Sancta Maria  /  Ensemble Super Librum

Songs for Virgin Mary |
Emergo EC 3917-2

℗ + © 2001 Emergo Classics
recording: 1998

1. Danza Maria pia   [4:15]
instrumental  |  Jankees Braaksma 1997, after ms. Cim I 39, Oldenburger Landesbibliothek, ca. 1445
JB organetto

2. Laet ons mit hogher vrolicheit   [5:28]
hymn  |  Berlin MG 8º 190, ms. Utrecht, ca. 1480
NM — JB organetto, recorder, JT fiddle

3. Edi be thu   [3:36]
song  |  Oxford Bodl. L. OCC 459, end 13th c.
NM, EM — JB recorder, JT rebec

4. Dance tune  [2:18]
instrumental  |  Oxford Douce 139 ca. 1270
JT rebec

5. Salve Regina   [2:47]
antiphon  |  Antiphonale Monasticum, 11th c.

6. Santa Maria, strela do dia   [2:22]   CSM  100
CSM 100  |  Cantigas de Santa Maria, El Escorial, B.I.2, ca. 1270
NM, EM — JT fiddle, JB organetto

7. Gaudeamus omnes in Domino   [1:20]
introitus  |  Graduale Romanum, 9th c.

8. Quen bõa dona querrá   [4:15]   CSM  160
CSM 160  |  Cantigas de Santa Maria, El Escorial, B.I.2, ca. 1270
EM, NM — JB synfonia

9. O divina virgo fiore   [3:24]
lauda, instrumental  |  Cortona, Biblioteca Communale 91, ca. 1290
JT rebec, JB organetto, EM synfonia

10. Or piangiamo ché piange Maria   [6:03]
lauda  |  Firenze, BNF, ms. Banco Rari 18, ca. 1340
NM — JB organetto

11. Estampida splendida   [2:36]   LV  1
instrumental  |  Jankees Braaksma 1997, after ms. Llibre Vermell, Biblioteca de Montserrat, ms 1 ca. 1340
JB organetto, JT fiddle

12. Mariam matrem   [5:07]   LV  8
Llibre Vermell, Biblioteca de Montserrat, ms 1 ca. 1340
NM, EM — JT fiddle

13. Royne celestre   [8:32]
lai  |  GAUTIER de COINCY (1177-1236), ms. F-Pn fr. 24541
EM — JT fiddle

14. La quarte estampie royale   [3:45]
Paris BN fr. 844, ca. 1280
JT fiddle, JB organetto

15. Maria virgo virginum   [1:16]
motet  |  Circle of PHILIPPE de VITRY (1291-1361), Paris BN fr. 146, 'Roman de Fauvel'
NM, EM — JT rebec

16. Ave generosa   [6:29]
hymn  |  HILDEGARD von BINGEN (1098-1179), Dendermonde Abbey, ms. 9
NM — JB organetto

17. Ave Maria gratia plena   [1:44]
antiphon  |  Graduale Romanum, after 930

18. Bassa danza sopra Salve Regina   [4:11]
instrumental improvisation, ca. 1450
JB recorder, JT fiddle

19. Verbum bonum et suave   [4:44]
sequentia  |  Ms. Cim I 39, Oldenburger Landesbibliothek, ca. 1445
NM, EM — JT fiddle, JB organetto

© All music transcribed and arraged by Jankees Braaksama, 1997

Jankees Braaksma — Jonathan Talbott — Eric Menzel — Nancy Mayer

Ensemble Super Librum
Jankees Braaksma

NM   Nancy Mayer — mezzosoprano
EM   Eric Menzel — tenor, synfonia
JT   Jonathan Talbott — vielle, rebec
JB   Jankees Braaksma — organetto, recorder, synfonia


Super Librum, founded in 1985, is internationally acclaimed for its historically accurate performances of medieval music.

