16•09•12 Gdynia [Poland] Corpus Christi [Scanning NL-KB 70 E 4]

CorpusChristi-procession at St. Louis Convent School in Magdalene Street, Glastonbury, Somerset - Picture used for announcing Coprus Christi Psallentes
A Corpus Christi procession at St. Louis Convent School, Glastonbury, Somerset. (www.stlouisconvent.co.uk)

[ENG] Sunday 16 September 2012 at Gdynia, Poland.

With this project, chant group Psallentes♀ presents a concert programme centred on the liturgical feast of Corpus Christi, which is native to Liège and known in French locally as ‘Fête-Dieu’. When the feast was added to the church calendar in 1246, the local saint Juliana played an important role. More than 30 years earlier, she had begun having a vision of a full moon with a dark band across it: later she came to understand that this was a message pointing to an incomplete liturgical cycle, namely, that there was no feast day specifically in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. It was to the young and simple monk Jean de Cornillon that she entrusted the task of giving official shape to the new feast.

As was customary at the time, texts from Church Fathers such as St Ambrose and St Augustine served as some of the major sources for the liturgical office. In addition to the Fathers of the Church, other contemporary authors were also used, such as Alger de Liège and Peter Lombard.

As regards the music for the office, Jean started out with a programme that was already used for other liturgical celebrations: the antiphons follow the numbering of the different chant modes. The first antiphon uses the first mode, the second one the second mode, and so on. It is a supple, carefully crafted and expressive office, a valuable testimony of the Liège musical tradition. The office written by Jean spread widely within the Liège diocese and to Germany, Moravia and Poland. Still in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wrote another office for the same feast day. This soon came to be known as the universal office of Corpus Christi, although Jean’s liturgy continued to be sung in the church of Saint-Martin in Liège at least until the sixteenth century.

One of the most complete original sources for the office of Jean de Cornillon is a manuscript from Tongeren (c. 1300) that is now kept in the Royal Library of the Hague, manuscript number 70 E 4. It contains, in clear ‘Hufnagelschrift’ (horseshoe nail script), the antiphons and responsories, the hymn and a sequence.

Psallentes♀ scans the entire manuscript: the 21 pages of the office for the feast of the Blessed Sacrament are sung from start to finish, not including the customary psalms, readings or other traditional supplementary material. The chants for the first vespers, matins, lauds and the second vespers are sung in their entirety. This approach offers a new perspective, presenting the musical material exactly in the order in which it appears in the manuscript, without however being a reconstruction. The compositions reveal Jean de Cornillon as an artful composer, who succeeded in creating, through the 24-hour cycle of the Office, a dramatic unity that is given a new dimension through this scanned performance of this 40-part repertoire.

Hendrik Vanden Abeele

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