With Voice and Pen. Book by Leo Treitler
Coming to know medieval song and how it was made
Dialogos · Dominique Vellard · Lightnin' Hopkins · Sequentia



book with CD released on 2003
Oxford University Press

Two emphases throughout this book make the enclosed compact disc indispensable for illustration of the book’s interpretations and, more directly, as conveyer of its meanings. Both can seem so self-evident as to be redundant, but they need stating explicitly. First, medieval song was a singer’s art, an art of belting out through mastery of melody and vocal skills the thoughts, sentiments, and images of scriptural prose and sacred and secular poetry. Second, the composing and broadcasting of medieval song took place in singing; it was an oral tradition, whether or not any of it came to be represented by the ciphers of musical notation. In the absence of singing, the notated musical examples in the book would have presented themselves to readers as objects, held fast in their notational matrices. The emphases of this book, instead, do not only require recorded performances, they ask for singing that celebrates the oneness of verbal and musical expression as it celebrates voice. The performances on the disc answer to those demands, but I must put it the other way around: it is largely from such performances that I have learnt the need to make historical interpretations responsible to the moment of singing out, something that has been too much neglected in the scholarly study and— paradoxically—even in many recorded performances of medieval song (I think especially of the tradition of chant singing owing to the choirs of the Abbey of St-Pierre de Solesmes and their followers, which tends to the suppression of the vocal virtuosity, versatility, and sensuousness implicit in the written record made by notators of the Middle Ages).


Katarina Livljanic
Catherine Sergent, Caroline Magalhaes, and Katarina Livljanic
& Lucia Nigohossian in #8

01 - [4:44]
Eighth mode intonation formula and model antiphon from Paris lat. 1121 · Aquitanian, 11th c
Eighth mode introit Introduxit vos · Frankish, with trope verses from Paris lat. 1121

First mode introit antiphon Rorate caeli
02 - Frankish   [0:50]
03 - Roman · Vatican Vat. lat. 5319, 11th c.   [0:58]

First mode gradual Sciant gentes
04 - Frankish   [4:03]
05 - Roman · Codex Bodmer, 11th c.   [4:36]

Second mode alleluia v. Dies sanctificatus
06 - Frankish   [1:57]
07 - Roman, Codex Bodmer   [1:53]

08 - Organum. First mode alleluia v. Hic Martinus   [8:30]
Vatican Ottob. lat. 3025, the Vatican Organum Treatise


09 - Second mode tract Deus deus meus   [9:09]
taken from Chant Grégorien (STIL 2106 S84)


10 - Goin’ Away   [5:49]
taken from Goin’ Away (Prestige/Bluesville OBCCD522-2 [BV-1073]), courtesy of Fantasy, Inc


11 - Fifth mode offertory Factus est Dominus   [5:14]
Roman · Codex Bodmer


12 - Versus Lilium floruit   [4:36]
Paris 3549 · 12th c.
Benjamin Bagby · Eric Mentzel

13 - Versus Radix iesse   [2:18]
Paris lat. 1139 · c.1098
Benjamin Bagby
from Shining Light. Music from Aquitania (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77370 2),
courtesy of the RCA Victor Groups

14 - Versus Radix iesse   [2:01]
Le Puy A/V/7/009 · c.1588
Barbara Thornton · women choir of Sequentia

15 - Jaufre Rudel, troubadour, Lanquand li jorn   [9:20]
Barbara Thornton
Paris fr. 20050 · 13th c. For sources see Chapter 17 n. 17
digitally remastered from the cassette tape issued with The Union of Words and Music in Medieval Poetry,
edited by Rebecca A. Baltzer, Thomas Cable, and James I. Wimsatt (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991),
used with the permission of the University of Texas Press

16 - Walther von der Vogelweide, Minnesänger, Palästinalied   [7:08]
13th c. For sources see Chapter 17 n. 19
Benjamin Bagby

Chant items identified as ‘Frankish’ are based on the neumes and transcriptions of the Graduale triplex, with the exception of Track 9, which is based on Paris lat. 776 (Albi, 11th c.). Attentive listeners will notice differences of pitch content between this performance and the transcription in Chapter 6, Ex. 6.1, which is based on the Vatican Edition. I leave these differences as a tacit commentary on the concept of the ‘fixity’ of the repertory. See the introduction to Chapter 6 on this subject.

Original to this Compact Disc this CD:  #01-08, 11, 12, 14, 16 originally recorded for this CD
Benjamin Bagby supervised the recording of the new items in Paris.
Robert Berkovitz remastered tracks 14 and 15 and provided altogether indispensable guidance in the preparation of the recordings. The design for the Compact Disc was made by Leann Davis Alspaugh.
Katerina Livljanich has provided the following comment on her ensemble’s performances of chant on this recording.



