La Nuit de Saint Nicholas
La Reverdie · i Cantori Gregoriani


This is a liturgical drama devoted to the Feast of St. Nicholas. Reconstruction by La Reverdie is based on the English antiphonary of the 13th century (Cambridge Univ. Lib. MS Mm 2g).

Arcana 72
abril-mayo de 1998
Modena, S. Damaso, Église de Collegara

Cambridge, University Lib., MS Mm. 2g
Antiphonale Monasticum

01 - Invitatorium. Adoremus Regem seculorum   [7:06]
v 1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9

02 - [1:56]
Antiphona. Nobilissimis siquidem natalibus
v 1 2 3 4
Psalmus I
v 1 2 3 4

03 - [1:39]
Antiphona. Pudore bono repletus
v 1 2 3 4
Psalmus III
v 1 2 3 4

04 - [3:55]
Antiphona. Auro virginum incestus
v 1 2 4, vielle
Psalmus IV
v 1 2 3 4 · cloche 7

05 - Lectio   [3:16]
Paul the Deacon, Vita Sancti Nicholai, IXe s.
v 7

06 - Responsorium. Quadam die tempestate - Mox illis clamantibus   [3:41]
v 6 7 8 9

07 - Vox de celo   [1:27]
pièce instrumentale (C. Caffagni)

08 - Lectio   [2:21]
Jacopo of Varagine, Legenda Aurea seu Historia Lombardica, XIIIe s.
v 4, psalterion

09 - Responsorium. Confessor Dei Nicholaus - Erat enim valde compaciens      [3:55]
v 1 2 3 4

10 - Lectio   [5:06]
Paul the Deacon, Vita Sancti Nicholai, IXe s.
v 4 · percussion, tabule 5 1, cloche 1 3

11 - [6:38]
Responsorium. Ex eius tumba - Catervatim
v 6 7 8 9 10
Prosa. Sospitati dedit egros    
v 1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9

12 - Organum. Ex eius tumba   [8:55]
Florence, Bibl. Laurenziana, Ms Plut. 2a
v 1 2 3 4 9

13 - [2:37]
Antiphona. O per omnia laudabilem virum
v 6 7 8 9
Psalmus CL
v 6 7 8 9

14 - Resposorium. Qui cum audissent - Clara quippe voce   [3:26]
v 13 · harpe

15 - [6:18]
Antiphona. Copiose caritatis Nicholæ
v 6 7 8 9
v 1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9

16 - [6:45]
Antiphona. O Christi pietas

v 1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9

17 - [4:51]
Orléans, Bibl, Mun., MS 201
v 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 9 · cloches 10 11 12

ST. GODRIC of FINCHALE. Sainte Nicolas Godes druth
London, British Mus. Lib., MS Royal 5f
v 1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9 10 · vielle, cithara teutonica

La Reverdie

1  Claudia Caffagni · voix, cloches, psalterion, tabule
2  Livia Caffagni · voix
3  Elisabetta de' Mircovich, voix, vielle, cloches
4  Ella de' Mircovich, voix, harpe, cithara teutonica
5  Doron David Sherwin, tabule, percussions

direction du répértoire vocal, Roberto Spremulli


6  Angelo Corno, voix
7  Giorgio Merli, voix, cloches
8  Alessandro Riganti, voix
9  Roberto Spremulli, voix
10  Fulvio Rampi, voix, cloches

direction, Fulvio Rampi

avec le concours de

11  Yael Manou, cloches
12  Lorenzo Palazzolo, cloches



We may, without the slightest doubt, consider Nicholas of Patara as a beloved and called upon - although changeable- saint. Another of his prerogatives is his relaxed cosmopolitanism: the appellation which perhaps best suits him is the offhand and well targeted one used by C. W. Jones for his book Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari and Manhattan. In truth, the apparent incongruity of a cohabitation between Asia Minor, Italy and the United States perfectly sums up the prodigious voyage made by the patron saint of sailors, pueri cantores, perfumers, pawn brokers, maidens and spinsters across nations and eras, drawing Christian and pre-Christian, folk and historical elements to himself - like all the great miracle workers of the hagiography.

