(exclusive of Europe)
In association for
Season 2016-2017 with:
Aaron Concert Artists
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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?
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!
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.
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.
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
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