Henricus Isaac's grand six-voice motet Angeli archangeli (Angels, archangels) sets a text from the liturgy of the Feast of All Saints (November 1), but its only preexistent musical material is a cantus firmus in the tenor voice, drawn from the tenor of the mid 15th-century chanson Comme femme desconfortéée (As a woman in distress), attributed to Binchois. Scholars have assumed that Angeli archangeli is a motet for All Saints but have been at a loss to explain why Isaac chose the cantus firmus he did. This study attempts to explain Isaac's puzzling juxtaposition of Latin text and secular cantus firmus by suggesting that Angeli archangeli is not a motet for All Saints, but rather for the Assumption of the Virgin. Liturgical analysis of the motet text reveals that its connection to the Feast of All Saints (November 1) is weaker than has previously been assumed. Additionally, examination of numerous other sacred works that incorporate the Comme femme desconfortéée tenor demonstrates that it was widely understood as a Marian cantus firmus ca. 1500. The Marian associations of the cantus firmus help to explain why one manuscript source (VatS 46) groups the work with other Marian motets, and why another (LeipU 1494) transmits it with a Marian contrafact text (O regina nobilissima). Finally, by relating the musical construction of Angeli archangeli to the Assumption of the Virgin as depicted in late medieval liturgy, iconography, and in Jacobus de Voragine's widely read Legenda aurea, it is suggested that the text of Angeli archangeli, though drawn from the All Saints liturgy, actually describes Mary's assumption into heaven. Sacred text and secular cantus firmus thus collaborate in communicating a complex but clear theological/devotional meaning.
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