Pillar of Wisdom / The Renaissance Players
Cantigas de Santa Maria IV





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Tall Poppies TP231

2014







1. Gran fe devia om' aver  [2:46]   CSM 187
Winsome Evans, sinfonye | Andrew Lambkin, finger tapan

2. Entre Av' e Eva  [5:26]   CSM 60
Belinda Montgomery, soprano | Melissa Irwin · Mina Kanaridis, chorus
Winsome Evans, harp, gemshorn


3. Ben com' aos que van per mar  [5:36]   CSM 49
Mina Kanaridis, soprano
Winsome Evans, psaltery


4. A madre do que livrou  [9:48]   CSM 4
Mina Kanaridis, soprano
Winsome Evans, harp


5. Gran dereit e que fill' o demo  [4:57]   CSM 34
Winsome Evans, alto shawms (3), zūrnās (2) | Andrew Lambkin, finger tapan | Barbara Stackpool, castanets

6. Muito foi noss' amigo  [6:10]   CSM 210
Mina Kanaridis, soprano
Winsome Evans, harp, gemshorn | Andrew Lambkin, finger cymbals


7. Entre Av' e Eva  [7:57]   CSM 60
Mina Kanaridis, soprano | Melissa Irwin · Belinda Montgomery, chorus
Winsome Evans, sinfonye | Andrew Lambkin, pandero


8. Non deve null' ome  [4:48]   CSM 50
Melissa Irwin, soprano | Belinda Montgomery, soprano | Mina Kanaridis, soprano
Winsome Evans, pandero | Andrew Lambkin, pandero


9. A madre do que a bestia  [3:04]   CSM 147
Winsome Evans, bombardes (3) | Andrew Lambkin, bombo, tapan

10. A madre de Deus  [9:33]   CSM 184
Mina Kanaridis, solo soprano | Melissa Irwin, chorus, tapan | Belinda Montgomery, chorus, ud
Winsome Evans, whistles (2) | Nick Wales, vielle | Llew Kiek, gittern
Andrew Lambkin, darabukka, tapan | Barbara Stackpool, castanets



[10:12-11:29
fragment   CSM 184]















1. Gran fe devia om' aver   (C. 187)

The mixolydian melody of this cantiga is played on the sinfonye, with its additive rhythms underlined by the finger tapan.

The locale of the miracles described in the twelve stanzas of unsung text is the first Christian church in Syria. At the command of Holy Mary while still living on Mount Zion, this church had been established by the apostles on the site of an ancient Jewish synagogue, possibly (in the opinion of several modern scholars) the site of the Last Supper. Many years later, on two separate occasions, during the hardships of famine, the monks of the abbey prayed all night to Mary for some alleviation to the general suffering. In the morning, on the first occasion, all the communal granaries were discovered full to the brim and, on the second, a great quantity of gleaming gold was found on the altar.


2. Entre Av' e Eva   (C. 60)

Possibly the earliest reference to both the naming of Holy Mary as "Ave" and the explanation of the palindromic connection of "Ave" and "Eva" is found in the hymn Ave maris stella by the 6th century poet-bishop Venantius Fortunatus. In calling Mary Ave, he gives as his reasons:

"Borrowing this Ave from the mouth of Gabriel ... an altering of the name of Eva".

This reminds us that Gabriel, in introducing his message from God, addressed the maiden Mary in the vocative case: "Ave", that is, "O, hail" (literally, from aveo: "O, be well" or "O, be in good health"). Thus is the Ave-Maria metonomy established.

In addition to this, within each of the four stanzas, the poet of cantiga 60 develops by example the conceptual contraposition of Ave as the epitome of goodness and Eva as that of evil. This is analogous to the bẽeito/maldito (blessed/ cursed) antithesis in the alternate stanzas of Maldito seja quen non loara (C. 290). The Ave-Maria substitution is clarified in stanza 4 where, after the reference to "Eva" locking us out of Heaven by throwing away the key, "Maria" is named directly and what was formerly Gabriel's "Ave" is reestablished here as a salutation from Maria-Ave as she triumphantly breaks open, as it were, the locked doors of Heaven (with the breaking open of her womb for the birth of Jesus Christ).

