[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.

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