Sound of the Bohemian Pre-Reformation and Hans Memling’s Angelic Consort

Program: #22-47   Air Date: Nov 21, 2022

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The Tiburtina Ensemble has two recent and extraordinary projects we sample this week.

NOTE: All of the music on this program comes from recordings featuring the Tiburtina Ensemble. For complete information:

I. Paradisi Porte: Hans Memling’s Angelic Consort. (Tiburtina Ensemble/ Barbora Kabátková/Oltremontano Antwerpen/Wim Becus). Accent CD ACC 24373.

Memling’s “God the Father with Singing and Music Making Angels” belongs to the permanent collection of the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp (KMSKA), Belgium. The magnificent representation of this heavenly concert was commissioned by the Abbey Santa María la Real of Nájera in Spain. The retablo major, painted around 1490, formed part of a large altarpiece with the “Assumption of Mary” as the main theme. The restoration of the three panels by the team of the KMSKA created the opportunity to study the painting in detail and inspired me to focus broadly and in depth on both the “musical content” and on the “music” as such. In this context I initiated a multidisciplinary project to reconstruct the various musical instruments based on the detailed representation of the painting. Dirk De Hertogh, who teaches lute-building at the CmB (Centrum voor Muziekinstrumentenbouw in Puurs), oversaw the thorough study and execution of the five stringed instruments, while his colleague Stijn Dekoninck took charge of the development and construction of the organetto or portative organ. Geert Jan van der Heide agreed to carry out the meticulous reconstruction of the various trumpets and Eric Moulder that of a shawm. To prepare the reconstruction of the instruments, the CmB conducted a thorough study of available literature on similar instruments of Memlings’s time, including De Inventione et Usu Musicae by Johannes Tinctoris (c.1435-1511) and the Manuscript by Arnout van Zwolle (c.1400-1466) which includes a description of the portative organ. The presentation of the musical instruments on the panels of Hans Memling, from left to right:

First panel (left): psaltery, tromba marina, lute, trompette de menestrel, shawm

Third panel (right): buisine, clareta, organetto, harp, fiddle

Detailed observations of the musical instruments also brought up questions leading to experimentation, e. g. how to play the fiddle with a flat crenelated bridge? How to tune the second row of shorter strings on the psaltery? How to hold the tromba marina...?

An important factor when performing fifteenth-century music is the social hierarchy we find in the Nájera panels, which derives from existing forms of ensemble playing. The angels can be broken down into three categories:

  1. The singing angels: these flank the deity in groups of three on either side and sing from sheet music.

  2. The angels forming the "bassa capella": they play the soft string instruments – the psaltery, tromba marina, lute, harp, fiddle and the organetto.

  3. The angels playing the loud wind instruments (the "alta capella formation"): on the left panel: trompette de menestrel and shawm, both wind instruments with melodic function, and on the right panel: the buisine (a fairly short straight trumpet) and the clareta (a folded trumpet with almost twice the tube length compared to the buisine), which were used for playing natural overtones for fanfare-like works.

These three “categories” of angels each basically sang or played within their own world, although  these different sound worlds might be combined for certain festive church services and processions. Ensemble performances by singers with an alta capella did not become common until the very end of the fifteenth century. Musicologist Keith Polk found references in the accounts of the Bruges Confraternity of Our Lady of the Snow, the parish Memling belonged to, that “musicians or minstrels of this city” were paid in 1470 for accompanying the “vespers” and to perform the “salve” (Salve Regina).

The sweet sounding “bassa capella” instrumentation can heard in several instrumental pieces, such as Jacob Obrecht’s “Den haghel ende die calde snee” or in the improvised accompaniment  of the sequence Ave mundi spes Maria. Dancing was  probably the leading social entertainment in the later fifteenth century in both civic and courtly circles (one such court was that of the duke of Burgundy, frequently in Bruges). In our performance of the Basse danse “Danse de Cleves” from themanuscript held in the Royal Library in Brussels we combine both the alta and bassa capella instrumetations. Attentive listeners may note that we opted to perform this music using “Pythagorean tuning”.  This tuning is based on the stacking of pure fifths, an interval that is very common in the repertoire we play here. Such are the wanderings which Memling’s paintings can engender – leading to a diverse repertoire in which, along with the most important instrument of all, the human voice, the sound of the “Memling instrumentation” is richly evoked.