The Ave-Eva palindrome is reflected in the structural organisation of our performance which is arranged such that it could go on endlessly in an everlasting circle, as a sort of "my end is my beginning is my end". A manifestation of another kind of circular movement lies in the poetic structure of this cantiga where the text of the first three stanzas neatly flows over into the refrain line which is thus contrived to function as a sort of explanatory punch-line.

Stanzas 1 and 4 are performed in measured rhythms, while stanzas 2 and 3 are in free rhythm. Each refrain is preceded by a short instrumental cue. In the stanzas, the æolian melody is increasingly decorated (especially in the central stanzas 2 and 3), while the refrains (repeated for emphasis) are always sung plainly with organum-based harmonies. The simple instrumentation is related to that used in our rendition of Maldito seja (particularly the bẽeito aspect) and in Muito foi noss' amigo (with its Gabriel and "Ave" connections) — namely, gemshorn and harp.


3. Ben com' aos que van per mar   (C. 49)

To heighten the drama of this narrative, the first known written source in which Holy Mary actually appears as a pilgrim, and also to allow for extensive interaction and improvisation between the two performers, the Galician-Portuguese text is sometimes read and sometimes sung in free and measured additive rhythms. Its dorian melody which zigzags directly up and down (a musical "mountain") in the stanzas is increasingly embellished as the performance progresses.

The refrain refers to "the star which guides sea travellers", that is, Mary the "maris stella" of the Venantius Fortunatus hymn mentioned above. In the miracle here she appears as "a great light", so strong that the surrounding mountains are lit up. This image of Mary as a light on land is taken up in the 2-part Latin virelai, Stella splendens, which is one of the ten surviving cants del romeus in the so-called Llibre Vermell from the monastery situated in the mountainous region of Catalonia known as Montserrat. The refrain of this late mediæval virelai begins: "O star, shining in the mountains, like a ray of the sun...".

The reference in stanza 6 of Ben com' aos to Mary's "resplendent sceptre" likewise connects directly with a similar image of her in the 3-part Latin caça Splendens ceptigera, also from the Llibre Vermell. One might even speculate that, if they had come from the Iberian peninsula, the pilgrims in Ben com' aos stopped off at Montserrat and then lost their way in that rocky terrain of Catalonia, until Mary came to their rescue and led them to safety in Soissons "through many strange lands". Along with Soissons, the other main places in France to which devout Christians from the Iberian peninsula and elsewhere travelled on pilgrimage were Coutances, Chartres, Pierre-sur-Dive, Laon and Rocamadour.

The refrain is sung only three times — before stanza 1 and after stanza 2, and at the end after stanza 7. Stanzas 1 and 2, which introduce Holy Mary and her generosity, are sung in a continuous melodic flow in free rhythms. The poetic narration of the pilgrims' potentially catastrophic going astray, their terror, their pitiful calls for help and the appearance of the brightly lit young woman holding the resplendent sceptre (stanzas 3 to 6) is declaimed with various rhetorical gestures which are mirrored in the psaltery's improvised commentary. The final stanza, sung in measured rhythms, is deliberately delayed by a psaltery rendition of the refrain melody. This ploy is a melodic reminder of its text by which we, absorbed in this drama, are "told" who is this wondrous apparition. From this mnemonic interlude to the end the cantiga is performed in regularly recurring, measured, additive rhythms.


4. A madre do que livrou   (C. 4)

Packed into this dramatic poem are three miracles and a series of enthralling events — an innocent blunder, a statue coming to life and offering holy communion, cruel punishment, an amazing delivery, conversion, and dire punishment. That this series of events takes place at Easter, for Christians a time of dreadful mourning transformed to miraculous joy, serves to enhance the overall drama which befell a Jewish family living in Bourges, France.