All stories are haunted by the ghosts of the stories they might have been
(Salman Rushdie, Shame)

Like stories, medieval chant manuscripts seem to be haunted by the ghosts of how they might have been written. These performances of Frankish and Roman chant are just one such story: what we can hear on this recording is just one possible image of their sound, for they certainly did sound in different ways in the mouths of medieval cantors throughout Europe. When we perform chant of the Frankish tradition, we are confronted with a multitude of taciturn manuscripts from different places and centuries that transmit very similar or identical images of chant melodies. To which does one give the privilege of being considered ‘good sources for performance’? And what do we mean by ‘good source’? A diastematically precise one? Richer in rhythmical indications? Or just more legible to us than the other manuscripts? Would the same ‘good source’ be considered good by a contemporary singer and a medieval cantor for whom oral tradition was a true performance source and manuscripts were not ‘scores’ in the sense that we know that word? Would the criteria be the same?

Through decades of chant research scholars have considered some types of notation as more precise than others with respect to rhythm, giving particular privilege to the earliest neumes of the St. Gallen and Metz families. Yet this knowledge does not encourage us to translate them into a set of tables and recipes for a precise performance of each neume. The same text can reveal different truths to different readers. The discipline known as Gregorian semiology brought a new perspective to the understanding of the earliest neumes, but as singers we are aware that each performance style is just one possible reading, an interpretation of an interpretation. In this particular performance we try to take into account all the precision of the rich indications for rhythm and neume grouping provided by St. Gallen manuscripts for the Frankish pieces. Besides careful reference to rhythmic nuances in the neumatic script, there are many different levels we may consider when we want to incarnate these signs in sound. There is the rhetorical function of each piece, its modal identity, ornamental richness, a profile crystallized during centuries of oral transmission. All these elements influence our performance decisions. Yet we shall never be able to know precisely what constituted long and short durations or fast and slow movement for St. Gallen cantors and scribes, how these values related to one another, and how flexible they were in their symbiosis with the words of a chant. Yet medieval chant did not survive only through the mirror of St. Gallen neumes, and if we want to perform chant repertory from other sources we should not be trapped by a St. Gallen myopia or apply parameters from one notation to another. It seems that the ultimate help and guidance in the performance of neumes comes from the words that we are singing, the sense of the story or the sentiment we are conveying. Only in connection with the words do neumes reveal their inner logic.

This matter becomes much more complex when we look at Roman chant. Should we then say ‘As we do not know how to interpret the rhythm of this type of notation it is useless to sing this repertory’? Some layers in chants of the Roman repertory are more or less comparable to the melodies of the Frankish tradition. If we take the example of the Christmas alleluia Dies sanctificatus we shall gain a very significant amount of information from similarities in the ornamental character and phrasing of that melody between Roman and St. Gallen manuscripts. If, on the other hand, we wish to apply an analysis of the same kind to the offertory Factus est dominus we shall be confronted by less similar versions. For the highly repetitive Roman melody there will be different problems in the performance, presented by its inner construction and by the role of musical formulas in the declamation of the text that cannot be reduced to an isolated analysis of neumes.

Then what do we really want to do when we make this music sound? Do we want it to sound as it did in a medieval liturgy? (But then, in which century, at which place? in which acoustics?) Or do we simply want it to sound ‘well’? ‘Well’ for which audience? Are we not conditioned by our musicological visions and convictions, by our musical taste, by a tendency even to tailor messages from the manuscripts sometimes in order to make them suit our own theories?

From the same text performers will always read slightly different musical realities and each of these realities will be haunted by the ghosts of songs they could have been. (The way of singing three solo verses in Factus est dominus shows this plurality, and we purposely stress the different vocal and personal identities of the three singers who render them.) The attempt to reduce the song to neumes always reminds me of forbidden literature by dissident writers. When their books finally became available and openly published, one realized that many writers had been screaming for decades about the impossibility of expressing themselves in their language, but when the time came to speak, in the hysterical joy over their rediscovered tongue they forgot what they actually intended to say. In our joy over discovering neumes we might be in danger of reducing music to its script, and forgetting that we can sing.

(1) The CD accompanying this book contains recordings of several medieval chants and songs, interpreted by various performers. This note is not a musicological commentary about all of them, but an individual performer’s point of view concerning the following chants: introit Rorate caeli, alleluia Dies sanctificatus, gradual Sciant gentes, all in Frankish and Roman traditions, offertory Factus est dominus in the Roman tradition, the troped introit Introduxit vos, and an organum from the Vatican Organum Treatise.