Temple of Chastity
Codex Las Huelgas - Music from 13th century Spain
Mille Fleurs

2003   |   Signum Records SIGCD043





Hu 72       1 - Virgines egregie
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 130       2 - Salve, sancta parens ~ Salve, porta regis ~
Salve, salus gencium

Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 91       3 - Surrexit de tumulo
Codex Las Huelgas

CSM 10       4 - Rosa das rosas
Cantiga de Santa Maria

Hu 145       5 - Castitatis thalamum
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 39       6 - Benedicamus benigno voto
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 31       7 - Catholicorum concio (instr.)
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 83       8 - Alpha bovi et leoni
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 164       9 - Veni, redemptor gencium
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 161       10 - Audi, pontus, audi, tellus
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 161       11 - Improvisation on Audi, pontus (instr.)
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 80       12 - Salve regina glorie
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 76       13 - Gaude, virgo, plena Deo
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 83       14 - Alpha bovi et leoni
Codex Las Huelgas

CSM 180       15 - Vella e mininna
Cantiga de Santa Maria

Hu 70       16 - Confessorum agonia (instr.)
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 132       17 - Ex illustri nata prosapia
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 105       18 - Parit preter morem
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 126       19 - Castrum pudicicie ~ Virgo viget melius
Codex Las Huelgas

CSM 166       20 - Como poden per sas culpas (instr.)
Cantiga de Santa Maria

Hu 103       21 - O Maria, virgo regia ~ Organica cantica
Codex Las Huelgas

Hu 52       22 - Maria, virgo virginum
Codex Las Huelgas

IMAGEN 3 - 6 September 2002
Church of St. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town

Mille Fleurs

Jennie Cassidy · voice (#1-5, 8, 10, 12-15, 17-19, 21, 22) sinfonye (#9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 22)
Helen Garrison · voice (#1-6, 9, 10, 12-15, 17, 18, 21, 22)
Belinda Sykes · voice (#1, 2, 4, 6, 10, 12-15, 17-19, 21, 22), shawm (#11), drums (#1, 12, 16)

Jan Walters · harp (#1, 3-5, 7, 8, 12, 15, 16, 18-20)

Temple of Chastity
Codex Las Huelgas - Music from 13th century Spain

Early in the last century two monks from the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos discovered an impressively large music manuscript in the royal convent of Las Huelgas outside Burgos. It rapidly became clear that they had chanced upon one of the treasures of early music: 170 parchment folios of monophonic and polyphonic works from the 13th and early 14th centuries. The Las Huelgas manuscript is unusual in several ways: not only is it highly organised according to genre, liturgical function and number of voices, but it also encompasses a wide range of forms and styles: it is one of the very few sources, for example, to include organa, conducti, sequences and motets. In addition, it is very rare to find a major collection that has survived in the place where it was originally compiled and copied, that process being undertaken principally by one scribe in the early decades of the 14th century, with some slightly later additions.

These unusual features make the manuscript especially intriguing for music historians, performers and listeners alike. Was it originally intended as a retrospective anthology, an act of musical conservation, which was later added to in completion or updating of this process? Or do the later additions from the 1430s and 40s by one 'Johannes Rodrigues' reflect that, on the contrary, it was consistently used as a performance tool in regular, if not everyday, use as the occasion demanded? It has been suggested that Juan Rodríguez may have been a choir director at Las Huelgas, but the name is a common one and his position at the monastery, if any, cannot be ascertained. The element of mystery surrounding the original function of the manuscript extends to the mode of performance of the repertory it contains: were its polyphonic motets or monophonic sequences, melismatic organa or sonorous, declamatory conducti, performed by the Cistercian nuns themselves? Or, as has been tentatively ventured but not proved, were they sung by the male chaplains who led worship there, at least on major occasions when polyphony was required?

Most of the repertory, whether monophonic or polyphonic settings of Latin texts, was clearly designed to solemnify the major feasts of the Virgin, to whom the royal monastery was dedicated from the time of its foundation in 1187. In this, it makes an interesting counterpart to the celebrated collection known as the Cantigas de Santa María, rather earlier in date and distinguished by its settings in the vernacular. There can be no doubt that the contents of Las Huelgas were closely connected to the monastery: laments to its founder, Alfonso VIII, and first abbess, the Infanta Doña Berenguela, sister of Alfonso X (the visionary king behind the compilation of the Cantigas), were included. To a great extent, the manuscript must reflect the liturgical and devotional practices of a medieval Cistercian monastery, but in itself it was not designed as a luxury object, despite the considerable wealth of Las Huelgas: rather, it was a pragmatic tool, an anthology to be used as a source of reference or for actual performance. Its general appearance, and the flexibility of the notation used according to the genre and style of each piece, suggest a high degree of practicality in its compilation.

By the time the manuscript was copied, the monastery was well established and exceptionally well endowed: Doña Berenguela's constitutions specified that there should be 100 nuns, all noble women, with about 40 servants of various kinds, and some chaplains, the number of which was increased in 1313 to 17 through the will of the Infanta Doña Blanca. The monastery's considerable wealth and power were sustained by its extensive lands, and there can be no doubt that it had the resources - and the needs - for artistic creativity of all kinds, from the intricate plasterwork that adorns its walls to the acquisition and performance of polyphonic repertory.

The 45 monodic and 141 polyphonic pieces contained in the Las Huelgas manuscript reflect the full range of Latin-texted music from about 1200 to the first half of the 14th century, from works in the forms and idioms of the Nôtre-Dame school to the beginning of the Ars Nova. French influence is strong, and there are many concordances between Las Huelgas and French sources. This is hardly surprising given Burgos's situation as a focal point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and its growing importance as a centre for commerce, particularly in artistic fields such as sculpture and manuscript copying and illumination. The two-voice organum Benedicamus benigno voto, for example, is a troped version of a piece found in French sources, while the monophonic Virgines egregie, also believed to be of French origin, is preserved in mensural notation only in the Las Huelgas codex. Similarly, a setting of the monophonic conductus Audi, pontus, audi, tellus, the first verse of the famous 'Cantio' of the Epistolarum of the French abbey of Aniane, is preserved in a Montpellier manuscript, but with a different melody. Still another piece, the two-voice conductus Castitatis thalamum, with its long melismas on the initial note followed by verses in syllabic style, follows the Parisian school but is not known to be preserved elsewhere. The three-voice motet Salve, porta regis takes as its tenor the Marian introit Salve sancta parens (a text favoured in the Iberian peninsula) whereas the Nôtre-Dame repertory does not usually employ introits as tenors. In other words, the repertory of the manuscript is both international and local, imported and adapted in a continual process of cultural absorption and reinvention.

The selection of pieces from the Las Huelgas manuscript by Mille Fleurs affords a glimpse into its wide range of genres and styles in an equally varied and eclectic approach to performance. Some pieces are performed as written; in others, notably in the improvisation on Audi, pontus, the notated music provides a starting-point for musical elaboration. Drones are added to some monophonic pieces, such as Veni, redemptor gencium, while instrumental accompaniments provide background support, as in particularly lyrical works such as Castitatis thalamum, or more movement and colour as in the declamatory two-voice sequence Salve regina glorie. Just as the manuscript is pragmatic in its layout and presentation, and adaptable as regards the notation of its musical repertory, so the performance options and approaches adopted and realised on this recording offer variety and flexibility, always respecting the nature of each piece. One thing is clear: throughout the Middle Ages the walls of the monastery of Las Huelgas resounded to the most highly refined and eloquently beautiful musical settings then in circulation northern Spain.

Tess Knighton
June 2003


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