Sequentia

Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

English | Français
Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017
 
 

Contact

E-mail: info@sequentia.org

Representation
(Europe)

Katja Zimmermann
VCzimmermann@gmx.net

Representation
(exclusive of Europe)

Seth Cooper
Seth Cooper Arts Inc.
4592 Hampton Ave.
Montréal, QC, Canada
www.sethcooperarts.com
sethcooper.arts@gmail.com
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
jon@aaronconcert.com

 

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Program Archive

Chant Wars

Limited availability in 2011-12:
in co-production with the ensemble Dialogos (Paris)

Benjamin Bagby (co-direction) voice
Olivier Germond voice
Katarina Livljanic (co-direction) voice
Francisco Mañalich voice
Vincent Pislar voice
Jean-Paul Rigaud voice
Wolodymyr Smishkewych voice
Michael Loughlin Smith voice

The Carolingian ‘Globalisation’ of Medieval Plainchant

Sequentia and Dialogos, two of Europe’s most important medieval ensembles, merge their forces for an innovative programme of medieval chant based on the original research of singer and musicologist Katarina Livljanic (director of Dialogos).

The theme of Chant Wars is the legendary 9th-century confrontation between the cantors of the Carolingian emperors and the various regional European chant traditions they sought to replace with their own musical repertoires and vocal styles. Our performances will be interspersed with readings from medieval witnesses to this confrontation (John the Deacon, Notker of St. Gall, Walahfrid Strabo, Paul the Deacon and Charlemagne himself), helping us to illuminate the vocal and performative techniques and the astonishing diversity of chant styles in medieval Europe, at a time when chant traditions were competing for ascendancy in the young empire of Pippin, Charlemagne and their successors.

‘Between the stream and its source, where is the purest water to be found?’
(from John the Deacon, Life of Gregory)

The Emperor Charlemagne (d. 814) is said to have uttered these words when asked to resolve a dispute between his own Frankish cantors and those of the pope in Rome, each group of vocalists convinced of its own authenticity in singing. Charlemagne, who was acutely aware of the decline of liturgical singing and the many competing chant traditions in his wide-ranging empire, expressed with this phrase his desire to return to the purity of the ‘original source’, the chant of Rome (but his motives were many-layered: the ideal of Roman authority, expressed in music and the liturgy, would also aid the emperor in the consolidation of his dynasty’s legitimacy). This ideal has been voiced by various personalities between the 9th century and our own time, throughout the long history of the liturgical song commonly known as ‘Gregorian chant’; used in reference to opposing views of reality, Charlemagne’s phrase continues to witness to the fact that disputes about that mysterious ideal – the authenticity of liturgical chant – have never ceased to flourish.

The theme of 'Chant Wars' is the legendary 9th-century confrontation between the cantors of the Carolingian emperors and the various regional European chant traditions they sought to replace with their own musical repertoires and vocal styles. Our performances will be interspersed with readings from medieval witnesses to this confrontation (John the Deacon, Notker of St. Gall, Walahfrid Strabo, Paul the Deacon and Charlemagne himself), helping us to illuminate the vocal and performative techniques and the astonishing diversity of chant styles in medieval Europe, at a time when chant traditions were competing for ascendancy in the young empire of Pippin, Charlemagne and their successors.

Given the fact that we can be guided by only a handful of late written manuscript sources, together with historical witnesses – mostly anecdotal –  to performance techniques, how can we understand and bring to vocal life again the many diversities between medieval Rome and Carolingian Gaul?

In this concert, the singers of Sequentia and Dialogos join together to present aspects of these contrasts, these musical and vocal conflicts transmitted to us by singers of the Middle Ages. Surviving texts by such personalities as Paul the Deacon (a southerner) or Notker of St. Gall (a northerner) often refer to the differences between attitudes towards singing liturgical chant. But are these men speaking only of differences between melodies, of the kind that might be visually perceived in the comparative tables of musicological analysis, but which might not necessarily be audible to the listeners who heard them in oral tradition? And what if the word difference signified, to the contemporaries of Charlemagne, something more like a diversity in the manner of execution, or in the approach to the articulation of a text, in the subtle use of vocal resources? Perhaps the difference was perceived in the number of singers who made up the schola cantorum of some foreign land, or even in their ‘strange’ manner of pronouncing Latin? Listening for the sonorities created by the confrontation between group and soloist, how can we make use of various vocal registers and make use of various pronounciations of Latin according to the regional provenance of the chant being sung? These are questions which must remain forever without unequivocal answers. In our approach to these sometimes virtuosic melodies, we examen all these factors, trying to sense the delicate borderlands between same, similar, and different.

Having been in almost continuous usage in the liturgy, Gregorian plainchant has not always enjoyed the privilege (or should we say the bad luck?) to be considered as ‘medieval’ music, and thus didn’t necessarily have to conform to the ever-changing aesthetic vogues of the recently created world of ‘historically informed’ performance. As a living music shared today by active religious communities, secular vocalists interested in medieval performance practice, musicologists and liturgists, plainchant continues to arouse opposing approaches to its interpretation. Nowadays, unfortunately, this plurality of interpretive styles is not always accompanied by a tolerance of divergent musical ideas. The participants in today’s aesthetic ‘chant wars’ surrounding Gregorian chant sometimes still harbor a latent belief in ‘Romanness’, in the supremacy of one singing style over all others, and a desire to be the bearer of the unique ‘truth’. In our ‘Chant Wars’ we attempt to orient ourselves towards the other pole of the problem: by considering the plurality of European chant traditions, we may be able to better understand repertoires which, at the beginning of their existence and for hundreds of years thereafter, were transmitted from singer to singer in oral tradition.

Katarina Livljanic, 2004

The Pieces

Latin chant and medieval German song from a variety of European traditions: Frankish, Germanic, Gallican and Roman.

I. The myth of Gregorian Chant

Gregorius praesul (trope: Prologus antiphonarii)

II. Traces of oral chant traditions from Rome and Gaul

Ad dominum dum tribularer (gradual: Roman ‘schola chant’)

In convertendo dominus (Roman responsorial psalmody)

Venite populi

Memor sit dominus (Gallican antiphons 'ad communicandum')

Dicamus omnes (Gallican preces)

III. Germanic voices

Was líuto filu in flíze (excerpt from Otfrid von Weissenburg’s Evangelienbuch)

Domine, exaudi orationem meam (tractus from St. Gall)

Natus ante saecula (sequence by Notker of St. Gall)

Intermission

IV. A new Roman chant tradition?

Alleluia: Prosechete laos (Alleluia in Greek)

Saepe expugnaverunt (tractus)

Deus enim firmavit (offertorium)

V. Chant in Frankish books and memories

Laudate Dominum (psalmody ‘alleluiaticum’)

A solis ortu usque ad occidua (lament on the death of Charlemagne, †814)

Collegerunt pontifices (processional antiphon)

Christus vincit (Laudes regiae: acclamations for the emperor)

Venue: Large, resonant church or other very resonant acoustical space.
Availability: limited; please consult www.ensemble-dialogos.org for details.
Recording: The CD of Chant Wars was released in 2004 on the Deutsche Harmonia Mundi label (BMG Classics/SONY).

Upcoming Concerts

9 June 2017
Essen-Werden (DE), St. Lucius Kirche
Beowulf

25 August 2017
Basel (CH), Festtage Alte Musik
Endzeitfragmente

See full concert schedule

 

News

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.

More news