What we call Gregorian chant is old music. By the 13th century most of it was already composed. It is the church's oldest musical treasure, and is the word of God spoken, and prayers prayed, in a language where the word is lifted and born on wings of exquisite beauty. It is not just a language of words, but a meeting of words and melody in an expression of extraordinary power. Gregorian chant developed over a long period of oral transmission from generation to generation. If there is an evolutionary theory for artistic expression, a sort of "survival of the fittest", it can certainly be used about Gregorian chant. Many of these melodies are so unbelievably beautiful; it is as if we sense divine participation in their creation. There is an air of mysticism in this music, which more and more people are seeking as a setting for meditation and prayer.
Schola Solensis, Halvor J. Østtveit
♪ Psallat ecclesia (Sequences from medieval Norway)
1. Salus eterna
2. Congaudentes exultemus
3. Nato canunt omnia
4. Introitus, St Agatha: Gaudeamus
5. Alleluia Letabitur iustus
6. Laudes debitas Deo
7. Victimae paschali laudes
8. Lux illuxit, St Hallvard
9. Alleluia Quoniam Deus
10. Psallat ecclesia
11. Ecce pulcra
12. Martiris eximii
14. Stola iucunditatis
15. Virgini Mariae
Ragnhild Hadland, soloist
Conductor: Halvor J. Østtveit
Recorded at Ringsaker Church, Norway, 1st-4th October 2009 by Lindberg Lyd AS
(HD 1080p – Audio video)
|Schola Solensis (Photo by Gunnar Grøsland)|
Psallat ecclesia – Medieval Norwegian sequences
The archbishopric of Nidaros had one of the most extensive and varied repertoires of sequences in medieval Europe. This recording contains 11 of the 111 sequences that by decree were to be sung in Nidaros. The sequences are of different ages and origins and are taken from different festivals in the ecclesiastical year. It includes sequences for the patron saints of three Norwegian bishoprics: St Swithun in Stavanger, St Sunniva and the Selja saints in Bergen and St Hallvard in Oslo. Work on the music has been combined with a study of the oldest Norwegian manuscript sources preserved from the Middle Ages, and both textual and melodic variants are taken from these mainly fragmentary sources.
On the first Sunday in Advent the sequence Salus eterna would resound in Norwegian churches throughout the medieval period. The Advent sequence Salus eterna and the Christmas sequence Nato canunt omnia are early sequences that were popular in England and France and arrived in Norway from there. Advent sequences were less common in Germany, so the Norwegian celebration of Advent is one of many signs of the close links with England and France during the period after Christianisation.
December was also a month for hagiolatry: St Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, known for his kindness and generosity, was celebrated every year on 6th December (Nilsmesse). The sequence Congaudentes recounts the good deeds of Nicholas, emphasizing his rescue of sailors from shipwreck. Congaudentes spread all over western Europe and reached Norway during the 12th century.
Laudes debitas deo, a sequence in an early style for a virgin and martyr, which is only known from Nidaros and may be of Norwegian origin, was sung on the festival of St Agatha (5th February). The texts fits several of the female martyrs, and in Missale Nidrosiense it contains the name Lucia, indicating that it could also be sung on St Lucia's Day (13th Desember). The mass for the festival of St Agatha opens with the introit Gaudeamus omnes in domino (Let us all rejoice in the Lord), which was sung on several feast days, including the mass for St Olav on 29th July (Olsok). During the St Olav Mass they also sang the Alleluia with the verse Letabitur iustus. Melodically the beginning of this Alleluia has features in common with the sequence Laudes debitas deo, and it is plausible that
the Alleluia Letabitur iustus may have been the inspiration for this sequence.
Easter is the cornerstone of the church calendar and, although there were numerous Easter sequences in medieval Europe, there were few that could match the popularity of Victime paschali laudes. In Nidaros Victime paschali was not a part of the mass, but was used instead as a hymn during vespers on Easter Sunday. The melody formed the basis of a number of sequence texts dedicated to the Virgin Mary. One that made an early appearance in Norway was Virgini Marie laudes (intonent christiani). In Oslo Cathedral stood the shrine of St Hallvard who, according to legend, was shot with arrows and sunk in the fjord of Drammen with a stone sinker after trying to defend a pregnant woman. This was said to have happened on 15th May (1043), and the date was therefore proclaimed St Hallvard's day. Lux illuxit letabunda for St Hallvard, inspired by the Olav sequence of the same name, is probably the most "recent" in this selection, most likely written during the 13th century. The St Hallvard sequence was very nearly lost and is to be found in a single manuscript fragment from Iceland, with the end of the sequence missing.
In the Middle Ages St Swithun of Winchester was the patron saint of the bishopric of Stavanger. St Swithun's arm, the town's most precious relic, lay safely stored in Stavanger Cathedral from the 12th century until the Reformation in 1537. His sequence Psallat ecclesia mater decora, which was to be sung on St Swithun's Day (2nd July), is preserved in two old books from Winchester ("The Winchester Troper"), and the first lines can also be found in a manuscript fragment in Iceland. The title of St Swithun's Psallat ecclesia is easily confused with Notker's sequence Psallat ecclesia mater illibata, but the sequences themselves bear little comparison. The St Swithun sequence is closely connected to the Alleluia through the verse Quoniam deus. It opens with the same melody as the Alleluia, but continues as a separate piece of music.
