Zingen en spelen in Vlaamse steden en begijnhoven, 1400-1500
Music in Flemish Cities and Beguinages / Capilla Flamenca

Eufoda 1266


1. Tam verenanda  [1:34]
anoniem / Brussel, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Albert I ms. IV 421

2. Credo  [6:40]
anoniem / Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek ms. 15

3. Verbum tuum ~ In cruce  [2:32]
Johannes RONDELLI, actief 1436

4. La Spagna  [2:05]
Alfonso de la TORRE, actief ca. 1450

5. Jesus ad templum  [2:11]
anoniem / Brussel, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Albert I ms. IV 421

6. D'ung aultre amer  [2:47]
Alexander AGRICOLA, ca. 1446-1506

7. Beatus Landoaldus  [7:50]
anoniem / Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek ms. 15

8. Ihesus coninc overal  [4:48]
anoniem / Brussel, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Albert I ms. IV 421

9. Joly et gay  [1:48]
Hugo de LANTINS, actief 1420-1430

10. Tout a coup  [2:22]
ADAM, actief 1420-1430

11. Omnes Mauritium  [2:31]
anoniem / Brussel, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Albert I ms. 9786

12. Chanson  [3:44]
anoniem / Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, ms. Banco Rari 229 / Tongeren, Sint-Nildaaskerk, Varia s.s.

13. In tua memoria  [2:26]
Arnoldus de LANTINS, actief 1430

14. Salve, sancta parens  [3:07]
Johannes BRASSART, ca. 1400-1451

15. Verbum patris hodie  [2:48]
Johannes de SARTO, actief 1390-1440

16. Ave virtus ~ Prophetarum  [5:17]
Nicolaus GRENON, ca. 1380-1456

17. Prevalet simplicitas  [2:15]
Arnoldus de RUTTIS, actief 1420

18. Ave Virgo ~ Sancta Maria  [3:15]
Johannes FRANCHOIS, actief 1378-1415

Capilla Flamenca
Dirk Snellings

Katelijne van Laethem · sopraan
Katrien Druyts · sopraan
Marnix de Cat · contratenor
Jan Caals · tenor
Lieven Termont · bariton
Dirk Snellings · bas

Patrick Van Goethem, contratenor
Jan van Elsacker, tenor
Bart Demuyt, bariton
Paul Mertens, bas

Sophie Watillon, discant gamba
Eugeen Schreurs, alt gamba
Liam Fenelly, bas gamba
William Dongeois, Michèle Vandenbroucque, Franck Poitrineau · Alta Capella
Wim Diepenhorst, orgel

Samenstelling en musicologisch advies: Eugeen Schreurs
Barbara Hagg, Royal Holloway, Londen: #7
Eugeen Schreurs, Alamire Foundation, K.U. Leuwven: #1, 4, 5, 11, 13

Gamba's: Toon Moonen
Orgel: Christian Ancion (ca. 1644), Sint-Truiden, Begijnhofkerk

Opname: Kapel van het Iers College, Leuven, mei 1995
Digitale opname en montage: Jo Cops
Artistieke leiding: Paul Beelaerts
Grafische vormgeving: Daniël Peetermans
Coverillustratie: Gerard Horenbout · Processie op Sacramentsdag, Getijdenboek (Spinola-getijdenboek'),
Malibu, The J. Paul Getty Museum, 83.ML.114 (Ms. Ludwig IX.18), fol. 48v
© 1997 Davidsfonds/Eufoda

Music for Burghers, Beguines and Clerics in the 15th Century

Flanders, with prosperous cities such as Bruges and Ghent; Brabant with its ‘courtly cities’ of Brussels and Mechelen respectively; the rising metropolitan city of Antwerp and the independent prince-bishopric of Liège, with besides its capital also smaller towns such as Tongeren and Sint-Truiden: these were all regions and towns where music, monophonic as well as polyphonic, was nurtured. Courts - such as the Burgundian-Habsburg court - collegiate churches, parish churches, monasteries, beguinages and brotherhoods were the main institutions which guaranteed a flourishing and rich musical life which reached such a highly professional level that it was renowned well beyond these regions’ borders. It even inspired imitation, as can be seen in the fact that Maximilian had his court chapel organised after the ‘Brabant model’.

The diversity in sound in these - mainly religious - institutions, and the co-operation with wandering minstrels, burghers and municipal authorities, resulted in a musical boom, showing diversity as well as quantity and quality. The interchange between these groups of musicians resulted in a sound which is no longer known and which today, even in authentic performance practice, is seldom heard in all its diversity. In this context the London and Oxford professor Reinhard Strohm made an inspired choice when coining the term ‘townscape-soundscape’ in his pioneering book Music in Late Medieval Bruges.

For a long time musicology, with performers in its wake, has made an exaggerated contradistinction between Gregorian chant and polyphony. Presumably this distinction had at first a didactic reason, but after a while it started to lead its own life. Admittedly, at the time the term ‘simple sanck’ was also used - ‘simple song’ for denoting plainchant. On the other hand, musical sources also speak of ‘musieck in discante’ - ‘descant music’ which meant ‘learned’ polyphony. However, this never implied any idea of opposites. On the contrary: both genres were commonly used in perfect symbiosis during the numerous church services. Examples of more ‘recently’ composed plainchant are the two responsories from the Office of Saint Landoaldus (‘Beatus Landoaldus’), a saint whose relics were transferred during the 10th century from the village of Wintershoven, which was owned by St. Bavon’s Abbey, to Ghent, where he was worshipped from then on. The work was written in a 15th century gradual (Ghent, University Library, MS 15) originating from St. Bavon’s in Ghent. Monodic spiritual songs could also be included in ‘simple song’, such as Ihesus coninc overal, which can be found in the library of the Ter Nood Gods monastery in Tongeren (Brussels, Royal Library Albert I, MS IV 421).