To enhance the suspense of the poetic narrative, our performing resources have been pared to a minimum to allow each of the two performers space in which to improvise various decorative nuances of pitch, timbre, rhythm, metre, texture and dynamics (including silence) when deemed appropriate. The refrain, performed homophonically in measured rhythms, is heard only at the beginning and end of the narrative, letting the drama and the ornamental "commentaries" flow without the refrain interrupting. Here it is important to point out that the layout of the text in the manuscript suggests another method of performance. Thus, the regular recurrence of the refrain after each stanza might, by interrupting the narrative, create a different and more sensational suspense of the sort perfected by the 20th century film-master Alfred Hitchcock in which, by moving at a slower pace, there is time and space to imaginatively reflect and remember associated stories, images, ideas and also an urgency to find out what comes next. In our performance the suspense is, to an extent, built up by running eight pairs and one triad of stanzas together, sung in measured, quasi-measured and non-measured rhythms, and by inserting between these stanza-groupings improvised harp interludes which comment upon, develop and lead away from them.

To plumb the depths of meaning in this text we must not forget the function of memory in medieval hermeneutics where a particular word (a name or a place, for example) was a key to unlock the memory's honeycomb-like thesaurus of connected meanings, ideas and stories. Thus, in trying to understand the impact this cantiga's story might have had on 13th century listeners, it is necessary to not overlook the memory-directed painture of written or spoken text. Thus it might not be too far-fetched to consider this cantiga as an apologue or didactic narrative which, pushing at the depths of memory, adumbrates a much extended and interconnected series of tales.

The name of each of the Jewish protagonists functions as a key to unlock from the memory's storehouse a series of connected images and stories, so that the listener's imagination enhances and fleshes out the text as it progresses. To say (as have some modern commentators) that the names Samuel, Rachel and Abel were simply chosen by the poet at random or to facilitate an end-rhyme pattern, would seem to miss the enriching heuristic process in which any medieval listener "read" the text. To the modern reader the text tells a simple but chilling tale of a particular miracle. To the mediæval reader, the "-el" end-syllables (of the final line of each of the eleven 8-line stanzas, and of the second and fourth lines of the 4-line refrain) interlock not only by rhyme but in concept. This includes the proper names Daniel, Irrael, Samuel, Hemanuel, Rachel, Misahel, Abel, as well as the nouns and adjectives tropel, bel, mel, chapitel, cruel, donzel. Space precludes detailed commentary on all these, so only the proper names will be discussed below.

The gradual placement of the Jewish names may also be deliberately intended, to allow some space for the levels and depths of meaning to penetrate the imagination. The names Daniel and Irrael announced in the opening refrain, recur twelve times as a sort of mnemonic motto. This refrain-reference acts to remind us of the wondrous events associated with the deliverance of the Jewish prophet Daniel from the lions' den, as told in the first six chapters of the Book of Daniel. The punishment of the accusers becomes relevant to this cantiga — they (and their wives and children) were made to suffer in the lions' den the fearful death they had intended for the innocent prophet.

Samuel, the father, is named in the first stanza. This name reminds us of Samuel, the Jewish prophet who anointed the first two kings of Israel — Saul (who was later rejected by God) and then David. In this cantiga Samuel suffers the fate of the wicked father:

"The soul that sins shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father" (Ezekiel 18:20).

Immanuel, named in the fourth stanza, reminds us of "the anointed one", born of the Virgin Mary, the long-awaited Jewish Messiah sent by God, the Father, to deliver mankind from the sins of their forebears Adam and Eve.

Rachel, the mother, is not named until the eighth stanza at the height of the human tragedy being described. The life of Rachel, one of the four matriarchs of the Jewish people, first wife of the patriarch Jacob and mother of Joseph and Benjamin, is described in Genesis (chapters 29 to 35). More relevant here is the description of Rachel in the visions of Jeremiah lamenting and weeping bitterly for her children (that is, the children of Israel captive in Egypt), and comforted by God:

"A voice was heard in Ramah ... Rachel weeping refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping ... they shall come again from the land of the enemy." (Jeremiah 31:15, 16)

This image of Rachel as the mother weeping for the lost children of Israel is extended metaphorically in mediæval drama (for example, the Ordo Rachelis in the so-called Fleury Playbook) where she is personified as the weeping mother mourning the innocent children slaughtered by the soldiers of Herod in their attempt to destroy the newly-born Messiah.

Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, the three Jewish youths from biblical history, are named in stanza 9. Their names link up directly with that of the prophet Daniel, referred to in the refrain (and heard as often as the refrain is sung). Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, along with their companion Daniel, were amongst the wisest of the children of Judah singled out for special training at the command of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, conqueror of Jerusalem. The mention of their names reminds us of their analogously miraculous delivery from the fiery furnace completely unscathed by the flames, as recounted in Daniel 3.

Some obvious parallels and syncretic transferences can be noted between the stories in the Bible and the cantiga. Firstly, three serious-minded Jewish youths are educated in the pagan court of the conqueror and refuse to dishonour God by bowing down to the huge, golden image of Nebuchadnezzar — paralleled with the single Jewish boy who studies hard and cheerfully at a Christian school, and is so enthralled by the Easter Christian communion service and the sight of Mary cradling Her son that he innocently accepts from the Mary statue the communion wafers and wine. Secondly, for their disobedience the boys cast into the furnace by the king/the father do not burn due to the protection of God's angel (this also alludes to the refrain's reference to Daniel who, like his companions, was protected by an angel when he was cast into the lions' den for worshipping his true God). Thirdly, in the biblical stories it is Jews who are rewarded for not yielding to pagan beliefs, whereas in the cantiga a Jew is rewarded for finding, with childish innocence, the New Testament Christian Messiah through the intervention of the Holy Mother, Mary.

In Deuteronomy 4:24 and the Kabbalah, God is respectively the consuming fire and fire is the symbol of divine judgement. Thus in both the biblical story and this cantiga the Jewish boys are judged by God to be innocent, while Nebuchadnezzar's cruel pagan warrior-jailors and the deranged Jewish father are judged otherwise and destroyed in the flames.

The naming of Abel, the young son, is withheld until the last word of the eleven stanzas (the "eleventh hour" of Matthew 20: 1-16) — a master stroke of dramatic suspense which offers finally an "explanation" of his goodness, by mnemonic glossing. (A similar situation occurs in the Fleury Playbook drama Filius Getronis where the name of the kidnapped "son of Getron", the focus of the drama, is withheld until the end. Thus, a strong and explanative impact occurs when Adeodatus — "given by God" — is finally designated by his anxious Christian mother.) So too in the cantiga, the jigsaw-puzzle is, in a sense, completed with this final piece. Abel, the second son of Adam and Eve, was the good shepherd slain by his own brother, the farmer Cain, envious because at harvest time God respected Abel but not Cain. In the cantiga this Abel is on the brink of being murdered by one of his own (his Jewish father), but, by a twist into another biblical chronicle, is saved by God's angel at the behest, in the parabolic mode of the mediæval cantiga de miragre, of Holy Mary.

There are many other elements of the poetic text which can be drawn in to make an even more detailed account of the multi-layers of explanation of this cantiga. They would include, of course, the contemporary 13th century attitude that the Jews were in need of redemption by yielding to the true, Christian faith with baptism, otherwise they were deemed perfidious and doomed. Thus Rachel and Abel are saved by baptism and Samuel is consumed by his own fire.

The popularity of this story is attested by the fact that more than thirty versions of it have been found in various mediæval French, German, Latin, Italian, English, Greek and Spanish sources. Amongst the last, the versions by Juan Gil de Zamora and Gonzalo de Berceo are specifically relevant to the Alfonsine version here.










5. Gran dereit e que fill' o demo   (C. 34)

This is another of a handful of cantigas in which the Jew is presented as the epitome of wickedness for whom there is no Christian salvation. In addition, the miracle is one of a series originating in the Orient which concerns the statue of the Virgin Mary. All the known versions of this particular tale are set in Constantinople.

As the dorian melody of this cantiga is not sung in our rendition, a brief summary of its plot follows. Stealthily, under cover of night, a Jew stole a beautiful, painted wooden statue of the Virgin Mary which he threw down the privy, then sat down and defecated on it. For this shameful desecration the devil killed him and condemned him to eternal damnation. The good Christian who retrieved the statue found it to have the wonderful fragrance of Oriental spices even in that stinky bog-hole. He washed it, took it home, set it up in a suitable place and prayed before it. Then a great miracle occurred. An abundant flow of oil-like substance oozed from the statue as a reminder of its wondrous retrieval.

