Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE ST. EMMERAM MENSURAL CODEX
Stimmwerck; Léon Berben (org)
AEOLUS 10023 (73:50
Text and Translation)
ANON, BRASSART, ROULLET, LIEBERT, BINCHOIS, LANDINI, VAILLANT, FONTAINE, WOLKENSTEIN, VOLKHARDT, EDLERAWER, DUFAY, LANTINS, DUNSTABLE, POWER, WARING, WILHELMI
During his 20s, Hermann Pötzlinger—priest, scholar, and teacher, later administrator—became a collector of manuscripts. Presumably this passion
took root when, as a student at the University of Vienna in the 1430s, he was required to copy down lectures given by the collegium masters. Others did so under similar situations and moved on, but Pötzlinger instead accumulated over his lifetime more than 100 manuscripts, roughly half of them copied in his own hand, the others presumably paid for either from his own coffers or those of his wealthy family.
What concerns us isn’t the content of that library, however, but one of those manuscripts, the so-called St. Emmeram Codex, named after the Benedictine monastery in Regensburg where Pötzlinger became schoolmaster. (Ironically named, that Codex, since it was compiled, probably from fascicles rather than large-scale anthologies, before he moved there in 1448.) It contains a total of 255 copied scores, and is regarded by many as the most valuable surviving source of polyphonic music from Northern Central Europe in the early Renaissance. A conflation of several disparate streams, the Codex supplies Mass movements, English motets by Dunstable and Power, and celebratory motets, such as Dufay’s
Sumpremum est mortalibus.
While much of the content sits comfortably within its time and place, there are a few curiosities from Eastern Europe. Among these, the Codex includes an interesting monophonic
that is accompanied by notated rhythms, thus creating phrases that flow less than standard Western plainchant and more like arranged folk music. By contrast, there’s also a
whose tenor bears its plainsong theme, with a pair of voices added above. (As opposed to English
of the period, which placed the theme in the middle voice, and the continental
, which put it at the top.) These are harmonized, but without providing any rhythms, creating an anachronistic effect to modern ears of three-part harmony due to overtones. Whether in fact the piece started out life nonrhythmically or became that way because of non-mensural notation is unknown, but Pötzlinger presumably found it appealing enough to include.
Equally curious are two older works, this time as part of the Franco-Flemish tradition of the late 14th century. The first, an anonymous Marian motet, makes use of two separate texts sung simultaneously, while engaging playfully in imitative points. Jehan Vaillant’s equally sportive and once popular
Par maintes fois
is an example of the several
on this CD. The original secular song text about the beauty of birdsong (including several realistic bird calls) has been replaced by a cleverly designed Latin sacred text that finds praise for God in the same avian source. Presumably Pötzlinger or his transcriber had little use for French dandies and their worldly desires, and turned to saving good music from sensual texts supplied by devilish tempters.
There are seven selections from the Buxheim Organ Book interspersed among the vocal pieces. These are unusually apposite for such recordings, where interpolations of this kind are a regular matter of textural variety, and little else. The Buxheim
, for example, in turn arranges an anonymous vocal arrangement of
Crist ist erstanden
Supremem est mortalibus
is followed by an organ transcription of his song
Mille bon iours
, which also appears in Pötzlinger as the
contrafactum Imperatrix celestis milicie.
Unusually, this disc isn’t a case of a musical ensemble selecting its material, but of the current holders of the St. Emmeram Codex, the Bavarian State Library, in collaboration with the University of Nottingham, selecting a group to perform its music in several concerts and on album. In Stimmwerck’s case, that isn’t surprising, as they’ve built their reputations around archival research and intensive work with musicologists. Their distinctive sound—a pure, choirboy-like countertenor, two tenors, and a bass—is supplemented here by an extra countertenor and baritone, to provide a greater variety of textures among the 20 vocal selections. (Ian Rumbold, regarded as among the world’s leading authorities on the Codex, is credited as well in the aforementioned
. Presumably he provides the hummed foundation note on what we would consider F. If this is correct, it is a charming gesture of respect.) Their performances are notable for purity of pitch, rhythmic control, and clearly enunciated text. They also strike a glorious mean between a blended sound—which loses the distinct, linear voicing that was much a part of music-making and thinking at that time—and the complete independence of each part. Léon Berben performs on the organ of St. Andrew’s Church in Ostönnen, one of the oldest extant playable organs. (It can also be heard to advantage in excellent performances of John Bull’s keyboard works by Siegbert Rampe, on MDG 3411258.) He is stylish in his application of ornaments, though at times so rhythmically free as to lose all sense of direction.
With excellent sound, decent notes, and full texts in Latin, English, French, and German, this is both a scholarly treat and entertainment of a very high order.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Sanctus by Johannes Roullet
Agnus Dei by Reginaldus Liebert
Kyrie eleison by Francesco Landini
Quam pulchra es, MB 44 by John Dunstable
Written: 15th Century; England
Alle dei filius by Johannes Waring
Presulem ephebeatum by Petrus Wilhelmi
Written: 15th Century; Pomerania (Poland/Ge
Levat autentica by Rudolf Volkhardt von Häringen
Sanctus by Peter Schweikl
Verbum bonum by Hermann Edlerawer
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