Missa Transfigurationis @ Musique en Wallonie

Missa Transfigurationis. Psallentes / Hendrik Vanden Abeele

Er is een nieuwe cd uit van Psallentes! Niet de eerste en niet de laatste dit jaar, maar dit juweeltje willen we je toch wel warm aanbevelen. Te zelfbewust? Oordeel vooral zelf. De cd, uitgebracht bij Musique en Wallonie, wordt dezer dagen verdeeld, en zal vanaf eind deze week in avant-première te koop zijn op het festival Laus Polyphoniae te Antwerpen. Overigens is deze cd opgedragen aan de nagedachtenis van Dirk Snellings.

[NL] Kort na de tweede wereldoorlog merkte de archivaris van de kathedraal van Doornik dat een belangrijk manuscript verdwenen was. Het bevatte gregoriaans en polyfonie, gemaakt tussen het einde van de vijftiende eeuw en 1602. Het kwam terug boven water in 2006. Een inscriptie op het achterste schutblad geeft de titel Libellus confraternitatis Transfigurationis Domini in ecclesia Tornacensi (Boekje van de broeders van de broederschap van Ons Heren Transfiguratie aan de Kathedraal van Doornik.) Sinds de herontdekking van het manuscript hebben studies (vooral dan het werk van Anne-Emmanuelle Ceulemans) de belangrijkheid ervan aangetoond, zowel op het historische als op het muzikale vlak. Dankzij deze opname van Ensemble Psallentes onder leiding van Hendrik Vanden Abeele kunnen luisteraars de schoonheid van dit juweeltje ontdekken. Naast een anonieme polyfone mis en gregoriaans, is ook een Magnificat en een motet van Antoine de Févin te horen. Warm aanbevolen!

[FR] Peu après la seconde guerre mondiale, les archives de la cathédrale de Tournai eurent à déplorer la disparition d un manuscrit musical composé de plain-chant et de polyphonie, rédigé entre le XVe siècle et 1602. De manière inattendue, le recueil refit surface en novembre 2006 et réintégra les Archives et Bibliothèque de la cathédrale de Tournai. Une inscription sur la page de garde arrière qualifie l’ouvrage de Libellus confratrum Confraternitatis Transfigurationis Domini in ecclesia Tornacensi (Livret des confrères de la confrérie de la Transfiguration du Seigneur à la cathédrale de Tournai). Diverses études ont révélé l’intérêt exceptionnel de ce manuscrit, tant sur le plan historique que musical. L’enregistrement de l’ensemble Psallentes, sous la direction de Hendrik Vanden Abeele, permet de découvrir toutes les beautés de ce joyau.

[ENG] Shortly after the second world war, the archivists at the cathedral of Tournai noted with regret the disappearance of a musical manuscript made up of plainchant and polyphony, written between the 15th century and 1602. It unexpectedly resurfaced in November 2006 and was re-entered in the cathedral’s archives and library. An inscription on the back flyleaf gives the work the title Libellus confraternitatis Transfigurationis Domini in ecclesia Tornacensi (Little book of the friars of the Brotherhood of the Lord’s Transfiguration at the Cathedral of Tournai). Various studies have revealed the exceptional interest of this manuscript in both its historical and musical aspects. The recording by the Ensemble Psallentes, directed by Hendrik Vanden Abeele, enables listeners to discover all the beauties of this jewel.

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [15/15] The chant performer as ‘bricoleur’

In this series of posts, an attempt was made at portraying aspects of a chant performer’s creative explorations, against a backlight of developments in the world of artistic research. Focusing on the creative potential of recitation (of texts) and reconsideration (of histories, theories, contexts), an image has emerged, inevitably incomplete, of the chant performer as something of an engineer and of a bricoleur. Lévi-Strauss (1962) describes how both the engineer and the bricoleur cross-examine their resources, and how both make a catalogue “of a previously determined set consisting of theoretical and practical knowledge, of technical means, which restrict the possible solutions.” (19) In the context of what has been outlined in the previous pages, Lévi-Strauss’s description of the bricoleur’s practice is particularly relevant:

Consider him at work and excited by his project. His first practical step is retrospective. He has to turn back to an aleady existent set made up of tools and materials, to consider or reconsider what it contains and, finally and above all, to engage in a sort of dialogue with it and, before choosing between them, to index the possible answers which the whole set can offer to his problem. He interrogates all the heterogeneous objects of which his treasury is composed to discover what each of them could “signify” and so contribute to the definition of a set which has yet to materialize but which will ultimately differ from the instrumental set only in the internal disposition of its parts. (18)

It could be argued that musician’s creativity, and even creativity in general, exists in a limited and limitless dialogue with oneself, with theoretical concepts and the artistic material. As a scientist and an artist, as an engineer and a bricoleur, as a creator and a destroyer, the performer-researcher chooses (not) between a vast array of (im)possibilities – and that in itself is a constraint, often to the point of extending the limits of existing forms of expression.

