Estampie / Studio der frühen Musik
Instrumentalmusik des Mittelalters
LP, 1974:   EMI Reflexe 1C 063-30122
CD, 2000:   EMI Classics 8 26491 2

Seite 1

1. Saltarello  [5:48]

2. Istanpitta Gaetta  [6:15]

3. La Manfredina & Rotta  [2:27]

4. Istanpitta Palamento  [7:35]

Seite 2

5. Istanpitta Belicha  [8:27]

6. Lamento de Tristano & Rotta  [3:52]

7. Istanpitta Isabella  [7:31]

8. Istanpitta Pricipio di Virtu  [6:05]


Richard Levitt, Schlaginstrumente
Sterling Jones, Rebec, Fidel, Lira
Thomas Binkley, Flöte


Alice Robbins, Fidel, Rebec
Anne Smith, Flöte
Catherine Liddell, Psalterium
Sally Smith, Psalterium
Jay Bernfeld, Fidel
Hopkinson Smith, Laute, Chitarra sarracenica
Jonathan Rubin, Laute
Paul O'Dette, Laute, Chitarra sarracenica, Cittern
Richard Glenn, Laute



Produzent: Gerd Berg
Tonmeister: Joahann Nikolaus Matthes

Aufnahmen: Basel, Münstermuseum

Coverdesign: Roberto Patelli

Titelseite: Miniatur „Spielleute mit Fidel und Cornemuse”.
Nationalbibliothek, Paris.
Fotos: Rolf Jeck, Basel


Ⓟ 1974 EMI Electrola GmbH
Digital reamastering Ⓟ 2000 by EMI Electrola GmbH
© 2000 by EMI Electrola GmbH

Aufgenommen: 14.-16.VI.1974, Basel, Münstermuseum
Produzent: Gerd Berg
Tonmeister: Joahann-Nikolaus Matthes

Titelbild: Miniatur Spielleute mit Fidel und Cornemuse,
Nationalbibliothek, Paris.
Cover-Design: Roberto Patelli
Litho: Repro Schmitz KG, Cologne

Instrumental Music of the Middle Ages

When we think of the Middle Ages we often detatch ourselves from the scenes that pass before our eyes. Depending upon our own particular background, we may call to mind the heroes of the political world — Barbarossa, St. Louis, Innocent III, etc., or those representing the world of the mind — Peter Abelard, Grosseteste, Bacon, etc., or we may focus on the masters of the world of art — Giotto, Dante, the Archpoet, etc. What we find in this recording, however, is the personal world of some unnamed Italian family, fond of entertaining, wealthy enough to do so well. Here is a collection of instrumental music, part of the repertory of some group of musicians who belonged to this unnamed household, who played in gardens such as those of the Alberti after a manner described by Giovanni da Prato, Simone Prodenzani, Sacchetti, Boccaccio and many others.

The repertory contained in this record is all taken from the single manuscript described below. No pieces similar to these are contained in any other sources. The source presents no instruction pertaining to performance style, choice of instruments, nor even an indication whether these pieces are dances or simply chamber music.

We do have some general information we can apply to these pieces in our search for a meaningful performance style: we know the provenance of the manuscript, the terminus ad quem for the writing of the manuscript and we know something about the instruments of the time. We also know something of the approach to composition and structure of the music, but unfortunately little of dance that is pertinent here.

Our manuscript designates these pieces Istanpitti, the Italian form of ‘Estampie’. Grocheo, writing about 1300 says that a ‘stantipe’ (estampie) is a textless piece which is divided into sections, with difficult tonal arrangement and irregular metre, unlike the ‘ductia’. Each section is repeated and has a different close. Most have six sections but some have more.

The manuscript is now in London, British Museum Additional 29987. It was written in Umbria or Tuscany in the late 14th century (about 1396). It contains 36 Italian madrigals, 45 ballata, 8 caccia, 3 French virelais, 1 motet, 8 Latin pieces, 4 monophonic chansonette tedesche without text and 15 estampies. It is this last genre that interests us. The eight pieces selected here are representative of the whole group and fall into 2 categories.

The pieces in the first category are certainly dances, for they exhibit all the salient features of slightly later known social dances. These include the ‘Saltarello’ and ‘Rota’ combination, the dance and after-dance, or in Italian sources the ‘Saltarello’ and ‘Piva’. In the manuscript all the pieces in this category are grouped together on fol. 62-63, seven pieces not counting the Rottas, as separate group of pieces.

Pieces in the second category may be dances or may be instrumental chamber music. If these pieces are dances, they are a different sort of dance from the first group involving complicated choreography required by the irregular rhythmic and metric structures of the pieces. These pieces are found immediately preceding the dances in the first category, with two ballatas of Landini inserted between Belicha and Palamento. Much later in the manuscript are four ‘chansonete tedesche’ which possibly are also instrumental dance music or chamber music.

It is important to stress that both social and professional dancing, that is dancing for an audience, was cultivated in Italy during the Middle Ages. In Ferrara during the early 15th century, a dancing master by the name of Domenico of Piacenza acquired a wide reputation. One of his pupils was Guglielmo Ebreo of Pesaro. This Guglielmo went to Florence, where he danced and taught, and compiled a book of dances which has survived. Some of the dances are credited to his teacher Domenico, and two are said to have been composed by Lorenzo de' Medici. The titles of the dances are suggestive character titles such as Jupiter or Prixionera, the music is monophonic and involves changes of metre. The dance steps are known and are combined to yields sort of short ballet.

