Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Fragments for the End of Time


Instrumental piece based on a Frankish sequence melody (10th c.)
Source: St. Gall / Reconstruction: N. Rodenkirchen.

No instrumental music survives in written form from the period before 1200, and yet we know that instrumental music was performed with great sophistication. We can use various resources to make reconstructions of lost traditions: in the earliest sequelae sources, we find pieces with exotic titles, attesting to their popularity, or to an association with a certain story, an instrument, or a mythological character. When religious sequence texts were added later (and the melodies were finally written down), the titles fell into disuse. The exact nature of these titles will always remain a mystery which stimulates the imagination of musicians today. The tune Occidentana is found in several sources, sometimes under the name Cithara (= harp). To honor this ancient piece, Norbert Rodenkirchen performs it here on a tiny flute made from a delicate swan’s bone. The remains of just such an instrument, dating from the 11th century, were found in a castle near the ancient city of Speyer, Germany.

Iudicii signum

‚The Prophecy of the Erythraean Sybil’ (Aquitaine, 11th century)
Source: Paris, BN lat. 1154 / Transcription: Sam Barrett

This is the prophecy of the Erythraen Sybil, a pagan female oracle said to have lived at the time of Troy, whose words are transmitted by St. Augustine (The City of God, XVIII, 23) in an acrostic poem. This medieval version, which includes a refrain, was sung in Aquitanian cloisters during the liturgy for the massacre of the Holy Innocents (28 December), a feast closely associated with apocalyptic themes.


[Refrain]: Judgement shall come, and the sweat of the earth will be its signal.

Even the monarch eternal shall come from the heavens, suddenly come, in His flesh, to the dreaded tribunal. Faithful and faithless alike shall be seeing their maker uplifted with heavenly friends at the end of the ages. Souls with their bodies conjoined shall he summon to judgement. Riches will be rejected and long-cherished idols. Enormous the blaze that shall burn the broad seas and the heavens; its terrible blasts shall break open the portals of Hades. Saints in their flesh shall shine free in the light of this wildfire, the same that shall roast without ending the flesh of the wicked. Each man shall openly speak of his most secret wrongdoing, and God shall open their hearts. Gnashing of teeth shall resound and most horrible weeping. Even the sun shall not shine and the stars will be silent; the moonlight finished; the sky wrapped in darkness. The valleys will be leveled, the hilltops cast down, and all human affairs ended. The mountains will sink down into the fields and the seas. Over and done with the earth and the whole of its holdings. Springs, sources and rivers will all be boiling with fire. The horn shall sound from the highest heaven over the criminal damned as they wander sadly. The kings of the world will be judged before God. The quake-shaken earth will open to reveal the pit of hell, while rivers of hot sulphur and fire fall from the heavens.

Translation: B. Bagby (based on E.M. Sanford & W.M. Green)

Upcoming Concerts

13 and 14 March 2020
Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton NJ (USA)
Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf
– Postponed due to Coronavirus concerns

April 2020
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France
Workshop Roman de Fauvel – part III
– Postponed due to Coronavirus concerns

04 September 2021
Utrecht Early music festival, Utrecht (NL), Pieterskerk, 3 p.m.
Words of Power – Charms, Riddles and Elegies of the Medieval Northlands

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's teaching activities in 2019

In March 2019, Benjamin will give two weekend courses on the solo songs of Philippe le Chancelier (d. 1236). The courses are being hosted by the Centre de Musique Médiévale de Paris. Dates: 9-10 and 30-31 March.
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After retiring from his teaching position at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he taught between 2005 and 2018 in the professional masters program, Benjamin Bagby continues to travel widely in 2019 to teach practical workshops for young professionals:

Folkwang Universität der Künste (Essen-Werden, Germany).
Benjamin has joined the faculty of this renowned masters program for liturgical chant performance and medieval music. The dates of his courses in 2019: 5-7 April; 26-28 April; 17-19 May; 30 May–01 June.
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For the second year in a row, Benjamin will teach an intensive course in the 8th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Besalú, Spain): Songs of the troubadours (for singers and instrumentalists).
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Amherst Early Music Festival (Connecticut College, New London CT) 21-28 July:
An intensive course on the solo cansos of the Occitan troubadours, with a focus on songs from the great Milan songbook Bibl. Ambr. R71 sup. (for singers and instrumentalists).
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