Magister Leoninus / Red Byrd • YorVox
Sacred Music from 12th century Paris · vol. 2
Hyperion CDA 67289 —
Helios CDH 55338 — 2011

1. Iudea et Iherusalem  [6:55]
2. Descendit de celis  [12:42]

3. Et valde mane  [10:49]
4. Christus resurgens  [5:55]
5. Sedit angelus  [13:07]

6. Dum complerentur  [7:42]
7. Advenit ignis  [6:21]
8. Repleti sunt omnes  [7:12]

9. Benedicamus Domino  [2:31]

Red Byrd
John Potter • Richard Wistreich


Recorded in St Alban's Church, Holborn, London on 19-22 April 2001
Recording Engineer JULIAN MILLARD
Recording Producer MARK BROWN
Front Picture Research RICHARD HOWARD
Booklet Editor TIM PARRY Executive Producers EDWARD PERRY, SIMON PERRY
℗ & © Hyperion Recolds Ltd, London, MMI
Front illustration: Detail of Sarcophagus, Schloss Neu Augustusburg, Weissnfels, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany
Simon Marsden / The Marsden Archive

Red Byrd believes that the point of singing the music of the past is to illuminate the present. Its constant members are John Potter and Richard Wistreich, who are joined by other singers and instrumentalists with a strong grounding in early music to explore song old and new.

Its first concert, in the Musikfest Bremen in 1989, ranged from Monteverdi to Frank Martin and John Paul Jones, and in 1990/1 it toured the United Kingdom on both the early and contemporary music networks. Since then it has visited Canada, Ireland, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Italy and Finland. In 1993 it gave the first performance of Ivan Moody's Passion and Resurrection with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir at the Tampere International Choir Festival, which had commissioned the work. It gave it again with the Cappella Amsterdam at the Musica Sacra Festival, Maastricht, and these forces have recorded it for Hyperion (CDA66999), adding to the group's recordings of music by Monteverdi, Blow and Purcell with the Parley of Instruments. In 1998, Red Byrd's first Magister Leoninus CD (CDA66944) was awarded a ‘Diapason d'Or d'Ann&eacuta;e’ by the French magazine Diapason, and a BBC Music Magazine CD of the year. Broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 have ranged from Léonin via Landini, Palestrina, Whythorne and Purcell to John Cage and the first performance of Thea Musgrave's Wild Winter.

John Potter litecures at York University : his book Vocal Authority is published by Cambridge University Press and he has edited the Cambridge Companion to Singing. Richard Wistreich has contributed to that collection, and is professor of singing at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik, Trossingen. The members of the vocal ensemble YORVOS are students at the University of York.

Sacred Music from 12th-Century Paris

The history of late twelfth-century polyphony was first written a hundred years after the event by a monk who may have come from Bury St Edmunds; history has not entrusted us with his name and he is usually referred to by the title he received when his treatise was first published in the nineteenth century — Anonymous IV. Anonymous as he was, he tells us about two of the most important composers of the fifty years either side of 1200: the magistri Leoninus and Perotinus. Leoninus, we are told, wrote a cycle of two-part settings of the most important chants in the liturgical year—Christmas, Easter, Assumption and other feasts; this cycle was called the Magnus liber organi (‘The great book of organum’). Perotinus and his contemporaries played an important role in the careful recasting and elaboration of this repertory. According to the monk from Bury St Edmunds, Perotinus either shortened or edited (interpretations vary) Leoninus’ great book of organum; long sections of almost improvisatory scope were rewritten according to the tighter principles of discant composition that Perotinus himself may have contributed to codifying. Both Leoninus and Perotinus worked at the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame de Paris.; while little is conclusively known about the biography of Perotinus, recent fashion has inclined to identify Leoninus with Leo, a canon of Notre Dame in later life and, incidentally, an author of neo-Ovidian homoerotic poetry.

Organa of the type that make up Leoninus’ Magnus liber organi are polyphonic settings of plainsong. The original chants employ two musical styles: the solo sections are elaborately melismatic and contrast with the simpler, more syllabic, sections sung by the schola. It is the melismatic solo sections of the chant that are set polyphonically. The result is that a performance of organum involves polyphony and plainsong. Most of the music for the office written by Leoninus and his contemporaries consisted of settings of responsories. A responsory was made up of a respond followed by a verse, followed by a repeat of part of the original respond. The ‘Gloria Patri’ follows, and the work concluded with either the complete responsory or a part thereof, depending on the status of the feast (three of the seven responsories on this recording include a complete repeat). Within each of these main sections are settings of both solo and choral chants. The respond consists of just the first couple of words set in polyphony followed by the rest of the choral chant; the verse is entirely set in polyphony; the partial repeat of the respond is always in plainsong; the ‘Gloria Patri’ is set sometimes in polyphony, and sometimes left as plainsong. In the case of the responsory ‘Sedit angelus’ ‘Crucifixum in carne’, two settings are preserved in the principal manuscript for this repertory, and Red Byrd perform them both. In a liturgical context, only one of these would have been used.

