This hour on Harmonia, we’re headed into the lion’s den, as we go on safari with ensembles ranging from the New York Pro Musica to The Dufay Collective. Join us as we explore recordings of the 13th-century medieval liturgical drama The Play of Daniel. In addition, on our featured release, we’ll hear 17th century dances from Spain and Latin America.
We heard a xácara by Juan Cabanilles, performed on the harpsichord by Elisabeth Wright.
The New York Pro Musica
It all started with the New York Pro Musica… Well, actually, technically it started before that – in northern France, during the 13th century, with a group of students from the school of Beauvais Cathedral. The fruit of their labors, the medieval Latin liturgical drama known as the Ludus Danielis, or The Play of Daniel, tells the timeless Biblical tale of Daniel in the lion’s den. Their setting, complete with monophonic music, was written during the first half of the 13th century.
But, back to the New York Pro Musica. That’s where it started for us.
Music from the New York Pro Musica’s 1958 recording of The Play of Daniel. The New York Pro Musica Antiqua, started by the merchant seaman and labor organizer Noah Greenberg in the 1950’s, was the ensemble that brought early music to the fore in New York and the entire United States. In an approximately 20-year life span, the ensemble spearheaded a movement without which the program you are hearing right now would not exist. Many of the performers in the ensemble went on to continue to explore the enormous repertory of European music from before 1750 in various ways. Harmonia is one of those ways, and your host for today was one of those performers, as it happens.
A Variety of Traditions
Over the past fifty years, our thinking about the performance of medieval music has evolved both based on scholarly research, and also influenced by individual performers and their own musical backgrounds and contexts. The information we get on the page is seductive – melodies and lyrics written in a rhythmic notation that is quite different from that of our modern day, but is at its root. The page is not the music, merely an outline of an echo, if you will. Depending upon how one is seduced by the page, the result can be anything from complete silence out of fear of misrepresentation, to a burst of ecstatic creativity in which melody comes alive, taking a dramatic shape, perhaps gaining accompaniment, perhaps an insistent rhythm. The page is brought to life by the performers and their reaction to it.
We heard a variety of interpretations of music from The Play of Daniel – taken from recordings by Hortus Musicus, The Clerkes of Oxenford, the Pro Cantione Antiqua, with the Landini Consort, Estampie, and The Dufay Collective. The recordings were made between 1958 and 2007.
That was the voice of the English poet W. H. Auden, whose narrative commentary featured heavily in those very first modern performances by the New York Pro Musica. Since 1958, The Play of Daniel has been recorded nearly a dozen times. Each and every one of those recordings is fascinatingly, radically different, yet all spring from the same seed – a few lines of music, left behind nearly eight hundred years ago, and an ocean away.
We heard the final moments of The Play of Daniel, as interpreted by The Dufay Collective on their 2007 recording.
Dos estrellas le siguen
Our featured release is the 2015 recording Dos estrellas le siguen, which features 17th century dances from Spain and Latin America. Performers include members of the Colombian early music ensemble Música Ficta.
Break and theme music
:30, Dos estrellas le siguen, Música Ficta, Centaur Records 2016, Tr. 1 Dos estrellas le siguen
:60, Dos estrellas le siguen, Música Ficta, Centaur Records 2016, Tr. 2 Xácara
:30, Dos estrellas le siguen, Música Ficta, Centaur Records 2016, Tr. 3 No hay que decirle el primor
Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, Tr. 12 La Prime Estampie Royal
The writers for this edition of Harmonia are Elizabeth Clark and Wendy Gillespie.
Learn more about recent early music CDs on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmoniaearlymusic.org.