Three Musical Adventures

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Program: #21-26   Air Date: Jun 21, 2021

The extraordinary Cappella Romana with the hymns of Kassiani, Jordi Savall’s exploration of the medieval fiddle, and Diabolus in Musica looks at musical tributes to Ockeghem.

I. Hymns of Kassianí (Cappella Romana/Alexander Lingas). Capella Records CD CR422.

 
Hymns of Kassianí Product Image
In this current century, when “firsts” by women are unfortunately still notable, Kassianí was a trailblazer for women nearly a thousand years ago. Hers is the earliest music by a female composer.

Her story is a modern one from the 9th century. Born into a wealthy and influential family, Kassianí was a beautiful, intelligent woman who was nonetheless censored. Some of her hymns and poetry were reattributed to men or were replaced with those by men in liturgical books.

She fearlessly spoke her mind. As a candidate in a brideshow, she rejected the advances of the emperor Theophilos, who was drawn to her beauty. He challenged her by saying “It is from woman that evil comes,” referring to Eve’s transgression. She replied “And also from woman came the very best,” referring to the Virgin Mary. Her terse rebuttal wounded his pride. The emperor rejected her and chose another as his wife.

Kassianí left her noble life to found a monastery and become its first abbess. She went on to write both secular and sacred poetry and hymns of notoriety. In her secular poem, Misó (I hate) she wrote the prescient line “I hate silence when it is time to speak.”

While known primarily known to Greek Orthodox today for her famous hymn in Holy Week, she is also familiar through popular culture, her character appearing in the television series “Viking,” and on an album (No Man’s Land) by English punk singer/ songwriter Frank Turner, who lifted lyrics directly from the same hymn from Holy Week.

Kassianí

Born around 810 into a wealthy and influential family in Constantinople (now Istanbul), the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Kassianí was beautiful, educated, and wrote both secular poetry and sacred hymns. She remains a popular figure among Greek Orthodox, known primarily today for her colorful backstory and a single famous hymn sung in Holy Week.

Modern research has revealed however that the historical Kassianí contributed far more than a single “hit” to Orthodox services. Scholars now view Kassía, as she probably called herself, as the outstanding figure among the small group of women known to have written texts and music for Byzantine public worship. Her independence of thought, accomplishments as a composer, and devotion to Christian religious life have led to comparisons with the later German abbess Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179), whose reputation has likewise been recently revived. Unlike Hildegard, Kassía succeeded in having her hymns circulate widely beyond her own immediate orbit, incorporated into official service books. However some of her hymnography was either actively or passively suppressed. Sometimes copied in medieval manuscripts without attribution, or reattributed to male composers, her hymns also appear under such variants of her name as Eikasía, Ikasía, Kasía, and Kassianí.

Kassia was first recorded by Byzantine historians as taking part in an imperial bride show. This was an event at which Byzantine emperors and royalty would choose a wife from among the most eligible women in the empire. The bride show in which Kassia participated was thrown for the young soon-to-be- emperor Theophilos, who was immediately captivated by her. When Theophilos approached Kassía to test her, he stated that “It is from woman that evil comes,” referring to Eve’s transgression. She replied cleverly with a play-on-words in Greek, “And also from woman came the very best,” referring to the Virgin Mary. Theophilos was taken aback by Kassía’s biting rebuke, rejecting her in favor of another, Theodora.

After opting out of her chance to become Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), Kassía founded an abbey in 843 outside of Constantinople and served as its first abbess. Historians have suggested that Kassia’s move into monastic life was a response to her rejection by Theophilos, but modern scholars now believe that it was more likely a reflection of the intense religious fervor of the day. Her move to the cloister combined Kassia’s desire to have access to the books and to the centers of learning that were part and parcel of Byzantine religious life.

Towards the end of her life, Kassia left the Abbey and traveled to Italy for a brief period, before eventually settling on the island of Kasos in Greece. She died there sometime around 865. Following her death, Kassia was canonized by the Orthodox Church as Saint Kassianí, also known as Kassianí the Hymnographer.

  1. Lamplighting Psalms: Mode 2 "Lord I Have Cried" (Arr. I. Arvanitis)  05:32
  2. Stíchera prosómoia of Christmas, Set 1 (Arr. I. Arvanitis)  10:11
  3. Stíchera prosómoia of Christmas, Set 2 (Arr. I. Arvanitis)  06:53
  4. Doxastikón of Great Vespers of Christmas Day "When Augustus Reigned"   (Arr. I. Arvanitis)  04:51
  5. Idiómelon from Great Vespers on the Eve of the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (Arr. I. Arvanitis)  03:17
  6. Tetraódion for Great and Holy Saturday (Arr. I. Arvanitis): Ode 1 - Ode 3   05:38
  7. Idiómelon from Matins for the Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican (Arr. I. Arvanitis) 03:06
  8. Tetraódion for Great and Holy Saturday (Arr. I. Arvanitis): Ode 4 - Ode 5    06:04
  9. At Great and Holy Wednesday at Matins "Lord, the Woman Found in Many Sins" (Arr. I. Arvanitis)  08:07
  10. Kálophonic stícheron "Lord, the Woman Found in Many Sins" (Arr. I. Arvanitis)  25:54
 