As pertains to history, the facts are, in truth, rather sketchy. Nicholas is not one of those saints - otherwise sometimes quite well none and highly venerated- recently expunged from the calendar due to their bothersome promiscuity with a certain legendary limbo; but he has avoided by a hair the fate that befell Saint George. What we can be reasonably certain of is that he was, at the beginning of the 4th century, a very popular bishop of great integrity in Myra, in Lycia (today Mugla, a Turkish village) where he died in 314 and where, two centuries later, his remains were still the object oft veneration. It is less certain that he was born in Patara and that he was not the same Nicholas with whom some have tried to identify him, an escapee of Diocletian's persecution who participated in the Council of Nicaea in 325.

We are on less shaky ground if we set out to look over the steps of his hagiological curriculum, the first milliary column of which coincides with a 9th century biography in Greek, as fanciful as it was appreciated. The following 'boom', took place one hundred years later, at the imperial court of the Occident, where Theophano, Byzantine wife of Otto II, actively promoted the recognition and cult of he who was perhaps the most eminent saint of Eastern Christianity. In 1087, an offensive by the Saracens served as a pretext for a group of Italian knights to steal the saint's relics and transfer them from a no-longer-peaceful Myra to Bari, his birthplace. Over these relics, one of the most majestic Romanesque cathedrals was built with astonishing speed. As early as 1195, Pope Urban II organised a Council there in which participated - another significant coincidence which would be extremely propitious to the pan-European success of Saint Nicholas- Anselm of Aosta and Canterbury, an illustrious and influential intellectual who happened to be eminently cosmopolitan. In fact, shortly after Anselm returned to his archbishopric in England, Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, was so popular with that sea-going people that Godric, a former pirate who had become a holy hermit, conversed with him (according to his contemporary biographer Reginald of Durham) during his musical ecstasies in order to learn, word by word and note by note, the moving little piece included in this collection. In Fleury, at more or less the same period, four liturgical dramas mere devoted to a famous manuscript: a record for which no other saint can compete.

These ludi which present obvious textual and melodic links with the rich but more strictly liturgical repertoire associated with the saint, draw largely from the vast collection of fabulous miracles which had accumulated over the centuries and long journeys. The inventory is as heterogeneous as possible, and extraordinarily new exploits were added to nearly every account of the saint's life: from the first drafting by the Byzantine Patriarch Methodus, translated into Latin by Paolo Diacono in the 9th century, up to Jacopa da Voragine's Legenda Aurea, seu Historia lombardica, a sort of hagiographic summa, a 13th century martirologium vademecum - and the innumerable versions of this, each of them embroidered with later miracolous triumphs, marked by a predominant parochialism. Starting in Constantinople, this hagiographic career of Saint Nicholas attains such proportions that it even reached Island where we find a Nikolassaga Biskupa. It was on the occasion of these boreal tours in Germanic climes that the good bishop of Myra was equipped wilh one of his most characteristic - and enigmatic - attributes: a broom. In the 15th century, it was so well known, even in Italy, that it appears in his hand in the splendid painting cycle that Gentile de Fabriano dedicated to the saint: an intriguing object difficult to explain, unless ¡t is simply included it amongst the items of this 'store of collective representations, a sort of attic in which one accumulates immemorial, vague, nearly forgotten customs and beliefs, traditions and rituals' about which the American researchers Sheridan and Ross speak in their study of pre-Christian substrata in the worship of saints in the Middle Ages.