Hendrik Vanden Abeele

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [14/15] Saintly

Music for saints holds a special place in the repertoire of chant. In the first centuries of Christianity a cult of saints developed, and long before the invention of musical notation a considerable repertoire of music for saints had already been established. However, the bulk of that kind of music had yet to come, since in quite a lot of cases the composition of a mass or an office-cycle dedicated to the memory of a certain saint was delayed by some hundreds of years.

Throughout the liturgical year many saints are honoured in different ways. Some of them are simply commemorated, others have full cycles of chants dedicated to certain facts in (or after) their saintly life – this of course changing according to traditions at specific dioceses. Chants composed for these occasions usually have a close textual connection to one or more of the vitas describing the saint’s life, virtues, death etc. Zimmern (2007) has shown how these vitas give an insight into their political, social and cultural context, how they highlight the importance of  the cult of saints at all levels of society and how they demonstrate the value and versatility of hagiography as a means of storytelling.

As an example of this we can turn to the seventh-century ‘Belgian’ saint Lambertus (c.630-c.700). It was only two hundred years after the death of Lambertus (a bishop of Maastricht, murdered in dubious circumstances) that Etienne, bishop of Liège, composed an office for Lambertus. The texts for this cycle were based on a Vita that Etienne probably wrote himself (Auda 1923), in its turn based on an older, anonymous Vita. In a project called ‘Gesta Sancti Lamberti’, I have been revisiting the hagiologyst chant repertoire in general via the story of Lambertus – as a kind of case study. This was a logical step to take, for four reasons.

Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [14/15] Saintly”

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [13/15] Recitation becomes chant

There is hardly any better training imaginable for a plainchant performer than a detailed experience of different forms of recitation. The art of recitation is at the heart of instruction and creative development. As described earlier, various rhetorical elements (as basic as the beginning and end of a sentence) and their translation into musical formulae, provide basic guidelines for rendering texts. With effective inflections, recitation becomes chant.

However, the core of recitational technique lies not in a performance faithful to prescribed formulae, but in its close relationship with speech and speech-rhythm, albeit (or precisely because of) the heightened speech of ritual and liturgy. As witnessed in ample examples of treatises on rhetorics from antiquity to the Renaissance, a pleasing (in the sense of accurate, clear and elegant) deliverance of text was considered to be of the utmost importance. Thus, syntactic matters of structure, overall form, phrases and verbal accentuation of a given text were related to the semantic matters, i.e. the meaning of the text. In this context, the humanist’s vision on the position of music in relation to text, with music being expected to subordinate itself to grammatical quantity, was nothing but a logical continuation of the already existent, well-known and universally taught tenets of antiquity (Cf. Harrán 1989). Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [13/15] Recitation becomes chant”

[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [9/15] Obstacles and opportunities

Today’s chant singer researching a performance practice for late medieval chant is faced with many questions. These include questions concerning language and vocal techniques, such as the proper pronunciation of Latin, use of the voice and pitch; performance practice issues such as rhythm, meter, tempo and phrasing; contextual considerations such as the number and composition of the ensemble, the place and time of performance; and repertoire matters, such as the transmission of the old repertoire and the making of a new; regional differences within the repertoire, the use of simple polyphony and the interaction of chant and polyphony. It is a frighteningly complex field of investigation. Much work has been done already, although the vast majority of it concerns the repertoire found in the oldest manuscripts. This reflects the initial objective of chant scholars to restore plainsong to its supposed original state, after long centuries of so-called mutilation. Until just a couple of decades ago, relatively few scholars were attracted to the plainsong of later periods. Moreover, those that were usually took a special interest in it primarily because of related polyphony.

Even in Kelly’s acknowledged book Plainsong in the Age of Polyphony (1992), to be considered as a major landmark in the study of late medieval chant, little practical performance information can be found. Apart from the contributions of Richard Sherr and John Caldwell (both interested in the interaction between plainchant and polyphony and its implications for chant performance), the essays in Kelly’s book do not represent research into concrete performance practice questions such as the tempo of the singing, or what rhythm to sing in. For this, we need to turn to Mary Berry’s dissertation (1968) The Performance of Plainsong in the Later Middle Ages and the Sixteenth Century. Her research has proved to be of great importance to performers, her main concern throughout being precisely problems of rhythm. Continue reading “[ENG] Recitations and Reconsiderations [9/15] Obstacles and opportunities”

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