The name of the ensemble has been chosen with care: playing 'super librum' (literally 'above the book') was the traditional manner of performance during the Middle Ages. Instead of playing from a score, musicians would improvise on the basis of musical patterns previously agreed on. Indeed, medieval musicians often could not read music at all but grew up in a centuries-old oral tradition. They would be acquainted with any number of standard melodies, but in (polyphonic) performance they would exhibit the improvisatory skills acquired through long years of training under the guidance of a master musician. Super Librum is one of the few ensembles to incorporate this playing practice in its performances.

Super Librum is directed by Jankees Braaksma, who plays the recorder and the organetto. As the performance of this kind of music is very demanding, Super Librum often cooperates with specialists educated at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland, the only College of Music in Europe to have a specialised course in medieval music on its curriculum.

In its programmes Super Librum pays attention to troubadours, trouveres, Minnesinger, famous musicians and composers, European centres of music, and manuscripts. In cinceiving and developing the programmes the knowledge of linguists, medievalists, musicologists, instrument makers, translators and choreographers is drawn upon to ensure the highest standards of excellence.

In 1986, Super Librum was awarded the first prize at the 'Competition for Ensembles of Early Music' (now known as 'Van Wassenaer Competition') and in 1987 gained a distinction as one of the finalists at the Musica Antigua Competition at Bruges, Belgium.

Recording: NH kerk, Voorst (Netherlands), december 1998 by KRO, Hilversum, Netherlands
Executive producers: Hanneke de Man, Jankees Braaksma
Recording producer: Wico Clements
Engineer & editing: Bert van Dijk

Photo Super Librum: Antonet Pepers
Photo Jankees Braaksma: Antoinette Borchert
Madonna with child: Manuscript: BPH 51, fol. 15r Amsterdam, Bibliotheca Hermetica Philosophica,
From: Lydia Wierda: De Sarijshandschriften. Zwolle Waanders Uitgevers, 1995. (photo Hans Westerink)

Info Super Librum: Em@il:   |   tel/fax: +31 50 3140164

'Santa Maria' wordt speciaal opgedragen aan mijn dochter Mike Braaksma

Art director: Ed de Zwager
Design: Basta!, Haarlem, Holland, Jerry de Zwager
Cover: Marc Chagall, Maria and child

For more information and distribution:
Dé Klemtoon, Antennestraat 74, 1322 AS Almere Holland.
Phone +31(0)36 536 86 85  /  Fax +31(0)36 536 62 61.


Throughout the Middle Ages Mary was a focal point for meditation and prayer. Because she had been human herself, she was pre-eminently able to understand human shortcomings and weaknesses. At the same time, by having conceived and borne the Son of God while retaining her virginity, she was a human being in close contact with the divine. For medieval man this combination of divinity and humanity was one of the most appealing of Mary's characteristics. Mary was invoked as 'mediatrix,' a mediator between man and God, and as 'advocata,' an advo-cate pleading for man with God.

In the course of the Middle Ages the relation between Mary and the praying and singing individual gradually changes. In the early Middle Ages Mary is predominantly the distant queen of heaven, at the end of the Middle Ages she is also hailed and invoked as a loving and merciful woman. Small wonder that in the plastic arts and in literature Mary appears in many different guises. Typical of the early Middle Ages is the image of Mary as the Mother of God, the queen of heaven. She is depicted as a crowned monarch, standing on the crescent moon, garlanded with the rays of the sun. In texts which describe Mary in this capacity there is no question of a personal relationship between Mary and the person who is watching or reading and/or listening. Man is - so to speak - not personally involved in what he envisages while praying, singing and listening. He is a spectator who can only sing Mary's praises from a distance. Among the songs on the present CD this image of Mary is apparent in e.g. the introit Gaudeamus omnes in Domino and in the hymn Ave generosa, gloriosa et intacta puella. But also in the fifteenth-century Middle Dutch song Laet ons mit hogher vrolicheit Mary is predominantly presented in many of the guises she had acquired in the course of the Middle Ages: chosen Mother of God, pure flower of chastity, noble chamber of the Trinity, fountain of sweetness, temple of dignity, noble rose...

