Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017




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From the archives: excerpts from Sequentia's first demo recordings (1978-79)

By Benjamim Bagby

For the ensemble's 40th anniversary in 2017, my colleague Norbert Rodenkirchen encouraged me to rummage in the Sequentia tape archive in Cologne and see what old recordings were lying around. I found two of our oldest demos, on reel-to-reel tapes. Norbert took the fragile tapes to the renowned Topaz Studio in Cologne, where sound engineer Reinhard Kobialka was able to save most of the deteriorated sounds. Still, one hears the hand of time in these old recordings. Norbert had the idea to use the old label of the demo as an image. The list was written on our old mechanical typewriter, and the lettering done by hand, with Letraset (considered very hightech in pre-computer times).

Non e gran causa

This is from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, compiled by King Alfonso 'el Sabio' of Castile and Leon (1221-1284): 'This is how holy Mary decreed that the soul of the pilgrim, who killed himself on the way to Santiago because the devil tricked him, should return to the body, and he should do penance.' (CSM 26). Refrain text: 'It is not surprising that the mother of him who will judge the whole world should demonstrate good judgment.'

This is from a demo which we made in May 1978 in Cologne, with pieces from our 'Pilgrimage to Santiago' program (which was only ever performed once, in Limoges). The recording has all the hallmarks of a young ensemble almost losing control in a high-energy performance using men's and women's voices, with fiddle (Margriet Tindemans) and lute (the virtuosic Paul Shigihara Haltod). Barbara Thornton, singing here with Candace Smith, was interested in a wide-open, female chest-voice performance, something she later rarely tried. For the performance of this concert program, we all wore red monks' robes made especially by a tailor in Cologne, and wore coquilles Saint Jacques shells around our necks. Well, it was the 70's and seemed like a cool idea at the time. The robes are still in a box somewhere, never worn again since 1978.

Ja nus hons pris

The piece is a Trouvère chanson attributed to Richard I (Lionheart), King of England (1157-1199), who was imprisoned by Leopold V, Duke of Austria in 1192 on his way home from the Crusades, and held for an enormous ransom. He supposedly wrote this song, addressed to his sister Marie de Champagne, from captivity. He sings of the unfairness of his situation, and urges his many friends to pay the ransom to gain his release.

This is taken from a 1979 demo for a projected LP with music from the world of Richard the Lionheart. We submitted this privately-recorded project to Archiv Produktion (DGG), hoping for a recording contract, but they turned us down—the producer said they were looking for something which 'sounded more like David Munrow.' And so the recording was forgotten until today.

In this short excerpt, which includes the final strophes of the song, we hear one of my first attempts at self-accompaniment, on a harp which I had just acquired from the builder (Alan Crumpler). One can hear my tentative elaboration of harp-playing ideas which would later become much more convinced and natural. Still in my late twenties at that time, I worried that my voice would not have sufficient 'gravitas' to do justice to King Richard; I also hear today how I was not yet able to fully inhabit the text of this famous song.

Upcoming Concerts

13 August 2023
Lviv, Ukraine (Mirror Hall, Opera)
The Wanderer - Medieval songs of travel

15 August 2023
Kyiv, Ukraine (Hall at the Modern Art Research Institute of the National Academy of Art of Ukraine)
The Wanderer - Medieval songs of travel

20 August 2023
Jarosław, Poland
The Wanderer - Medieval songs of travel

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's teaching activities in 2019

In March 2019, Benjamin will give two weekend courses on the solo songs of Philippe le Chancelier (d. 1236). The courses are being hosted by the Centre de Musique Médiévale de Paris. Dates: 9-10 and 30-31 March.
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After retiring from his teaching position at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he taught between 2005 and 2018 in the professional masters program, Benjamin Bagby continues to travel widely in 2019 to teach practical workshops for young professionals:

Folkwang Universität der Künste (Essen-Werden, Germany).
Benjamin has joined the faculty of this renowned masters program for liturgical chant performance and medieval music. The dates of his courses in 2019: 5-7 April; 26-28 April; 17-19 May; 30 May–01 June.
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For the second year in a row, Benjamin will teach an intensive course in the 8th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Besalú, Spain): Songs of the troubadours (for singers and instrumentalists).
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Amherst Early Music Festival (Connecticut College, New London CT) 21-28 July:
An intensive course on the solo cansos of the Occitan troubadours, with a focus on songs from the great Milan songbook Bibl. Ambr. R71 sup. (for singers and instrumentalists).
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