Expression is led by text in Stella celi

I am working on Sinfonia, a piece for large ensemble inspired by the sound of English music from c.1400-1600. Performance by the New Music Players at the Warehouse, London on Fri 28 Sept.

Stella celi, attributed to John Cooke, is a 'three-voice descant motet' in the Old Hall Manuscript. Its Latin text was a fervent prayer to the mother of God to save the population from the terrible effects of the plague. It was a monophonic chant in various versions before it became the subject of composition for several 15th century composers, Cooke amongst the first. Cooke was a member of Henry V's household chapel in 1413 and may have travelled to Agincourt.

Stella celi. Just as the richer harmonies fall towards the middle of the phrases, unlike later music which is directed towards ends of phrases, so the shapes of the melodies follow the emphases of the words, and the metre seems to become more expansive at phrase centres. The musical world flows according to the text. This is what is handed on to later instrumental writers as they take the polyphonic vocal world and transfer it to an instrumental one. The voice is never far away.

Ed Hughes