Seattle Machaut Review

Cappella Romana Rehearsing Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame in Seattle
Cappella Romana Rehearsing Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame in Seattle

The men of Cappella Romana are warming up for Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame in Seattle!

“The most visceral part of the recital was simply the experience of hearing this music in a close approximation to its original acoustical and architectural context. What’s more, partaking in Machaut’s Messe reinforces why Medieval music is so fascinating to contemporary composers. Listening to it is rather like listening to a 20th century landmark composition for the first time. The music is speculative, exploratory, even avant-garde. You can tell that its practitioners were eager to learn how polyphony worked: how voices should move, how textures might be built, which intervals should be considered consonant or dissonant, and how one could possibly capture these newfangled ideas in written form—the very concept of a “piece” of music as a physical manifestation on a scrap of parchment. When you hear these sounds, you’re listening to the birthing of Western art music, the fledgling of a new musical language—even if that sense of striving is less evident in the Messe (which culminated both Machaut’s career and a particular lineage of French polyphony reaching back three centuries) than it might be in Machaut’s more experimental chansons, or the motets and organa of his Frankish predecessors. … It’s fitting that his valedictory work, the product of such tumult and persistence, should convey so directly to modern listeners a momentous range of musical and human experience.”

Michael Schell

See the full review of the concert and music at Schellsburg.com

Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame

Guillaume de Machaut

Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)

Guillaume de Machaut

Machaut receiving Nature and three of her children. (c 1350)

Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame (c. 1360-65) began to attract great interest during the 20th century. It is the first mass composed for four voices with a known composer, and as such, it is widely considered to mark the beginning of a new musical era. In addition, Machaut himself continues to fascinate many scholars. Not only a great singer, he was also a famous poet and diplomat who lived at the center of the social and political movements of his time. He spent half of his life as the secretary of King John of Bohemia, Duke of Luxemburg, with whom he traveled to nearly every country in Europe.

The movement of the papacy to Avignon in 1309 prompted a migratory movement of singers from the north who disseminated their art and built connections with their southern counterparts from Aquitaine, Quercy, Catalonia, and Italy. Musicians who had once been attached to a specific location now began to travel from cathedrals to princely courts, to learn and to offer their skills. Their circulation created an unprecedented exchange of musical techniques, and the style of Machaut’s Mass is a testament to this cosmopolitan collaboration.

Machaut was also a priest and canon, even though the majority of his work dealt primarily with romantic rather than sacred subjects. He composed the Messe de Nostre Dame toward the end of his life, but it is interesting to note that at the same time he also wrote another masterpiece, Le voir dit, a setting of his poem describing courtly love.

Gothic Art?

Machaut: Messe de Nostre DameArtists of the 14th century would have been astonished and perhaps affronted to hear their creations described as “Gothic.” The word only came into use beginning in the 16th century to designate the aesthetic of the previous three centuries, which was considered somewhat barbarous by those who saw Antiquity as the archetype for all art. They no longer shared the world-view that gave birth to the artistic forms of the preceding centuries, which 19th-century historians later categorized once and for all as “Gothic.” Today, for the sake of convenience, we continue to use this word for the period, conscious that neither the Goths nor the European people of the late Middle Ages had the slightest idea that historians would lump them together under a single term.

During the Gothic period, Europeans saw themselves as profoundly modern and uniquely able, thanks to the development of their faculties of observation and analysis, to utilize the laws of nature to create architectural or mental constructs that had hitherto been impossible. This period is largely the result of a tremendous enthusiasm that swept through the consciousness of the time, giving rise to new forms that synthesized age-old skills and recently mastered techniques, the fruits of observation and the spirit of analysis; in a word, science. The creators of the time, particularly the musicians among them, considered themselves deeply scientific, an adjective that today seems anachronistic, but which accurately sums up their self-image.