For the Christian in the Middle Ages, it was inevitable that, in his devotional practices, he normally address himself not directly to the hierarchic pinnacle of the pyramid (the Omnipotent), but to one of His intermediaries or vassals, the comites palatini of Heaven. Moreover, for almost everyone, terrestrial authority was identified not so much with the emperor, the king or the pope, as with much closer figures, such as the local feudal lord or bishop, to whom direct contact with the Supreme Power was deferred. So it was that Saint Nicholas, bishop, pastor and patron saint of a small community in the real vicissitudes of his life, took on, after his death the comforting and semi-divine function of tutelary god endowed with a vast range of social categories and activities. The heterogeneity of his competencies as patron saint unrivalled: there is hardly another saint to whom the protection of such a large number of towns and countries - stretching from the Atlantic coasts to orthodox Russia - was entrusted.

And as if that were not enough, even the thaumaturgical attitudes peculiar to Saint Nicholas have something all-encompassing, an evocative power so elementary and arch-typical - and thus culturally ubiquitous - as to make it difficult to decide, on a case by case basis, whether it is a question of real 'grafts' coming from other miraculous cycles or rather the manifestation of a universal storytelling substratum. Our hero's panoply considers all the miracle-working masterpieces of the hagiology: those which few saints, as prestigious imitations of the evangelical wonders of Christ himself, could permit themselves: resurrection of the dead, multiplication of objects Olympian mastery of the raging elements, a capacity for interaction with the faithful through a sort of omnipresent and not al all material 'projection' of his abody - and all that rigorously not post mortem, the typical condition in which other saints of lesser calibre, once freed of their carnal burden, begin to give their measure. Another particularity of Nicholas (other than the marked sympathy for the weak and defenceless classes - socially, and not only from a health point of view - such as young girls, children, prisoners and Jews) is the striking recurrence of the number three, be it of his debtors or his attributes, a triplicity which we have sought to underline in musical excursus by that stylised symbolism so dear to the mediaeval mentality.

If this penchant of Nicholas's for the number three, in its semi-mythological ritual ingenuity, remind us more of a reminiscence or a pre-Christian residue rather than a metaphor linked to the Trinity, also flagrantly pre-Christian is the extravagant contaminatio which provided Saint Nicholas with the occasion for maintaining his fame up to our contemporary, so-called 'secularised' world - which, in reality, in its perceptive
atrophy of the signs of the Sacred, henceforth barely manages to decode the poorest signs, devoid of the original profundities. be they Christian or not.

The occasion thanks to which metropolises and media of modern society are literally invaded every winter by a host of Nicholas fetishes under the deceitful a appearance of Father Christmas, is, in all probability, fortuitous. Saint Nicholas was the object of this strange mutilation precisely because his functional eclecticism made him 'easier to handle' in such barely conscious operations of anthropological crossed fertilisation. In his role as patron saint of children and dispenser of gifts Saint Nicholas was already the favourite of (well-behaved) Flemish and Dutch kids in the 14th century: he brought them gifts on the day of his liturgical commemoration which, moreover, he still does, canonically garbed in episcopal ornaments, in several European countries like Switzerland, part of northern Italy and a number of regions in Germany. A few centuries later, Dutch Protestants emigrating to the New World, took with them this nice custom, borrowed from their Catholic  compatriots. And it was precisely in America, the melting pot par excellence, that the final, most secular and best known of the bishop of Myra's miracles was accomplished. The Flemish custom found itself confronted with the Scandinavian traditions relative to the sacred period of Yol, the days surrounding the summer solstice, dating which darkness and cold oblige one to remain at home and devote oneself to small jobs such as building wooden toys for the little ones. It is also during this same disturbing yet fascinating period that the ambiguous sovereign god Odin, in his terrestrial appearance as the old Passer-by, the Vetgamir of Old Norse tradition, visits the homes of men, distributing gifts to deserving hosts and meting out severe punishments to the bad. It is this evocative bearded, hoary character, wrapped in his cloak (originally grey or blue), who merged, a little more than a century later, with the prelate in red robe: the bishop's mitre gave way to the Norse hood, but the ecclesiastical purple won out over the typical Odin colours. And Father Christmas began his irresistible consumer ascension.

