DAS GANSEBUCH (THE GEESE BOOK): German Medieval Chant (Janka Szendrei/ Laszlo Dobszay/ Matthias Ank/ Schola Hungarica) (Naxos: 8.557412)
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Medieval Chant from Nuremberg
Das Gansebuch (Geese Book)
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the freeimperial city of Nuremberg assumed great economicimportance through the production of metal goods andtrade in metals, textiles and spices. Nuremberg proudlydisplayed the wealth it had amassed: not only was thesplendour of the city's civic buildings and ceremoniesunsurpassed, but also that of both its Gothic parishchurches, St Lorenz and St Sebald. In each parish, amember of the city council was appointed as trustee andbusiness administrator overseeing the finances that thecity provided to support and furnish the parishes andtheir edifices. The parish churches also reflected theself-assurance of the city musically, through theirfestive liturgies. To this end both churches sponsoredwell-known schools, the task of which was to trainsingers for the liturgy. Nuremberg was part of thediocese of Bamberg and had to take its lead from theliturgy of the seat of the bishop, Bamberg Cathedral.
The surviving liturgical manuscripts show that, in spiteof this dependency, the rich Nuremberg churchesdeveloped a characteristic and in many waysindependent liturgy that incorporated divergentelements. The basis of the music, the roots of which layin the Bamberg liturgy of the eleventh century, wascontinually augmented by chants from newlyintroduced feast days.
Shortly after 1500 the parish of St Lorenzcommissioned a two-volume Gradual, a book in whichthe music of the Mass liturgy for the choir wascollected. The last time a Gradual for the church hadbeen made was in 1421. Since then several importantfeast days had been introduced. A prebendary of StLorenz, Friedrich Rosendorn, was charged with therevision of the liturgy and the writing of the text andmusic. According to the colophons the first volume wasfinished in 1507, and work on the second wascompleted in 1510. Friedrich Rosendorn had died in theyear the first volume was finished, and it is not knownwho was in charge of the copying of the second volume;a visible stylistic break between the volumes is notevident.
The size and elaborate decoration of the manuscriptreflect the prestige of the church. The high feasts of thechurch year were set off with detailed illuminations,attributed to the well-known Nuremberg painter JakobElsner, who died in 1517. Some initials are ornamentedwith gold-leaf, others are historiated and contain scenesshowing the events commemorated on the importantfeast days. The margins exhibit colourful acanthustendrils and buds inhabited by animals, birds, angels,wild folk, and dragons. In some cases therepresentations in the lower margin develop into richnarrative scenes, in which animals act as people,particularly as musicians. Numerous hunting andcombat scenes are found throughout the book. Thesesometimes provocative allegories function on variouslevels. Common to all is their basic multivalence andtheir applicability in various contexts. Bookilluminations had long established themselves as avehicle for criticism. They facilitated suggestions ofpolitical and social criticism that would not have beenpossible had they not been encoded.
The popular name Geese Book derives from a basde-page illumination for the Feast of the Ascensionshowing a choir of geese directed by a wolf dressed ascantor. In front of the geese is an open large-sizemusical manuscript on a stand. A fox slinks behind thegeese, his pose implying that he is about to grab one ofthe singers.
The Geese Book with a total of 1120 pages is theonly complete extant source for the pre-Reformationliturgy of the Mass in Nuremberg and preserves themusic of one of the most prominent city parish churchesof the empire. Nuremberg manuscript illuminationreached a high point in the Geese Book. The manuscriptis today preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library inNew York, bearing the shelf number M. 905.
Because the volume of music contained in theGeese Book is so substantial, the portion that wasrecorded for this compact disc is quite minuscule.
Chants from feasts with a special relevance for thechurch of St Lorenz and Nuremberg were chosen. Inmost cases these are premi?¿re recordings. Many sourcesdocument the use of the organ in the liturgy of StLorenz. The famous swallow's nest organ on the northwall of the nave was installed in 1444 and enlarged in1479. It was therefore decided to alternate organ musicwith the Mass chants.
The choirboys of St Lorenz sang the Introit ViriGalilei (Men of Galilee) for the Ascension, whilelooking at the choir of geese. They could thus seethemselves and reflect on their own doing through thiswhimsical depiction.
For the years from 1424 to 1524 the most importantfeast day in Nuremberg was the Feast of the Holy Lanceand Nails, better known as Heiltumsweisung. On thesecond Friday after Easter, the imperial relics andregalia were displayed to the people in Nuremberg'smain market square. This collection of sacred objects,assembled chiefly by Emperor Charles IV, was placedunder the eternal protection of Nuremberg by EmperorSigismund. A three-storeyed scaffolding was erected inthe market square so that the ritual could take place asprescribed by the city council. There, as well as in theNuremberg churches and monasteries, they sang theMass Lancea Christi et armorum domini (Lance ofChrist and the Arms of the Lord), which had beencomposed at the court of Charles IV in Prague duringthe fourteenth century.
St Deocarus, one of the two main patrons of theimperial city of Nuremberg, had received specialveneration in the parish of St Lorenz ever since thetranslation of his relics from Herrieden in 1316. InNuremberg his cult had developed out of diversehistorical elements, particularly through the conflationof the eighth-century Deocarus, abbot of theBenedictine monastery in Herrieden, and the twelfthcenturyCarus, abbot of the Nuremberg Benedictinemonastery of St Egidien. The relics were preserved in alarge silver reliquary shrine in St Lorenz. Andreas andMargarete Volckamer donated the Deocarus altarpiece,completed in 1437. From city chronicles it is clear thatin the course of the fifteenth century his role as patronof the St Lorenz parish had gained significance and thatby the end of the century the popularity of his cult hadsurpassed that of the titular saint. Beginning in 1492every year on Deocarus Day (7th June) members of thecity council carried the shrine around the church of StLorenz in festive procession. Nonetheless Deocaruswas never officially canonized through papalproclamation, and therefore he was never entitled to hisown Office. For this reason the Nuremberg clerics hadto use a general formula from the Common of Saints.
The saint's status was however elevated beyond that ofthe others through a particular stroke of artifice. Ashortened Sequence was sung on his feast day. At firstglance one might perceive the abbreviation to be illchosen because it mutilates the parallel structure of theversicle. The intention, however, was clear since theopening word dilectus (beloved) is a synonym for carus(dear). Through the abridgement the chant begins withthe words dilectus Deo (beloved of God), whichtranslates as deocarus. Using this subtle andimaginative play on words the saint's identity could beprojected onto the chant from the Common of Saints.
Before the development of the cult of Deocarus atthe end of the fifteenth century, Sebaldus was theunchallenged patron of the entire imperial city.
Sebaldus was canonized officially in 1425 and added tothe calendar of saints (19th August). Although he toonever received his own papally approbated Office, hedid not have to be content with a simple liturgy from theCommon of Saints. In the rhymed text of the Alleluia,Sebaldus is mentioned by name. The Sequence for thesaint, probably composed in Nuremberg, tra