Black Madonna

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The Black Madonna

Pilgrimages, miracles and relics constituted important formal elementsin medieval religion. They reflected the need for direct contact with the holy.

Where miracles were attested or relics found, places of worship wereestablished. In Spain and France, above all, many significant centres ofpilgrimage are found and among the most important, after Santiago deCompostela, must be reckoned the monastery of Montserrat, some fifty kilometresto the East of Barcelona. With the miraculous Black Madonna, celebrated invarious ways in the songs of the Llibre Vermell and in the Cantigasde Santa Maria and with its unique geographical position, the monasteryfrom the earliest times drew many pilgrims. It is found at a height of 700metres above sea-level above a gorge, surrounded by jagged rocky peaks. Clearlythe place itself offered a strong fascination for people, since it was also thesite of an earlier temple to Venus. It was about the year 1025 that the AbbotOliba established there a Benedictine community, from the monastery of SantaMaria de Ripoll. In 1409 the monastery became an independent abbey.

The Llibre Vermell de Montserrat preserved there is a codex infive parts. In addition to religious writings, lists of indulgences andprivileges as well as of the rules of the order, there is also a Cancioneromusical with ten pieces of music, spiritual dances and songs. These wereadded to the 1382 codex between 1396 and 1399. The manuscript is a uniquecollection, in that it includes instructions on how dances were to be performedto the music. Its name, Red Book, was acquired in the nineteenth century, whenit was bound in red velvet. Originally the Llibre Vermeil contained 172double pages (folio size), of which 35 have been lost. The purpose of the musicis explained in instructions before the first song: \Since the pilgrims whocome to Montserrat often want to sing and dance, and that during their nightvigil in the church as by day in the church square, where only orderly andpious songs are allowed, a number of suitable songs have been written, to meetthat need. These should be used with due consideration, without disturbingthose who wish to continue their prayers and religious meditation." Thenpilgrims are again admonished to refrain also on their way home from frivoloussongs and evil dances.

The monks of Montserrat were known for their outstanding spiritual andmusical culture, of which the Ars Nova notation of the codex is an indication.

In the songs there is a mixture of simple Spanish folk-?¡melodies and complexcourtly compositional technique from Italy and France. This simplicity andmusical achievement is found in the three-voice virelai Mariam matrem [6],and sometimes also earthy naivety in close relationship with folk-song, as in Lo,set gotxs [12]. This last-named is a balada in Catalan with a Latinrefrain, which is a paraphrase of the poem Los VII goutz de Nostra Dona ofPope Clement IV. With Los set gotxs and Cuncti simus [9],single-part virelais with repeated choral refrains, it can easily beunderstood how, through the numerous repetitions of the round dance (ballredon), a religious ecstasy might be induced. The chorale O Virgosplendens [7] is a contrafactum of O virgo visa fromthe Memoriale of the same codex. At the beginning is a note that it canbe performed in one part or in canon with up to three voices. Through thehypnotic effect of the canon, as with the mantra, a trance may be induced thatcan lead to the attainment of the highest spirituality. The many repetitionsconstitute less a structural principle than the attempts of the monks toinspire the people to livelier participation.

Dancing in the church was above all a feature of early Christianity,adopted from the Jewish rite, an important element in worship. From the time ofAthanasius of Miletus is recorded the tradition of dancing as an accompanimentto hymns Seasonal folk dances in the form of round dances (a ball redon) metrelatively little opposition from the clergy but were not often resorted to inchurch. Some of the reasons for this practice that continued into theeighteenth century resulted from the lack of suitable places at night or in badweather To this end comes a report from Bernard of Angers from 1010, on apractice in the church at Conques: "According to ancient custom the pilgrimshold their vigils in the Fides Church with candles and lamps. Since they do notunderstand the Latin chants of the office, they help to pass the long nightsaway with uneducated songs and other nonsense."

These lively dances in the church led naturally to a ban and at theCouncil of Avignon in 1209 came the following declaration: "We decree that,during vigils for the saints in the churches, musicians must not perform eitherleaping dances with obscene gestures nor round dances; nor shall love-songs andsimilar songs be sung." Basically distinction must be drawn between twokinds of dances, one of which was performed in a religious setting and inaccordance with contemporary customs, and the other sort of dance that stemmedfrom the secular field. At Montserrat it was the second that came about, when,in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Latin spiritual songs writtenspecially by the monks were sung and played at night in the church and by dayin front of it as an accompaniment to dancing. The attempt of the monks,however, to set popularly known dance-songs to decent Latin texts and therebyto steer this lively activity into more orderly paths, as suggested in theintroduction to the Llibre Vermell, failed. Hardly surprisingly therewas little room for the accommodation of pilgrims, with the result that theliturgy was at the centre of daily life. For dancing in the liturgy a traditionhas been recorded for us from Auxerre that there was dancing at Easter with organaccompaniment to the melody of the sequence Victimae paschales, in whicha ball was thrown from side to side. It is also interesting to notice that atLimoges on the feast of the patron saint St Martial there was dancing in thechurch to the psalms. Ecstatic dancing through many writings and picturesoffers an example of medieval music therapy. Priestly dancing as an element ofthe divine service has now completely disappeared from the Christian rite.

The Middle Ages knew nothing of the protection of spiritualindividualism. In many places we meet examples of well-tried culturalmanifestations. Use was made of well-known melodies sanctified by the additionof religious texts. In no field of medieval artistic activity is copying, theso-called contrafactum, so frequently met as in the art of song. Some medievalcontrafacta acknowledge the flowering of imitative composition in NorthernFrance, based on sources derived from the trouv?¿res or composers fromPicardy. Thus Quant vol la flor [2] is based on the composition Retrowangenouvelle by Jacques de Cambrai from the year 1280. Of the same kind is Amours,ou trop tart me sui pris [5], a virelai from the second half of thethirteenth century. This is a contrafactum of Amours, a cui je me rent pris.

Slight alterations from the model, like the use of changing sharps andflats bring about an ambivalence of tonality. The conjectural composer is Ro?»neBlance, probably a pseudonym of Blanche de Navarre, the mother of Thibaut IV ofChampagne. He provides the richest source of trouv?¿re work. In additionto many Chants d'amour, Jeux-parties, Pastourelles and Crusaders' songs,there survive only four Marian songs and only one reli
Item number 8554256
Barcode 636943425626
Release date 01/01/2000
Category Early Music
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Sykes, Belinda
Sykes, Belinda
Conductors Posch, Michael
Posch, Michael
Orchestras Unicorn Ensemble
Unicorn Ensemble
Disc: 1
Pilgrim Songs from the Monastery of Montserrat (14
1 Cuncti simus concanentes
2 Quant voi la flor novele
3 A Madre do que a bestia
4 Amours, ou trop tart me sui pris
5 Quant ay lomon consirat
6 Mariam, matrem Virginem
7 O Virgo splendens
8 Tanto son da groriosa
9 Comencerai a fere un lai
10 Cantiga de Santa Maria No. 77-119
11 O Maria, maris stella
12 Los set gotxs
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