Utrecht 2004: Chant Wars

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Program: #05-01, Air Date: 12/27/04

Note: All of the music on this program is from a live concert given at the Holland Festival of Early Music at Utrecht 2004 featuring the ensembles Dialogos and Sequentia. This is an attempt to reconstruct the tension as the vast editorial work of standarizing the Christian liturgy began under Charlemagne.

 As Benjamin Bagby, director of Sequentia writes:

"Between the stream and its source, where is the purest water to be found?" The Emperor Charlemagne (d. 814) is said to have uttered these words when asked to resolve a dispute between his own Frankish cantors and those of the pope in Rome, each group of vocalists convinced of its own authenticity in singing. Charlemagne expressed with this phrase his desire to return to the purity of the original source, the chant of Rome. The theme of Chant Wars is the legendary 9th-century confrontation between the cantors of the Carolingian emperors and the various regional European chant traditions they sought to replace with their own musical repertoires and vocal styles. Given the fact that we can be guided by only a handful of late written manuscript sources, together with historical witnesses -- mostly anecdotal -- to performance techniques, how can we understand and bring to vocal life again the many diversities between medieval Rome and Carolingian Gaul? In this concert, the singers of Sequentia and Dialogos join together to present aspects of these contrasts, these musical and vocal conflicts transmitted to us by singers of the Middle Ages. Surviving texts by such personalities as Paul the Deacon (a southerner) or Notker of St. Gall (a northerner) often refer to the differences between attitudes towards singing liturgical chant. But are these men speaking only of differences between melodies, of the kind that might be visually perceived in the comparative tables of musicological analysis, but which might not necessarily be audible to the listeners who heard them in oral tradition? And what if the word difference signified, to the contemporaries of Charlemagne, something more like a diversity in the manner of execution, or in the approach to the articulation of a text, in the subtle use of vocal resources? Perhaps the difference was perceived in the number of singers who made up the schola cantorum of some foreign land, or even in their strange manner of pronouncing Latin? Having been in almost continuous usage in the liturgy, Gregorian plainchant has not always enjoyed the privilege (or should we say the bad luck ?) to be considered as medieval music, and thus didnt necessarily have to conform to the ever-changing aesthetic vogues of the recently created world of historically informed performance. The participants in todays aesthetic chant wars surrounding Gregorian chant sometimes still harbor a latent belief in Romanness, in the supremacy of one singing style over all others, and a desire to be the bearer of the unique truth. In our Chant Wars we attempt to orient ourselves towards the other pole of the problem : by considering the plurality of European chant traditions, we may be able to better understand repertoires which, at the beginning of their existence and for hundreds of years thereafter, were transmitted from singer to singer in oral tradition.

Broadcast of this program is made possible with the generous support of RNW, Radio Netherlands World Service.

1. The Gregorian Myth

Gregorius Presul, trope Prologus antiphonarii
Tekst: Lucca, Bibl. capitolare, ms. 490, 8-9c.

Melodie: reconstructie door K.Livljanic op basis van Paris, BNF, ms. lat. 776, 11c.

2. The Oral tradition in Rome from the Frankish lands

Ad dominum cum tribularer, graduale

Gebaseerd op de Gradual de Sta Cecilia, Bodmer 74, 11c.

Dicamus omnes, Gallische preces

Paris, BNF, lat. 903, 11c.

3. The German Voice

Was líuto filu in flíze

(uit Otfrid von Wiessenburgs Evangelienbuch)

Wenen, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, ms. 2687, 9c.

Reconstructie: B. Bagby

Domine, exaudi orationem meam, tractus uit St. Gallen

St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, ms. 359, Cantatorium, late 9c.

Natus ante saecula, sequentia door Notker van St. Gallen

St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek 484, 10c.

4. A New Roman Tradition?

Alleluia: Prosechete laos

Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. lat. 5319, 11-12c.

Saepe expugnaverunt, tractus
Graduale de Sta Cecilia, Bodmer 74, 11c.

Deus enim firmavit, offertorium
Graduale de Sta Cecilia, Bodmer 74, 11c.

5. Chants from Frankish Songbooks

Laudate Dominum, psalmodie alleluiaticum
Londen, British Library, add. 30850, 11c.

A solis ortu usque as occidua, for Charlemagne
Reconstructie: B. Bagby op basis van Paris, BNF, lat. 1154, 10c.

Christus vincit, acclamation for the Emperor
Tekst: Paris, BNF, lat. 13159, ca. 796-800.

Melodie: reconstructie door K.Livljanic op basis van Paris, lat. 1118, ca. 990.