(exclusive of Europe)
In association for
Season 2016-2017 with:
Aaron Concert Artists
220 West 148th St. 4J
New York City 10039, NY / USA
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Limited availability in 2011-12:
in co-production with the ensemble Dialogos (Paris)
|Benjamin Bagby (co-direction)||voice|
|Katarina Livljanic (co-direction)||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
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)
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)
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).
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