A Musical Revolution

Machaut ScoreIn the 13th century, music underwent a radical evolution, both in theory and practice. A new musical notation system made it possible for the first time to indicate the precise duration of sounds. This was the result of efforts begun in the Carolingian period to forge tools that would enable composers to notate their music with increasing precision. Music manuscripts of the 9th and 10th centuries indicate only the articulation and ornamentation of the melody, since a system for analyzing and notating intervals was not developed until the early 11th century. In the late 13th century, musicians finally succeeded in devising a notation that also indicated every possible note-length.

When these new models of notation were proposed, they began to radically alter our relationship with time. Music, a phenomenon that could previously be properly grasped only through action, became an object of contemplation. Its unfolding in time could be perceived as a mathematical or geometrical object, independent of its manifestation in sound. This “freezing” of sound made it possible to scrutinize and structure the deployment of the sound material, creating a temporal object outside of time.

Musicians embraced this concept eagerly, and toward the middle of the 14th century an even more complex and sophisticated movement, later known as the Ars Subtilior, began to explore the temporal combinations that notation permitted to their furthest extreme. A far-reaching transformation took place. The mastery of numbers in the sphere of time gave men the impression that they had become something greater than mere cogs in a greater cosmic order. Thanks to the mathematical mastery of durations, music had become geometry of time.

With this new ability to conceive music outside of time, musicians began to regard themselves as creators, building structures that did not exist before their intervention in the sound material. This is probably why the 14th century gave rise to the gradual emergence of named composers.

Polyphony, Chant, and Performance

Marcel Pérès

Marcel Pérès

To set these colorful polyphonic pieces in their ritual context, we have surrounded the mass with some Gregorian chants sung in the French manner described by Jerome of Moravia in the late 13th century. These are the Propers of the Mass of the Purification of the Virgin. The tempo of plainchant expresses the degree of solemnity. It is brisk and lively on ordinary days, while the rhythm of declamation was slowed down for great liturgical celebrations. Polyphony always appears in a context of solemnity, for it permits one to sing the words even more slowly. This is why it was sometimes called the Positio Solemnis (“Solemn Position”). The slower the chant, the more space opens up for the art of ornamentation to blossom. Today – despite the evidence of documents of the period – performers who attempt to recreate this music of the 14th century have a tendency to ignore this art. This is a pity, because the practice, far from being a superfluous element, constitutes the very basis of the art of chant. Ornamentation conveys the skill, and therefore the legitimacy, of the singer. Ornaments are above all at the service of the text, bringing out the subtlety of its phrasing. It attracts the listeners’ attention to the complex sounds of the words by underlining syllabic articulations: the diphthongs, liquescences, and percussiveness of certain consonants that are important for the understanding of the word. The art of ornamentation, when properly mastered, opens the listeners’ minds to multiple resonances of the text which is uttered, for each word is polished, sculpted like a precious stone in which every cut, by reflecting the rays it receives, projects the twinkling of light.

– Marcel Pérès

Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame Tickets

EUGENE

Sun 4 Feb, 3:00pm
Central Lutheran Church
TICKETS
FREE CONCERT co-sponsored by the OHC’s Endowment for Public Outreach in the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities.

Marcel Pérès Returns for Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame

Marcel Pérès

Marcel Pérès

Following his Cappella Romana début in 2012 leading powerful chants from Santiago de Compostela, international early music star Marcel Pérès from Paris directs the earliest known Mass setting by a single composer, Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377), with chants for Candlemas.

Widely considered an iconoclast in the early music movement, Medieval Latin chant specialist Marcel Pérès has developed a robust and vibrant, expressive and energetic style of singing plainchant, challenging audiences and fellow scholars and performers to reconsider how to approach ancient repertories from throughout the Christian world.

After studying organ and composition at the Nice Conservatory, Pérès pursued his musical education in Great Britain and Canada. Upon his return to Europe in 1979, he began to specialize in medieval music and in 1982, he founded Ensemble Organum for the purpose of undertaking a methodical exploration of medieval liturgical repertoires.

In 1984 he founded a research centre at the Royaumont Foundation for the performance of medieval music: the CERIMM (Centre Européen pour la Recherche sur l’Interprétation des Musiques Médiévales – European Medieval Music Research and Performance Centre) where he was director until 1999.

