AN 2 9780

Jewels of the Medieval Era

Release date September 19, 2006
Album code AN 2 9780
Periods Medieval

Album information

Medieval Music: Revealing the Beauty of the Universe

In medieval times, music was a reflection of peoples’ conception of the universe, both visible and invisible. Made in the image of the Creator, Man was the pinnacle of creation, the centre of the universe and of all divine works. Life’s course and harmony revolved around the tripartite energy of the Trinity: the eternal Father, the Word incarnate in the Son, and the Holy Spirit that unites them.

Although medieval composers tended to make use of religious symbolism in their work, they also drew upon more traditional values in order to unite the emotional with the rational. The very concept of music was for them one of harmonious proportions, and in creating it, they strove to represent the universe around them. The medieval musician thus also divided music into three categories:
1. musica mundana, or “music of the spheres,” referred to the heavenly Father and expressed the proportional harmony of the stars and planets, whose movements though the heavens created an inaudible music.
2. musica humana belonged to the Son and referred to the relationship between body and soul: humanity expressed through music.
3. musica instrumentalis, like the breath of the Holy Spirit, united the other two and referred to the harmony of actual sounds, whether from voices or musical instruments.

It is the ambitious goal of this disc to illustrate such fascinating aspects of the music and thought of the Middle Ages for a modern audience. To this purpose, it features a selection of vocal and instrumental works spanning the sacred and secular repertoire from the 12th to the 15th centuries, inspired by magnificent treasures of medieval meditation called “Books of Hours.”

Les Belles Heures: a medieval year in music

A book of hours was, from the Middle Ages until the start of the Renaissance, a collection of prayers for the layperson wishing to emulate priests and monks and turn towards God at certain times of the day. These books generally began with a calendar, which in the medieval tradition began with the month of March. The calendar would be illustrated with a series of twelve richly illuminated miniatures, whose minute details celebrated the annual cycle of life for both the humble and the powerful. The calendar would be followed by biblical passages and the book generally ended with prayers to the Virgin Mary. The best known example of a book of hours is undoubtedly the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, commissioned by John, Duke of Berry, son of King John II the Good of France, from the Limbourg brothers and from Jean Coulombe.

1 – Martius 5:38
a) Quant froidure trait a fin / Domino quoniam
Montpellier Codex, H 196, France, 13th c.
b) Ronde : Le Sentelle
Claude Bernatchez, Québec, 2002
c) Homo quo vigeas vide / Et gaudebit
Carmina Burana ms., France, 13th c.

With the onset of spring, nature begins its cycle; the equinox arrives bringing with it longer days, and Lent is well underway. In the fields, the earth is tilled, the vines are trimmed and the garden turned with spades. In towns and in the countryside, Easter is joyfully celebrated.

2 – Aprilis 4:40
La Seconde estampie roial
Manuscrit du roi, France, 13th c.

Nature settles down and takes root; flowers begin to come out. Spring has finally arrived. Plants spring up everywhere, the fields are sown and orchards bloom. Elegant young girls stroll in the gardens while princely nobles pursue engagements.

3 – Maius 5:10
a) Quant florist la violete / El mois de mai / Et gaudebit
Montpellier Codex, H 196, France, 13th c.
b) Tempus est iocundum CB 179
Carmina Burana ms., France, 13th c.

The first of May is cause for great celebrations in the village. The day before, young girls collect flowers and foliage in the woods. When the festivities begin, they don coronets of flowers and bestow them on their courtiers. On this day, each girl selects a boy to court her in the coming days. The air is fresh, and spirits are light.

4 – Junius 3:07
Mariam Matrem Virginem
Llibre Vermell, Catalonia, 14th c.

With the beginning of summer and the arrival of the solstice, nature pauses to rebalance herself and begin her gestation. The sun soon reaches its zenith. Longer days mean more time spent in the fields. Here, the peasants are making hay. There, a shepherd shears his sheep. Elsewhere, young people hoe the vineyards and gardens.