II. La Lira d’Esperia: The Medieval Fiddle (Jordi Savall, fiddles/Pedro Estevan, percussion). Alia Vox CD ASVA9942.

La Lira D'esperia - Savall, Jordi / Pedro Estevan - Musik - ALIA VOX - 8435408099424 - February 26, 2021
 

"The fiddle with its sweet melodies,
sometimes dreamy, sometimes joyful,
sweet notes, delightful, clear, well turned.
The listeners rejoice and make merry."
 -Arcipreste de Hita, ca. 1330

Jordi Savall attempts to recreate a certain art of sounding the bow over time. Above all, this program is a tribute to all the jongleurs and poet-musicians who were convinced that through music the soul could be moved to boldness and valour, magnanimity and generosity, all qualities that dignify the good governance of peoples.

The earliest string instruments described in Greek mythology, the lyra and the kithara are among those most frequently cited by the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.). According to Greco-Latin tradition, Apollo invented the lyre, while Orpheus invented the kithara.

From ancient times, there have been constant references to the extraordinary power and effects that music and musical instruments have over people, animals and even plants and trees. Such were the characteristic attributes of Orpheus, whose magical gifts as a musician inspired one of the most mysterious and symbolic myths in Greek mythology. With its origins lost in the mists of time, this myth gradually took on theological proportions, giving rise to a vast and often esoteric body of literature. Orpheus is the musician par excellence, whose enchanting melodies charmed wild beasts, caused trees and plants to bend down before him and soothed even the fiercest of men.

Hesperia (Esperia in Italian) was the name given in Antiquity to the two most westerly peninsulas, the Italian and the Iberian. According to the Greek philosopher Diodorus, this was also the location of the Hesperides, or Atlantis, a wondrous garden where the magical Golden Apples (...oranges or lemons?) were to be found.

And it is in Iberian Hesperia that we find the earliest references to bowed instruments. Unknown during Antiquity and in the early Middle Ages, the use of the bow to draw sound from string instruments, according to one of the most likely hypotheses, seems to have been introduced into Europe via Arabo-Islamic countries. We should not forget the high degree of sophistication achieved by Arab and Byzantine cultures by the tenth century and the importance of the cultural exchanges - often as a result of conflicts - that existed between East and West. It is not surprising, therefore, that the earliest European representations of bowed instruments are to be found in 10th century Mozarabic manuscripts of Hispanic origin: Beatus de Liebana (c. 920-930) and in various Catalonian manuscripts, including the Bible from the Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria in Ripoll.

The medieval fiddle thus emerged as one of the favorite instruments of the troubadours, jongleurs and, in particular, of the nobility who enjoyed playing the fiddle when their martial pursuits were over, as may be seen from the many references in the literature of the time and from iconographical sources, such as the seal of Bertrand Il, Count of Forcalquier (Provence), which on one side represents him armed and on horseback, and on the other playing the fiddle. These noble musicians were known as nobles jongleurs to distinguish them from the professional jongleurs, their musical activities being for pleasure rather than a means of earning a living; music for them was one of the exercitia liberalia (noble or liberal pursuits). In medieval times, therefore, the fiddle (along with the harp) was indispensable to courtly and lordly life.

I

  1. Rotundellus - Trad. Galicia - CSM 105
  2. Lamento - Trad. Adrianopoli, Séfarade
  3. Danza De Las Espadas - Trad. Algeria, El Kantara
  4. Istampitta: In Pro - Italy : Trecento mss.
  5. Saltarello - Italy : Trecento mss.

II

  1. Ritual - Trad. Algeria, Zendani
  2. El Rey De Francia - Trad. Smyrne (Izmir), Séfarade
  3. Danza Ritual - Trad. Galicia - CSM 353
  4. Istampitta: La Manfredina - Italy : Trecento mss.
  5. Trotto - Italy : Trecento mss.

III

  1. Alba - Trad. Castelló de la Plana
  2. Paxarico Tu Te Llamas - Trad. Sarajevo, Séfarade
  3. Danza Del Viento - Trad. Algeria, Berber
  4. Istampitta: Lamento Di Tristano - Italy : Trecento mss.
  5. Saltarello - Italy : Trecento mss.

