Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017




Katja Zimmermann

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Seth Cooper
Seth Cooper Arts Inc.
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Voices from the Island Sanctuary:
Ecclesiastical Singers in Paris (1180-1230)

New sounds in Parisian churches

Beginning in the early 12th century, the city of Paris was the European center for new trends in philosophy and the arts, especially music and Latin poetry. And the intellectual centre of Paris was on the Île de la Cité, in and around Notre Dame, at the royal court just a stone’s throw away, in the schools which were rapidly expanding on the Left Bank, and in nearby monastic churches where the best and brightest gathered. We present here some of the most remarkable ‘new music’ of the Parisian scene.

Grounded in the extemporised oral tradition of the Magister Leoninus and the organistae of Notre Dame in the period around 1200 (a tradition which gave birth to the romantic myth of an ‘École de Notre-Dame’), this notated organum duplum of the responsory Descendit de celis attests to the powerful new hybrid genre heard in late 12th-century Paris : 2-voice organum purum, copula and clausula build upon the venerable chant, revealing a metamorphosis in both time and vertical sonority. In keeping with the improvisational roots of this music, the singers of Sequentia draw on a 12th-century French organum treatise (Vatican, Ottob. lat. 3025) to make their own versions of some of the organum purum sections, while singing the rhythmic clausulae from the manuscript source. The chant sections are sung from a 13th century Parisian chant book.

Another dynamic aspect of intellectual life in Paris was the art of rhetoric, during a time which saw the rise of virtuoso sermons (Philippe le Chancelier!) and the power of the word in political and spiritual life. In Minor natu filius we hear a concise re-telling of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), a completely new manner of ‘vocalizing’ a well-known Gospel story, in which musical language and rhetoric shape the simple tale with an intensity that no mere reading could ever approach.

During a particularly turbulent period of ecclesiastical politics and intrigue at Notre Dame in the early 12th century, William of Champeaux (himself an archdeacon at the cathedral) founded an Augustinian monastery on the Left Bank, naming it St. Victor. It was to serve as a calm place of refuge, meditation, spiritual study and teaching for the clergy of Notre Dame, far from the urbanity and distraction of the busy cathedral on the island (if you search the Left Bank today, looking for a trace of St. Victor, you will only find 19th century buildings and the unfortunate modern constructions at Jussieu). Many of the most illustrious men in Notre Dame’s history chose to live within the wealthy and comfortable walls of St. Victor, including a venerable 12th century Cantor of Notre Dame named Adam (often referred to as Adam of St. Victor) who died in 1146. To him are ascribed a large number of astonishing new compositions in sequence form (Latin: sequentia), daring in their texts and melodies, which were sung on important feasts in both churches. This sequence for Easter, Zima vetus expurgetur, with its elaborate mosaic of images drawing upon the Old Testament, would have delighted the sensibilities of the erudite Victorine brothers, within their own church or in the choir of the nearby cathedral.


Descendit de celis

He came down from heaven, sent from the Father’s citadel; through the maiden’s ear he entered our region, putting on a stole of purple, and he went out through the golden gate, light and glory of the whole structure of the world.

V/ The Lord coming forth like a bridegroom from his pavillion;
And he went out through the golden gate, light and glory of the whole world.

V/ Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit…
And he went out through the golden gate, light and glory of the whole world.

He came down from heaven, sent from the Father’s citadel; through the maiden’s ear he entered our region, putting on a stole of purple, and he went out through the golden gate, light and glory of the whole world.

Minor natu filius

The younger son is the Gentile people, blind and without faith, like the prodigal son, who became destitute, fled to the desert, and fed swine. Penitent, he returns, and the father rejoices because the young boy is back; See how the lost one, considered perished, has returned! The calf is killed and a ring is placed on his finger. The envious brother is afflicted and filled with hate because his little brother is received with love by the father. (Luke 15:11-32).

Zima vetus expurgetur

Let the old leaven be purged so that the new resurrection may be celebrated. This is the day of our hope: the power of this day is marvellous by the testimony of the law. This day despoiled Egypt and freed the Hebrews from the cruel kiln, established in the labour of their servitude. Now the praise of divine virtue, now of triumph, now of salvation, an unimpeded voice breaks out: this is the day which the Lord has made, this is the end of our pain, the healing day….the serpent devours the serpents of Pharaoh…Christ pierces the serpent in its jaw. … David is inspired…Samson levels a thousand with a jawbone….the whale restores the fugitive Jonah….thus from Judah the strong lion, with the gates of dire death broken, rising on the third day, as the voice of the father roared, carried back so many spoils to the bosom of the celestial mother. Life and death have fought, Christ has risen truly, and with Christ many witnesses to the glory have risen. Let the new morning, the joyful morning, wipe away the evening weeping: because life conquered death, it is time for joy. O Jesus victor, Jesus life, Jesus, common way of life, by whose death, death is put to sleep, invite us to the Paschal table with confidence; O living bread, living water, vine true and fertile, feed us, cleanse us, so that your grace may save us from a second death. Amen.

Upcoming Concerts

29 October 2021, 7.30 pm
Friends of Chamber Music Kansas City, Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, USA
Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf

22 to 26 November 2021
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France
Workshop n°2 Roman de Fauvel – part III

8 December 2021
Actus humanus, Main town Hall, Gdansk, Poland
Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf (60 mins.)

18 to 26 march 2022
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France
Roman de Fauvel – part III, mise en scène: Peter Sellar

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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