Under his direction, Ensemble Organum has released numerous highly acclaimed recordings. Their awards include: Diapason d’or, Classical Awards, Choc de l’année of the Monde de la Musique, and New York Times’ Essential Records of the 20th Century. Pérès is also the composer of over thirty works.

In 2001, at the former Abbey of Moissac, Pérès created the CIRMA (Centre Itinérant de Recherche sur les Musiques Anciennes – Itinerant Centre for Early Music Research), designed to examine historical movement and experiential knowledge from past centuries in order to develop a mutually informative approach between living traditions and musical archaeology.

In 1990, Monsieur Pérès was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Prize by the French Secretary of State. In 1996, he received the distinction of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) from the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2013 the distinction of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters (Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres). He is godfather of the “Marcel” bell, which was built in 2012 and consecrated on February 2, 2013 for the 850th anniversary celebration of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame Tickets

EUGENE

Sun 4 Feb, 3:00pm
Central Lutheran Church
TICKETS
FREE CONCERT co-sponsored by the OHC’s Endowment for Public Outreach in the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities.

The Oregonian Reviews Santiago de Compostela Concert

The reviews are in! James McQuillen of The Oregonian reviews our Santiago de Compostela concert with Marcel Pérès:

“An iconoclastic musicologist with an intimate knowledge of a vast range of early liturgical song, Pérès joined Portland’s Cappella Romana at St. Mary’s Cathedral on Friday night for a concert that should rank among the ensemble’s many milestones, a sonically and intellectually captivating re-creation of a vespers service from the 12th-century Codex Calixtinus….

“Under the leadership of singer and scholar Alexander Lingas, the group has invited its large and enthusiastic following into byways of sacred traditions of the Christian East and West, often revealing rich troves of unusual sound and historical interest…

“Alongside [Marcel Pérès], nine male singers from Cappella gave a terrific performance, uninterrupted over nearly two hours and using facsimiles of the codex (Pérès himself sang from memory). Often repositioning themselves in the room in a way that enhanced the flow of the chant, they displayed great stamina, ensemble and musicianship, effectively creating the illusion that this unique re-creation was perfectly natural for them, and thereby that a 12th-century manuscript was returned to living tradition.”

Read the full review on OregonLive.com!

Cappella Romana In Rehearsal with Marcel Pérès

A look behind the scenes at a rehearsal with Marcel Pérès from earlier in the week:

Playlist – A Conversation with Marcel Pérès


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Concerts:

Portland – 8pm, Friday, November 16th, St. Mary’s Cathedral
Seattle – 8pm, Saturday, November 17th, St. James Cathedral

Marcel Pérès offers program notes for Codex Calixtinus Concert

Ibi barbare gentes
omnium mundi climatum
catervatim occurrunt,
munera laudis Domino deferentes, Alleluia

Foreign nations hasten there
from all over the world,
bringing with them gifts of praise
to the Lord. Alleluia!
(First antiphon, Vespers of St James)

Since the ninth century the apostle St James has been the object of great faith and fervour in the Western Christian world. Even today people, more numerous each year and with a wide diversity of motivations, arrive from all over Europe to walk the Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James, leading to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Yet the vocal music that once served as a support in the cult of St James is still little known, even to those involved with the pilgrimage, and it is therefore rarely performed today. Despite an otherwise extremely flourishing interest in the saint, the musical aspect of his cult is now relatively neglected. For that reason, in 1998, we embarked on a vast programme of research, publication and dissemination, aimed at creating a greater awareness of music of the twelfth century, when the position of St James of Compostela became fundamental in Western Christendom(1).