5 – Julius 6:09
Istanpitta Chominciamento di gioa
British Museum ms. Add. 29987, 14th c.

The sun is at its hottest, bringing an intense and overpowering heat wave. Children wander unhurriedly in search of a river in which to swim. In a field, people honor the sun, which bestows so many gifts.

6 – Augustus 5:47
a) On parole / A Paris / Frese nouvele Montpellier Codex, H 196, France, 13th c.
b) Vous l’orés bien dire
Adam de la Halle, France, 13th c.
c) Saltarello British Museum ms. Add. 29987, 14th c.

Harvest time has arrived. Merchants spread out their wares at the summer fair and call out to customers. It is market day. Now that everything has ripened, thoughts turn to marriage. When a lord marries off his eldest daughter, he traditionally invites all his people to take part in the celebrations. Musicians play until the new couple and their retinue retire.

7 – Septembris 5:19
a) Laudemus Virginem
Llibre Vermell, Catalonia, 14th c.
b) Imperaytritz de la ciutat joyosa
Llibre Vermell, Catalonia, 14th c.

In early autumn, at the equinox, night and day are equal and the leaves slowly start to change. After the harvest, once the apples have been picked and the gardens cleared, the grape-picking begins. At the church, the birth of the Virgin Mary is celebrated.

8 – Octobris 8:11
a) Stella splendens
Llibre Vermell, Catalonia, 14th c.
b) Ad mortem festinamus
Llibre Vermell, Catalonia, 14th c.
c) Danse macabre Claude Bernatchez, Québec, 1987

Night overtakes day, the leaves fall, the harvested fields are bare; it is raining. Nature marks the end of her exterior life, and her inner life begins. Fair weather is rare, and in the village—but especially in the countryside—the rhythm of life has completely changed.

On All Saints Day, and All Souls Day which follows it, men and women turn inwards. The importance of spiritual life during this season is evident in the expressions of piety seen on these two feast days.

9 – Novembris 6:09
a) Procurans odium CB 12
Carmina Burana ms., France, 13th c.
b) Dic Christi veritas – Bulla fulminante CB 131, 131a
Carmina Burana ms., France, 13th c.

The sighing wind announces end of autumn. Winter’s darkness gradually takes hold, and nature rests before the onset of the cold season. It is the time when animals are slaughtered, and hams, roasts and sausages are prepared, smoked or salted to better preserve them.

10 – Decembris 7:25
a) In natali Domini
Anonymous, Germany, 15th c.
b) Diex soit en cheste maison
Adam de la Halle, France, 13th c.
c) La Quarte estampie
Manuscrit du roi, France, 13th c.

The Christmas festivities begin just after the winter solstice. The long night will now steadily give way to daylight. The abundant celebrations and feasts last for nearly two weeks, from the Nativity to Epiphany. Between the two fall the feasts of the Holy Innocents and Saint Sylvester, as well as the “Feast of Fools,” which turns the world upside down for a day, transforming beggars into kings and clerics into peasants.

11 – Januarius 6:58
a) Lux optata claruit
Anonymous, France, 13th c.
b) Orientis partibus – Hac in anni janua
Anonymous, France, 13th c.

Now is the coldest time of the year. The fields are like deserts. People stay indoors, near the fire, snuggled in warm clothing. Nobles travel to the cities with their retinues. Snow and rain dominate until Candlemas, but thankfully, the days are getting longer and brighter, to the delight of all.

12 – Februarius 7:42
a) Sire Cuens, j’ai vièlé
Colin Muset, France, 13th c.
b) Istanpitta Isabella
British Museum ms. Add. 29987, 14th c.

Winter nears its end and the bitter cold eases. Nature is finally emerging from her slumber. After Candlemas comes Carnival—the last chance to celebrate before Lent. For three days, the people stuff themselves with pork and small game; in the city, men and women don costumes and pour into the streets for the Mardi Gras festivities.

© Claude Bernatchez and Bernard Gilbert
Translation: Peter Christensen

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Ensemble Anonymus
AN 2 9530 Kuhlau Grandes Sonates

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