IV

  1. Ductia - Trad. Galicia - CSM 248

 

III. Plorer, Gemir, Crier…  (Diabolus in Musica/Antoine Gerber). Aeon CD AECD 1226.

Plorer, Gemir, Crier: Hommage to Johannes Ockeghem Product Image
The oeuvre of Johannes Ockeghem influenced, indeed directly inspired a considerable number of musicians who were contemporary with or came immediately after the Master of Tours. Many of these talented composers took one of his works as a model, thus bearing eloquent testimony to their admiration for him.

All of them visited him and helped to popularise the image of him as a benevolent ‘father figure’ to this amazing caste of singers and composers.

Ockeghem’s death at a ripe old age in 1497 greatly affected the brilliant generation that was in the process of making the transition between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and naturally led to the creation of some deeply moving music. Four motets covering a wide stylistic range, a complete polyphonic mass and an extraordinary poem of lamentation make up this touching tribute to Johannes Ockeghem from his colleagues and friends.

The works assembled on this CD represent the highpoint of Franco-Flemish counterpoint and illustrate the imperceptible shift from Middle Ages to Renaissance thanks to this sublime music sublimated by the death of the great master. They are sung here according to the tradition of the great cathedrals and collegiate churches: a cappella, with one or two singers to a part as the works require.

From Amazon: You’ll be the one Weeping, Wailing, Crying if you don't acquire this recording before it goes out of stock. It's the apex and acme of polyphonic singing, as flawless as any performance on CD. The Voix D'Or (Golden Voice) of the CD title is that of Johannes Ockeghem (?-1497), but the designation could be applied to any of the ten voices of the ensemble Diabolus in Musica. Ockeghem himself was acclaimed as a mellifluous basso profundo and the bass lines of his polyphony certainly expanded the expressive role of the lowest voices in the music of his many disciples. The male singers of Diabolus have rich, vibrant voices, perfectly suited for the tenor-centered bottom-loaded ensemble balance of "Franco-Flemish" polyphony, while the two women mezzo-sopranos sing with lovely restraint and delicacy. It's the ensemble balance, plus the sure sense of phrasing, that makes this performance exceptionally eloquent.

Johannes Ockeghem didn't invent modern music single-handedly, though he probably has more claim to that distinction than anyone in history except Claudio Monteverdi. But Ockeghem's fame and influence were huge; nearly every known composer of his generation and the next -- Obrecht, De La Rue, Busnois, Desprez, Mouton, Brumel, Compere, Prioris, Agricola, Lupus, Regis, De Monte, Richafort, Moulu, Barbireau, Tinctoris, Lourdault, Gombert, all of The Greatest Generation of music, almost all of them Flemings -- paid Ockeghem the sincerest tribute of imitation. None of the five compositions on this CD are attributed to Ockeghem himself, but you'll hear his voice throughout.

Jacob Obrecht's Missa Sicut Rosa Spinam is constructed around two quotations of music by Ockeghem, the bass line of the Kyrie of Ockeghem's Missa Mi-mi as well as the superius of Ockeghem's motet Intemerata Dei Mater. The four motets - by Pierre De La Rue, Josquin Desprez, Antoine Busnoys, and Johannes Lupus - are all explicit tributes or elegies to Ockeghem and include his name in their texts. Ockeghem has been credited with composing the first, or close to the first, Requiem Mass, a genre that expanded the "territory" of polyphony almost as much as the Louisiana Purchase expanded the young American Republic.

Josquin's motet/chanson, in Latin and French, is deservedly among his best-known pieces; you'll find it on a dozen or more CDs. It's a moving piece on every level but don't fail to read the text. Here's the concluding phrase:

"Dress in clothes of mourning,
Josquin, Pierre, Brumel, Compere,
and weep great tears from your eyes:
you have lost your good father!
May he rest in peace. Amen" 
1. Plorer, Gemir, Crier / Requiem

Composed By – Pierre de la Rue
2. Missa Sicut Rosa Spinam:  Kyrie

Composed By – Jacob Obrecht
3. Missa Sicut Rosa Spinam: Gloria
4. Missa Sicut Rosa Spinam: Credo
5. Missa Sicut Rosa Spinam: Sanctus
6. Missa Sicut Rosa Spinam: Agnus Dei
7. Nymphes Des Bois / Requiem

Composed By – Josquin Desprez*
8. In Hydraulus

Composed By – Antoine Busnoys*
9. Ergone Conticuit

Composed By – Johannes Lupus*
 
 

Composer Info

Kassianí, Pierre de La Rue (c. 1452 – November 20, 1518), Jacob Obrecht (1457 or 1458- July 1505), Josquin Desprez (c. 1450/1455-1521), Antoine Busnois (c. 1430 – 1492), Johannes Lupi (c. 1506 – 1539),

CD Info

Capella Records CD CR422, Alia Vox CD ASVA9942, Aeon CD AECD 1226