Referring to the decline of the Middle Ages, Johann Huizinga wrote: 'the saints were such real figures, so alive and familiar, that all the most direct religious surges were inter-linked... in their worship, whole treasure of current and ingenuous ideas crystallised, and in the spirit of the people, they lived like divinities'. One could perhaps relate these considerations to the autumn of our post-industrial civilisation: Apparently, we also have
a visceral need for this, henceforth rare, hybrid and often grotesque icons of the Transcendent for one of which Saint Nicholas, the old friend of children and wayward navigators, had the indulgence and generosity to serve as a model.

Ella de'Mircovich
Translated by John Tyler Tuttle


The music presented in this recording makes up the near totality of the Officium Sancti Nicholai Episcopi & Confessoris and consists of Matins, divided into three Nocturnes, and Lauds. The Office of Saint Nicholas was structured according te the Roman cursus and then adapted to the monastic cursus by Guglielmo di Volpiano (+ 1031). After the Invitatorium with Psalm XCIV, one can recognise the Roman cursus with its succession, for each of the three Nocturnes, of three antiphons with the simple corresponding salmody and as many melismatic responsorie prolixe, each preceded by a reading.

In the first part of the programme, up lathe responsory Qui cum audissent, we wanted to maintain the liturgical structure of a complete nocturn in Roman cursus even if, as concerns each piece, we have drawn from the whole corpus of Matins. Next come the two Anthems intended for the evangelical chants of Lauds (Copiose caritatis to the Benedictus) and from the Vespers (O Christi pietas to the Magnificat).

The primary musical source used is the famous Antiphonale sarisburiense, a diastematic testimony from the 14th century in square notation which is accepted as authoritative. The order of the pieces of this manuscript is fundamentally confirmed by the oldest unnoted antiphonaria, from German and Italian regions, such as the Bamberg Antiphonarium or that of Ivrea.

As concerns the composition, we may safely assert that these pieces, even if they do not be long to the so-called 'original content', draw handfuls from the treasury of Gregorian formulas. Some melodic behaviour clearly shows a more recent phase of composition: one finds, for instance highly developed descending successions, both under isolated form as well as within a neumatic group composed and even, in one case,
unique (the response Confessor Dei), one encounters an unusual interval of a major sixth between two consecutive notes on a same syllable. Nonetheless, the expressive sum which characterises the ultimate finality of Gregorian chant emerges in a constant manner in the simple anthems as in the more complex responses: the monody 'explains' the text in its most profound meanings.

We must point out the phenomenon of prosulation, rather free in this case, on the final melisma on the word 'sospes' in what is perhaps the best known piece of the entire Office: the great responsory Ex ejus tumba (Prossa: sospitati dedit egros). The fame of the responsory was later confirmed by its being taken up in an organum of the School of Notre-Dame which we have included in this anthology devoted to Nicholas.

The three simple antiphons (Nobilissimi siquidem, Pudore bono, Auro virginum) which, with the corresponding psalmody, are preceded by the Invitatorium (antiphon Adoremus Regem, and Psalm XCIV), are followed, as we have said, by three responsorie prolixe, each precededed by a hagiographic lectio. Indeed, there are accounts stating that these readings were long so appreciated that they took the place of all the Office's lessons, at the expense of even the reading of the the Scriptures.

Due to their liturgical destination in the evangelical hymns with semi-ornamented psalmody (Benedictus and Magnificat), the two antiphons Copiose caritatis and O Christi pietas, stand out due to their richer compositional style and larger proportions as compared to the simple antiphons which precede them. Let us also underline that, in the antiphon to the Magnificat, O Christi pietas, scholars have identified the prototype of famous Gregorian chants such as the antiphon O quam suavis, and the well-known Sanctus VIII of the Missa de Angelis.

Fulvio Rampi
Translated by John Tyler Tuttle


La Reverdie played and sang with thoughts turned towards two Klauses: one, in Paradise, who protects pueri cantores and young maidens; the other, close to us in friendship and music who continues to work miracles of generosity, kindness and availability. Our thanks, therefore, to Klaus Neumann who, with his precious and irreplaceable presence, guided the seven recording sessions for this disc.