Wim Becu

  1. Prosa: Ave Maria gracia plena, Graduale Brugge, 1506, 4:41 (vocal ensemble, harp, psaltery)
  2. Fuga duo[rum] temp[orum], Guillaume Dufay, 1397-1474, 2:18  (Vocal ensemble, claretas; Gloria ad modum tubae, Trent Ms fay)
  3. Proles de caelo, Arr. C. Vincens for Chamber Ensemble, 2:38 (organetto, psaltery, harp [ALK])
  4. Introitus: In excelso throno, Graduale Brugge, 1506, 1:59 (solo voice [KB], psalteryy)
  5. Basse Danse: Paradisi porte set by Andrew Lawrence-King, 1:02 (harp [ALK]y)
  6. Sequentia: Alma cohors Domini, Graduale Brugge, 1506, 3:57 (vocal ensemble, fiddle, organetto, harp, psaltery, lute)
  7. Graduale: Tollite portas, Graduale Brugge, 1506, 4:23 (vocal ensembley)
  8. Motet: Christe sanctorum – Tibi Christe John Dunstaple, 1390-1453, 3:48 (solo voice [HB], fiddle, trompette des menestrels [WB]y)
  9. Improperia: Popule meus, Graduale Sint-Baafsabdij Gent, 1469, 6:52 (vocal ensembley)
  10. Basse Danse: Danse de Cleves Brussels Ms 9085, 15th c., set by Andrew Lawrence-King, 2020, 4:14 (fiddle, organetto, shawm, harp [HD], psaltery, lute, trompettes des menestrels)
  11. Hymnus: Ad cenam agni providi, Guillaume Dufay, 4:25 (vocal ensemble, fiddle, organetto, shawm, harp [HD], psaltery, lute, trompettes des menestrels)
  12. Chanson: Den haghel ende die calde snee Jacob Obrecht 1457/58, 1505, 2:30 (harp [HB, HD], psaltery, lute)
  13. Sequens: Ave mundi spes Maria, Graduale Brugge, 1506, 5:24 (vocal ensemble, fiddle, tromba marina, harp [HD], psaltery, lute, buisine)
  14. Motet: Virgo rosa, Gilles binChois, c 1400-1460, 1:47 (shawm, trompettes des menestrels)
  15. Antiphona: Paradisi porte, Antiphonary Gent, 1522, 5:23 (vocal ensemble, fiddle, harp [HD], psaltery)
  16. Salve: (Salve Regina) set by Adam Bregman, 2019, 1:51 (shawm, trompettes des menestrel)
  17. Canticum BMV: Magnificat secondi toni, John Dunstaple, 8:00 (vocal ensemble, fiddle, organetto, shawm, harp [HD], psaltery, lute, trompettes des menestrels)

Tiburtina Ensemble

  • Barbora Kabátková
  • Ivana Bilej Brouková
  • Hana Blažíková [solo in 8]
  • Daniela Čermáková
  • Anna Chadimová Havlíková
  • Kamila Mazalová (chant)
  • Hana blažíková [HB] (harp)
  • Barbora Kabátková [BK] (chant [solo in 4] & artistic director)

Oltremontano Antwerpen

  • An Van laethem (fiddle & tromba marina)
  • Catalina Vicens (organetto)
  • Hannelore Devaere [HD] (harp)
  • Andrew Lawrence-King [ALK] (psaltery & harp)
  • Philippe Malfeyt (lute)
  • Elisabeth Schollaert (shawm)
  • Raphaël Robyns (clareta & trompette des menestrels)
  • Wim Becu [WB] (buisine, clareta, trompette des menestrels, concept & artistic director)

II. Jistebnický Kancionál. (Tiburtina Ensemble/Barbora Kabátková). Supraphon CD SU 4291-2.

[Album Cover]

When, in 1872, the student Leopold Katz discovered in the attic of the presbytery in the South Bohemian village of Jistebnice an old manuscript of Czech songs, he might not have realised just how enormous its value was. Today, the hymnal, bearing the title "Jistebnický kancionál", is primarily known for containing the Hussite choral anthem Ye Who Are Warriors of God. (The melody has attained worldwide fame due to its inclusion in Smetana's symphonic poems Táborand Blaník, parts of the cycle My Country.) Yet the most notable aspect of the hand-written hymnbook is that it features songs in Czech for mass and prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. It would seem that the bold project's aim was to make liturgy accessible to the wide religious community in their own language.

