Vox Humana / Studio der frühen Musik
Vokalmusik aus dem Mittlealter

LP, 1976:   EMI Reflexe 1C 069 46 401
CD, 2000:   EMI Classics 8 26523 2

Seite 1

1. Iste est Iohannes  [3:37]
2. Sol sub nube latuit  [2:19]  text: Walter von Chatillon
3. Crimina tollis  [1:49]
4. O nobilis nativitas  [1:52]
5. Opem nobis  [1:23]

PEROTIN um 1200
6. Salvatoris hodie  [3:26]

7. Dic Christi veritas  [5:37]

8. Alleluya, posui adiutorium  [9:35]

Seite 2

Arnaut DANIEL 2. Hälfte d.12.Jh.
9. Lo ferm voler  [4:25]

Raimbaut d'AURENGA 2. Hälfte d.12.Jh.
10. Pos tals saber  [7:22]

Petrus de CRUCE 2. Hälfte d.12.Jh.
11. Aucun ont trouvé ~ Lonc tans ~ ANNUNTIANTES  [2:18]
12. Mout m'a fait cruieus assaut  [0:58]
13. A vous douce debonnaire  [2:33]

Meister ALEXANDER 2. Hälfte d.13.Jh.
14. Hie vor do wir kinder wäeren  (Erdbeerlied)  [4:38]

Thomas Binkley

Andrea von Ramm—Sängerin
Richard Levitt—Sänger
Sterling Jones—Streichinstrumente
Thomas Binkley—Zupfinstrumente

unter Mitworking von:

Candy Smith—Sängerin
Barbara Thornton—Sängerin (#1-8)
Benjamin Bagby—Sänger (#1-8)
Harlan B. Hokin—Sänger (#1-8)
Alice Robbins—Streichinstrumente

Verwendete Musikinstrumente:
Laute, Chitarra saracenica, Lira, Rabel morisco, Vielle

Musikalische Einrichtung: Thomas Binkley

Aufgenommen: 24.5-2.VI.1976, Séon, Kirche
Produzent: Gerd Berg
Tonmeister: Johann-Nikolaus Matches
Verlag: Manuskript (9, 10, 14)

Cover-Design: Patelli
Litho: Repro Schmitz KG, Cologne

Ⓟ 1976 EMI Electrola GmbH
Digital reamastering Ⓟ 2000 by EMI Electrola GmbH
© 2000 by EMI Electrola GmbH


Vocal Music of the Middle Ages

The human voice, vox humana, in the music of the 12th and 13th centuries is the focal point of this recording. The period offers the earliest widespread display of professional singing within both the church and courtly circles, it offers the earliest discussions of learned singing, and it offers responsible critical comment on the preferred singing styles of different regions. The sources include both the secular literature and works of scholars.

In the secular sphere the professional singer was a purveyor of poetry, often — though not always — poet and singer in one. In the homeland of the troubadours, Occitania, the social structure provided for a winter spent in writing and composition of a repertory to be employed during a summer season of aristocratic social encounters, at which songs were but one of the entertainments. The French ‘trouvères’ to the north cultivated a similar entertainment structure involving the participation of both paid and amateur singers. The parallel literature from the Germanic lands is called ‘Minnesang’, and here as in the others repertories, love is one theme among many. Poetry, not music, was the moving force behind this song, and the documents do not communicate the authorship of the melodies, only that of the texts. Often a melody served for more than a single text, a text for more than a single melody. New texts patterned after existing ones became a form of homage to a distinguished poet.

The entire repertory is monophonic, meaning that the original creative musical impulse is confined to the generation of melody. Latin, the international language of the educated, was employed in a distinguished but very different body of song. With a few exceptions, the large body of this Latin repertory is serious stuff — philosophical observation, admonition to poverty, etc — and while there is a body of Latin erotic poetry, drinking songs and the like (Golliards), it was seldom set to music. This Latin repertory was conceived for the limited consumption of the educated and probably seldom involved professional singers.

Song in the secular world had two clear aims: to persuade and to be self-preserving. The performance determined the first, the poetic quality the latter. The persuasiveness of a performance depended upon skills of musical performance, gesture, language ability and related attributes. The mode of performance was unlike anything in the church, although we have evidence of the great care with which the liturgy was designed to persuade. Secular song was shaped for each performance, and few songs were performed frequently.

