Notes for the Utrecht OudeMuziek Festival!

The Palaiologan double-headed eagle

Programme Notes for ‘The Fall of Constantinople’

Cappella Romana – Utrecht Early Music Festival 2014

Hapsburgs borrowing the double-headed eagle from the last Byzantine dynasty, the Palaiologan emperors

Hapsburgs borrowing the double-headed eagle from the last Byzantine dynasty, the Palaiologan emperors

The Palaiologan double-headed eagle

The Palaiologan double-headed eagle

The creation of a re-imagined ‘Holy Roman Empire’, an entity which centuries later would be ruled by the Hapsburgs, was initially the response of Frankish kings and a resurgent Papacy to the retreat of Roman imperial power to Eastern Mediterranean lands ruled from Constantinople. Originally called Byzantium, this ancient city was christened ‘New Rome’ by its re-founder Emperor Constantine I and is known today as Istanbul. The political tensions with the Eastern Roman (‘Byzantine’) Empire that followed Charlemagne’s imperial coronation in 800 AD were heightened by religious disputes that eventually led the bishops of Rome and Constantinople to excommunicate each other in 1054 AD. The Fourth Crusade attempted to force reunion in 1204 by sacking Constantinople, the occupation of which lasted until the Emperor Michael Palaeologos recaptured the city in 1261. Later Palaeologan emperors oversaw a shrinking state that was artistically and spiritually rich but financially and politically weak as Western powers retained strategically important colonies on former Byzantine lands.

This concert offers a musical reconsideration of relations between Greeks and Latins during the twilight of Byzantium. Its texts speak from various perspectives of faith, tradition, division, hopes of reunion, and a final sense of loss. An Entrance Rite for a Sunday Divine Liturgy (Eucharist) as it would have been heard by Constantine XI Palaeologos, the last Roman Emperor of Constantinople, demonstrates continuity with the past, combining ancient hymns and acclamations with a new composition by imperial cantor and theorist Manuel Chrysaphes. Two motets composed by Dufay for the Malatesta family testify to continuing Western involvement in the East after the Crusades: Vasilissa ergo gaudecelebrates the 1421 marriage of Cleofe Malatesta da Pesaro to Theodore Paleologos, Despot of the Morea (Peloponnesus) and son of the Emperor Manuel II (1391–1425); while Apostolo glorioso commemorates the patron saint of Patras, the Peloponnesian city for which Pope Martin V had appointed Cleofe’s younger brother Pandolfo as Latin Archbishop in 1424. The 15th-century manuscript Athens 2401 also witnesses to cultural interchange in Patras with curious additions to the standard repertories of Orthodox chant including Greek examples of cantus planus binatim—including the polyphonic Hymn for Great Compline by Manuel Gazes sung on this concert—and a Gregorian Kyrie transcribed in Byzantine neumes with unusually long note values and signs denoting vocal ornaments.

Desperately seeking Western aid against the rising power of the Ottoman Turks, Emperor John VII led a Byzantine delegation seeking to reunite the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–39) presided over by Pope Eugenius IV. This event was later praised by John Plousiadenos (ca. 1429–1500), a theorist and composer from Venetian-ruled Crete who converted to the Church of Rome.  The concert concludes with Greek and Latin laments marking the fall of Constantinople to Sultan Mehmed II on Tuesday, 29 May 1453: a setting of verses from Psalm 78 by Manuel Chrysaphes and the Lamentatio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae by Guillaume Dufay.