Nicholas Ludford (±1490 – 1557): Ave cujus conceptio

Nothing is known about the education and training of this early Tudor composer who spent most of his career working at the royal chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster (a sister foundation of St George’s, Windsor) it seems likely that he was the son of the composer John Ludforde but even that cannot be proved. We really only know about him from the early 1520s when he started to work as St. Stephen’s perhaps as a clerk or vicar choral, he’d acquired a full probationary post by 1525 and on 30 September 1527 he was formally appointed verger of the chapel with an annual income of £9 2s. 6d., and an additional 13s. 4d. each year at Christmas towards his ecclesiastical dress; as organist he received an additional stipend of 40 shillings. There’s no evidence that he was ever made Instructor of the Choristers. As there is no evidence that he composed for the reformed church it seems likely that he remained a staunch Catholic throughout his life.

His music has survived in several sources the so-called Caius and Lambeth Choirbooks and the Peterhouse partbook and it’s really only because so much of his music survived the ravages of the English reformation that we’re aware of him at all. This happy historical accident is very much to our benefit as he was plainly a very skilled composer whose music is worth seeking out. Ave cujus conceptio (Hail to you whose conception) was a Marian poem consisting of five stanzas dealing with Our Lady’s life as follows:

  1. Conception,
  2. Nativity,
  3. Annunciation,
  4. Purification,
  5. Assumption.

As you might expect in a country which prior to the Reformation was famous for its devotion to The Virgin the poem was very popular and could be found in many Books of Hours – Ludford is by no means the only composer to have set it. It’s a joyful setting with some rather special melismatic writing. Enjoy :-).

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Nicholas Ludford (±1490 – 1557): Ave cujus conceptio

Ave cujus conceptio,
Solemni plena gaudio,
Caelestia, terrestria,
Nova replet laetitia.
Hail to you whose conception,
full of holy joy,
fills heaven and earth
with new rejoicing.
Ave, cujus nativitas
Nostra fuit solemnitas,
Ut lucifer lux oriens
Verum solem praeveniens.
Hail to you whose birth
we celebrated,
like the day-star rising,
foretelling the true Sun.
Ave pia humilitas,
Sine viro fecunditas,
Cujus annunciatio
Nostra fuit salvatio.
Hail, holy and humble one,
fruitful without a man,
you whose annunciation
was our salvation.
Ave vera virginitas,
Immaculata castitas,
Cujus purificatio
Nostra fuit purgatio.
Hail, true virginity,
spotless chastity,
whose purification
cleansed us also
Ave, praeclara omnibus
Angelicis virtutibus,
Cujus fuit assumptio
Nostra glorificatio.
Hail to you who excel in all the angelic virtues,
you whose assumption
glorified us also.
O Mater Dei,
Memento mei. Amen.

(Source: Anonymous ecclesiastical.

Text: Votive antiphon to the Virgin Mary)

O Mother of God,
remember me. Amen.
Performers:
Blue Heron directed by Scott Metcalfe

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