Leoninus’ organa dupla of the Magnus liber organi took the plainsong and did one of two things with it: for the more syllabic sections of the chant that he set, he laid out the lowest part (the tenor) in long notes and wrote highly elaborate, rhapsodic lines above it (the duplum); this style of music was called organum per se (medieval terms vary, and theorists took a pedantic pleasure in pointing out the complexities of usage for a term — organum — that could mean a complete piece or a generic style or — as here — a subsection). Alternatively, he took the long melismas of the chant and organized them into repeating rhythmic cells and wrote a correspondingly tight rhythmic duplum above it. The rhythmic organization of this procedure gave rise to what are called the rhythmic modes (this style was called discantus). Both types of music exist within the same composition; the sections based on highly melismatic chants that use the rhythmic modes are called clausulae when they are given discrete, self-contained forms. The resulting structure of alternations of plainsong, organum per se and discantus can be illustrated by a transcription of the text of ‘Repleti sunt omnes’ ‘Loquebantur’.

Repleti sunt omnes spiritu sancto et ceperunt loqui prout spiritus sanctus dabat eloqui illis. Et convenit multitudo dicencium. Alleluya. Loquebantur variis linguis apostoli magnalia Dei. Et convenit multitudo dicencium. Gloria patri et filio et spiritui sancto. Alleluya

In this transcription, those parts of the text that are left in plainsong are given in roman type, those in organum per se in italics and passages in discantus are given in underescored italics. Full-blown clausulae where sections in discantus are structured according to pattern are much rarer in the responsory than in the settings of the gradual or alleluya for the Mass (see Red Byrd’s Magister Leoninus: Music for the Mass from 12th-Century Paris, CDH55328), and more often represent digressions from the sustained-tone style of organum per se than carefully patterned clausulae. In the cases of the three processional works ‘Christus resurgens‘ ‘Dicant nunc Iudei’, ‘Sedit angelus’ and ‘Advenit ignis’ ‘Invenit eos’ only the verse is set in polyphony, and the antiphon and responds are left in plainsong.

Red Byrd’s recording includes compositions from three of the most important feasts in the liturgical year: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. One of the two Christmas responsories, ‘Descendit de celis’ ‘Tanquam sponsus’ is furnished with a prosa, further sections of plainsong that decorate the original chant — in the same way that the organum itself decorates the plainsong. It is not entirely clear whether the liturgy at Notre Dame allowed both the use of a prosa and organum simultaneously, or whether each could be deployed on different occasions. In any case, Red Byrd provide a complete version of the piece including organum and prosae. The responsories recorded here are for either of the two most important offices of the liturgical day: Vespers and Matins. ‘ Iudea et Iherusalem’ ‘Constantes’ is the responsory at First Vespers on Christmas Day (actually sung the night before) and ‘Descendit de celis’ is the third responsory (out of a total of nine) for Matins on Christmas Day.

Three of the works on this recording were composed for processions. ‘Sedit angelus’ and ‘Advenit ignis’ are processional responsories, and ‘Christus resurgens‘ is a processional antiphon. Unlike the responsories, which were sung in the choir at Notre Dame, they were sung at various points around the cathedral and its environs. ‘Christus resurgens’ was written for the procession to the Baptistry of Saint-Jean-le-Rond after Second Vespers on Easter Sunday and Saturday in Easter Week, and ‘Advenit ignis’ was destined for the procession before Mass on the feast of Pentecost. ‘Sedit angelus’ was used an astonishing number of times: in the procession after Second Vespers on its return to Notre Dame, on Easter Sunday and Sunday after Easter, in the procession after Terce during the return from Saint-Jean-le-Rond and Saint-Denis-du-Pas, during the Octave of Easter and the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and in the procession on arrival at Saint Marcel, on the second Rogation Day before Ascension. The final work on this recording sets one of the best-known texts in the entire liturgy. ‘Benedicamus Domino’ was heard at the end of every one of the canonical hours and at the end of the Mass when the ‘Gloria’ was not sung. The principal manuscript for this repertory contains no fewer than eleven settings, of which the one recorded here is the ninth.

Performing the duplum lines in organum per se is a skill that is difficult to regain eight centuries after this music was originally conceived. The music notated in the original manuscripts gives a mixture of information: some idea of what the composer’s overall structure might have been, and an idea of at least one (and probably more than one) performer’s view of the music — and it has to be remembered that a performer's ‘view’ of this music would almost certainly have entailed changes to pitch and rhythm, and a sense of what a thirteenth-century editor would have done in trying to copy down and render consistent a wide range of material. So these sections which, in their floridity, resemble late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century coloratura vocal lines, differ in that they are not just blueprints to be ornamented; they are blueprints that have already been partially ornamented, and the singer of the duplum part treads a very careful path between the slavish duplication of a medieval performer’s view of the work and the complete recreation of Leoninus’ music.
In this recording, Red Byrd include a composition that in turn includes a rare example of what medieval theorists called copula, where — for short passages in organum per se — the upper voice adopts the rhythms of discantus in a sequential pattern and then returns to its original style. This is audible in the verse of ‘Iudea et Iherusalem’, as the first syllable of ‘constantes’ changes to the second and after the short passage of discantus on the word ‘estote’.

It used to be thought that the sustained notes in organum duplum were to be held relentlessly: a challenge to breath control and the sanity of the singer taking the part. Re-readings of thirteenth-century theory suggest that the tenor is responsible for contributing with great subtlety to the texture of the work by breaking the sound, at the same time as one or more of the upper voices, and this is the procedure that Red Byrd employ in this recording.

The editions of the music are taken from the manuscripts Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Pluteus 29.1 (polyphony) and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds latin 15181-2 (plainsong). The music will appear in volume 2 of Le Magnus liber organi de Notre-Dame de Paris, 7 vols (Monaco: Editions de l'Oiseau-Lyre, forthcoming).