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Hyperion Records

CDA67289 - Léonin 'Magister Leoninus': Magister Leoninus, Vol. 2 – Sacred Music from 12th-century Paris
Detail of sarcophagus.
Schloss Neu Augustusburg, Wiessenfels, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany / Simon Marsden / The Marsden Archive

Recording details: April 2001
St Alban's Church, Holborn, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: November 2001
DISCID: 74117709
Total duration: 73 minutes 14 seconds


'A superb disc gloriously sung in an ideal acoustic' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'Highly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

Magister Leoninus, Vol. 2 – Sacred Music from 12th-century Paris

'Lost music re-born' said the BBC Music Magazine of 'Magister Leoninus 1' issued in 1997. That disc won a Diapason d'Or d'Année and appeared among the BBC's 'Best of the Year' discs. Here is a second CD of austere and beautiful music by this mysterious master from the 12th-century School of Notre Dame, of whose name we are not even sure. Red Byrd's new recording includes compositions for three of the most important feasts in the liturgical year: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Music for the office from twelfth-century Paris
The history of late twelfth-century polyphony was first written a hundred years after the event by a monk who may have come from Bury St Edmunds; history has not entrusted us with his name and he is usually referred to by the title he received when his treatise was first published in the nineteenth century: Anonymous IV. Anonymous as he was, he tells us about two of the most important composers of the fifty years either side of 1200: the magistri Leoninus and Perotinus. Leoninus, we are told, wrote a cycle of two-part settings of the most important chants in the liturgical year—Christmas, Easter, Assumption and other feasts; this cycle was called the Magnus liber organi (‘The great book of organum’). Perotinus and his contemporaries played an important role in the careful recasting and elaboration of this repertory. According to the monk from Bury St Edmunds, Perotinus either shortened or edited (interpretations vary) Leoninus’ great book of organum; long sections of almost improvisatory scope were rewritten according to the tighter principles of discant composition that Perotinus himself may have contributed to codifying. Both Leoninus and Perotinus worked at the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame de Paris. While little is conclusively known about the biography of Perotinus, recent fashion has inclined to identify Leoninus with Leo, a canon of Notre Dame in later life and, incidentally, an author of neo-Ovidian homoerotic poetry.

Organa of the type that make up Leoninus’ Magnus liber organi are polyphonic settings of plainsong. The original chants employ two musical styles: the solo sections are elaborately melismatic and contrast with the simpler, more syllabic, sections sung by the schola. It is the melismatic solo sections of the chant that are set polyphonically. The result is that a performance of organum involves polyphony and plainsong. Most of the music for the office written by Leoninus and his contemporaries consisted of settings of responsories. A responsory was made up of a respond followed by a verse, followed by a repeat of part of the original respond. The ‘Gloria Patri’ follows, and the work concluded with either the complete responsory or a part thereof, depending on the status of the feast (three of the seven responsories on this recording include a complete repeat). Within each of these main sections are settings of both solo and choral chants. The respond consists of just the first couple of words set in polyphony followed by the rest of the choral chant; the verse is entirely set in polyphony; the partial repeat of the respond is always in plainsong; the ‘Gloria Patri’ is set sometimes in polyphony, and sometimes left as plainsong. In the case of the responsory Sedit angelus, two settings are preserved in the principal manuscript for this repertory, and Red Byrd perform them both. In a liturgical context, only one of these would have been used.

Leoninus’ organa dupla of the Magnus liber organi took the plainsong and did one of two things with it: for the more syllabic sections of the chant that he set, he laid out the lowest part (the tenor) in long notes and wrote highly elaborate, rhapsodic lines above it (the duplum); this style of music was called organum per se (medieval terms vary, and theorists took a pedantic pleasure in pointing out the complexities of usage for a term—organum—that could mean a complete piece or a generic style or, as here, a subsection). Alternatively, he took the long melismas of the chant and organized them into repeating rhythmic cells and wrote a correspondingly tight rhythmic duplum above it. The rhythmic organization of this procedure gave rise to what are called the rhythmic modes (this style was called discantus). Both types of music exist within the same composition; the sections based on highly melismatic chants that use the rhythmic modes are called clausulae when they are given discrete, self-contained forms. The resulting structure of alternations of plainsong, organum per se and discantus can be illustrated by a transcription of the text of Repleti sunt omnes:

Repleti sunt omnes Spiritu Sancto et ceperunt loqui prout Spiritus Sanctus dabat eloqui illis. Et convenit multitudo dicencium. Alleluya. Loquebantur variis linguis apostoli magnalia Dei. Et convenit multitudo dicencium. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Alleluya.

