The Black Dragon: Music from the time of Vlad Dracula

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Program: #10-34   Air Date: Aug 16, 2010

You will surely join Team Cançonier when you hear this new project; and any recording that begins with the 15th century "Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia" has to be a winner.


Tim Rayborn of Cançonièr writes:

The fifteenth century was a time of remarkable change in music, as conventions and practices evolved from medieval to early Renaissance styles. It also was a time of major transitions in art, religion, politics, and technology. During this century, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, the printing press was invented, the Tudors took the crown of England, the Moors were expelled from southern Spain, Christopher Columbus sailed, Leonardo da Vinci was born and began to work, and for a few years, a man who would become infamous ruled a small country called Wallachia in what is now southern Romania.

He was called Vlad Dracula (ca.1431-1476). His father, Vlad II, adopted the name Dracul (“Dragon”) when he joined the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order dedicated to crusading against the Turks in the Balkans. His son took the name Dracula, or “Son of the Dragon.” Dracula was, of course, partially the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic anti-hero, though he was no vampire.

Rather, Vlad’s primary goal was the resistance of the Ottoman presence in his nation. The Turks generally left conquered countries relatively autonomous, forcing them instead to pay monetary tribute and offer slaves. Vlad refused to do this, and became a rallying figure for Balkan resistance. He resorted to acts of remarkable cruelty to achieve his aims. The most famous of these was impalement on wooden stakes, but he used other tortures as well, against those that he believed had collaborated or sold out to the Ottomans, or who violated the moral order he sought to establish in his realm.

Vlad reigned from 1456-62, and was then removed from power through the efforts of his brother, Radu. He spent some years under house arrest in Hungarian territory, before returning to power in Wallachia briefly in 1476, and being killed in a battle against Ottoman forces. Rumors of his deeds began to circulate in central Europe, and it was said that tens of thousands had died horribly under his rule, though he was also lauded in some circles as a Christian champion. For many in Romania today, he is still revered as a national hero.

In 1463, a German poet named Michel Beheim wrote a poem based on information he had collected from monastic sources; Vlad was still alive at the time. Entitled the “Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia,” it was performed with music for the court of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, which was shocked and titillated by its scenes of graphic horror. This was how the story of Dracula began to circulate farther afield. The poem was reprinted several times, and became a kind of 15th-century bestseller, an early horror novel that ascribed to Vlad all manner of unspeakable acts of torture and mass murder.

Vlad was indeed a brutal man, but it is doubtful if he committed many of the more appalling deeds detailed in Beheim’s narrative. The German nobility and royalty were the mortal enemies of their Hungarian and Wallachian counterparts, so it was in their best interests to have their rivals portrayed as negatively as possible, and this work was certainly a piece of political propaganda. It is Beheim’s lurid poem which opens and closes our recording; we offer excerpts from it as book-ends.

Vlad’s tastes in music (if any) are not known, but his time presents many musical treasures from which to choose. We present music of the German composer and soldier Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376/77 – 1445 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1376/77 – 1445 FREE  end_of_the_skype_highlighting). Interestingly, he was also a member of the Order of the Dragon. His younger contemporary, Conrad Paumann (1410-73), was a blind organist who is often credited with the invention of tablature notation.

We offer several traditional Balkan folk songs from Hungary, Transylvania (then a part of Hungary), Moldavia, and Bulgaria, all regions closely connected with Vlad’s time and place. The age of these pieces often cannot be verified with certainty, but many are likely survivals from oral tradition, and their melodic structures contain modal elements reminiscent of medieval songs.

Medieval music from Eastern Europe does survive in some manuscripts, Salvator noster being a short example. In addition, the Western-leaning cosmopolitan courts of Hungary were appreciative of new art and music, and would have enjoyed fashionable French and Italian dances such as Cleves and Amoroso.

The Byzantine Empire was at the end of its life by the 15th-century, a 1,000-year-old entity (and heir to ancient Rome) that had once ruled the entire eastern Mediterranean. The last holdout was the fortified capital city of Constantinople itself. Two Byzantine pieces are featured here, one a religious chant in Greek, of the type still sung in the Eastern Orthodox Church today, and the other, secular court music discovered only in the last few decades.

