Perotin / The Hilliard Ensemble
ECM New Series 1385 | 837 751-2


1. Viderunt omnes   [11:36]   PEROTIN
D. James, J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump, M. Padmore, Ch. Daniels, G. Jones, P. Hillier

2. Veni creator spiritus   [7:29]   Anonymous
D. James, J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump

3. Alleluia. Posui adiutorium   [7:34]   PEROTIN
J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump, M. Padmore, G. Jones, P. Hillier

4. O Maria virginei   [4:49]   Anonymous
R. Covey-Crump, G. Jones, P. Hillier

5. Dum sigillum   [7:37]   PEROTIN
J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump

6. Isaias cecinit   [1:43]   Anonymous
D. James, J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump

7. Alleluia nativitas   [8:31]   PEROTIN
D. James, J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump, M. Padmore, Ch. Daniels, G. Jones, P. Hillier

8. Beata viscera   [6:12]   Philippe Le CHANCELIER
D. James, J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump, M. Padmore, G. Jones, P. Hillier

9. Sederunt principes   [11:54]   PEROTIN
D. James, J. Potter, R. Covey-Crump, M. Padmore, Ch. Daniels, G. Jones, P. Hillier


David James – countertenor, #1 2 6 7 8 9
John Potter – tenor, #1 2 3 5 6 7 8 9
Rogers Covey-Crump – tenor, #1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Mark Padmore – tenor, #1 3 7 8 9
Charles Daniels – tenor, #1 7 9
Gordon Jones – baritone, #1 3 4 7 8 9
Paul Hillier – baritone, #1 3 4 7 8 9

Digital Recording, September 1988
Boxgrove Priory, Sussex, England
Engineer and recording supervision: Peter Laenger
Cover design: Barbara Wojirsch
Produced by Manfred Eicher

An ECM Production
© 1989 ECM Records GmbH
℗ 1989 ECM Records GmbH

ECM Records, München


"All things. . . are aggregates of atoms that dance and by their movements produce sounds. When the rhythm of the dance changes, the sound it produces also changes. . . Each atom perpetually sings its song, and the sound, at every moment, creates dense and subtle forms1."

The gothic cathedrals of northern France still stand amongst us as visible proof and reminder of the extraordinary creative impulses generated during the 12th century.These impulses, at once artistic, spiritual and philosophical, permeated the whole range of cultural expression, and are to be found not least in the art and science of music. Its centre of activity has justifiably been placed in Paris and amongst the composers, mostly anonymous, associated with Notre Dame.Two important names were recorded by an Englishman (helpfully known as Anonymous IV), who tells us: "Master Leoninus was reputedly an excellent composer of organum; he compiled a great book (Magnus Liber) ... for the purpose of augmenting divine service.This was in use up to the time of Perotinus the Great, who... was an excellent composer of discantus and better than Leoninus... This master Perotinus composed excellent quadrupla, such as Viderunt and Sederunt, with an abundance of refinements of the art of music..." To see the cathedrals we have but to travel a few short distances. To hear the music is in some ways a longer journey, one which requires the imaginative re-creation of sounds that may be remote in time, but are no less subtle and compelling than the music of later ages.

Perotin's music is made up of small groups of notes superimposed on each other, yet vertically aligned so that we hear not the counterpoint of individual voices so much as a kaleidoscope of constantly shifting textures. Two types of polyphonic writing may be distinguished: organum and conductus2. In essence, organum was based on existing material (a plainsong melody and its words), while conductus was newly composed (words and music). Organunn was liturgical music, setting prose, while conductus usually set verse, and although often religious, was not specifically liturgical. In organum the parts often moved at different speeds, while in conductus they sang in the same rhythm, a style known as discant. Conductus is therefore related to medieval lyric forms, and there are indeed examples of conductus for solo voice. But it is the organunn style which has made the most remarkable impact on later imaginations, not least because two of Perotin's organa -Viderunt and Sederunt - are the earliest known examples of western European music written in four parts.

Throughout most of a piece in organunn style there is a steady pulse created by the dancing sound-patterns of the upper voices. Underlying this active surface are long sustained pitches that change but rarely and which serve as the foundation stones for the web of polyphony being enacted above them. These long pitches are in fact the opening tones of plainsong which would originally have been sung by a soloist, though here the melodic character of the chant is essentially lost. At the point where the choir would have joined in, the disposition of the chant changes gear and is suddenly rhythmical, regular and perceptibly melodic. Both types of writing are punctuated by arresting cadences until finally the chant becomes its unadorned self again.


"Each chord that might have taken fifteen or twenty seconds to play in the opening section is then stretched out as the basic pulsing harmony for a five minute piece; very much as a single note in a cantus firmus, or the chant melody of a 12th-century Organum by Perotin, might be stretched out for several minutes as the harmonic center for a section of the Organum3."