The origin and nature of the cult of St James are described in the Codex Calixtinus, a twelfth-century manuscript belonging to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Codex is in fact a compilation of five books. It takes its name from Pope Calixtus II (1119-1124), to whom was attributed, some thirty years after his death, the composition of the hagiographic part of the collection. This work was probably written at Vézelay towards the middle of the twelfth century and presented to Santiago de Compostela, which shared with the Burgundian monastery a strong community of spiritual thought. 21 April was fixed as the anniversary of the dedication of the two basilicas: the same date was chosen deliberately as a means of showing for all time how close the two monastic communities were in their early days, before the church of Santiago became a cathedral.

Book I of the Codex Calixtinus comprises a lectionary book of homilies for the office of matins, a breviary for the rest of the canonical hours and a missal for masses on the two great feast days dedicated to St James: 25 July, his main feast day, the Feast of the Passion of St. James, and 30 December, the Feast of the Translation. Book II contains twenty-two chapters describing various miracles that were performed through the power of St. James. Book III is very short and tells the story, in fanciful manner, of how James’s relics were translated from Jaffa to Compostela. Book IV gives an account of Charlemagne’s campaigns against the Moors in the Iberian peninsular, a text that was very popular in the Middle Ages and is now attributed to Turpin, archbishop of Rheims. Book V is the pilgrims’ guide, mentioning the various routes that may be taken, describing worship and discussing other matters to do with the church of Santiago de Compostela.

Book I contains most of the monodic musical sources, i.e. the antiphons and responses for the celebration of the liturgy on the feasts of St James: from the vigils of the previous day, and for the whole of the following week, to the octave on 1 August. Polyphony appears at the end of Book IV, where some of the responsories and a monodic alleluia from the first book are presented in versions for two voices.

The music of the Codex Calixtinus is a compilation of various works originating in important places along the pilgrimage route. It presents a striking picture of the musical styles that were then in use in those parts. The polyphonic pieces in the Codex Calixtinus are very close in style to the Aquitaine and Paris organum repertories, known to us mainly though thirteenth-century sources. This is what makes Congaudeant catholici so precious and so moving: it is the only vestige of Parisian polyphony dating from that time, and the only twelfth-century three-part work still in existence. The piece is attributed to Magister Albertus of Paris, no doubt the Albertus cantor who was active for some thirty years at St Stephen’s Cathedral (St Étienne, which preceded Notre Dame), and it is the only work by this composer that has come down to us. The liturgical part of the Codex Calixtinus offers contributions from persons of high rank: Pope Calixtus II himself, to whom most of the texts are attributed, but also the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the bishops of Benevento, Chartres and Soissons. All of them used their skill not only to compose music for the offices, but also to show the great importance to Christendom of the figure of St James, apostle of the West.

This concert presents a reconstruction of the first Vespers of 24 July, the first stage in the celebrations of the Feast of the Passion of St James. A lot has been written about Dum Pater familias. In the nineteenth century, when the Codex Calixtinus was rediscovered, there was talk of adopting it as the musical emblem of the cult of St James. However, its performance poses problems. It comes right at the end of the manuscript, added in haste in Aquitanian notation, while the rest of the manuscript is written with great care in Burgundian notation. The melody is non-diastematic. Each verse seems to express the same melody but with slight variants, which is unusual for a strophic song with refrain. We have chosen to consider the variations in each verse as an expression of details within the same melody. The melody must have been very well known, and as the scribe was pressed for time he did not bother to copy out exactly the same melody for each verse. With theses various considerations in mind, we have reconstructed the melody and its refrains. For there are in fact two refrains, which can be superposed, the one in Latin, ‘Primus ex apostolis’, and the other using words and expressions in various Germanic and Roman dialects, ‘Herru Sanctiagu, Got Sanctiagu … Deus aia nos’. Sung simultaneously, these two refrains give rise to polyphony. Dum pater familias could be a rallying hymn for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. It also has an instructive purpose, with each strophe dealing with one of the cases in the declension of Iacobus – a pleasant way of revising the basic workings of Latin!