Yet in this Middle-Dutch song other qualities are mentioned as well, and in the course of the Middle Ages these become increasingly important in the worship of the Virgin Mary. People sing of Mary as the comforter of all sorrow, the mother of gentleness and mercy. These characteristics make her pre-eminently suited for the roles increasingly reserved for her: those of advocata and mediatrix. In Laet ons mit hogher vrolicheit the single task given to man is to sing Mary's praise. Many of the other songs on the present CD present a quite different picture. In these Mary is repeatedly called upon to intercede on man's behalf. Because of his sinfulness and uncleanness man cannot address God and his Son directly, but asks Mary to put in a good word for him.

A splendid example of a song in which the two guises of Mary - queen of heaven and merciful, compassionate mother - are lauded is Royne celestre, buer fusses to nee (Queen of heaven, happy was your birth). In the first three stanzas Mary is extolled as heavenly queen, fountain of mercy, odoriferous rose, to which man may turn for rest and consolation. In the fourth stanza the poet employs themes characteristic of courtly love poetry: in Mary there is no deceit, calculation or ambiguity, disloyalty or falsehood, traits which a lover so often encounters in the lady he (distantly) loves. Unlike the earthly lady, Mary is not going to drive him to insanity: 'for those who love you with a pure love cannot but turn out all right and obtain eternal life.' This stanza is also the pivot of the poem: it is followed by another three stanzas in which man's sinfulness and filthiness are sharply contrasted with Mary's freshness and purity. The song ends with a prayer to Mary: 'Source of loveliness, have mercy, have mercy. Unite me with your beloved Son,as you have done before with many a lost soul ...'

In the English song Edi be thu hevene quene (Blessed are you, queen of heaven) Mary is both praised on account of her excellent qualities and called upon to have mercy on the 'I' of the song and to unite him with her Son. This song employs even more imagery from the tradition of courtly love poetry than Royne celestre. Mary is addressed as 'swete levedi' (sweet lady) and the 'I' describes himself as 'thin knight', 'thi mon' (your servant), who is bound to Mary by bonds of love. This particular choice of words gives the poem a very personal, almost intimate character.

The prayer for intercession and mediation is not always worded in such pregnant and personal language. In the song Santa Maria, strela do dia (Holy Mary, morning star) the prayer for Mary's intercession and mediation is much more detached. There is no 'I' in the poem, but 'sinners' and 'we' instead. Modestly the poet ends with the wish 'and, if it please you, I would dearly like to see my soul in such company.' Also in Maria virgo virginum, Salve Regina misericordiae, Quen bõa dona querra and Verbum bonum et suave the prayer for intercession and help is less personal. In this regard it is interesting to note that in Mariam Matrem Mary and Jesus are by turns lauded and implored to answer the prayers of the people and to defend them: 'Let us honour Mary, Virgin and mother, and extol Jesus Christ in unity.'

The suffering Mary is extensively portrayed in the Italian song Or piangiamo, ché piange Maria: Let us lament because Mary is more than usually sorrowful. In the first stanza Mary is depicted as standing at the foot of the cross, bent over and weeping, while a thousand spears seem to be piercing her heart. In the second and third stanzas Mary is speaking. She is inconsolable because she has lost her Son, and she is wondering whom to turn to for help. Such texts were very popular in the late Middle Ages. Very well known is the Stabat mater, a comprehensive account of Mary's suffering at the cross. By emphasizing Mary's humanity and vulnerability in this way the praying individual could identify with precisely this humanity and - as it were - unite with Mary in feeling the suffering of her Son.