The creators evidently above all strove to translate Latin hymns into Czech, but they also wrote tunes of their own. Of a particularly high value is the record of the Easter liturgy that, owing to its detailed instructions, affords us a view of the Hussite form of worship. A number of unanswered questions and mysteries still surround the Jistebnice manuscript. The present album, made by the internationally esteemed vocal Tiburtina Ensemble, lifts the veil of mystery to a certain degree, with the bright female voices conveying the sheer beauty of the songs. "How wonderful my favourite Latin choral pieces sounded in Old Czech!" Barbora Kabátková says. "I consider the Jistebnice hymnal to be a great discovery, and hope that the listeners will perceive it in the same manner".

  1. Cantio Věřmež v Boha jednoho, 02:19 (Anonym – Cantio Kristovoť jest ustavenie)

  2. Cantio Kristovoť jest ustavenie, 04:03 (Anonym – Lamentacio Aleph. Poslúchajte slova smutná)

  3. Lamentacio Aleph. Poslúchajte slova smutná, 05:40 (Anonym – Responsorium Zatmilo se jest)

  4. Responsorium Zatmilo se jest, 02:58 (Anonym – Cantio Radujme se všickni nynie)

  5. Cantio Radujme se všickni nynie, 03:37 (Anonym – Tropus Hospodine, pro tvé svaté vzkřiešenie)

  6. Tropus Hospodine, pro tvé svaté vzkřiešenie, 01:29 (Anonym – Offertorium Brány nebeské otevřel Hospodin)

  7. Offertorium Brány nebeské otevřel Hospodin, 01:07 (Anonym – Cantio Vstalť jest Kristus z mrtvých)

  8. Cantio Vstalť jest Kristus z mrtvých, 02:39 (Anonym – Sequence Všemohúcí král mocí)

  9. Sequence Všemohúcí král mocí, 03:40 (Anonym – Cantio Patřmež k Bohu tak múdrému)

  10. Cantio Patřmež k Bohu tak múdrému, 05:35 (Anonym – Introitus Nakrmil jest je z tučnosti)

  11. Introitus Nakrmil jest je z tučnosti, 02:01 (Anonym – Alleluia Tělo mé pravý jest pokrm)

  12. Alleluia Tělo mé pravý jest pokrm, 01:26 (Anonym – Prosa Abychme hodně pamatovali)

  13. Prosa Abychme hodně pamatovali, 04:12 (Anonym – Offertorium Kněžie obět Boží. Tropus Budiž pozdraveno, tělo Kristovo)

  14. Offertorium Kněžie obět Boží. Tropus Budiž pozdraveno, tělo Kristovo, 01:33 (Anonym – Communio Kolikrát kolivěk)

  15. Communio Kolikrát kolivěk, 01:02 (Anonym – Cantio Padnúc na svá kolena)

  16. Cantio Padnúc na svá kolena, 03:43 (Anonym – Introitus Daj pokoj, Hospodine)

  17. Introitus Daj pokoj, Hospodine, 01:54 (Anonym – Cantio Chvalmež Boha vždy dobrého)

  18. Cantio Chvalmež Boha vždy dobrého, 02:40 (Anonym – Tropus Děkujeme Hospodinu)

  19. Tropus Děkujeme Hospodinu, 00:23 (Anonym – Cantio Buoh všemohúcí)

  20. Cantio Buoh všemohúcí, 03:31 (Anonym – Cantio Jezu Kriste, štědrý Kněže)

  21. Cantio Jezu Kriste, štědrý Kněže, 04:05

Composer Info

Graduale Brugge, 1506, Guillaume Dufay 1397-1474, Andrew Lawrence-King, John DunsTAPle 1390-1453, Sint-Baafsabdij Gent, 1469, JACob obreChT 1457/58-1505, Gilles binChois c 1400-1460, Antiphonary Gent, 1522, Adam Bregman, 2019,

CD Info

Accent CD ACC 24373, Supraphon CD SU 4291-2