Academic journal article Notes

Early Polyphony to 1300. (Sound Recording Reviews)

Academic journal article Notes

Early Polyphony to 1300. (Sound Recording Reviews)

Article excerpt

In mainstream western Christian Europe, music was originally monophony and liturgical music was chant--a single melodic line. Polyphony began when a second melodic line was added to chant at the consonant intervals of fourth, fifth and octave. Later, third and fourth parts were added, and other, less consonant intervals were employed. The history of Western European music since the fourteenth century has been marked by continued elaboration of the harmonic aspect of music.


The earliest notated polyphony is found in theoretical treatises, Musica enchiriadis and Scolica enchiriadis, of the mid-ninth century. (1) These examples showed how the Franks embellished the chants with harmony, much as they did with notation, modal theory, and troping. The anthologies of music that were recorded on vinyl (2) all included some of these selections, each less than a minute in duration, but there is nothing of this on compact disc yet. The Winchester Troper (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 473), a liturgical book dating to the end of the tenth century, (3) has fared better, although transcribing the pitches is problematic. Four selections were included on vinyl in Mary Berry's Anglo-Saxon Easter, (4) but these are not yet on compact disc. Her group recorded three other selections in Anglo-Saxon Christmas (see the discography below for all recommended compact discs), and both of these discs are fine liturgical reconstructions. Two more selections are included in Brigitte Lesne's Eya Mater sun g by a vocal ensemble of women that specializes in medieval sacred music.

A later theoretical treatise, Ad organum faciendum, (5) was also represented by two pieces in the old anthologies of music. "Alleluia, Justus ut palma" is included in Sequentia's Aquitania, a later collection discussed below. "Kyrie Cunctipotens genitor," however, is found only in the compact discs that accompany Sarah Fuller's textbook. (6) Another piece, "Ut tuo propitiatus," appears in an eleventh-century source, Oxford, Bodleian Library 572. The Hilliard Ensemble (7) sings it in the context of the chant responsory "Sancte Dei," of which it is the verse. (Most previous recordings omitted the chant.)

The most impressive recording devoted to this period is Eleventh-Century French Polyphony, directed by Dominique Vellard in collaboration with Wulf Arlt, who has written an article about most of the organa. (8) It includes monophonic tropes as well as eight organa, all from Chartres and northern France. (9) The documentation of sources in the booklet notes is incomplete, but the selections recorded go beyond the one source (Ghartres 109) that was found in earlier anthologies of music. Vellard's vocal ensemble specializes in medieval sacred music. This disc deserves extended study, along with clarification of its methods.


Systematic collections of polyphony of the twelfth century are found in five principal manuscripts. (10) These works are the oldest liturgical polyphony whose pitches can be transcribed with confidence, though the rhythm remains in dispute. (11) One collection of French origin was made for Santiago de Compostela. (12) Three others were deposited in the former abbey of St. Martial in Limoges by the thirteenth century, and another is associated with these by concordances. (13)

Three complete sets of the Compostela repertory of twenty-one polyphonic pieces have been recorded, and most of these pieces had been recorded frequently before that.(14) Sequentia's Sons of Thunder includes four monophonic pieces as well. Anne-Marie Deschamps's The Great Book of Santiago de Compostela offers only the polyphony. The third complete set is one of four discs that comprise the entire Codex Galixtinus. The hundred chants on the first three discs of Coro Ultreia's Jacobus, only a quarter of which had ever been recorded before this time, include the monophonic originals of the polyphonic works. …

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