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
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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)

Eros and ambition

The clerics who worked, sang and studied on the Île de la Cité, within the close of Notre Dame and near the French royal court, were among the most accomplished and worldy men in the Europe of their time. In this society, we would expect to find the most illustrious poets, the most renowned scholars, surrounded, of course, by ambitious – and often libidinous – young men who were at the beginnings of their careers. The following songs give us a glimpse into the more worldly aspects of clerical life: the ambivalence towards physical pleasure (in a city famed for its temptations) and the need to concentrate on study, advancement and prestige.

We often think of the Renaissance as being a period of revival for Classical themes. Actually, the 12th century Parisian clerics witnessed a huge output of text and song touching on the heroes of Greek Antiquity, the Trojan War, and the old gods. It would not seem strange to the singers of the conductus Veneris prosperis that it is found in a manuscript containing principally Christian texts. And how convenient that the god Jupiter might condone behaviour which the church would consider sinful.

Tongue in cheek, the career-conscious young student singing Vitam duxi wants to ‘have it all’ and does not regret the time he wasted on the pleasures of life.

And since love and jealousy are never far apart, one luscious 3-voice conductus from Paris (Procurans odium) reminds us that vicious rumours about the beloved only serve to heighten the energy of eros, so that the lover can finally ‘harvest sweet grapes on the envious enemy’s thorns’.

Although Pierre de Blois (d. 1212) was a court poet for Henri II and Eleanor of Acquitaine, his works were widely appreciated by the intelligentsia in Paris as well (he had studied there as a youth). The complex sequence Olim sudor Herculis, with its ironically moralistic refrain, would have been appreciated fully by an audience which knew the story of Hercules intimately, and that audience was in Notre Dame. Who could resist – then or now – the playful subtext about ‘great’ men making fools of themselves in the name of Venus? And who would not identify with the singer’s plan, wanting to flee from her enticements in the name of career and prestige?


Veneris prosperis

Everybody should enjoy the happy arrival of Venus, when those tender flowers are budding out. Follow the ancient custom: be ready for love, and shun all other forms of vice. Pledge your dues to Venus, you tender youths…pleasure is the boy’s law! Jupiter, ruler of all things, has taught us that nothing agreeable is done basely. Thus he speaks, and thus he fulfills all his vows, living in conformity to his own edict. It pleases me, therefore, to live as a lover; to imitate Jupiter is not such a bad idea. Transfixed by the arrow of voluptuousness, I will sail under my own free will, navigating by the star of Venus!

Vitam duxi

I have lived a joyous life of love, caring more for pleasure than for propriety. But now I’m recovering from my former life, concentrating more on my studies than on amorous combat. Why? Only one thing compels me: that I should enjoy the favour of fame while living an easy life! It’s good that we devote some time to love, so that we know what it feels like when we want to avoid it in the future. Now, knowing what is forbidden, I will be able to resist passion when it returns. Still, we shouldn’t condemn love: it helps us to find pardon, seek grace, and it makes the inexperienced lover more courteous and gentle; otherwise, he might act boorishly while the fruit of Venus is being plucked.

Procurans odium

The slanderers’ plot to sow discord hasn’t worked out as planned. Evil rumors have only solidified the lovers’ hearts. And so the tables are turned on the unsuspecting enemy; he becomes a helper. Thus is confirmed the happy status of those who love truly.

I know that such mean attacks by gossips can be useful; thanks to them I had the luck to avoid being fed up with love. With bad intentions, they gave me only joy, and in the end my desire is compounded. With such a remedy in hand, I can harvest grapes from the thorns of my enemies.

Olim sudor Herculis

Once, the labours of Hercules (crushing monsters far and wide, removing the world’s plagues) shone far and wide. But in the end, this fame withered, and he was enclosed in blind darkness by the enticing girl Iole, the hero was made a captive.

[refrain]: Love withers the merits of fame; a lover never laments the time he has lost, but rashly labours to dissipate himself under Venus.

The Hydra, more savage than any plague, was not able to cause him alarm, him whom a mere girl subdued; he yielded to Venus’s yoke! [refrain]

The poisoned breath of Cacus, with flaming vomit; the deceit of Nessus; Geryon of the Hesperus and the gatekeeper of Hell (each with triple form) did not terrify him. But a girl made him captive with a simple smile.  [refrain]

In combat with the Libyan Antheus he stood firm, and checked the fraud of a cunning fall when he kept him from falling; but he who thus unbound the tight bonds of combat is conquered and bound when he – Jove’s mighty offspring – falls into Iole’s embraces! [refrain]

He had become famous by such great deeds of valour, he whom with soft chains a bland girl imprisons, and she showers him with kisses, offering him from her tiny lips the nectar of Venus. A man dissolute with the pleasures of Venus devalues the memory of great deeds and glory.  [refrain]

But I, stronger than Hercules, I will fight against Venus! I will flee her, and devote my full energy to study and the advancement of my career! O my dear Lycoris, farewell, and wish me well, for in this battle, flight is stronger than fighting.

Upcoming Concerts

05 October 2017
Paris (FR), Musée de Cluny
Monks Singing Pagans

09 to 13 October 2017
Venice (IT), Fondazione Cini
Seminar Roman de Fauvel

20 April 2018
Konstanz, D
Oswald in Konstanz

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's recent activities as teacher/lecturer, linked to his performances

At the invitation of the music department, Benjamin taught a performance workshop on the music of Hildegard von Bingen for students at Princeton University (29 March), where he also performed 'Beowulf' in a collaborative production with digital light designer Craig Winslow. Following this, at the invitation of the medieval studies program and the English department, he gave a lecture on his work with reconstructing the 'Beowulf' performance, at Yale University (3 April).

At the Université Paris – Sorbonne, where Benjamin is on the faculty, the yearly 'Entretiens de la musique ancienne' were held this year in honor of his life-long work with reconstructing 'lost songs'. The main event was his performance of 'Beowulf' (11 May), with French video titles, in the Amphithéâtre Richelieu of the Sorbonne, followed by two days of symposium at the university's Centre Clignancourt, sponsored by the historical music organization IREMUS and the musicology department of the university. During this symposium, Benjamin gave a lecture on his work with reconstructed harps and the kinds of clues they can provide ('Beowulf ': dans l'atelier d'un conteur d'histoires).


2017 Barbara Thornton Memorial Scholarship awarded by Early Music America to string-player Allison Monroe

This scholarship is given by EMA to “an outstanding and highly-motivated (and possibly unconventional) young performer of medieval music who seeks to widen his/her experience through more advanced study and/or auditions in Europe.”  The recipient is chosen by a jury of musicians who knew or worked with the great medieval music specialist and teacher, Barbara Thornton (1950-1998), who co-founded Sequentia together with Benjamin Bagby in 1977. Read more about Allison here.

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