A turning point in the history of the 15th century was the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Mehmet the Conqueror, Ottoman sultan and later enemy of Vlad. Western nations reacted with shock and horror to this event, calling for new crusades. In response, the great Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay wrote four laments for the fall of the city, of which only one survives. We also present an example of music from the Ottoman court, which by then had developed a sophisticated and cultured outlook of its own.

Vlad Dracula’s world was one of remarkable change and historic events that have echoed down the centuries. For a brief time, he stood up to the Ottoman juggernaut with remarkable tenacity, and succeeded in slowing its advance. Praised by many, and even by the pope in Rome for his efforts, his darker and crueler deeds have tainted the heroism attributed to him in his own day.

It is our hope that this recording conveys some of the spirit of that time and region, overshadowed by a man whose very name has become a synonym for horror.

~ Tim Rayborn


The Black Dragon: Music from the Time of Vlad Dracula (ca. 1431-76)

1. Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei (“Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia”), Michel Beheim (1416 – 1479), 1463; contrafact by Tim from Wol auf, wir wellen salfen, by Oswald von Wolkenstein (4:04)

2. Wol auf wir wellen slafen, Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376/7 – 1445) (3:35)

3. Mit ganzem Willen, Conrad Paumann (ca. 1410-73) (3:33)

4. Volek sirolmtudotlon, 13th-c. Hungarian Marian lament, contrafact from Planctus ante nescia, by Godefroy of St. Victor (ca. 1125 – ca. 1194) (3:13)

5. Azt gondoltam, esö esik, Hungarian/Transylvanian folk song (3:42)

6. Instrumental on Azt gondoltam, arr. Tim and Annette (2:18)

7. Dragaicuta, traditional Transylvanian (2:24)

8. Estéli imádság, late medieval Moldavian lament (3:04)

9. Ugrcinska Ruchenitsa, traditional Bulgarian dance (3:15)

10. La danse du cleves, 15th-c. French dance (1:55)

11. Lamentio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) (3:43)

12. Amoroso, 15th-c. Italian dance (4:17)

13. Voulgarikon, Ioannis Koukouzelis (late 14th c.), Byzantine kratima (secular court music) (6:14)

14. Kyrie echechraxa, Byzantine sticheron chant for Vespers (3:31)

15. Taksim, makam uak, Ottoman Turkish (5:50)

16. Salvator Noster, 14th-c. Hungarian polyphony, arr. Cançonièr (3:23)

17. Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei, Michel Beheim (3:53)


Annette Bauer: recorders, bells, voice, lute, percussion
Phoebe Jevtovic: voice
Shira Kammen: vielle, harp, voice
Tim Rayborn: voice, percussion, citole, lauta, tromba marina, psaltery, ‘ud

Cançonièr is a Bay Area-based early music group devoted to medieval repertoire from the 12th to the 15th centuries, and some traditional music from related regions (Scandinavia, the Balkans, and the Middle East). Created by multi-instrumentalist Tim Rayborn and recorder virtuoso Annette Bauer, the group appears both as a duo, and in an expanded form, featuring the talents of Bay Area favorite Shira Kammen on bowed strings, and the remarkable voice of Phoebe Jevtovic.

Founded in the summer of 2008, the group has quickly gained the attention of the early music community, and received acclaim for its musicianship, unusual and exciting concert programs, and its debut CD. Utilizing voices and instruments, Cançonièr brings to life the vibrant musical cultures of medieval Europe, through a combination of scholarly research, improvisational techniques, and impeccable musicianship. Cançonièr is an Occitan word (medieval southern French), meaning “songbook.” In northern France, it was known as the chansonnier. These books were medieval collections of songs, with both secular and sacred works being included. Thus, the group is a kind of modern “songbook,” bringing to life the medieval musical treasures of Europe in fresh ways that nevertheless respect their traditions and historical context. Cançonièr seeks to inform as well as entertain, and the group’s concerts are spiced with fascinating historical anecdotes, and a healthy dash of humor! Cançonièr is the Ensemble-in-Residence at MusicSources. Based in Berkeley, CA, this organization is a non-profit resource institution, a facility, and an educational center. Its annual concert series features distinguished local and international artists.

[email protected]

Composer Info

Oswald von Wolkenstein (1376/7 – 1445), Michel Beheim (1416 – 1479), Conrad Paumann (ca. 1410-73), Godefroy of St. Victor (ca. 1125 – ca. 1194), Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474),

Note: The contact information in this episode may be out-of-date. You can contact us at this current link.