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The Amazing Cypriot Manuscript

On this week’s program we journey to the 15th century for a program of music from Cyprus.

From PRI, Public Radio International, welcome to Harmonia. I’m Angela Mariani. On this week’s program we journey to the 15th century for a program of music from Cyprus. We’re spending some quality time with music that was very nearly lost when it caught fire. We’ll be exploring a beautiful book that contains a large and slightly mysterious collection of sacred and secular 15th century music. Our featured release is Telemann: The Concerti-en-Suite, a 2018 recording from Tempesta di Mare.


Music of Telemann, performed by Tempesta di Mare.


The Amazing Cypriot Manuscript

The Turin National University Library holds a manuscript of music which, for the purposes of our broadcast, we’ll refer to as the “Amazing Cypriot Manuscript,” for reasons that will become clear. The library suffered a terrible fire in 1904, losing thousands of books and manuscripts. Good thing that our Amazing Cypriot Manuscript, which got caught in the fire, was made of parchment and not paper, don’t you think? Even with serious fire damage it is a stunningly beautiful visual object.

The music in the manuscript comprises both sacred and secular music, divided into sections by the type of piece, so all the chant is together, all the ballades together, all the motets together, etc. It is by far the largest corpus of late medieval courtly song surviving in a single source. Amazing.

Who composed this music? We don’t know for sure. Recent evidence suggests that all 334 works in the manuscript are the compositions of one Jean Hanelle, which would certainly put Guillaume de Machaut’s complete works, not to mention Dufay’s or Landini’s, in a rather different perspective. Unlike in some very helpful medieval manuscripts, none of the pieces is ascribed.

Who compiled the music, where and why? Again, we don’t know for sure. A number of different hands contributed to the manuscript, and scholars propose that Hanelle supervised a group of copyists. Evidence suggests that it might have been copied in Brescia for a patron who for some reason never received it. Or one could easily imagine that, for instance, when Catherine de Bourbon moved to Cypress to marry King Janus I in 1411 and took musicians with her, someone compiled a book of music for them to use there and sent it to her as a wedding present. Somehow it got from Italy to Cypress and back to Italy. And here’s something to ponder: the manuscript shows no traces of use. All very mysterious.

St. Hylarion was a monk who saved Cyprus from the Arabs. You can still visit the 10th century Saint Hilarion Castle in northern Cyprus. The Amazing Cypriot Manuscript has music devoted to Hilarion that, on the page, looks similar to lots of other chant, but the St. Hilarion music helps to place the manuscript in Cypress, whether or not it was compiled there.

Let’s listen to some chant for St. Hilarion interpreted by two different ensembles.

We heard the Schola Antiqua of Chicago directed by Michael Anderson performing the “Alleluia – Ave Sancte Hylarion,” from their 2010 Discantus recording, taken from a live concert, West meets East: Sacred music of the Torino Codex.  By Torino Codex, we mean, of course, the Amazing Cypriot Manuscript. We also heard Alexander Lingas directing Capella Romana in a chant for St. Hilarion from their 2015 release Cyprus: Between Greek East & Latin West. Two different interpretations of music from the same section of the same book, one clearly more influenced by the Byzantine tradition that would have been native to Cypress.

And what if those same singers encountered French 14th century polyphony?  Listen to the ensemble Graindelavoix taking that approach, singing a chant, then a motet from the Amazing Cypriot Manuscript appealing to “Wisdom incarnate” to teach us prudence and the way of the wise people.

The motet “O Sapientia incarnata/Nos demoramur” was performed by Graindelavoix, director Bjorn Schmelzer, on their 2015 Glossa recording Jean Hanelle: Cypriot Vespers.

Back to the very basic question of what the music might sound like: the Amazing Cypriot Manuscript contains a song that gives us a seriously tantalizing hint. The piece is a double ballade, a rather unusual poetic form, and it is nearly 8 minutes long, though in the manuscript all the music and all the words, amazingly, fit on less than half of one side of a parchment. Surrender your ears as the singer, vielle and lute sensuously intertwine in complex rhythms. At the end of each of the three verses of this ballade, you will hear the words “Parfaitement, sans oblier.”  – “perfectly, and without fail.” Here are the lyrics of the first two verses:

Singing loudly and joyfully with a clear, accurate and polished voice never entitles a person to call themself a musician, whatever anyone may tell them, unless they know all about the harmony of music, which must be praised through proper artistry and symphonious sounds,
perfectly and without fail.

Sweetness of expression, softness achieved with great skill, no harsh raising of the voice on any account, such things distinguish a person who has real feeling for the melody, knows and performs it well, as though it were their loyal sweetheart,
Perfectly and without fail.

That was the ensemble La Morra from their 2006 recording Flour de Beaulté on the Ramée label.

Coming up:  Do we really have any idea what this is supposed to sound like?


Christmas with the Amazing Cypriot Manuscript

Welcome back. The Amazing Cypriot Manuscript is the only source of a whole repertory of music, and not one of the 334 pieces in it is found anywhere else, at least not so far. The musical notation tells us how various notes relate to one another in pitch and time, just like our own musical notation, but interestingly, there is no indication of how fast to go, or in other words, how long the piece should last.  Another thing left to our creative judgment is the scoring of the music – all voices? Voices and instruments? All instruments? Here are a couple of ideas for performance of a motet for Christmas. There are two texts heard simultaneously, one about the new-born child, the other about mortal man.

We heard the motet “Hodie puer nascitur/Homo mortalis firmiter” performed first by the Ensemble Project Ars Nova from their 1991 New Albion Records disc Island of St. Hylarion, then by Paul Van Nevel directing the ensemble Las Huelgas from their 1983 Pavane Records LP called Les antiennes cypriotes pour l’Avent, or The Cypriot O antiphons.


Telemann: The Concerti-en-Suite

The Philadelphia-based baroque orchestra Tempesta di Mare has made it a major part of their mission to perform and record rediscovered works alongside classics from the standard repertoire. Their 2018 recording, Telemann: The Concerti-en-Suite, plays right into that mission, featuring some lesser known works of 18th century German composer Georg Philipp Telemann, including this chamber concerto, reconstructed by Tempesta di Mare co-director Richard Stone.

We heard music by Georg Philipp Telemann, performed by Tempesta di Mare, from their 2018 recording, Telemann: The Concerti-en-Suite.


Break and theme music

:60, Telemann: The Concerti-en-Suite, Tempesta di Mare, Chandos 2018, Tr. 13 Violin Concerto in F Major, TWV 51:F4: II. Corsicana

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia was Wendy Gillespie.

Want more? Tune in to the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at http://www.harmoniaearlymusic.org.

Music Heard On This Episode

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Wendy Gillespie

Wendy Gillespie is Professor of Music, teaching early bowed strings and performance studies, at the Early Music Institute of the Jacobs School of Music, Bloomington, IN and President of the VdGSA. As a viola da gamba player, she has made more than 80 CDs and performed on five continents.

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