Instrumental support for the singer, the sparse documentation notwithstanding, was neither uncommon nor necessary. The combination of instrument with singer formed a distinct sound-picture of unique quality, a colour of sound not available — officially — in church (attempts to introduce instruments into church were repeatedly condemned by church authority). We can sympathize with the desire to bring into the church the myriad sounds of countless colourful instruments which were all available for musical entertainment outside. The key word is colour. There was indeed a great assortment of instruments, the vielle, rebec, rabel, lira, rote, lute, guiterne, citole, chitarra sarasenica, psaltery, harp, flute and doucaine to name just few. Because essentially any of these instruments might mingle with any other, many varied and enticing instrumental colours might surround a singer's voice.

 It is however probably fair to say that more time was spent absorbing the music of the church than that of the secular musicians. In a few of the larger establishments — notably Notre Dame in Paris — church musicians found ways to adorn their music with ornaments of new sounds quite unlike those of the secular world. The new colour of sacred music was polyphony, which can be viewed as an attempt to ornament liturgical and paraliturgical music in a manner unlike that of existing secular practice through the creation of a new vocal sound. Whereas instruments created colour through the heterophonic performance of monophonic music, voices, being of essentially similar quality, developed the colour of polyphony as a new resource which was to shape the succeeding music of the West.

The vox humana grew from being a casual purveyor of text to being an instrument of colour, even devoid of text, and thus the creator of an abstract musical art for which special vocal techniques had to be learned.

The Music and the Composers

Several compositional genres for the voice developed in and around the liturgical music in the late 12th century. Liturgical music consisted largely of chant, of course, but there was an irrepressible urge to amplify the chant (as well as the entire liturgical service), and this led to new and interesting creations. The amplification of liturgical texts occurred as tropes (new material) or farces (existing material). Tropes normally involved the composition of new melody, and often overwhelmed the item being troped by their sheer size. Tropes occurred as polyphony as well as monophony.

The genre called ‘conductus’ consists of musical settings of Latin non-liturgical and non-biblical texts. These settings might be monophonic (‘conductus simplex’), or polyphonic (‘conductus duplex’, ‘triplex’, etc). Conductus was composed in one of two manners: either with a melody, which was placed at the bottom with synchronized disciplined descanting above, or as a composition of short sections with no clear melody but consisting of a flow of consonance and dissonance as well as syllabic and melismatic writing. The text was treated for maximum comprehensibility, the words set coinciding in all parts. The rhythm of the text determined the rhythm of the music, while in melismatic passages the rhythm derived from the practice called modal rhythm, which is similar in many ways to iambic, trochaic etc metres.

‘Organum’, which also made use of modal rhythms, occurs exclusively in liturgical composition. Organal composition in the period under discussion proceeded in a manner quite unlike that of conductus. An existing chant melody is amplified by organum per se, in which each note of the melody is sustained while melismatic descant is placed over it by ‘discant style’, in which both chant and descant move in modal rhythms; these styles are bridged by short passages, sometimes called ‘copula’. Sections of organum called ‘clausula’ were written in discant style, and were recomposed again and again for the same chant (substitute clausula), for which new descant is composed over the same section of chant. Sometimes in the 13th century these clausula were texted; not only was the original chant text retained in the bottom, but additional texts were placed in the upper parts. Although originally these new texts were liturgically appropriate, they later veered from that path and assumed (often in French) a decidedly secular character. These French texts were frequently passages from French secular romances, whence the name ‘motet’ for this form.

The motet became a separate genre of composition, completely secular in use, and a field for compositional experimentation. The bottom part was no longer chanted but was played on an instrument (the vielle was preferred), and it is here that instruments first gain entrance to the world of learned, polyphonic music. During the latter part of the 13th century, new rhythmic ideas were introduced into motet composition. Petrus de Cruce departed from the convention of modal rhythm by subdividing long notes into any number of shorter equal notes: three, four, five, six, seven etc. Rhythmic innovations and their notation settled into a system — codified by Franco of Cologne, and later Philippe de Vitry — which served as the basis for musical thought and expression up to the present day.