In this transcription, those parts of the text that are left in plainsong are given in roman type, those in organum per se in italics and passages in discantus are given in bold italics. Full-blown clausulae, where sections in discantus are structured according to pattern are much rarer in the responsory than in the settings of the gradual or alleluya for the Mass (see Red Byrd’s Magister Leoninus: Music for the Mass from 12th-Century Paris, CDH55328), and more often represent digressions from the sustained-tone style of organum per se than carefully patterned clausulae. In the cases of the three processional works—Christus resurgens, Sedit angelus and Advenit ignis—only the verse is set in polyphony, and the antiphon and responds are left in plainsong.

Red Byrd’s recording includes compositions from three of the most important feasts in the liturgical year: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. One of the two Christmas responsories, Descendit de celis is furnished with a prosa, further sections of plainsong that decorate the original chant—in the same way that the organum itself decorates the plainsong. It is not entirely clear whether the liturgy at Notre Dame allowed both the use of a prosa and organum simultaneously, or whether each could be deployed on different occasions. In any case, Red Byrd provide a complete version of the piece including organum and prosae. The responsories recorded here are for either of the two most important offices of the liturgical day: Vespers and Matins. Iudea et Iherusalem is the responsory at First Vespers on Christmas Day (actually sung the night before) and Descendit de celis is the third responsory (out of a total of nine) for Matins on Christmas Day.

Three of the works on this recording were composed for processions. Sedit angelus and Advenit ignis are processional responsories, and Christus resurgens is a processional antiphon. Unlike the responsories, which were sung in the choir at Notre Dame, they were sung at various points around the cathedral and its environs. Christus resurgens was written for the procession to the Baptistry of Saint-Jean-le-Rond after Second Vespers on Easter Sunday and Saturday in Easter Week, and Advenit ignis was destined for the procession before Mass on the feast of Pentecost. Sedit angelus was used an astonishing number of times: in the procession after Second Vespers on its return to Notre Dame, on Easter Sunday and Sunday after Easter, in the procession after Terce during the return from Saint-Jean-le-Rond and Saint-Denis-du-Pas, during the Octave of Easter and the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and in the procession on arrival at Saint Marcel, on the second Rogation Day before Ascension. The final work on this recording sets one of the best-known texts in the entire liturgy. Benedicamus Domino was heard at the end of every one of the canonical hours and at the end of the Mass when the ‘Gloria’ was not sung. The principal manuscript for this repertory contains no fewer than eleven settings, of which the one recorded here is the ninth.

Performing the duplum lines in organum per se is a skill that is difficult to regain eight centuries after this music was originally conceived. The music notated in the original manuscripts gives a mixture of information: some idea of what the composer’s overall structure might have been, an idea of at least one (and probably more than one) performer’s view of the music—and it has to be remembered that a performer’s ‘view’ of this music would almost certainly have entailed changes to pitch and rhythm, and a sense of what a thirteenth-century editor would have done in trying to copy down and render consistent a wide range of material. So these sections which, in their floridity, resemble late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century coloratura vocal lines, differ in that they are not just blueprints to be ornamented; they are blueprints that have already been partially ornamented, and the singer of the duplum part treads a very careful path between the slavish duplication of a medieval performer’s view of the work and the complete recreation of Leoninus’ music. In this recording, Red Byrd include a composition that in turn includes a rare example of what medieval theorists called copula, where—for short passages in organum per se—the upper voice adopts the rhythms of discantus in a sequential pattern and then returns to its original style. This is audible in the verse of Iudea et Iherusalem, as the first syllable of ‘Constantes’ changes to the second and after the short passage of discantus on the word ‘estote’.

It used to be thought that the sustained notes in organum duplum were to be held relentlessly: a challenge to breath control and the sanity of the singer taking the part. Re-readings of thirteenth-century theory suggest that the tenor is responsible for contributing with great subtlety to the texture of the work by breaking the sound, at the same time as one or more of the upper voices, and this is the procedure that Red Byrd employ in this recording.

The editions of the music are taken from the manuscripts Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Pluteus 29.1 (polyphony) and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fonds Latin 15181–2 (plainsong). The music appears in volume 2 of Le Magnus liber organi de Notre Dame de Paris (Monaco: Éditions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, 2003). The English translations were supplied by Leofranc Holford-Strevens, and thanks are also due to Mary Berry and the Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge for their assistance.

Mark Everist © 2001

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