Ludi Sancti Nicolai / Studio der frühen Musik
Die Wunder de heiligen Nikolaus
LP, 1978:   EMI "Reflexe" 1C 065 30 940
CD, 2000:   EMI Reflexe 72143 8 26509 2 8

Seite 1

1. Tres Filiae [29:00]

St. Nicolaus: Christian Tréguier
Pater: Jean-Marie Gouelou
Filiae: Barbara Thornton | Esther Lamandier | Candice Smith
Generi: Rachid Safir | Benjamin Bagby | Richard Levitt

Seite 2

2. Iconia Sancti Nicolai [21:37]

St. Nicolaus: Christian Tréguier
Judeus: Benjamin Bagby
Fures: Rachid Safir | Jean-Marie Gouelou | Richard Levitt

(an der Schola Cantorum Basiliensis)
in Zusammenarbeit mit dem

Dana Maiben, Sigrid Lee, Alice Robbins, Sterling Jones

Musikalische Einrichtung: Thomas Binkley
Gesamtleitung: Andrea von Ramm

Aufgenommen: 13.VI.1977, Amsterdam
Produzent: Gerd Berg
Tonmeister: Johann-Nikolaus Matches

Titelbild: Ludi Sancti Nicolai, Bibliothèque Municipale de Orleans
Cover-Design: Patelli
Litho: Repro Schmitz KG, Cologne

Ⓟ 1978 EMI Electrola GmbH
Digital reamastering Ⓟ 2000 by EMI Electrola GmbH
© 2000 by EMI Electrola GmbH

The Miracles of Sanct Nicolaus

St. Nicholas, according to Roman liturgy, was born in the fourth century in the city of Patara, province of Lycia (Turkey). His well-to-do parents died when he was a boy, and the young Nicholas distributed his inherited wealth to the poor. He wan a pious man, who fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout his life. And he was a kind man, and this quality above all others secured him a place in the hearts of Medieval Christians, in both East and West. It happened that Nicholas went to the city of Myra, capital of Lycia, just as the Bishop died. The provincial Bishops had gathered there to elect a new Bishop and they were told by a revelation that they should select a man who the next day would be the first to enter the church, whose name would be Nicholas. Thus Nicholas became Bishop to Myra. Contrary to the edicts of Dioclesian and Maximian, Nicholas preached the Christian faith and was imprisoned until Constantine was made emperor. Nicholas died after returning to Myra from the Council of Nicea, where he had condemned the Arian heresy.

The ninth century Archimandrite account of his life formed the basis of the Greek biographies, while in that same century it was Johannes Diaconus of Naples who wrote the basic Latin vita, which was included in the encyclopaedia of Vincent of Beauvais as well as Jacobus de Voragine in his Legenda Aurea. In the tenth and eleven centuries the cult of Nicholas flourished. New vitas were written, adding substantially to the number of miracles. Numerous churches and abbeys were dedicated to him, and there appeared hymns and a complete office with music, which had wide circulation in Normandy (this office, from St. Maur-la-Fossés is similar to both Worcester and Sarum use). (The extensive iconography related to this saint - hundreds of citations - has been collected by Karl Maisen, Nikolauscult..., 1931.). The special relationship between the Normans and the Mediterranean world played a rol in the popularity of St. Nicholas. It was Norman sailors who stole the relics of Nicholas from Myra and brought them to Bari, which they had conquered in 1071. From here a finger of Nicholas made its Way mysteriously to a chapel on the Meurthe, which then became an important pilgrim goal, and which grew into one of the larger medieval cities in Lorrain. Saint Nicholas-du-port. Four miracles of Sr. Nicholas were adopted for presentation as plays during the Middle Ages. Two of them have been recorded here:

Tres Filiae
A man of noble birth has lost his wealth and cannot provide a dowry for his three daughters. The eldest daughter decides to sell herself as a prostitute in order to provide money, but just as she suggests this, a bag of gold is tossed through the window, and a genor appears to claim the hand of that daughter. This repeats for the remaining two daughters, and as the last bag of gold comes through the window, the father goes into the street and discovers it was St. Nicholas who threw the gold. (This is the only authenticated legend, appearing in the earliest sources which identify the nobleman as a neighbour of Nicholas.)

