the Cantus. The richness of De Bonefont’s writing surprises, further his polyphonic counterpoint writing with the five voices – especially in the three Tenor and Bassus voices - is of excellent quality and is a prove of great master-skills of De Bonefont. At the beginning of each movement De Bonefont quotes a more old version of the plainchant. Besides De Bonefont uses throughout the whole Mass long melisma-singing. In general De Bonefont uses in the Cantus long quiet plainchant notes and there het creates a real serene contrast with the three Tenor and Bassus-voices.
The Introitus “Requiem aeternam” starts with the quote of a more old version of the plainchant due to region varieties. Sometimes De Bonefont quotes exactly the plainchant in the Cantus in long notes for instance here in the Introit from bar 1 up to 9. De Bonefonte uses ascending and descending eights which gives this movement interesting vividness. De Bonefont gives in this Mass of the Dead a free treatment of dissonant and use of syncope’s . The highest note in this movement is a c3 even set in word painting in luceat eis -a third from a2 to c3 - on eis/him. The other voices are set in a lively imitative polyphonic counterpoint style. In the middle of this movement the “te decet hymnus Deus in Sion” is set in the belonging old plainchant. This movement is set in F and has included the prescribed repetition 107 bars.
The “Kyrie” is a short movement, consisting out of 40 bars and is set for five voices in F. There is no break between Kyrie, Christe, Kyrie. The Cantus starts after one bar with a short plainchant imitation in long notes in bar 2 up to 4. De Bontefont uses here some flats e¨ in all voices excluded the Cantus. This Kyrie has the same fluently imitative style, with some fine dissonant larded with syncope’s.
In the movement Graduale is still used the old text “Si Ambulem” and is set in D-Dorian. The Graduale “Requiem aeternam” not used here is since 1570 official part in the office of the Dead. We already saw here in the website the use this earlier particular Gradual-text (Si Ambulem) among others by the South-Netherlandish composers like Ockeghem (c.1420-1497), Divitis (c.1473-c.1528), de Févin (1473-1512), Prioris (c.1460-c.1514), Richafort (1480-1547), Claudin Sermisy (c.1490-1562), Benedictus Appenzeller (c.1480-1558aft) and Lassus (1532-1594). This use depends before 1570 on and vary per region. For instance and on the other hand the Spanish Polyphonists and Engarandus Juvenis (16th Century) use, the now known Gradual-text “Requiem aeternam”, page 1808 Liber Usualis (edition 1936) nor did use the Gradual-text but other parts of the Proper’s for instance “Tractus sicut servus” like Pierre de la Rue ( 1460-1518) did. Before the reforms of the Council of Trent (1543-1563) there were diverse alternative texts for the Proper’s of the Mass of the Dead in use which differs per region. Nowadays the text “Requiem aeternam” is in use.
De Bonefont uses in this Gradual some surprising dissonant, with changing keys. This movement has 94 bars and has a more introvert imitative style, still with ascending and descending eights. “In Domine” ( bars 35 up to 41) you see in word-painting, same short imitative lines in all voices with syncope’s.
The offertorium “Domine Jesu Christe” is the longest movement of this Missa pro Mortuis. It consists out of 182 bars. The long notes are set again in the Cantus. Plainchant as intro is used twice in “Domine Jesu Christe” and further in “Hostias et preces tibi Domine offerimus,” which is normal. The most impressive part of this movement is the two times repeated “Quam olim Abrahae.” The Cantus sings long notes in imitating the belonging plainchant (bars 95 up to 100). The other four voices are set in a lively imitative polyphonic counterpoint ending in G-Dorian.
Here in this long movement we see and hear interesting use of the dissonant, much more as normally in practice and perhaps admitted by the theorists in that time. We think it’s a deep feeling of this composer to express his sadness due to the text and occasion.
The “Sanctus” starts with the known intro in plainchant followed by long notes imitating the plainchant during nearly the whole piece by Cantus. All the other four voices are in a lively imitative polyphonic way larding and ornamenting the notes sung by the Cantus. De Bonefont uses in this part more syncope’s techniques. De Bonefont closes with a firm “Osanna in excelsis.” The Cantus sings in very long notes the simple plainchant motive ( f-g-a) underlined with a splendid ornamentation by the other four voices. This “Sanctus” counts 55 bars. The “Benedictus” starts again with the known plainchant followed with another approach by De Bonefont in all voices at the words “in nomine” starting with a semitone (Cantus, Tenor I and Tenor II, a-Bb and Altus and Bassus, d-eb). De Bonefont closes with another “Osanna in excelsis” as in the Sanctus. That’s a creative approach. The Cantus sings again in very long notes nearly all the prescribed plainchant. Interesting is the beginning of the surprising closing in bar 30 by the Cantus with the figure( f#-e-f#). The four other parts ornaments the Cantus. We doubt at the end in the Quintus whether the e1 in bar34 should be a e¨ or an e! This “Benedictus” counts 35 bars.
The “Agnus Dei” starts with the short plainchant opening in all three separate movements. The Cantus continues again with long notes quoting in imitation the belonging plainchant. Seen the plainchant the range in the Cantus (f-b) is limited. The Tenor I, II, III and Bassus parts move in a less polyphonic more introvert quiet style – contrary to the other Mass-movements - musically around the Cantus. Some syncope’s and minor dissonant are present. This total “Agnus Dei” consists out of 62 bars and is set in G-Mixolydian. With the “Communio, Lux aeterna” this Missa pro Mortuis will be closed. The Cantus starts with the plainchant “Lux aeterna” and continues with an imitation of the plainchant not in the long notes we noted before. The other voices follow in an imitative polyphonic style. In this case Tenor II starts, followed by Bassus, Cantus (T I), Altus and Quintus (T III) in a more polyphonic style even in the Cantus up to bar 19. “Pius est” (translated: art merciful) will be ornamented with ascending eight’s notes in Quintus and Tenor (bars 22-23). De Bonefunt sets some dissonant and syncope’s. The second part of this Proper will be started by Tenor “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine” , again with long plainchant imitation in the Cantus with a highest note highest d4 on “eis”, Thy (bar 39). This highest note briefly touched only three times in this marvellous Missa. As from “cum sanctis tuis” ( whit Thy Saints, bars 37 up to 45) the Cantus accepts just a moment the Polyphonic line. More syncope’s are set and the last striking dissonant we hear in bar 52. This movement has 53 bars and is set in G-Mixolydian. What a craftsmen the composers in this Renaissance area are. De Bonefont is such a high really unknown representative perhaps working in some isolation in Clermont-Ferrand but a major representative of the fourth generation of south-Netherlandish (Franco-Flemish) composers.
This contrapuntal masterpiece by De Bonefont is fortunately not lost and is published in Missa pro mortuis, cum quinque vocibus, nunc primum in lucem edita, AUTORE D. Simone de Bonefont, Parisiis, ex typographia Nicolas du Chemin, M. D. LVI.
Author:Wim Goossens