The antiphons are written in the flamboyant style of the early decades of the twelfth century. Behind the structure of the musical discourse we can make out the compositional processes that were to be expressed in diametrically opposite ways in Cistercian chant and in the works of Hildegard von Bingen(2). Here the monody is developed with perfect mastery of the Latin prosody; the importance of the words – hence their meaning – is illustrated discreetly and effectively in the movement of the phrase. This music had good grounds to please the twelfth-century mind, which could see it as the final consummation of the religious discourse. A priori it was not necessary at that time to eradicate expressions inherited from the past; creativity meant expressing, developing and magnifying tradition.

Following a practice developed in Carolingian times, these five antiphons are each written in a different mode, the first in the first mode, the second in the second, and so on
until the fifth. This gives each antiphon its own particular atmosphere.

Then comes the responsory, sung in organum using the form that was usual in France in the twelfth century. The first words are sung by two voices. The values of the basic melody are extremely drawn out, with florid counterpoint unfolding above. After that the responsory continues in monody with the oratory delivery that was typical of a solemn office. Then the verse is sung in the same manner as the intonation. Time seems to be suspended so that the potentialities of each note of the initial melody and each word of the text may be explored and magnified by the countermelody.

The hymn Felix per omnes has two different melodies, one for the first verse and another for the second. For a long time these were believed to be alternating melodies. We discovered that may be superposed. Thus in the Codex Calixtinus we have two new polyphonic pieces – Felix per omnes and the Dum Pater refrain – whose existence has hitherto escaped its commentators.

The antiphon of the Magnificat is taken from the second vespers, which we chose in preference to that from the first simply because we wished to make it better known. Finally, the Benedicamus Domino and Deo gratias conclude these vespers, but the celebration continues with Congaudeant catholici, the earliest known three-part polyphonic piece, composed by Magister Albertus of Paris (see above). In this small marvel is concentrated all the joyful energy of celebration in song, as exemplified in the second strophe, ‘Clerus pulchis carminibus studeat’ (Let the cleric devote himself to fine songs and canticles).

This music is not easy to perform, even for specialists. One has to bear in mind information from various different fields: palaeography, prosody, vocal and ritual aesthetics, the material conditions of performance (positioning of the singers, within the church and in relation to each other) – and also have a clear vision of the different relationships that could be built up between the vocal gesture and what was written down. All of these are elements that, in the last analysis, can only be transmitted orally. Oral tradition died out almost completely among Catholics after the great reforms of the early twentieth century. A hundred years later, musicians seeking to revive this music still have difficulty in breaking free from the aesthetic canons established at that time, which brought about a radical change in the rhythmic and vocal approach to church singing. Where rhythm is concerned it was decreed (completely denying the evidence of history and tradition) that plainchant could not have a regular beat, the latter being a sign of materiality, which was incompatible with the spiritual nature of such music. Formulated over a century ago, this sophism is still rife among performers of Gregorian chant today. As for the voices, all the vocal gestures that are used to express the interpreter’s vitality – timbre, energy in the phonation, ornamentation (to bring out the dynamism of the phrase) – were deliberately dismissed from religious singing, suspected of expressing a non-spiritual materiality, conveying the singers’ possible pride. Even today most musicians who perform medieval music are still bound to those conceptions, without realising their origin.(3) Our work consisted in reviving the living traditions of religious singing with the aim of establishing the broken link between ‘musical archaeology’ (i.e. what we know from research) and the act of singing as it still exists, in Western Europe, in a few isolated places generally little known to the media. For singing is much more than just a combination of words and music. It is above all an act in which sound becomes an expression of memory – the memory of an age-old gesture that has been handed down for centuries.

— Marcel Pérès (translation by Mary Pardoe)

1) Publication of the offices of St James in original notation, part of the CIRMA’s Scriptorium programme. Two volumes: I, first and third Vespers and Lauds; II, the Masses;

2) cf. our recordings: Cistercian chant (12th century), HMC 901392; Hildegard von Bingen (12th century), Lauds of St Ursula, HMC 901626.

3) For a fuller discussion of these questions see Marcel Pérès and Jacques Cheyronnaud, Les voix du Plain-chant (Paris, Desclée de Brouwer; series ‘texte et voix’, 2001).

