HAMELIN ANNO 1284
On the trail of the Pied Piper
In the year 1284, a mysterious man appeared in Hamelin. He was
wearing a coat of many coloured, bright cloth and was therefore called
the Pied Piper. He claimed to be a rat catcher, and promised that he
would rid the city of all mice and rats for a certain sum of money. The
citizens struck a deal, promising him a specific price. The rat catcher
then took a small fife from his pocket and began to play. Rats and mice
immediately came from every house and gathered around him. When he
thought that he had collected them all, he led them to the River Weser
where he waded into the water holding his clothes above water. The
animals all followed him, fell into the river and drowned.
Now that the citizens had been freed of their plague, they regretted having promised such a large sum of money and refused to pay him under a multitude of pretexts. Finally he went away, embittered and angry. He returned on June 26, St John and Paul's Day, early in the morning at seven o'clock (others say it was at noon), now dressed like a hunter, with a sinister expression on his face and wearing a strange red hat. He sounded his fife in the streets and this time it wasn't rats and mice that came to him, but children: a great number of boys and girls aged four years upwards, among them the mayor's grown-up daughter. The crowd of children followed the piper who led them into a mountain, where they all disappeared. All this was seen by a babysitter with a child in her arms who had followed them from a distance and then turned round to bring the news back to the town. The anxious parents ran in droves to the town gates seeking their children. The mothers shouted and sobbed pitifully. Within the hour, messengers had been sent everywhere by water and by land inquiring if the children — or any of them — had been seen, but all in vain. A total of one hundred and thirty had been lost. Some say that two children had lagged behind and returned to the town. One of them was blind and the other mute. The blind child was not able to point out the place, but could explain how the children had followed the piper. The mute child was able to point out the place, although he [or she] had heard nothing. One little boy in shirtsleeves had gone along with the others, but had turned back to fetch his jacket and thus escaped the tragedy, for when he returned, the others had already disappeared into a cave within a hill. This cave still exists.
Up to the middle of the eighteenth century, and probably still today, the street through which the children were led out to the town gate was called the "bunge-lose" (drumless, soundless and quiet) street, because no dancing or music was allowed there, and if a bridal procession crossed this street on its way to church, the musicians would have to cease playing. The mountain near Hamelin where the children disappeared is called Koppenberg. Two stone monuments
in the form of crosses have been erected there, one on the left side and one on the right. Some say that the children were led into a cave and emerged on the other side in Transylvania.
From: Brothers Grimm "German Legends"
This is the fairy tale according to the Brothers Grimm. lt is no longer
possible to reconstruct the historical core of this tale, as this story
has survived in a number of different sources. A Latin Pastorale dating
from the fourteenth century relates:
[...] 1284 is the year in which humans of both sexes dwindled on the
day of St John and St Paul on which 130 dear boys from Hamelin were
fatefully spirited away. lt is said that Calvaria devoured them alive
[...] In the year 1284, on the day of St John and St Paul, the citizens
of Hamelin lost 130 boys who entered Mount Calvary [...]
And a manuscript from Lüneburg dating from the fifteenth century
describes in Latin:
A highly extraordinary miracle must be reported which took place in
the small town of Hamelin in the diocese of Minden in the year of our
Lord 1284 on the very day of St John and St Paul. A young man of thirty
years, handsome and exceedingly well-dressed, causing all who espied
him to admire his garments, crossed the bridge and entered the town
through the Weser gate. He carried a strange type of transverse flute
(festula) ornamented with silver and began to walk through the town
playing this flute. And all young boys who heard this transverse flute
— numbering around 130 — followed him through the East gate
out past the Calvary square or place of execution. They continued their
progress and disappeared, and nobody was able to learn where a single
one of them had gone. The mothers of the boys ran from one town to the
next, but found no traces of their sons.
[...] And, as the years are calculated according to our Lord [...], in Hamelin they counted the passing of time according to the first, second and third year following the exodus and disappearance of the children. This I found in an ancient book. And the mother of the Dean Johann von Lüde had witnessed the disappearance of the boys from the town.
Today it is thought that this tale had its origins in a story of the
banishment of children which was not interwoven with the tale of the
expulsion of rats until a later stage. Numerous theories attempt to
explain the exodus of the children from Hamelin: the most probable
interpretation is however the colonisation of the eastern areas of
Germany in medieval times which began in North Germany and reached its
zenith exactly around the time of the legend. Aristocratic East German
territorial lords were encouraging settlers to migrate to their area
and the so-called "children of Hamelin" were most probably young
citizens and their young families migrating eastwards. Immigrants
tended to use names from their former country for new settlements and
there is indeed evidence of links between Hamelin and Brandenburg and
additionally with Pomerania and Poland.