We have experimented with various textural layouts and a specific instrumentation in an attempt to embody aurally, by a kind of synæsthesia, the dramatic olfactory and tactile elements of this story: the defiling, putrescent sewage, the Oriental spice fragrance and the wholesome, cleansing oil, the last two of which miraculously emanate from the first.

While this is heard primarily, and most directly, in the plangency of a large band of low and high double reed instruments accompanied by tapan and castanets, it is also embodied in the three main elements of texture. Furthermore, the pentad of letters in "Maria" is emblematised overall in the three elements of texture plus the two varieties of phrase structuring. These five elements of texture and phrase structuring are: (i) the heterophony of the refrain in which (ii) the melody is presented in 5-bar phrase groupings; (iii) the short bursts of oleaginous, conductus-style homophony (of the Salve Virgo kind) in the five 5-bar phrased interludes; (iv) a regular alternation in the stanzas of heterophony and homophony in (v) 7- then 8-bar phrases.


6. Muito foi noss' amigo   (C. 210)

The miraculous nature of the birth of the son of God is the central pivot of this cantiga de loor. The text outlines the reasons why Mary, a young virgin, was chosen and cites the benefits the long-promised incarnation would bring to mankind. While Mary is the human person to whom the masthead rubrics offer praise, the cantiga is more specifically a paean to the angel Gabriel. The text links directly with Entre Av' e Eva (C. 60) in that the opening refrain and the first stanza quote from Luke 1: 26-28 the opening words of Gabriel's annunciation — "Ave Maria" — and, in the poetic vernacular, the beginning of the rest of his message — "Deus e tigo" ("God is with you").

While much shorter in length, the æolian melody of Muito foi noss' amigo is the same as the opening of the melody of cantiga 411, Bẽeito foi o dia, whose epic text recounts, in emotional language, the details of the miraculous birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Anna and Joachim. In our performance of Muito foi noss' amigo, it was decided not to sing the refrain after every stanza, as has been our pattern to date with cantigas de loor, but after every pair of stanzas (i.e. two pairs and a single stanza with three, rather than six, refrains). In addition, the harp occasionally enriches the æolian melody with organal and conductus-like homophony. The places in which this occurs have been carefully selected: in the refrain when Gabriel speaks in the first person, in all interludes, in the postlude and in stanza 5 (the final stanza, which directs specific praises to Gabriel and mocks the devil). All the refrains are performed in measured rhythms, stanzas 1 and 2 are declaimed to the measured harp or gemshorn melody, stanzas 3 and 4 are sung in free rhythm and stanza 5, the climactic Gabriel dedication, in measured rhythm. The finger cymbals symbolically highlight the presence and the words of Gabriel.


7. Mais non faz Santa Maria   (C. 3)

The third in our decade of cantigas to posit the Jew as the hackneyed archetype of wickedness, this cantiga is, more significantly, the first of five in the Alfonsine collection which deals with a sinner making a pact with the devil. Some commentators have considered this an early precursor of the Faust legend (developed much later by Marlowe, Lessing, Goethe, Gounod et al.).

In this version the allurement of the central character, Theophilus, into a shameful, self-seeking written pact is not simply self-determined but abetted by an unnamed Jewish intercessor. Having thus temporarily gained ecclesiastical powers Theophilus eventually comes to his senses and repents having forsaken his Christian beliefs. Breaking down, weeping ceaselessly, he begs forgiveness from Holy Mary. She makes the black devil retrieve the contract from the fires of hell and then places it before Theophilus on her altar. It has been suggested that
the original protagonist in this tale of repentance was Theophilus known as the Penitent, archdeacon of Adana in Cilicia, who died in about 536 CE.

Like Gran dereit' e que fill' o demo (which also promulgates the Jew as the perpetrator of evil), this cantiga is Byzantine in origin. In fact, in several versions the events take place in Adana in Turkish Cilicia which had been a Roman province from the first century BCE. (Cilicia itself, visited by St Paul who had lived in nearby Tarsus until he was sent as a teenager to study in Jerusalem, is now a district rich in early Christian monuments.) Along with Syria and Mesopotamia, Cilicia comprised the diocese of the Orient which was under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Antioch.