Together with Jesus, Mary is the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Jesus is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament, e.g. in the book of Isaiah and in the Psalms. But for medieval man Mary, too, was obviously connected with the Old Testament. Not only did she belong to the house of David, the famous king who wrote the psalms and whose exploits are chronicled in several Old Testament books. Mary was also regarded as the new Eve, who annulled the effects of the Fall caused by the first Eve, through the immaculate conception and the virgin birth of her Son. In Salve Regina misericordiae the people addressing Mary call themselves 'exiles, children of Eve'. This earthly life is a state of exile, which they have to endure because they are Eve's descendants. They implore Mary to be their intercessor, who, after the period of exile is over, will lead them to heaven where they will see Jesus. In Edi be thu hevene quene, too, we find a reference to the bitter sufferings Eve has brought upon her descendants, and to Mary, who will guide them out of their affliction to heaven. In this song there is also a reference to Mary's 'heghe kunne', her high lineage, i.e. her being descended from king David. A similar reference is found in Verbum bonum et suave.

The connection between the Old Testament and Mary does not end here. Medieval theology regarded some Old Testament events as prefigurations of Mary and particularly of the virgin birth of Christ. For most people living in the Middle Ages such references were self-evident. They could be found in theological writings, but they were depicted too, for example in murals and in miniatures in illuminated manuscripts. A miniature in a fifteenth-century manuscript from Zwolle shows the Annunciation: the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God. In the margin of this miniature there are two smaller miniatures, representing Moses with the burning bush and Gideon with the fleece of wool. For the contemporary (educated) beholder these references were crystal clear: they prefigured the virgin birth of Christ. The bush that was not affected by the flames points forward to Mary, who remained a virgin although she became pregnant. And the fleece which Gideon had put on the threshing-floor and which became sodden with dew, was seen as a foreshadowing of Mary's conception, while the dry threshing-floor symbolized Mary's virginity. Such prefigurations can also be found in texts. Verbum bonum et suave, with its emphasis on the sweet and good word 'Ave' with which the angel greeted Mary, is a song in praise of the immaculate conception. In this song, too, Gideon's fleece of wool and 'the sign of the bush' (i.e. the burning bush) are mentioned. A more veiled reference to Gideon's fleece is found in Ave generosa, gloriosa et intacta puella. Here Mary's conception is compared to the grass on which the dew descends and which is infused with growing-power. Also in Laet ons mit hogher vrolicheit, a song about the virgin birth, there is a reference to the 'sweet dew' that fell on Mary, who is depicted as a fresh-blown rose.

Lydia Wierda
translation: Leo van Noppen


Between the 10th and 15th centuries a rich Marian repertoire develops, intended for a variety of occasions: Church festivals in honour of Mary, religious plays, processions, pilgrimages, and of devotional music performed by professional musicians (minstrels) for an evening's entertainment at court.

The minstrel's job was to accompany monophonic songs. This musical tradition was oral: minstrels did not read or write music, but knew countless melodies by heart and were able to improvise an accompaniment on the spot, often with an introduction, an interlude and a closing piece. When no vocalists were at hand, a minstrel could create an entirely new piece on the basis of the conventions with regard to improvisation and composition.

The virtuosity of Gautier de Coinci and Hildegard von Bingen and the refined cantigas of Alfonso the Wise are contrasted with much simpler music, such as the earliest songs of praise in honour of Mary, the Gregorian antiphons. Gregorian chant is monophonic music par excellence. Antiphons like Ave Maria gratia plena and Salve Regina play an important role in the Marian repertoire, because many subsequent compositions in honour of the Blessed Virgin are based on them. Ever since the 13th century the Marian antiphons have been sung in churches and monasteries at the end of Compline, the last of the canonical hours of prayer. Especially in the Low Countries the Marian antiphons found their way to the people: from the end of the 14th century every opportunity was taken to sing or perform them, high up on a tower, in the parvis, on Holy Days, etc. The introit Gaudeamus omnes in Domino is also found in the Gregorian repertoire in honour of Mary.

The visionary nun Hildegard von Bingen wrote songs written down ca. 1150 in the collection Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum. Her poetry and music are both beautiful and idiosyncratic. Scenes from her visions are joined to original melodies of an unusually large melodic range. The song of praise Ave generosa was notated under her supervision.