Iconia Sancti Nicolai
A Jew, having heard of the reputation of St. Nicholas, employs an icon of St. Nicholas to guard and protect his house and possessions as he goes abroad. Three robbers enter the house and steal the treasure. On returning, the Jew discovers his loss, flies into a rage directed at the icon and promises to burn the icon the next day. Nicholas appears before the robbers and gives them the choice of returning the treasure or facing civil justice. They return the treasure while the Jew is sleeping, and thus the reputation of Nicholas remains intact.

The legend of Tres Filiae is mentioned in all the vitas (with variations) and is included in the antiphons for the office of St. Nicholas. Iconia is one of the added miracles from the 11th century, inspired by a Saracen invasion of Calabria. During the pillaging, it seems that one of the invaders found an icon and carried it off. On hearing of the power of Sr Nicholas, he left the icon to guard his possessions. Hilarius, a pupil of Abélard, also wrote a play on this legend (employing French refrains) while the most extensive treatment is that of Jean Bodel, Jeu de de Nicolas, written entirely in the vernacular.

A twelfth century manuscript at the monastery at Fleury is our source for these dramas. Besides ten dramas with music, the manuscript contains many sermons, a hymn and a prosa. As was common, the texts were written into the manuscript and afterwards the musical notation in diastematic neums was entered above the text. These neums, placed on a staff, indicate precise pitch but are not a rhythmic notation, neither mensural nor modal; the frequent alternation of punctum and virga in syllabic lines must be viewed as a writing convention rather than as a rhythmic notation. As always, there is no attempt to indicate the nature of the instrumental accompaniment, if there were one. A reconstruction of these plays — like all medieval music — requires a marriage of scholarship with artistic insight. Not only the rhythmic question and that of the participation of instruments — questions about which at least some objective discussion is possible — but also the weightier problems of aesthetics and expression must be entertained.

The plays are scenic, that is, they contain an optical element. Indeed, the stories might easily be communicated through mime, yet text was added, with considerable thought given to its structure well as its content: in Tres Filiae the texts are strophic and contain refrains. The repetition of the refrains gives a pulse to the unfolding of the drama. Identical melodies are employed both for desperate lament and for joy. Iconia on the other hand, alters structure with character, providing refrain only for the concluding piece, with the rejoicing "gaudeamus", which clearly was intended to spread contagiously to the audience. None of the stationary quality of Tres Filiae is found here, where there are clearly separate scenes. Tres Filiae contains only two pieces of music, one for the opening lament and one for the rest of the play, with the structure a a a a b. Iconia opens with a lengthy sequence, followed by a strophic structure (a a a a b) and then another sequence "vah perii", as the Jew discovers his loss. The music for Nicholas is a sequence with repeated sections (aab aab aab, cdb ceb cdb cdb cfb) after which there are a series of short lines of the robbers, and then the final refrain song Congaudete (abc abc abc abc) with the refrain "gaudeamus".

For several reasons an instrument accompaniment seems appropriate. Whereas the optical presentation is complete with costumes, mime and mis-en-scene, the accoustical element is not complete with the solo song. Instruments interpret and reinforce the texts even when - as in Tres Filiae - the melodies do not reflect the emotional climate of the text. Instruments are symbols, identifying a character as in Iconia, Jew versus robbers - chitara Sarasenica versus rebec. Dramatic tension is created by instruments through the gradual resolution of cacophonous elements as each player relates his line to the cadential implications of the melody. Each player moves towards consonant areas independently, with no thought for the presence of other conflicting lines except that of the melody (Tres Filiae). Such accompaniments arc not like song accompaniments, for these are not songs.

The vocal style is in some respects unusual. Special vocal techniques are employed which result from articulation considerations. It is not at all a case of matching a voice to an instrument but rather matching a voice to its musical line. A specific vocabulary of vocal techniques result from any articulation matrix, and it is especially in this regard that medieval singing differs from later practice. Each singer has a key of his/her own just as everyone has a speech-pitch. Thus in this case keys are not the result of compositional considerations but a result of the character portrayed.

The revival of these plays after eight hundred years is a fascinating undertaking. It seems to me the plays were worked out for relatively small audiences who were not expected to have mastered the Latin language (the grammar is not flawless) and who may have seen the same plays year after year. I do not think the performances were either complicated or lavish, but rather intimate and personal. They must be considered church drama, not entertainment at the county fair. They have a purpose beyond simple entertainment which is perhaps no longer meaningful today: history viewed as the annals of Christian affairs, a particular vision of the world.

Thomas Binkley