Visitors to Bergen in the Middle Ages after 1170 could view the shrine of St Sunniva, which took pride of place in the Cathedral at Holmen. The legend of the Irish princess who escaped by boat from a heathen suitor developed gradually. Its historical core was the discovery of anonymous bone remains on the island of Selja near Stad, which soon received the status of holy relics. 8th July was declared a feast day for "the saints who rest on Selja", which included Sunniva. The sequence Ecce pulchra, a sequence for several martyrs, was not especially written for the Selja saints but was also used on the feast days of other groups of martyrs. Although probably not a historical person, she was an important figure for the diocese of Bergen. We do not know whether Sunniva ever had her own sequence. If she did, it has not been preserved (or not been discovered yet).
St Laurentius (St Lawrence) was among the most important saints, and consequently his feast day (Larsok, 10th August) was also celebrated a week later (on 17th August). A sequence was sung on each of these days; Martiris eximii on 10th and Stola iocunditatis on 17th. Both sequences tell of the dramatic events that according to legend led to Laurentius' martyrdom at the hands of Emperor Valerianus in the year 258. When the Emperor levied taxes on the church, Laurentius gave the money to the poor instead and gathered together the blind and sick. After three days he brought these before the Emperor, saying "Behold, here are the church taxes!" As punishment Laurentius was burnt to death on a gridiron.
Sequences – festival songs from the Middle Ages
The Alleluia – praise the Lord! – is the starting point for the sequences, which were a part of medieval church singing for some 700 years, from around 850 until 1550. While the Gregorian chant was born in Rome while the church was still young, the sequences developed north of the Alps in 9th century.
Notker of St Gallen, who published a collection of sequences around 880, explains that the melody lines after the Alleluia became so long that he put words to the melodies in order to be able to remember them more easily. He got the idea from a French monk who had fled to St Gallen to escape Viking raids around 850. Sequences were popular across the whole of Europe and several thousand of them were composed during the Middle Ages. The name sequence, or sequentia, means "that which follows after", and probably refers to the fact that they were performed after the Alleluia.
To begin with the sequences were "texted" melodies (which could also be performed without a text). The melody lines are in pairs and the text follows the melody syllable for syllable. The early sequence texts ("first epoch") reveal their connections to the Alleluia in that every line ends in ‘a’. They are prose texts without a regular rhythmic pattern; in fact, they counteract a regular rhythm by having stress in different places in each couplet. For the first two hundred years the British Isles and French-speaking Europe had one sequence repertoire, while the German-speaking part of the continent had another, dividing Europe musically into two parts.
From around 1050 some new sequence texts began to use rhyme (with other endings than ‘a’) and some rhythm. Sequences of this type are called transitional sequences or sequentiae novae ("new sequences"). They became common currency all over Europe and the old geographical divisions that are apparent in the oldest sequence repertoire are no longer as clear. Congaudentes for St Nicholas, Martyris eximii and Stola iocunditatis for St Laurentius, as well as the Easter sequence Victime paschali laudes, are examples of transitional sequences that spread all over Europe, including to Nidaros.
Sequences of a later type ("second epoch") are associated with the Abbey of St Victor in Paris, and particularly with Adam of St Victor (d. 1146). These so-called "Victorine" sequences have consistent rhyme and rhythm. Lux illuxit for St Hallvard is modelled on these new stylistic ideals and is thus more "modern" than the Olav sequence of the same name from the latter half of 12th century, which is formally speaking not a Victorine sequence.
In the 16th century sequences had lost some of their popularity, and the Council of Trent (1545-1563) resolved to remove them from the liturgy. Victime paschali was one of five sequences that retained their place.
The ensemble was founded in the autumn of 1995 in connection with the consecration of Sola Ruin Church. Behind the initiative was cantor Halvor J. Østtveit, who remains the choir's artistic director and a prime motivator for a vibrant Gregorian environment centred on Sola Ruin Church.
Sola Ruin Church is where Schola Solensis nurture their art. This gem of a building makes the perfect setting for Gregorian chants in the modern era. First built in the 12th century, the Golden Age of Gregorian chant, today the church stands as a feast for the eye in the municipality of Sola. Architect Louis Kloster has constructed a building rooted in the site's medieval foundations that keeps faith with history while seeking modern solutions, making the church a sublime synthesis of the medieval and the contemporary. In the same way Schola Solensis looks to the wellsprings of medieval music to find life-giving water for our own time.
Schola Solensis is a choir devoted to Gregorian chants from the Middle Ages. It is our experience that this music is not just ancient and antiquarian, but has a real contribution to make in our modern, frantic age. The peace and quiet flow that is so characteristic of the Gregorian chant gives us an inner tranquillity. A tranquillity that opens the mind for the message that lies at the bottom of all Gregorian singing.
Schola Solensis is non-confessional in line with Sola Ruin Church's ecumenical profile and the ecclesiastical traditions of the Middle Ages. The choir seeks to be a contemplative element in the present, a place of peace in a hectic age. The choir sings exclusively original material in Latin following the semiological method pioneered by the monks of Solesmes.
Cantor Halvor J. Østtveit has his musical training from the Norwegian Academy of Music and St Olaf College in the USA. In France he studied Gregorian chant at the Conservatoire Supérieur Nationale de Musique et de Dance in Paris and at the Benedictine Monastery at Solesmes, the spiritual centre of Gregorian chant.
Singers: Elin Fabrin, Hilde Garlid, Ragnhild Hadland, Åsa Dahlin Hauken, Bente Larsen, Eva Margrethe Olsen, Åslaug Ommundsen, Hanne Tobiassen and Asbjørg Skretting Vaaland.
Source: CD Booklet
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