Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017




Katja Zimmermann

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Seth Cooper
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In association for
Season 2016-2017 with:

Jon Aaron
Aaron Concert Artists 
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New York City 10039, NY / USA
Tel: 212-665-0313


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Program Archive

Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper

III. Songs of the Harp

In the 10th and 11th centuries, two types of harp (Latin: lira, cithara) were known: an archaic, rounded shape with a very few strings all of the same length, and the more familiar, triangular shape with many more strings of varying lengths. From the Canterbury manuscript, these are songs of praise to the harp itself, instrument of kings, healers and magicians, an instrument whose strings vibrate in the hands of the harper like the resonating human soul in the hands of the Creator.

Caute cane, cantor care

(Rhineland, early 11c)

This intriguing song was possibly designed as a prelude to a longer work, now lost. It is a playful and yet highly virtuosic meditation on the role of the human body and soul as "instrumentum" in the praise of God, in which the sinews of man become strings of the harp, and his larynx becomes a flute. Astonishingly, each word of this virtuosic text begins with the letter "c".

Text: Sing circumspectly, sweet singer; let the windpipes puff together brightly, let the strings make a harmony resound elegantly, take an easy path; bridge the valleys. Join together head, heel, and heart, skilled in the paths of the body. Make melody with one string, make melody with more, make melody to the creator with your windpipes!

(Translation: Jan Ziolkowski [abridged]).

Magnus cesar Otto

(Rhineland, early 11c)

A praise-song to the three German Emperors named Otto, beginning with Otto I "The Great" (936-973) who defeated the Hungarians. It seems the Kaiser slept as his palace burned one night. His servants, afraid to disturb his sleep, finally called his harper, who played the emperor's favorite tune until Otto woke up, and thereby saved his life and the empire. In memory of this event, the song was immortalized as Modus Ottinc. The likely date of composition for this song is between 996 and 1002, making it something truly "millennial" for us today.

Text: As great Emperor Otto, to whom this tune refers in its title (called "of Otto"), on a certain night settles his limbs in sleep, by a sudden mishap the palace burst into flames. Attendants of the king stand by, they fear to touch the sleeper, and by striking the strings they awaken and save him, and they attached the name of their lord to the song.

Awakened, he arose as a hope for his people, soon to come as a great dread to his adversaries; for at that time the rumor was flying that the Hungarians had raised their standards against him. Armed, they were encamped along the riverbank; they lay waste cities, fields, and villages far and wide. On all sides mothers lament that their sons have been driven into exile, sons their mothers. "Alas" said Otto, "For a long time, too long, I have been warning the sluggish soldiers in vain. As I have been tarrying, the slaughter has been ever increasing. Therefore, put an end to delays and confront the Parthian foes with me!"

Fearless Duke Konrad, than whom no one is braver, says "May the knight perish whom this war frightens. Take up your arms.... I myself as standard-bearer shall be the first to shed enemy blood." Set afire by these words, they roar for war, call for arms, shout for their foes, follow the standards; and everywhere a great clamor upon trumpets arises, and a hundred Teutons mingle among thousands. The few attack, the many fall; the Frank presses on, the Parthian flees. A lifeless mob blocks the waves; the Lech, reddening with blood showed to the Danube the slaughter...

After the victory by a small band, and after bequeathing his name, realm, and excellent conduct to his son, he passed away. After him, youthful Otto reigned for many years....a just, merciful and brave emperor, he failed in only one respect: for he rarely triumphed in celebrated battles.

But his remarkable offspring Otto, a glory of youth, was as brave as he was fortunate... brave in war, powerful in peace, in both nonetheless gentle, amid triumphs, war and peace, he always showed regard for his poor, for which reason he is called "father of the poor".

Let us now put an end to this tune, lest perchance, for want of talent, we be blamed for detracting in any way from the virtues of such great men; for even renowned Vergil would scarely be equal to their virtues.

(Translation: Jan Ziolkowski [abridged]).

Rota modos arte

(Rhineland, early 11c)

This little song praises not only the harp, but the entire cosmos which it embodies, and which is represented in Pythagorian theory by musical measure.

Text: Let us sound melodies loudly upon the harp with musical skill, so that the constant soul may take pleasure in them. As renowned Pythagoras learned from smiths, as he comprehended harmonies by means of four hammers, he determined the intervals of the seven planets, from which celestial music comes into being, as the arithmetic rule of numbers relates, giving all things first principles. May the king, ruling all wondrously, rule us for ever!

(Translation: Jan Ziolkowski)

David regis inclita proles

(Rhineland, early 11c)

A song of rejoicing which introduces and amplifies the liturgical "Sanctus" text, while putting harps into the hands of almost everybody in the universe and repeating the refrain (Davitice = "in the manner of David") like a mantra.

Text: The famous progeny of King David, playing on their harps...

(Refrain): in the manner of David, of David, of David, then, they call out, in the manner of David, of David, of David, then, they call out, in the manner of David, of David, of David, then, they call out for Saul!

Before the throne of the living God King David sits; on his knees David has a harp; King David causes great joy playing on his harp! In the manner of David.....

The blessed stand before the throne....playing their harps to honour Christ, son of the living the manner of David....

The Cherubim and Seraphim too, do not cease from calling out 'Holy, holy, holy!' the manner of David...

(Translation: Jan Ziolkowski [abridged])

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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