4) cf. Marcel Pérès and Xavier Lacavalerie, Le chant de la mémoire, Ensemble Organum 1982-2002 (Paris, Desclée de Brouwer; series ‘texte et voix’, 2002).

Buy your tickets today!

Concerts:

Portland – 8pm, Friday, November 16th, St. Mary’s Cathedral
Seattle – 8pm, Saturday, November 17th, St. James Cathedral

Conversations with Marcel Pérès – Part One – Why the Codex Calixtinus?


Cappella Romana opens its 21st Annual Season with MARCEL PÉRÈS–of France’s world-renowned ENSEMBLE ORGANUM–leading the Byzantine chant ensemble of Cappella Romana in a program drawn from the Codex Calixtinus, the priceless 12th-century manuscript recently stolen and recovered from the Cathedral of St. James in Compostela, Spain.

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Concerts:

Portland – 8pm, Friday, November 16th, St. Mary’s Cathedral
Seattle – 8pm, Saturday, November 17th, St. James Cathedral

Cappella Romana Welcomes Marcel Pérès of Ensemble Organum

Mark Powell picking up Marcel Pérès
at the airport

Cappella Romana opens its 21st Annual Season with MARCEL PÉRÈS–of France’s world-renowned ENSEMBLE ORGANUM–leading the Byzantine chant ensemble of Cappella Romana in a program drawn from the Codex Calixtinus, the priceless 12th-century manuscript recently stolen and recovered from the Cathedral of St. James in Compostela, Spain. In Portland (Fri., 16 Nov.) and Seattle (Sat., 17 Nov.).

The program features ancient Latin music for the Vespers of St. James drawn from the Codex Calixtinus, the 12th-c. manuscript that records in words and music the medieval pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, “El Camino”–“The Way,” which remains popular today.

Widely considered an iconoclast in the early music movement, Medieval Latin chant specialist Marcel PÉRÈS has developed a robust and vibrant, expressive and energetic style of singing plainchant with his Ensemble Organum, challenging audiences and fellow scholars and performers to reconsider how to approach ancient repertories of plainchant from throughout the Christian world.

Monsieur PÉRÈS has also been an active collaborator for many years with Lycourgos Angelopoulos, the director of the Greek Byzantine Choir of Athens. The singers have made several recordings together of Old Roman Chant, which dates from a time when the popes of Rome were Greek-speaking and the Latin liturgy still retained Greek psalms and hymns.

Two cathedral performances in the Pacific Northwest (St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland, Fri. Nov. 16; St. James Cathedral, Seattle, Nov. 17) featuring an ensemble of Byzantine cantors, including Spyridon Antonopoulos (Boston/London), John Michael Boyer (Boston/Portland), Constantine Kokenes (Atlanta), Alexander Lingas (Oxford) and Mark Powell (Portland). Cappella Romana is a 2012 Guest Choral Artist at St. James Cathedral.

Buy your tickets today!

Concerts:

Portland – 8pm, Friday, November 16th, St. Mary’s Cathedral
Seattle – 8pm, Saturday, November 17th, St. James Cathedral

A little about the Codex Calixtinus

A little about the Codex Calixtinus:

The Codex Calixtinus is an illuminated manuscript compiled by French scholar Aymeric Picaud between 1135 and 1139. The Codex has been held in the archives of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela since 1150, and was intended as an anthology for pilgrims following the “Way of St. James” to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The Codex is a collection of many sermons, reports of miracles, and liturgical texts associated with Saint James and set to early polyphonic music. In a strange twist, the Codex was stolen in July 2011, but was luckily found again on July 4 2012, in the garage of a former employee of the Cathedral.

Cappella Romana will be singing directly from facsimiles of the Codex Calixtinus during the Santiago de Compostela concerts with Marcel Pérès.

Buy your tickets today!

Concerts:

Portland – 8pm, Friday, November 16th, St. Mary’s Cathedral
Seattle – 8pm, Saturday, November 17th, St. James Cathedral