Harmonia Early Music

The Big Red Book

This week Harmonia explores devotional songs written in honor of the “Black” Virgin of Monserrat, an ancient Spanish pilgrimage destination.

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pages from medieval book

Photo: Anonymous

Pages from the Llibre Vermell of Montserrat Abbey (folios XXII)

The Llibre Vermell de Montserrat is an important volume from the middle ages that contains, among other things, a number of anonymous musical works—devotional songs written in honor of the “Black” Virgin of Monserrat, an ancient Spanish pilgrimage destination.  Completed at the end of the 14th century, the book is part of what remains of a great library that was once housed at the Spanish abbey of Montserrat.

Known as the Llibre Vermell, the medieval “Red Book” of Montserrat got its name relatively late in life when it was covered during the 19th century in red velvet.  Today it contains ten vocal pieces that include the dance-like virelai Ad mortem festinamus, which is found on the 2001 release by the Capella de Ministrers entitled Llibre Vermell.

As the abbey of Montserrat was a destination for pilgrims wishing to see the statue of the Virgin Mary, some of the songs in the Llibre Vermell naturally have a connection.  The first song found in the book, O virgo Splendens, is a perfect example of one in praise of the Virgin.  Hesperion XX, directed by Jordi Savall, performed this piece on their 1979 release, Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.

While most of the musical pieces in the Llibre are in Latin, there are a couple of exceptions.  The Marian motet Inperayritz de la ciutat joyosa in is Occitan while the ballada Los Set goyts is in Catalan, the common language of the region. Ensemble Alla Francesca recorded the motet on their 1995 release Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.

The musical pieces in the Llibre had more than just a general devotional role.  They may have been used as examples of songs that were acceptable for pilgrims to sing.  This would have been especially fitting as the Llibre also contained writings on how pilgrims should behave at the Virgin’s shrine.  On their 1992 CD-release entitled Llibre Vermell: Pilgrim songs & dances, the New London Consort, directed by Philip Pickett performed the Marian virelai Cuncti simus concanentes, which means “Let us all sing together.”

We move from the middle ages into the Renaissance as we look at a recent release by the group Accordone.  Tenor Marco Beasley and keyboardist Giudo Morini come together with colleagues to perform music from the early part of the 16th century.  In particular, songs of a poetic form known as frottola are complemented by dances of the period.

Here’s a video of the Capella de Ministrers performing “Cuncti simus concanentes” from the Llibre Vermell:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8B6ABzjUhE

Music Heard On This Episode

Anon.: Mariam Matrem Virginem
New London Consort (Philip Pickett, dir.) — Llibre Vermell: Pilgrim songs & dances (L'Oiseau-Lyre, 1992)
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Anon.: Mariam Matrem Virginem
New London Consort (Philip Pickett, dir.) — Llibre Vermell: Pilgrim songs & dances (L'Oiseau-Lyre, 1992)
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album cover
Anon.: Morir, ffrares, nos convé
Capella de Ministrers and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana (Carles Magraner, dir.) — Llibre Vermell (CDM , 2001)
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album cover
Anon.: Ad mortem festinamus
New London Consort (Philip Pickett, dir.) — Llibre Vermell: Pilgrim songs & dances (L'Oiseau-Lyre , 1992)
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album cover
Anon.: Morir, ffrares, nos convé
Capella de Ministrers and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana (Carles Magraner, dir.) — Llibre Vermell (CDM , 2001)
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album cover
Anon.: O Virgo Splendens
Hesperion XX (Jordi Savall, dir.) — Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (EMI CDM , 1979)
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album cover
Anon.: O Virgo Splendens
Capella de Ministrers and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana (Carles Magraner, dir.) — Llibre Vermell (CDM , 2001)
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album cover
Anon.: Inperayritz de la ciutat joyosa
Alla Francesca — Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (OPS , 1995)
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album cover
Anon.: Inperayritz de la ciutat joyosa
Capella de Ministrers and the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana (Carles Magraner, dir.) — Llibre Vermell (CDM , 2001)
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album cover
Anon.: Cuncti simus concanentes
New London Consort (Philip Pickett, dir.) — Llibre Vermell: Pilgrim songs & dances (L'Oiseau-Lyre , 1992)
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album cover
Antonio Caprioli: Sotto un verde e alto cipresso
Accordone (Guido Morini, dir.) Marco Beasley, tenor and Bruce Dickey, cornetto — Frottole (CYP , 2005)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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