The 13th-century French musician, poet and abbot Gautier de Coinci lived in an era in which cultural life was dominated by poetry. Most of his songs are contrafacts: new words set to existing melodies. As a poet he is one of the all-time greats. From his most important work, Miracles de Nostre-Dame, he emerges as a passionate verbal wizard. In 40.000 lines of verse Gautier recounts the miracles worked by the Virgin Mary, and intersperses his narrative with prayers and songs. One of these songs is the lay Royne celestre. The lay, a lengthy epic song, was regarded as the ultimate poetic challenge.

La quarte estampie Royale is one of the few examples of notated instrumental music from this period. It is one of eight 'petrified' improvisations to be found in the Old French Manuscrit du roi. The present CD contains further examples of instrumental improvisation, some traditional, some made up spontaneously during performance. The Estampida splendida is an improvisation on the caccia O Virgo splendens from the Llibre Vermell. The estampie is followed by the polyphonic song Mariam Matrem from the same manuscript. The Llibre Vermell is the 14th-century collection of Marian songs kept in the monastery of Montserrat, which is dedicated to the 'black madonna' (The Blessed Virgin Maria).

The motet Maria virgo virginum can be found in the French satirical poem Roman de Fauvel, which is an important source for 11th- through 13th-century music. The poet of the Roman de Fauvel satirizes various social evils and invokes the help of the Virgin of Virgins.

Dance tune is the earliest notated instrumental music from England. It is a rebec solo. Because of its loud and piercing sound the rebec was used during processions to keep the devils at bay. The Dance tune is preceded by Edi be thu, hevene quene, a melody with typically English parallel thirds. In the rest of Europe at that time the third was not regarded as a harmonious interval. The instrumental intermezzi are improvised.

The estampie Danza Ave Maria pia, performed on a portative organ, developed from an improvised prelude to the sequence Verbum bonum et suave. It is based on an organ intabulation of the Gregorian Credo in a recently discovered manuscript dating from 1445.

The title of the improvised Bassa danza sopra Salve Regina hints at its source of inspiration, and also informs us that the melody of the antiphon is to be heard in the bass.

The song of praise Laet ons mit hogher vrolicheit, a Dutchified version of the 12th-century Ave maris stella, is performed in alternatim fashion (vocal-instrumental). The instrumental part is improvised. Salve Regina and Ave maris stella belong to the Dutch Marian repertoire of the late Middle Ages. Instrumentalists would improvise of an evening on the Marian antiphons and other songs . The Dutch text of the hymn comes from the hymnal of the religious movement known as 'Moderne Devotie'. The members of this lay community were enjoined to silence, but they were allowed to sing hymns from their own little hymnal, in which the Marian songs figure prominently.

The 13th-century Cantigas de Santa Maria are the Spanish counterpart of Miracles de Nostre-Dame. They recount over 400 miracles worked by Mary, many of the songs being contrafacts. An important difference with the Miracles is that the Cantigas included only songs. The poems are written in Galician-Portuguese, an artificial language used for lyric poetry. King Alfonso X the Wise was the patron of this undertaking. The enlightened monarch turned his court into a centre of art and learning, and participated in the actual writing of the Cantigas, in which two types of song can be distinguished. Most of the songs are 'cantigas de miragre', miniature miracle plays set to music. Santa Maria, strela do dia and Quen bõa dona querra belong to the minority category of 'cantigas de loor', simple songs of praise sung during worship in church.

In 13th century Italy, under the influence of Franciscan friars, the lay fraternities of the laudesi (singers of praise) were formed, which for centuries - extending into the 20th century - helped to strengthen the social fabric of the community. They developed an immense repertory of songs of praise, the laude. These have come down to us in some 200 manuscripts, only two of which - Cortona and Florence - contain musical notation. The songs in the Cortona manuscript have simple, syllabic melodies, and are suitable for use during processions; hence the assumption that they were popular with the common people. O divina virgo is an instrumental version of the lauda of the same title. The manuscript from Florence shows a development towards melismatic laude for solo performance, but the melodic structure remains lucid notwithstanding, witness Or piangiamo the piange Maria.

Henk Pieter Berkman
translation: Leo van Noppen