Planctus Mariae
Ensemble für frühe Musik, Augsburg


The grief and mourning of Mary, Mother of God, under the cross of her son has been portrayed in medieval "Laments of Mary" (Planctus Mariæ) numerous times. These laments – often embedded in one of the great Passion plays – are usually played and sung during Holy Week. The point behind these laments is to arouse the believer's sympathy for Mary, "Compassio Mariæ"; by rendering her mourning when she sees her tortured son in such an expressive manner that the believer himself is personally affected as well by Christ's suffering. As in numerous late medieval portrayals of the Crucifixion, whose origins are closely connected with the Passion plays, the importance here is placed on actually feeling and sympathizing with the man Jesus and His mother and what they suffered through and not on a detached, rather aloof theological contemplation of this suffering as a pathway to resurrection and thus to the salvation of mankind. Essentially, it has to do with momentary scenes of a mother deeply afflicted at seeing her son die.

Heinz Schwamm
Translation: Susan Herpichböhm

1. Kyrie Rondello • (Rom, Biblioteca Vaticana, Ms. Urb. Fat. 1419, 15. Jh.)
A three-part Kyrie, Italy (15th c)

The expression "Rondello"; indicated in all of the three voices, apparently refers to the fact that the composition is divided into two parts and could possibly mean that it was modelled after a French type of polyphonic composition (Rondeau). As of yet, however, there has been no proof of the existence of any such material that could have served as a model for a contrafact.

2. Enmitten unsers lebens zeit – Media vita in morte sumus
(St. Peter in Salzburg, c. 1450-1480, Michaelbeuern, Stiftbibl., cod. Ms. cart. 1)
A one-part antiphonal song and troped antiphon, Germany / Austria (15th c)

The Latin antiphon "Media vita in morte sumus" had been widespread throughout Europe since the 11th century and was sung during Advent, Lent and Holy Week. Aside from the existence of various translations in German prose, the Latin text was transformed in the 15th century into a German song – without, however, direct use of the antiphonal melody. The Michaelbeuren Manuscript, the one we have used, comes from St. Peter's in Salzburg. Together with the song "Enmitten unsers lebens zeit"; it contains the Latin antiphon "Media vita in morte sumus" and also the rhymed trope 'Ach homo perpende fragilis', which is known from other South German manuscripts as well.

3. Oswald von WOLKENSTEIN (c. 1377-1445): Compassio Beate virginis Marie
(Wolkenstein Handschrift B, Innsbruck, Universitätsbibliothek, ohne Sign.)
A one-part song

Oswald von Wolkenstein deals with the events of the Passion in his songs two times: one of these was his comprehensive "Passio domini Jesu Christi"; which is dated 1436 in Manuscript B and included in Manuscript A as the very last entry – a manuscript compiled at an earlier date. His "Compassio Beate virginis Marie" (not in Manuscript A) was composed in the same year (both songs are thus attributed to Oswald's later works). In this composition, Oswald, using the four Gospels as a basis, makes "Mitleiden der seligen Jungfrau Maria" into a song with a very personal touch.

4. Planctus Mariæ Magdalenæ • (Padua, Bibl. Capitorale, ms. C 56, 14. Jh.)
One-part song, Italy (14th c)

The lament of Mary Magdalene is part of a liturgical celebration, the so-called "Visitatio sepulchri" (the three Marys at the sepulchre and the dialogue with the angel at Christ's empty tomb), which was acted out and performed, has its origins in the Easter liturgy and which, since the early Middle Ages, had been widely spread throughout all of Europe.

5. Und dann begann die Folterung • aus dem Johannes-Evangelium

6. Planctus beatae virginis • (Benediktinerkloster Tegernsee, 15. Jh., München, Bayer. Staatsbibl. cgm 716)
One-part planctus mariæ, Germany (15th c)

The lamentation called the "Munich Planctus Mariæ" and named after the present location of the manuscript was written down in the 15th century, most likely at the Lake Tegern Monastery, (there are some researchers, however, who have reason to believe that the manuscript actually comes from Bohemia) and perhaps dates back to an original manuscript
from the 13th century. It comprises a monologue by the deeply afflicted Mary, which portrays the suffering and death of Christ without, however, a comforting reference to His act of redemption. This particular lament as well as other lamentations of the Virgin Mary (the Passion plays included) stem from the German adaption of the Latin sequence "Planctus ante nescia" by Gottfried von St. Viktor (Gottfried von Breteuil, c. 1125/30 until shortly before 1200), which is quoted above and whose planctus had also originally been conceived as a monologue by Mary. The "Munich Planctus Mariæ" version, however – due to the fact that it was written a tone lower (that is, down from g to f with the accidental b flat) – has another and more modern type of tonality. Aside from the sequence mentioned above, there is another in Latin which originated in the early 13th century and which is, in part, quoted: "Mi Johanne(s) planctum move" is a versicle from "Flete fideles animæ"– once again, a monologue by the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross.

7. Mönch von SALZBURG (Ende 14. Jh.): Von unnser vrawen mitleiden
(Benediktinerkloster Tegernsee, 15. Jh., München, Bayer. Staatsbibl. cgm 715) • A German translation of the one-part sequence "Stabat mater dolorosa"

This song by the Mönch von Salzburg (Monk of Salzburg), who wrote and composed during the late 14th century, is a German adaption of the Latin strophic sequence "Stabat mater dolorosa". This particular sequence dates back to the 13th century and has Franciscan roots; it cannot, however, with certainty be ascribed to either St. Bonaventura (1221-1274) or Jacopone da Todi (c. 1230-1306), which has so often been the case. In his German adaption the Mönch von Salzburg not only retained the strophic form of the Latin sequence, but also used its melody.

8. Planctus Mariae et aliorum in die Parasceven
(Benediktinerinnenkloster Santa Maria in Valle, Cividale, um 1400, Cividale, Museo Archeologico, Ms. Cl)
A one-part lament

The dialogue form of the Virgin Mary laments came about through the introduction of other speakers and singers (John, Mary Magdalene). The inclusion of others is even indicated in the title ("... et aliorum"). The Mother of God (called "Maria major" here) is joined by John, Mary Jacobi (= Mary Cleophas) and Mary Magdalene. The text of the lament is, for the most part, a collage compromising parts of the sequence "Flete fideles animæ" from the "Munich Planctus Mariæ" manuscript mentioned above and parts borrowed from the sequence De compassione Beate Mariae Virginis "Qui per viam pergitis"; from Dialogus de passione Domini "O vos omnes, qui transitis" (a quotation from the Lamentationes Jeremiæ), and from the sequence "Stabat mater dolorosa". What is particularly striking about the written text of the planctus from Cividale is the numerous stage directions that have been added in smaller handwriting above the melody of almost every verse. There is, throughout the performance of this piece, a prevalence of expressive gestures: salutory gestures, bowing, kneeling, throwing oneself to the ground, embracing and a large variety of other gestures ranging from those which express mourning and lamenting to those of excessive lamentation, grief and helplessness. The spectator's attention is, in this way, drawn to Christ's suffering and, in particular, to Mary's grief and sorrow; "compassio" is thus aroused here as well (on the one hand, that of Mother Mary's, and on the other, that of all of the believers' who are present).

Translation: Susan Herpichböhm