The Occitanian poetry of the 12th and 13th centuries, the troubadour lyric, symbol of courtly love, included a wide range of subjects — politics, philosophy, nature, love — and was composed on several artistic levels ranging from the simple song (‘trobar plan’) to the enigmatic, dark poetry (‘trobar clus’) including unusual original rhymes (‘caras rimas’).
Arnaut Daniel was active towards the close of the 12th century, and was an enthusiast of the ‘trobar clus’. His poem Lo ferm voler established his reputation for posterity: as the original sestina, it was praised by Dante and imitated by Petrarch and many others. It has strophes containing six lines and six rhyme words which occur in a different position in each strophe, and concludes with a tornada consisting of three lines, each of which contains two of the rhyme words. This is one of the most published of the troubadour lyrics.
Raimbaut d'Aurenga, more or less a contemporary of Daniel's, maintained in a dispute with Giraut of Borneilh that to compose in ‘trobar plan’ was to court the praise of fools. Aurenga preferred to appeal to men of intelligence through his ‘caras rimas’. In this poem he introduces a number of words which rhyme with his name.
The German poets, the ‘Minnesinger’, were unaffected by the catastrophic destruction of the Languedoc through the Albigensian Crusade and they continued the monophonic song tradition into the 15th century. Meister Alexander (13th century), also called "der wilde Alexander" (Wild Alexander), is poorly represented in the surviving collections from the Middle Ages. This was certainly one of the famous songs of its day, with an added strophe relating the innocent children, the snake and the bitten child to the parable of the foolish virgins.

In the Middle Ages authorship normally referred to the text rather than the music, so that we know the names of few composers of liturgical music. Without doubt the best-known composer in this genre (for us today) is Perotin, who is identified by a single medieval author, an Englishman known to us as Anonymous IV, who identified a few of his compositions in his 13th century treatise. Perotin composed organa, clausula and conductos for Notre Dame in Paris. The compositions were originally performed by the schola cantorum of soloists at the cathedral, but they circulated beyond these confines and were known long after organum was no longer sung in the Parisian liturgy. The Montpellier Codex, for example, a large 13th-century collection of basically secular music of an educated circle, also contains this organum of Perotin, which suggests the possibility of its survival as non-liturgical absolute music (as it is performed here) — as part of the liturgy it would have been performed but once a year.

The Instruments

Many medieval sources provide us with information concerning the use of instruments and to a lesser extent the attributes of the instruments: no actual instruments have survived. During the monophonic period (12th and 13th centuries) instruments were usually combined according to colour and function rather than range. The major types of instruments existed in an almost infinite variety, some suited for melody playing others for drones and still others for the two combined. Thus (according to Chrétien de Troyes) a large ensemble would sparkle like a tree full of birds each with his own song, a splendid combination of reeds and flutes with plucked strings and bowed strings of all sorts. A great many of these instruments fell out of use or retreated from art music during the formative years of the polyphonic period (14th century), as the demands of this new music became highly specific.

The Chitarra Sarasenica (Moorish guitar) is one of the longnecked lutes common around the Mediterranean. It is plucked with a quill and has wire strings. It is pictured in the miniatures of the cantigas manuscripts and elsewhere, and mentioned by Grocheo, Machaut, Ruiz and others.
The Lute is a short-necked plucked instrument, similar to the Arab ‘ud. It is one of the most common instruments of the Middle Ages.
The rabel is a long-necked bowed instrument similar to the chitarra sarasenica, and is pictured in Iberian sources. The long wire strings yield a warm, nasal tone not unlike that of many Eastern rebabs.
The vielle is the most common bowed instrument, and the indirect ancestor of the violin. It is discussed by many authors, including Grocheo and Jerome of Moravia, who also discusses the lira, a small bowed string instrument with a pear shape, similar to the lirica of Dalmatia today.

The voice, both male and female, cultivated the head, middle and chest resonance with greatly varying placement. Mixture of resonance areas seems to have been avoided, as against modern practice, or at least was uncommon. There were strong regional characteristics of colour and articulation techniques (the florid, stepwise singing of the Romans, the less ornate singing by leaps of the Teutons). The language concerned was a major formative element in establishing the different regional characteristics of the voice.

This recording was made to honour the artist Johnny Friedländer and was originally issued in a limited edition to accompany a set of his lithographs which bore the title Hommage au Studio der frühen Musik.

Thomas Binkley, 1976