Thus Steve Reich, one of several "minimalist" composers who show strong affinities with the idiomatic processes of medieval music. Perotin speaks to the 20th-century listener quite naturally as a composer of minimalist music, nor is he alone in this amongst composers of both the Ars Antigua and Ars Nova. The concept of minimalism is of course a modern phenomenon, occurring first in the arts of painting, sculpture and architecture, then more recently in music. But the attitudes and purposes that stimulate minimalism (in its various guises), occur frequently throughout history and in both Western and non-Western cultures.

Minimalist art and music are not the same thing, but inevitably they have elements in common. A simple idea can fill an immense space - not literally, but imaginatively. Indeed a single idea has an infinite potential, whereas the counterpoint of two different ideas already begins to set limits by referring the onlooker (or listener), to the relationship between these two ideas. Simple ideas can make large forms either through sheer size (in music, duration), or pattern (repetition, systemic variation). The musical processes which Perotin brought to such a rich standard can be traced in the development of the notation of polyphonic music, and particularly in the terms borrowed by medieval theorists from the art of rhetoric.


From an anonymous St. Martial treatise: "One must know three things if one is to write an organum: how to begin, how to proceed, and how to conclude".

The 9th-century treatise Musica Enchiriadis tells us: "Just as the letters of the alphabet are the basic and indivisible parts of the spoken word, from which are composed syllables, which in turn make up the verbs and nouns from which is formed the completed speech, so the notes are the first elements of song; from the way in which they are combined arise intervals, and from the combinations of these, musical systems."

Guido d'Arezzo, in his Micrologus (c.1025), showed that structures of language, especially poetry, could be used as a model for musical form. Just as literary metre can be divided into feet of two or more syllables and lines of two or more feet, so in music we have neumae, groups of two or more notes, and sequences of two or more note-groups.

The development of measured music required a system of notation that would synchronize the movements of two or more parts, a system that not only quantified rhythms, but which thereby facilitated the combination of different lines of notes. Musicians observed that there were two basic note values - longa and brevis, long and short. They combined these elements into six rhythmic modes:

1. long - short (trochee)
2. short - long (iambus)
3. long - short - short (dactyl)
4. short - short - long (anapaest)
5. long - long (spondee)
6. short - short (pyrrhic)

These modal groupings were used in sequences of varying lengths, each sequence normally separated by a short pause. Music could now exist not only as sound, but as symbol. And once a method of symbolizing music had been established, the symbols themselves could be played with and then translated back into sound. The symbol enables the composer to work directly with patterns large and small and with different durations of sound-time. The symbol also enables the performer to grasp visually what must now be produced orally.

By developing a system of notation allied to language, certain rhetorical devices became useful to the musician as a means of enriching his composition. A figure (the shape of a neum) could be inverted, it could be repeated, extended, and with the presence of two or more parts, figures could be exchanged; so that, finally, complex patterns could be built up through fundamentally simple processes. Working with a notated music the composer was free to ponder his construction, to shape it beyond the needs of a music that would have to be memorized. It was in this way a very new art, intellectual on the one hand, but also capable of producing large musical forms of sonorous beauty and subtle variety.

"For the phenomenon of music is nothing other than a phenomenon of speculation. There is nothing in this expression that should frighten you. It simply presupposes that the basis of musical creation is a preliminary feeling out, a will moving first in an abstract realm with the object of giving shape to something concrete. The elements at which this speculation necessarily aims are those of sound and time. Music is inconceivable apart from these two elements4."

"All sounds heard at the greatest possible distance produce one and the same effect, a vibration of the universal lyre...5"

Paul Hillier


1 A. David-Neel, "Tibetan Journey" (London 1936)

2 On this recording the three anonymous pieces and "Dum sigillum" and "Beata viscera" by Perotin are in conductus style; the remaining four pieces by Perotin are in organum style.

3 Steve Reich in his liner notes for the recording of "Music for 18 Musicians", 1978. ECM NEW SERIES 1129.

4 I. Stravinsky, "The Poetics of Music"

5 H. D. Thoreau, "Walden".

Additional French notes

• Selon la définition d'Armand Machabey. »lr déchant (ou voix organale), qui nèst même pas toujours écrit, n'est qu'exceptionnellement syllabique, ou note contre note avec le chant principal; par essence même, il est ornemental.., chacune des notes (du cantus firmus) devient le prétexte d'un important mélisme à la partie déchantée qu'elle soutient comme une pédale.» (N.d.T.)

• Quadruples : Dans le motet classique, les voix, au nombre de deux, trois ou quatre, portent le nom de duplum,triplum et quadruplum. Ces voix se superposent à celle de la teneur qui est le fondement de l'édifice, cantus firmus immuable. (N.d.T.)

Arresting cadences: le terme désigne le repos sur l'octave, l'unisson ou la quinte juste, qui permet d'obtenir l'effet cadentiel défini par Léonin. (N.d.T.)

The Web SonusAntiqva
inicio home