The order of precedence was also diffèrent from what we have long thought in the 20th century: for late medieval man the ancient, austere Gregorian chant - including its local, specific offices - came top and the complex polyphony provided the necessary ‘varietas’ or variety in the canons’ choir. Polyphonic music was also often based on the monophonic spiritual repertoire. An example is the complex isorhythmic motet Ave virtus/Prophetarum by Nicolas Grenon, who worked in Cambrai, the Burgundian court and the Papal Chapel in Rome and who was also canon at Dendermonde. The tenor part, which supports the whole composition with its slow notes, is based on the finale of the sequence Laetabundus. The fact that in such isorhythmic motets several texts were sung simultaneously, was apparently no problem. Of course - and it makes this probably easier to understand - this type of polyphony was often meant for connoisseurs, ‘learned’ canons who probably knew the complicated texts beforehand or who sometimes wrote them themselves.

In line with the somewhat exaggerated distinction between Gregorian chant and polyphony, the role of ‘simple polyphony’ has until fairly recently also been underestimated and the research in this field neglected. The performance of this type of music has received equally little attention, because it was thought too ‘primitive’. Nevertheless, these are the roots of polyphony. Polyphony was of course closely linked to plainchant and it was also common practice to improvise polyphonically above the plainchant. These ex tempore harmonisations of a plainchant melody from the Gregorian book (‘cantare super librum’) were held in high regard - in 16th century Italy, for example, it was also known as a form of ‘contrapunto alla mente’. There are still quite a few myths in circulation regarding this simple, homophonic music practice in faux-bourdon style, which remained common until the 18th century. The remaining examples are few and far between and have not yet been catalogued completely, but those pieces that we do know are particularly instructive because they offer a better understanding of the way polyphony came to be.

The influence of the Modern Devotion movement helped to spread the use of this simple polyphonic style in monastic congregations belonging to the order of Windesheim. The previously mentioned Tongeren manuscript (Brussels, Royal Library Albert I, MS IV 421), from the second half of the 15th century, is remarkable in this respect. It contains monophonic and two-part Dutch and Latin songs and was discovered as recently as 1945 in Jongenbosch Castle. In the polyphonic settings of this manuscript the old technique of 13th century descant with parallel fifths and octaves and counter-movements (for example, Jesus ad templum) was consciously reverted to, while piercing dissonances were not avoided (for example, unprepared seconds in Tam veneranda). From later periods it transpires that this style was also in use in beguinages. An example of this can be heard in a late 16th century Ave verum which originates from the Great Beguinage in Mechelen and is now owned by the Leuven Theological Library (MS 3049h).

This elementary form of simple polyphony was also common, up to a point, in collegiate churches where it was given a place besides plainchant and complex polyphony. In the aristocratic convent of Munsterbilzen, which was in fact a collegiate church with a double chapter of 24 aristocratic female and four male canons, a similar compositional procedure was known - for example, the two-part Omnes Mauritium in praise of the local Bilzen patron saint Maurice. The work of Johannes Brassart shows very clearly that this improvisational technique had a direct influence on complex, composed polyphony. Brassart usually worked for the German emperors and sang, with Dufay, for a time at the Papal Chapel in Rome. His compositions include the three-part introit Salve, sancta parens where in some passages a somewhat more elaborated form of improvised counterpoint can be clearly heard. A four-part ‘Credo’ originates from St. Bavon’s Abbey in Ghent, which was later given collegiate status. The tenor was originally written monophonically, but the addition of a bass and two upper parts resulted in a composition in faux-bourdon style, although a number of alterations in the bass give a rather modern effect. It is a magnificent work, impressive in all its simplicity. In this composition the organ is also used alternately with polyphonic singing, as can be deduced from the indications ‘chorus’ and ‘organum’.

Another over-emphasised contradistinction is that between spiritual and profane music. Both genres were partly performed by the same musicians, which can be deduced from the contents of certain manuscripts (for example, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS 213 or Bologna, Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, MS Q15). This is no different in the more recently discovered fragments of a Tongeren ‘Songbook’ which was probably meant for use in the collegiate church. Here, besides a Salve Regina-like setting, a very distinct reading can be found of Ockeghem’s D’ung aultre amer, a chanson which was later repeatedly reworked, by Alexander Agricola among many others. Besides being performed by church musicians, this type of mixed spiritual-profane repertoire was also sung and played in domestic situations or by travelling musicians, often on instruments. When played instrumentally, the texts of the vocal models was usually left out, as in the ‘dream-like’ wordless chanson which probably originates from a rondeau.

There was a real distinction, however, between domestic music making and music in open air, especially in the choice of instruments: ‘bas’ (low, soft) in contrast with ‘haultz’ (loud). Each sizeable town had an ensemble of at least three wind instrument players at its disposal, an ‘alta capella’, consisting of cornetto, shawm and sackbut. During processions or important liturgical feasts (for example Corpus Christi) the services of these musicians were required and others taking part were priests, guild members, monks, town magistrates and the faithful: varied processions indeed, as is evident from many detailed archival descriptions. Often the musicians marched in front of the priest who carried the sacrament under a canopy. Besides dance music and improvisations on profane and spiritual tenor melodies, these town musicians gradually started playing spiritual motets as well, as for example Verbum Patris hodie by Johannes de Sarto.

Translation: Paul Rans, Nell Race