Early Music of 14th and 15th Century
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Sacred Songs and Folk Music from Renaissance Germany
No fifteenth-century wedding, civic ceremony, feastday, or royal joyeux entree would have been completewithout the sound of the alta capella, or \high choir."The term referred not to singers, but to the loud voicesof shawms, trumpets or trombones. The playersperformed vocal music, dances, and improvisedcounterpoint, much like jazz musicians of today.
Testimony to the high reputation of alta capella playerslies in figures like the shawm player Conrado Piffarod'Alemania, who was for decades one of the highestpaid men at the Ferrara court. His name betrays both hisprofession and a shared origin with his companions:most instrumentalists came from Northern Europe. Ontheir way to Italy, they passed through Austria andGermany, sharing compositions, styles and techniquesalong the way.
Famous for their improvisatory skills, little of theirmusic survives in writing. In order to capture therepertory and sound of these players at the crossroads oftheir journey, Ciaramella has turned to major Germansources of polyphony from the end of the fifteenthcentury. Masses, motets, and songs preserved in themanuscript sources Munich 3154 (The LeopoldCodex)*, Berlin 40021**, and Leipzig 1494 (the ApelCodex)*** reflect the courtly wealth of Sigismond ofTyrol and the Emperor Maximilian I of Austria, and thegrowing artistic culture in cities like Nuremberg andInnsbruck. Intabulated keyboard manuscripts like theBuxheimer Orgelbuch and Kleber Orgeltabulaturoffer further glimpses into the rich tradition ofembellished song.
During the 1420s, composers experimented with astyle of composition in which two equal Cantus voicesjoin in fugal imitation over slower moving Tenors. This"double discantus" technique in Nicolaus Grenon'sChristmas motet Nova vobis gaudia, would besupplanted by the Tenor/Cantus framework exemplifiedin Guillaume Dufay's three-voice chanson Se la face aypale, which served as the model for several ornate organintabulations and with an added voice reflecting laterfifteenth-century tastes.
Members of the alta capella also performed on basinstruments like the recorder. Numerous trios survivingin sources were both sung and performed asinstrumental fantasias. Only its lack of words separatesthe textless Trio from works like the motet Gaude,virgo, mater Jesu Christe. It is tempting to attribute bothto the same composer, one who displays the highestcompositional skill.
During my dissertation research, I recognized anunnamed anonymous Mass to be based on a famousFrench chanson. Although this Missa Je ne fays plusbears no title or attribution in Munich 3154, it iscertainly the same Mass referred to in 1539 by GiovanniSpataro as the work of Heinrich Isaac. The Kyrie andGloria, with florid redictae (short repeated motives)typify Isaac's early style and stand out as the type ofMass section often adopted by instruments. Thisinstrumental performance of two movements announcesthe "rediscovery" of this lost masterpiece.
Composers clothed liturgical chants with new textand intricate polyphony. The motet O plebs quae Deumamas adopts as cantus firmus a chant with the funeraltext "Requiem in pacem, dona nobis eum" in asurprisingly triumphant polyphonic setting. Almachorus surrounds the music of O du armer Judas. ThisGood Friday leyson--a sacred text ending with thewords Kyrie eleison--would inspire a later five-partsetting by the great composer Ludwig Senfl.
Like wind players, church organists performedsecular songs. Een vroylic wesen ornaments JacquesBarbireau's Flemish love song, a favourite model forreworking in both song and Mass. Sometimes theidentity of a song is obscured, as in the KleberOrgeltabulatur, for example, where the strange namePhilephos aves corrupts the original French words Fillevous avez mal garde, revealing its origin in an amorousFrench song composed by Heinrich Isaac.
Manuscripts of sacred music preserve secular songswith sacred Latin texts. Adam von Fulda's O Jupiter /O diva sollers virgo blends secular German text of aTenorlied with a Latin hymn text, performed here onsixteen-foot recorder consort. Komm Heiliger Geistparaphrases the famous Latin hymn for Corpus Christi,Veni Sancte Spritus. Although this famous melody isascribed to Martin Luther, he seems to have merelyaltered the words found in the earliest survivingversions preserved in Munich 3154. Little is knownabout the composer Johannes Beham, who displaysconsummate mastery and a keen interest in subtlechromaticism. Sancta Maria wohn uns bei also appearsas a hymn whose opening words Luther would change(now known as Gott der Vater, wohn uns bei) onceagain earning credit for an existing song. Ourperformance presents the anonymous monophonicmelody, a simple duo, and adds a voice to the existingthree-voice version. In arranging these hymns, we haveimagined a small choir of angels in a miniature chapel,after the intricate wood carving of contemporary censersand reliquaries.
Concealed within the intricate polyphony and floridornamentation of these sources lie some of the simplestand most popular songs of the day. Because many ofthese songs survive with only fragmentary texts, theearliest literary sources aid in recovering the song. In theabsence of a single complete original text, we attempt torecreate something like one of the many versions thatexisted within a rich and evolving song tradition, in thespirit of something the great poetry scholar PaulZumthor referred to as mouvance: traditional tunes haveno fixed authoritative version, but consist of familieswith numerous fluid variants.
In complement to the polyphonic setting of the songMein Herz in hohen Freuden ist in Munich 3154,Douglas Milliken's arrangement explores techniquesthat might have been adopted by the perennialcombination of bagpipe and shawms. In symbolizing therustic and carnal nature of humble shepherds, bagpipesattend the pastourelle genre that takes place in thewoods, where dark temptations to love and murder callthe strongest. Gespiele, liebe Gespiele g??t invokes atime-honoured tradition of two sisters in rivalry over thesame lover. It seldom ends well: often one sister meetsfate through treachery or in a watery death. Often, thenarrator is the voyeuristic lover himself who, listeningto the girls, wonders which to choose. Our arrangementjoins the earliest known tune with the same sixteenthcenturytext that Arnold Schoenberg would later set tomusic.
The Latin-texted Invicto regi jubilo presents aGerman song through the technique of migrating cantusfirmus, in which the melody travels through each voice.
One manuscript contains only the incipit Wer ich eynfalck. The nineteenth-century poem collection DesKnaben Wunderhorn contains a poem with the similartext War ich ein wilder Falke set to an insipid melody,but this later text does not scan metrically with itsearliest known music. The closest textualcorrespondence we have found survives in a songbookpreserved in a Cistercian monastery. This version takesthe erotic intent of the secular text--about a lover'sdesire to fly high above the city into his lover's room--and transforms it to a song of spiritual longing. It is easyto imagine these sentiments on the lips of one of themany convents or lay sisterhoods that flourishedthroughout Germanic lands. The trumpet fanfare on thismelody blends speculation about instrumentalcapabilities with contemporary contrapuntal techniques.
Manuscripts from Dutch confraternities, Germanhymnals, organ intabulations and settings by composerslike Adam von Fulda attest to the popularity of thehymn Dies est laetitiae, also known as Der Tag, der istso freudenreich. Based on contemporary practices,Ciaramella includes a newly composed duo for shawmsand adds a fifth voice to Fulda's florid setting, bringingtogether versions for organ, voice,