And while Florence is in mind, we ought not forget the beautiful Anna, subject of a series of Madrigals composed by three competing young composers, Giovanni da Cascia, Jacopo da Bologna and Piero. Anna lived in a large and beautiful garden near a stream, and her attentions were highly regarded. She spent her time dancing, and when she was not dancing she rested beneath a tree which had the name ‘Palate’, and talked with her lady friends. The governor of Florence at this time was Mastino, who may have commissioned the works, and who may himself have had frequent need for instrumentalists to accompany his “Anna” for her dances, and play for guests. Seven compositions of Jacopo da Bologna and five of Giovanni da Cascia (but none of Piero) are included in our manuscript. Jacopo is the composer of a madrigal O in Italia felice Liguria written for the baptism of an offspring of Visconti and his wife, Isabella. Isabella is not an uncommon name, and it would be folly to suggest that this Isabella has anything to do with our dance Isabella. Still, our piece must have been written with some Isabella in mind. It seems also farfetched to associate the tree of our virtuous Anna with our dance Palamento (= Parlamento?), although we cannot avoid associating Jacopo's madrigals O dolc'apress un bel perlaro fiume and Un bel parlare viva sulla riva with this theme, for in both the words “Anna” are stressed in the text, and both are in our manuscript.

There are so many questions about this repertory we can pose but not answer, however, the main point is that these pieces constitute the repertory of some specific ensemble that made use of these pieces to entertain guests at soirees, either as accompaniment to trained dancers or simply as chamber music. Whichever it is, the music is carefully composed.

The longer compositions make use of a compositional technique quite common in the 12th and 13th centuries, in which melodic fragments are combined to form longer melodies. Thus some musical idea will be employed as an opener and then extended by various fragmentary formulas which also may recur in other pieces, seldom ever returning to the original material. Sometimes it is clear that there is a hidden basic melody which although unstated is apparent in analysis, and confirmed through its repetition in varied form (e. g. Lamento di Tristano & Rotta).

A great deal of the figuration seems to be instrumentally derived, in other words seems to be what someone played on his instrument when performing his version of the underlying basic melody. The relationship of these figurations to instrumental techniques and tunings is helpful in determining the instrumentation of the pieces.

Although many of the figurations are found in several pieces, the ranges of the pieces are not the same. The range of Belicha for example is an octave and a seventh. This is a greater range than many instruments of the period possessed. The recorder, for example in that period would have been unable to play it. A shawm might have been able to do so — we don't know. String instruments would have been able to do so easily, but not all string instruments can conveniently negotiate all the figurations — clearly, not all the figurations were thought out for just any string instrument. After an analysis of all the pieces it must be concluded that they were written for a group of instruments the parts being reduced into a single line by writing out the most active line, and leaving it up to each musician to make a sensible part for himself.

What we have then is a sort of medieval orchestral music in which instruments having differing ranges and playing
techniques combine their virtues. The basic orchestra employed here — seldom exactly the same — employs the following instruments:

2 or 3 lutes 1 gittern 2 psalteries
3 vielles 1 rebec 1 lira
1 flute 1 moorish guitar
1 rhythmic instrument player.


Two differing groups of lutes were employed during our period, the manystringed, Arabic Ud inspired the short necked lute with large body, quite unlike the fewerstringed, longer necked lute with small body. Both were strung with gut strings and were played with a plectrum.
(Makers unknown)

This instrument occurs with rounded body in Near Eastern sources from the 9th century. The Western instrument had a flat back and was strung with wire strings, also played with a plectrum.
(Fabrizio Reginato, Fonte Alto [Tv], Italy)

There were five different types of psaltery employed during the 13th-14th centuries in Europe. The one employed here is the large trapezoid instrument having the most versatile characteristics. It is identical to the Middle Eastern Qa'nun, and was called canon as well as psalterium. It is strung with gut or silver strings and played with long picks held in each hand.
(Maker unknown)

This denotes a group of bowed string instruments, from the early Middle Ages to the 16th century. Of course, during the centuries there were a great many sorts of vielles — (each sort of music requires a particular instrumental characteristic — and here we have three different shapes, each somewhat different in its qualities. The instrument had from three to five strings, including drone strings sometimes plucked by the left hand (as in the prelude to Palamento here); Jerome of Moravia gives us several tunings which favour each a particular aspect. Played under the chin or on the leg.
(Fabrizio Reginato, Fonte Alto [Tv], Italy)

Small, pear-shaped bowed instrument, high in tessitura. Three strings. Played off the chest.
(Eugen Springer, Frankfurt, Germany)

Robust pear-shaped instrument of low tessitura, and played on the leg. The bow is heavy, the strings thick. Large in sound. (Maker unknown)

Chitarra Saracenica
Long necked lute found frequently in Western sources from the Stuttgarter Psalter to the Cantigas manuscripts. Similar to the later Colachon and the present-day Turkish Saz and Bagloma. The strings are of wire, and there are at least 20 frets on the neck. The body is tiny in relation to the string lenght.
(Maker unknown)

This instrument possessed a clear playing technique involving 3 distinct sounds:
1) the jingles
2) the rim
3) the head
The instrument is held vertically in one hand, the fingers of that hand striking the head. The rim sound is caused by striking the instrument against the other hand or arm. Thus a common rhythm (as in Belicha) could be notated:

(A.T. Camposarcone, 49 Belsize Park Gdns, London)

During this period the instrument had seven to eight fingerholes and a cylindrical bore (later recorders employed a reverse-expanding bore in order to improve response of the upper register. But it is not only the instrument, it is the playing style that separates it from its later relative, e. g. Prelude to Belicha.)
(Fr. von Huene, Boston USA)

The Studio der Frühen Musik is presently engaged at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel participating in a new programme of specialized study in the performance of medieval and renaissance music. A number of students participating in this programme have cooperated in the preparation of this recording as part of their work. Without this cooperation, daily rehearsal for most of a year, this directorless, spontaneous and lively performance could never be attained.

Thomas Binkley