The earliest known versions of this legend were written in Greek (by Eutychianus, 6th century), then Latin (by Paul the Deacon, 9th century). Spreading from Byzantium into Christian Europe, it became a popular didactic legend. Two outstanding examples in which the tale of Theophilus is the focus are, firstly, the fifth of eight hagiographic poems composed by the 10th century German Benedictine nun, Hroswitha of Gandersheim (she who ten centuries before Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita created the new literary form of rhymed prose); and secondly, Rutebeuf's play from Paris, c. 1261, Miracle de Théophile. Interestingly, the sixth of Hroswitha's hagiographic poems also deals with a devilish pact, which was likewise set forth in written form and organised by the intercession, not of a Jew, but of a magician.

In our performance the refrain is played only at the beginning and at the end, repeated each time with interludal commentary from the sinfonye. The five stanzas are performed in a bloc separated by sinfonye interludes and are sung in measured, quasi- and non-measured rhythms. When Theophilus, speaking in the first person, makes his dramatic confession, the solo voice is heard unaccompanied. The vocal melody is constantly embellished with trills, passagi, microtonal pitch colourings and dynamics, while the sinfonye interludes between stanzas spotlight the dichromaticism of the fourth degree (perfect 4th falling, tritonal 4th rising) which cause modal ambiguity (ionian or lydian mode?). This dichotomy (possibly representing "opposites" — Mary and the devil, archdeacon and Jew, good and evil) is enhanced in the texture where the refrains are homophonic (sung by a chorus organised into 3-part conductus polyphony), while the stanzas and interludes are heterophonic.


8. Non deve null' ome   (C. 50)


The hub of this didactic exhortation to mankind to worship and praise God and the Holy Virgin, His Mother, is the miracle of God's incarnation through the body of a virgin. Given that this cantiga de loor is not directly focused on Mary until the final stanza, it was decided not to sing the refrain after every stanza, but to invent a different performance plan. Thus, after the opening refrain, the poetic structure is presented triadically as three groupings of three elements — that is, two stanzas (one measured, one unmeasured) and a refrain (measured) being the three elements which are three times repeated to enclose the six stanzas of text. This aural embodiment of the Trinity is further expressed in that three different voices share the solo stanzas, and that they sing the refrain in 3-part organal and conductus-style polyphony. The only stanza not sung by a solo voice is stanza 5. It is sung polyphonically in a style similar to the refrain in order to emphasise its references to the God-Father-Man and the love-grief-pity trinities. This number symbolism is also found in the fact that there are five performers (three singers, two drummers), an aural reference to MARIA.

The inspiration for the voice-drum mode of performance comes from the biblical reference to Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, and the Jewish women singing with joyful gratitude for the delivery of the children of Israel after the miraculous parting of the Red Sea:

"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel [Hebrew tot] in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously." (Exodus 15:20-21)

In the early 14th century Jewish Golden Haggadah from Catalonia (London, BL, Ms. Add. 27210), there is, amongst its full-page illustrations of events connected with Passover and Exodus, a quaternion of images of which one shows Miriam and her sisters playing and dancing. As is usual in mediæval iconography their dress and the instruments they play are "modern", that is, late 13th — early 14th century in style. Two women are dancing, five are playing instruments and possibly all are singing. The instruments comprise a small lute, large cymbals, rectangular castanets and two frame drums. Of the drums, one is circular with rattles set through the frame (like a tambourine, pandereta or a variant of the daireh), and the other is square-shaped (an adufe, which like the circular daireh often has jingles set inside the frame). Frame drums, circular and square, with and without jingles and rattles, are still played by women throughout Spain and the Mediterranean basin to accompany circle dances and celebratory singing.


9. A madre do que a bestia   (C. 147)

This is the third cantiga on this CD to be performed instrumentally. The humorous events in the poetic text concern a simple, trusting old woman and a wily, conniving shepherd. With all her ready money she buys a sheep which she gives to the shepherd to mind. At shearing time, she comes to claim its wool to sell. Having hidden the sheep, the shepherd tells her that it was eaten by a wolf. Knowing this to be a fib, she turns black with rage and prays to Holy Mary to give the sheep back to her. Mary makes the sheep cry out "He-e-ere I-I-I a-a-m", at which point the refrain states:

"The Mother of Him who once made Balaam's ass speak, also made a sheep speak."

