In arboris/Tuba sacre fidei/Virgo sum
Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 1 Tracks 47-48
Mr. de Vitry was not so pious that he did not know how to swing. It seems triple meter had, during his lifetime, the favor the duple meter will gain a few hundred years after him. Whatever the favorite, the triplet is always an effective rhythm to evoke lightness and motion. And the frequent use of the triplet, during the time of this composition, to celebrate the virginity of Mary is curious. It is as if by celebrating Mary's virginity these composers were able to fully appreciate the sensuous joys of life.
The singers start this motet one voice at a time. This is helpful to the listener for a few reasons. It establishes the roles of the parts. The upper two lead a life entangled while the tenor voice, which has the least amount of text, moves consistently slower never participating in the hockets to come. Because the tenor voice provides such a strong foundation to the work, de Vitry is free to explore the contrapuntal potential in the upper two voices without creating dissonance.
What I like about this motet is the way the hocket provides a balance between the swinging lines and the sustained notes. The opening solo sounds so strongly like a canon to me that I am always surprised by the long sonorities that follow. De Vitry, disinterested in canon, is able to enjoy these extremes without losing coherence by occasionally breaking the lines apart just enough so that they want to come back together.