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Harmonia Early Music

Beasts And Bestiaries

Harmonia goes where the wild things are as we delve into music inspired by the beasts within.

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715-beasts

Photo: (Horia Varlan (flickr)

Medieval stone decoration of a fierce mythical animal.

Time capsule for this episode: Physiologus

Medieval bestiaries combined descriptions of animals with religious and moral meaning.  These collections of stories were very popular in the middle ages, and musicians expanded on the idea, creating musical works referencing one or more animals. Listeners were meant to not only reflect upon the animals, but to ponder the beasts within and recall lessons of right and wrong.

Here is a set of medieval music inspired by some of the animals in medieval bestiaries, including a sweetly singing nightingale, an envious cuckoo, and a beast with big feet—all preceded by a pastoral love scene.

Marcabrú : pastourelle: Lautrier jost’una sebissa
La Reverdie — Bestiarium (Cantus, 2005)
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Jean Vaillant : virelai: Par maintes foys
Ensemble Project Ars Nova — Ars Magis Subtiliter: secular music of the Chantilly Codex (New Albion Records , 2009)
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Oswald von Wolkenstein : Ich spuer ein tyer
La Reverdie — Nox-Lux: France and Angleterre, 1200 – 1300 (Arcana Records , 2009)
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From the Harmonia vault: Canticle of the Creatures

We’re exploring an animal theme on this edition of Harmonia.   We’re also marking Harmonia’s 20th anniversary this season by looking back at some older episodes.  Here’s an excerpt from a program in 2003 that included a piece of music using words written by St. Francis of Assisi, a Catholic friar famous for his love of animals.

One of the most famous poems of Saint Francis of Assisi is his “Canticle of the Creatures,” sometimes called the “Canticle of Brother Sun.” In this beautiful poem, Francis praises the natural world: Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Sister Water, Brother Fire, and so on, giving them all a character and celebrating their sacredness. Contemporaries of Saint Francis tell us that the Canticle was sung by Francis to his followers, but the music did not survive. Nevertheless, you’ll sometimes hear the canticle referred to as “the first lauda.” In fact, in one manuscript, the canticle was written underneath a musical staff; but unfortunately, the notes were never penned in.

Canticum Creatorum
Altramar — Saint Francis and the Minstrels of God (Dorian Discovery , 1996)
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The cricket

Renaissance secular works, such as the romance, lied, chanson, and frottola were also filled with depictions of birds, beasts, and even insects.  Of the three frottole known to have been composed by Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez, El grillo, or “the cricket,” praises the musical insect for his fine singing.  El grillo’s lyrics state that,

“. . . unlike the birds, who fly off when they’ve sung a bit, the cricket just stays where he is.  When the weather is really hot, he sings solely for love.”

Jean Voisard : La Verdelete; Dindirin Dindirindaña
Capella de Ministrers / Carles Magraner — Fantasiant Música i Poesia per a Ausiàs March (Licanus, 2009)
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Anonymous (Glogauer Liederbuch, ca. 1480): Die Katzenpfote
Joculatores Upsalienses — De Fyra Arstiderna (The Four Seasons) (BIS, 1990)
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Clement Janequin : L’Alouette (Or sus, or sus)
Ensemble Doulce Mémoire — Renaissance Winds (Dorian Recordings , 1995)
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Josquin des Prez : El grillo
Ensemble Unicorn — Art and Music: Raphael – Music of His Time (Naxos, 2003)
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Featured recording: The Bestiary of Christ

Our featured recording is the inspiration for this episode.  It’s the 2003 harmonia mundi France release Bestiario de Christo by medieval ensemble Alia Musica, directed by Miguel Sánchez.  Alia Musica was formed in 1985 and has since been delighting the world with its interpretations of early Judeo-Spanish repertoire.  The recording draws music from the Codex Las Huelgas and the Codex Musical del Monasterio de Santa Maria.  Most of the pieces on the CD feature beasts described in medieval bestiaries.

Anonymous: Columbe simplicitas; Instrumental; Deus creator ómnium
Alia Musica / Miguel Sánchez — Bestiario de Cristo (Harmonia Mundi France , 2003)
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Marcabrú : pastourelle: Lautrier jost’una sebissa
La Reverdie — Bestiarium (Cantus, 2005)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Jean Vaillant : virelai: Par maintes foys
Ensemble Project Ars Nova — Ars Magis Subtiliter: secular music of the Chantilly Codex (New Albion Records , 2009)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Oswald von Wolkenstein : Ich spuer ein tyer
La Reverdie — Nox-Lux: France and Angleterre, 1200 – 1300 (Arcana Records , 2009)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Canticum Creatorum
Altramar — Saint Francis and the Minstrels of God (Dorian Discovery , 1996)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Jean Voisard : La Verdelete; Dindirin Dindirindaña
Capella de Ministrers / Carles Magraner — Fantasiant Música i Poesia per a Ausiàs March (Licanus, 2009)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Anonymous (Glogauer Liederbuch, ca. 1480): Die Katzenpfote
Joculatores Upsalienses — De Fyra Arstiderna (The Four Seasons) (BIS, 1990)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Clement Janequin : L’Alouette (Or sus, or sus)
Ensemble Doulce Mémoire — Renaissance Winds (Dorian Recordings , 1995)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Josquin des Prez : El grillo
Ensemble Unicorn — Art and Music: Raphael – Music of His Time (Naxos, 2003)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Anonymous: Columbe simplicitas; Instrumental; Deus creator ómnium
Alia Musica / Miguel Sánchez — Bestiario de Cristo (Harmonia Mundi France , 2003)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Laura Osterlund

Laura Osterlund is a scriptwriter for Harmonia, recorder player, and student at McGill Univeristy in Montreal, Canada. In 2007, she moved from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois to Montreal in pursuit of a B.Mus. with major concentrations in Early Music Performance and Music History. Laura is an active musician throughout Montreal and Chicago and an avid memberof the movement to promote Early Music performance, pedagogy, research, and appreciation throughout North America.

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