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Harmonia Early Music

The Far Side Of The Veil

We’re exploring the veil between this life and beyond through music.

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misty graveyard

Photo: donnamarijne (flickr)

...music that lets slip this mortal coil, music that extends beyond this life into the next.

Time capsule for this episode: 1612

We’ll hear musical laments that pass beyond the veil from the Codex Las Huelgas, as well as a musical homage by Josquin des Prez, and death’s depiction in the keyboard music of Johann Jakob Froberger.  Plus, we’ll follow Percival on his quest for the Holy Grail, travel along Celtic crossroads, and hear a thirteenth-century service for St. Martin of Tours.

Musical laments

In the Middle Ages, the planctus was a popular musical genre intended for mourning.  Surviving monophonic plancta exist in both Latin, Occitan, and Catalan. 

Plancta from the early fourteenth-century Codex Las Huelgas, such as Quis dabit…, often commemorate the life and death of nobility or other notable persons.  In this case, the planctus was written in honor of Alfonso VIII of Castile, who reigned from 1158 till his death in 1214.

Nearly two-hundred years later Josquin des Prez set a lament for a fellow composer and cherished music teacher.  Josquin’s deploration on the death of Johannes Ockeghem takes its text from an elegy written by poet Jean Molinet.  In Molinet’s elegy, composers such as Pierre de la Rue, Antoine Brumel, Loyset Compère, and Josquin himself are urged to “don the clothes of mourning” and honor their departed musical compatriot.

Anonymous (Codex Las Huelgas, c. 1300): Quis Dabit
Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier, dir. — Monastic Song: 12th-Century Monodies (Harmonia Mundi Fr. , 1998)
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La déploration de Johannes Ockeghem: Nymphes de bois à 5
Orlando Consort — Josquin Desprez: Motets (DG, 2007)
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Even without words, music is able to express our innermost emotions, extending beyond this life into the next.  The Tombeau on the death of Monsieur Blancheroche composed by seventeenth-century keyboardist Johann Jakob Froberger is proof of this.  In the Tombeau, Froberger immortalizes the lutenist Blancherocher’s fatal tumble down a flight of stairs with a long descending scale.  Be sure to listen for it!

Johann Jakob Froberger : Tombeau de M. Blancheroche
Les Filles de Sainte Colombe — German Music for Viols and Harpsichord (Magnatune, 2003)
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Harmonia Vault Segment: Percival’s quest for the Grail

One legend that explores the boundaries of this life and the powers beyond is Percival and his quest for the Holy Grail.  Some versions of the story say the Grail was a cup used to collect Jesus Christ’s blood as he died on the cross; others say the Grail grants eternal life.

Back in 1999, we retold the Percival legend on an episode of Harmonia featuring music of French Canadian ensemble La Nef from their recording Percival: The Quest for the Grail.

In this excerpt, Percival’s desire to become a knight had led him far from home to the court of King Arthur…

In the next section of La Nef’s retelling of Percival’s story, the young knight, has reached King Arthur’s court.  Arthur’s enemy, the Red Knight, has just stolen Queen Guinevere’s Golden Goblet, spilled it on her, and left great insult.  Percival, to prove himself, sets off to challenge the Red Knight.

 On the way, a young maiden and a fool predict that Percival will become a valiant and famous knight.  Percival defeats the Red Knight, and puts on his armour.

Au Chäteau D'Arthur: Où iras-tu, vallet, dis va? ; Biaux frère, bienvenu soyez
La Nef — The Quest for the Grail (Volume 1) (Dorian, 1999)
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Eerie ballads

“The Maid Freed from the Gallows,” also called “The Prikeli Bush,” is a centuries-old English folk ballad with alternate versions from countries like Finland, Sweden, and Germany.  Its lyrics describe the fear of a maid at the gallows.  The maid waits for the arrival of someone who will rescue her from her plight.  Most of those who pass by don’t care to offer the hangman a bribe for the maid’s life; but, in our version, rescue finally arrives with the maid’s true love.

Anonymous: The Prikeli Bush
Skye Consort with Matthew White — Traditional Celtic Melodies (ATMA Classique , 2000)
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Another folk ballad takes its text from a medieval Welsh manuscript called the “Black Book of Carmarthen.”  Its twelfth-century text transmits a dialogue between Ysgolan, a man dressed all in black, and an unnamed other.  Ysgolan, possibly a cleric or bishop, recounts his crimes against God—including the burning of a church and the killing of cattle—as well as his punishment and pains received from seaworms.

Ysgolan
Altramar — Crossroads of the Celts (Dorian, 1999)
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Featured recording: Historia Sancti Martini

The ensemble Diabolus in Musica is named for the musical interval medieval musicians called “the Devil in Music.”  Under the direction of singer and musicologist Antoine Guerber, the ensemble dedicates itself to the interpretation of plainchant and polyphony from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries.  Since 1992, Diabolus in Musica has performed at festivals throughout France and North America and put forth a trove of award-winning CDs.

Our featured recording by Diabolus in Musica is built around the reconstruction of music for the Solemn Office of St. Martin of Tours.  This might be how music in his honor would have been sung at the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours in the thirteenth century.

Salve stella / Martinus ecce migrat / Te deum laudamus
Diabolus in Musica / Antoine Guerber — Historia Sancti Martini (Aeon, 2011)
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Anonymous (Codex Las Huelgas, c. 1300): Quis Dabit
Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier, dir. — Monastic Song: 12th-Century Monodies (Harmonia Mundi Fr. , 1998)
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album cover
La déploration de Johannes Ockeghem: Nymphes de bois à 5
Orlando Consort — Josquin Desprez: Motets (DG, 2007)
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album cover
Johann Jakob Froberger : Tombeau de M. Blancheroche
Les Filles de Sainte Colombe — German Music for Viols and Harpsichord (Magnatune, 2003)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Au Chäteau D'Arthur: Où iras-tu, vallet, dis va? ; Biaux frère, bienvenu soyez
La Nef — The Quest for the Grail (Volume 1) (Dorian, 1999)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Anonymous: The Prikeli Bush
Skye Consort with Matthew White — Traditional Celtic Melodies (ATMA Classique , 2000)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Ysgolan
Altramar — Crossroads of the Celts (Dorian, 1999)
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album cover
Salve stella / Martinus ecce migrat / Te deum laudamus
Diabolus in Musica / Antoine Guerber — Historia Sancti Martini (Aeon, 2011)
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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  • Kittybriton

    I’m curious to know whether anyone has explored the possibility of a connection between the planctus, and the Irish planxty?

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