Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017




Katja Zimmermann

(exclusive of Europe)

Seth Cooper
Seth Cooper Arts Inc.
4592 Hampton Ave.
Montréal, QC, Canada
Tel: 514-467-5052

In association for
Season 2016-2017 with:

Jon Aaron
Aaron Concert Artists 
220 West 148th St. 4J
New York City 10039, NY / USA
Tel: 212-665-0313


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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

17 March 2017
Basel (CH) Predigerkirche, Freunde Alte Musik
Monks Singing Pagans

25 March – 2 April 2017
Lafayette College, Vassar College, Princeton University, Yale University
Benjamin Bagby Beowulf tour USA

1 April 2017
New York City, Symphony Space
Book release event for ‘The Inquisitor’s Tale’

11 May 2017
Paris, Université de Paris – Sorbonne, Amphithéâtre Richelieu

See full concert schedule




Benjamin Bagby has recorded the only surviving Old High German epic fragment, the Hildebrandslied (The Song of Hildebrand), for inclusion in an audiobook version of Adam Gidwitz’s new book for children and young adults, The Inquisitor’s Tale, just released by Penguin/Random House. He also recorded harp accompaniments to go with portions of the reading of the story. A release event is being schedule for New York City in early April, 2017.


New program given birth at Cambridge University

Following working sessions in 2014-15 with University of Cambridge musicologist Sam Barrett in the USA (Harvard University and Ohio State University) and in Cambridge (Pembroke College), Sequentia was in residence at Cambridge in April for the final rehearsals of the new program 'Monks Singing Pagans'.  An informal video of a rehearsal made by the university became a YouTube sensation, with over 500,000 views. In addition to their rehearsals and working sessions on the songs of Boethius, Sequentia gave a masterclass and the premiere performance of 'Monks Singing Pagans', immediately followed by the US premiere during a residency at Dartmouth College (USA). The week spent at Dartmouth included teaching activities in music history, performance practice, Latin poetry and manuscript studies. Sequentia returned to Cambridge in late June to prepare a special program of the Boethian songs, which was given as part of a symposium on medieval Latin song, with a special concert on 2 July in Pembroke College Chapel.


Teaching in Basel and Milano

Benjamin Bagby will be teaching performance courses on medieval song at two music academies this year:

Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Basel, Switzerland): 31 October to 1 November 2016 and 13-14 March 2017

Scuola Civica di Musica Claudio Abbado (Milano, Italy): 2-3 December 2016 and 16-18 February 2017


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