Then the old woman quickly shears her sheep and carries the wool on her back to Rocamadour where she recounts to others the miraculous recovery of her sheep through Holy Mary's intervention.

There may be some kind of ludicrous game-playing at work in the text, hinted at by the reference to the story of Balaam's ass. In this, as recounted in Numbers 22: 28-30, God causes the ass to open her mouth and rebuke her master Balaam for hitting her with a staff. It may be relevant to keep in mind the ass-braying "Hez hez sire asne hez" refrain of the well-known Prose of the Ass which was performed during the asinaria festa (Feast of the Ass) or the officium stultorum (Office of the Fools) in the Feast of Circumcision in Sens and Beauvais respectively. Other customs from Beauvais included the final bray at the end of the Kyrie, Gloria and Credo of the solemn mass and the triple brays ("ter hinhannabit") which the celebrant, answered by congregation, substituted for the final Ita missa est.

The "-ez" end-syllables of lines 2 and 4 of the refrain and of line 8, the last, of each of the five stanzas may be eye-ear reminders of the ass brays. A further thrust comes in the final word of the stanzaic text. José Filgueira Valverde has suggested that this word "belmez" may be a metathesis, or transposition of syllables, of the Arabic word "melbes". If this were the case, not only does the line end with a bray, but the old woman's last statement should be translated as: "This is the work of the Virgin, who always clothes us", rather than "...who always defends us", and thus a direct reference to the newly-shorn fleece on her back and, by metonymy, to the clothing the sheep's wool will become.

The hullabaloo of the bevy of bombardes, tapan and bombo is a deliberate attempt to evoke concepts and sounds associated with this text — rusticity, braying sheep, the sly voice of the mendacious shepherd, the shrill, black raging of the old woman, her simple trust, the homogeneity of natural products, and the sound of a country dance. Played in additive, triple rhythms, with much improvised heterophonic ornamentation, the music of two stanzas is placed between the music of repeated refrains, with various improvised interludes before each of the latter. By varying the seventh degree, the melody is ionian in ascent and mixolydian in descent.


10. A madre de Deus   (C. 184)

The seven stanzas of this cantiga recount an amazing miracle story which would seem to have come from oral tradition, there being no known written sources.

The story takes place in a mountainous region of Santiago, the famous place of pilgrimage in the north-west corner of the Iberian peninsula. An oft-pregnant woman prays to Holy Mary that her latest pregnancy will produce a child who will live long and not die after birth like all the others before it. An envious devil causes her husband to get into a fight. Seeing him struck by a mortal blow she rushes madly to his aid, and is in turn killed by a stab in the side. Through the wound her baby boy emerges in need of a plaster for the knife wound on his cheek. He goes on to enjoy a long life, but with a perpetual scar on his face as proof of Holy Mary's beneficence and as a reminder to encourage others to pray to Her.

In our performance, with one exception, the text is sung to its mixolydian melody in measured or unmeasured rhythms. The one exception to this occurs in stanza 6, where it is declaimed against its instrumentally performed melody.

There are three interludes of pre-learnt material, each of which occurs twice throughout the main song. Their function is to comment, to delay or to cue. In the last category, what is cued is not always the same, that is, sometimes it is a stanza, sometimes a refrain. In other words, what follows an interlude comes as a surprise. One of the pairs of interludes is a section of 3-part vocal polyphony, sung a capella to "na na na". Coming directly after stanza 5, the first vocal interlude deliberately delays the enjambement across stanzas 5 and 6, leaving us in suspense, wondering why the new-born babe is "in need of a plaster...". The second angelic burst of textless interludal polyphony (a little more ornate than the first) comes after stanza 7 as a kind of rejoicing in the miracle and its sign of proof (the eternal scar).

With much ecstatic melodic and percussive embellishment and improvisation there follows a joyous terrestrial dance in gratitude to Holy Mary for saving the life of the last one of the children of the unfortunate woman from Santiago.

Listen for the "ghost" track.

© 2014 Winsome Evans








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