The rat-catcher was therefore most likely an agent encouraging young and active citizens to migrate eastwards and this figure was simultaneously linked with a travelling musician with a sinister appearance and a transverse flute (festulator) who utilised his enchanting melodies to "entice" the young inhabitants of Hamelin to leave the town on St John's day, the 26 June in 1284.
In this programme, Norbert Rodenkirchen attempts to reconstruct the performance of a travelling flautist in the late thirteenth century. Among other styles, he orients himself here to the music and melodies of German minnesingers of the thirteenth century: a modal genre which had on the one hand been adopted from the French trouvère tradition and on the other hand displays a number of Germanic influences. He also makes reference to the long line of development of the special melodic qualities of the lai, leich or (Old High German) laikaz, one of the most significant sources of secular music (including instrumental music) during the medieval period. Plaintive and dance-like minstrel melodic phrases are frequently interwoven in incomparable manner, fused into a single entity, and the texts frequently contain interesting references to medieval instrumental music. This music additionally displays a formal correspondence to the purely instrumental estampies which have unfortunately not been preserved in great numbers: these were probably originally improvised on motifs from the lai tradition but seldom notated.
The particular temporal and regional proximity to the context of the flute player in Hamelin led Norbert Rodenkirchen to the traces of the singer Wizlaw III, a prince and subsequent duke of Rügen, who originated from the Slav nobility. Wizlaw was born in 1265 or 1268, died on 8 November 1325 and has a close connection with the mysterious travelling musician known as "Der unghelarte" [the untaught] from Stralsund who was perhaps Wizlaw's music teacher: Wizlaw makes a reference to this figure's "senende wise" [yearning tune] in one of his own songs.
The fascinating connection between the exodus in Hamelin and Wizlaw is that the latter's vocal works provide a rich musical treasure originating from the same temporal and geographical context. Wizlaw's works are outstanding for their extraordinarily mature melodic form, demonstrating a high degree of independence within the field of the German minnesinger repertoire. We find not only pentatonic tunes of astounding beauty but also wonderfully ornamented melismatic melodies and archaic dance-like and plaintively yearning pieces in foreign keys which frequently do not correspond to the customary medieval modes utilised during this time, possibly hinting at ancient Slavic influences. A significant element in the programme on the CD is the melodic quotation of a tune originating from the laich entitled "Der unghelarte hat ghemachet eyne senende wise" [approximate translation: "The untaught has created a yearning tune] by the "unghelarte". In an additional text ("davon lide ich groze not er ich darnach singhe so ghetan eyn done"), Wizlaw communicates that he is singing in a state of great distress and has composed his own song based on the yearning tune by the "unghelarte"; the lifespan of Wizlaw's musical mentor corresponds exactly to our presumed temporal context of the Pied Piper. Even if the connection between the two remains pure hypothesis, there is hardly another medieval melody apart from the "yearning tune of the untaught" which comes closer to the historical context of the events associated with the Pied Piper; for this reason, the song appears twice on this CD as a framing element.
The programme is also interspersed with ancient Slavic melodies from the Baltic region adapted for flute; these tunes originated in the area which is currently part of northern Poland which, together with Pomerania and Rügen, can be regarded as the probable destination of the exodus from Hamelin. A particular role is played here by the context of the Kupala dance, an ecstatic and orgiastic adoration of the fertility demon in celebration of the summer solstice.
The historical text sources of the "exitus puerorum" from Hamelin suggest a charismatic musician whose foreign appearance and exotic effect of his music triggered off a wave of fascination among the town's inhabitants. The flute programme "On the trail of the Pied Piper" is based on intensive musicological research focused on the medieval monodies in the minnesinger tradition of the thirteenth century and ancient Slavic music from the Baltic area. This project is however not purely focused on historical performance practice, but also on artistic imagination, evoking the seductive effect of the magical music played by the foreign piper, his hypnotic flute tunes, archaic improvisation, trancelike rhythms and allusions to music from faraway countries — the sounds of foreign lands which have remained irresistible since time immemorial.
The medieval transverse flute (also termed as Schwegel or fife), a cylindrical tube with six finger holes, is the original form of the transverse flute utilised in ancient times as a shepherd's instrument and to accompany poetry recitals. In late antiquity, the flute was additionally a symbol for communication with the other world. This flute type spread via Byzantium to Central Europe where it remained virtually unchanged until the Renaissance period. Unlike flutes of the Renaissance however, the medieval models had a Pythagorean tuning with pure fourths and fifths and were not organised in systematic families of consorts (bass up to descant) as was the case in later periods. At all times, the expressive quality of the transverse flute retained a lyrical and contemplative character but was also prized for its possibilities of percussive articulation for rhythmic ecstatic music. The flute has always remained the instrument closest to the human voice and has therefore distinguished itself through its almost vocal quality. This has enabled authentic essential elements of medieval music to be recreated on the flute ever since.
Translations: Lindsay Chalmers-Gebracht