LEONIN / PEROTIN: Sacred Music from Notre-Dame Cathedral (Antony Pitts/ Tonus Peregrinus) (Naxos: 8.557340)
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LEONIN PEROTIN: Sacred Music from Notre-Dame
Viderunt omnes... \All the ends of the earth have seenthe salvation of our God" - this great Old Testamentvision aptly sums up the inspiration for both thearchitecture of Notre-Dame in Paris and the liquidequivalent to be found in the Cathedral's magnus liberorgani - "the great book of organum".
A picture postcard of Notre-Dame Cathedral tellsyou something of its form and appearance but little of itsdetail and none of its power: even the best efforts ofimagination are not enough to appreciate fully itsimmensity until you are right there, standing next towhat John Julius Norwich neatly summarised as the"first cathedral built on a truly monumental scale".
Likewise the music written for the cathedral needs to beheard as near to lifesize volume as feasible tounderstand its intensity and force.
Visitors to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame are first ofall struck by the imposing Western fa?ºade, but onentering the building the experience is transformed bywhat Abbot Suger of St Denis, one of the forefathers ofthe Gothic style of architecture, had conceived as "thewonderful and uninterrupted light of most sacredwindows pervading the interior beauty"; then there isthe awareness of a vast mass of people contained withinthe towering walls and arches; and above all, theunmistakable sound of distant voices and movementreflected from innumerable ancient corners. For theParisian musicians and worshippers living in the latetwelfth and early thirteenth centuries, however, this wasa dynamic experience as the new structure slowly tookshape above the city skyline: a building project thatwould span several generations from the laying of thecornerstone in 1163.
Leonin, who was considered the master ofpolyphonic composition in his time and who appears tohave been responsible for the magnus liber in itsoriginal form, must have spent much of his career in theunfinished 'choir' or Eastern end of the Cathedral,separated from the regular sounds of construction bysome kind of temporary screen which perhaps wasmoved column by column westwards over the years. Bythe time Perotin made a new edition of Leonin's magnusliber and added his own massive polyphonic versions oftwo Gradual chants, most likely for feast-days in 1198and 1199, practically the entire space of the Cathedralwas ready to resonate in sympathy. Over the next halfcenturyand beyond work continued on the buildinguntil it was as complete as it ever would be.
Certainly that is the story that seems to becorroborated by the enormous body of music in themagnus liber itself. The foundation of this repertoire isplainchant, unmeasured melodies associated with everyliturgical moment in the Church's calendar. Videruntomnes 2 is a chant for Christmas Day and its octave,the Feast of Circumcision.
There are two very simple ways of constructingpolyphony out of plainchant: either by adding a drone,one note held on as a pedal under the plainchant, or bysimultaneously singing the same plainchant at a fixedinterval above or below (the most obvious example is ofmen and women, or men and boys singing the same tunean octave apart). The ninth-century treatise Scolica [orScholia] enchiriadis demonstrates this spontaneous andunwritten practice of parallel organum with a number ofexamples which we have recorded here as individualverses of a psalm 30.
On top of these early edifices in Western polyphonywe can imagine ad hoc experiments in the performanceof plainchant in a measured style (with each note eitherthe same length or twice as long as the next), and in theimprovisation of a free part over the existing plainchant.
Today it is easy to forget how well these tunes,especially those for feast-days such as Christmas orEaster, would have been known by both theprofessionals in the choir and the congregation in thenave.
The two-part music or organum duplum fromNotre-Dame most commonly associated with Leonin3-16 is built upon all these earlier developments, withthe familiar tune of the plainchant either slowed downwhile a second part elaborates a clearly soloistic line(organum purum), or rhythmicised into the same'modal' system as the new solo line (discantus). Therules for unravelling thirteenth-century notation arerelatively unambiguous for discantus or discant style,but they leave us with plenty of rhythmic options for thelonger, more virtuosic sections of organum purum - onthis recording we have explored a number of the manysolutions (compare tracks 3 and 9).
It was the more regular discantus sections whichproved most memorable and consequently attracted theattention of up-and-coming composers, includingPerotin. One section from the Viderunt omnes inparticular, with the single, crucial word "Dominus" (6and 12) became favourite fabric for rhythmic andharmonic experimentation, and many new two-partversions of this section were composed (includingtracks 17-21), either to be inserted as substituteclausulae or possibly as free-standing pieces. In thefurnishing of new words to the upper part in Factum estsalutare / Dominus 22 there is the audible framework ofthe motet, which was to become a separate musicalstructure with a future far outside its original liturgicalsetting.
With the addition of a third, and then a fourth voice,the rhythmic organization of the discant style oforganum was fully extended to the upper partsthroughout, just as the Cathedral's original arcade,gallery, triforium, and clerestory had to be carefully coordinated.
And just as the exceptional height of theGothic style of architecture required new solutions tothe problems of this scale of weight-bearing, there werealso further harmonic implications of combining somany voices - composers had to discover how tobalance intricate mixtures of consonance and dissonance(harmonic intervals which sound relatively more or lesspleasing to the ear) over a long span of time. Accordingto an Englishman visiting Paris in the later thirteenthcentury (the posthumously-labelled 'Anonymous 4') itwas "Master Perotin who made the best quadrupla", andit is these earliest surviving examples of four-partharmony which open the manuscript Florence,Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, plut. 29.1 ('F') fromwhich the editions for this recording were largely made.
Our approach on this recording has been to combinewhat we know of twelfth- and thirteenth-centurynotational theory with the practical results of our ownencounter with this celebrated style; above all, we haveaimed to adopt a pace and an intensity to match the scaleof the building for which this music was written. If, asfor today's visitors to Notre-Dame or for the scribe ofthe manuscript known as 'F', it is size that creates thebest initial impression, then go straight to Perotin'sViderunt omnes 23-28 or Sederunt principes 31, writtenfor the day after Christmas when St Stephen the firstChristian martyr (and co-patron of the Cathedral) wasremembered. If, however, time allows listening all theway through from Perotin's freely-composed melodyBeata viscera 1 to a four-part conductus Vetus abitlittera 32, then it may be hoped that we shall haveconveyed something of the staggering cumulative effectof a Gothic cathedral-in-progress.Antony Pitts