Birth Of Polyphony

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
Comments
01Hildegard Of Bingen20170731

Donald Macleod looks at the music of the celebrated nun Hildegard of Bingen.

Donald Macleod begins this week by looking at the life and music one of the most celebrated women composers of the middle ages: Hildegard of Bingen.

The transition from pure monophony to complex polyphony was a gradual one. It is argued that polyphony was never entirely absent from European music-making; nor did monophony suddenly go out of fashion. Nevertheless, a fascinating development can be traced between the 12th and 14th centuries, with new musical forms, new rhythmic modes, and new methods of musical notation.

Thanks to recordings in recent decades the abbess Hildegard has been propelled from obscurity into the canon of women composers. She not only composed the Latin words for which she supplied the melodies - she also ran her own monastery, designed the eccentric outfits for her high-born nuns, and wrote on a variety of subjects, from visions to the practical uses of birds, beasts and trees.

O viridissima virga
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

O presul vere civitatis
Oxford Camerata,
Jeremy Summerly, director

O Jerusalem (de sancto Ruperto)
Emma Kirkby, soprano
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

Favus Distillans
Anonymous 4

O ignee spiritus, O cohors militae floris
O viriditas digiti Dei
Sabine Lutzenberger, soprano and bells
Baptiste Romain, medieval vielles and bowed lyre

Columba aspexit
Emma Kirkby, soprano
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

Producer Geoff Ballinger.

02The School Of Notre Dame20170801

Donald Macleod considers the place of Notre Dame in the story of polyphony.

A new cathedral calls for a new type of music. Donald Macleod considers the place of Notre Dame and the composers Leonin and Perotin in the story of polyphony.

The transition from pure monophony to complex polyphony was a gradual one. It is argued that polyphony was never entirely absent from European music-making; nor did monophony suddenly go out of fashion. Nevertheless, a fascinating development can be traced between the 12th and 14th centuries, with new musical forms, new rhythmic modes, and new methods of musical notation.

In today's episode Donald discusses the earliest piece of true polyphony ever discovered, and the the story of Paris's ambitious new cathedral, Notre Dame. Contemporaneous with construction of this mighty edifice we find compositions for two, and subsequently three or four voices. Not only that, we also have names for two of these composers: Leoninus (Leonin) and Perotinus (Perotin). But the line between composition and improvisation is still as indistinct as the lighting in the new building. And it's likely that polyphony was for special occasions only - such as the riotous Feast of Fools. Polyphony seems to have been deployed as a kind of crowd control, to avoid the lewd excesses of this particular occasion!

Leonin: Gloria redemptori meo
Hilliard Ensemble

Anonymous: Sancti Bonifati (transcribed Giovanni Varelli)
Quintin Beer
John Clapham

Leonin: Iudea et Iherusalem
Leonin: Descendit de celis
Red Byrd

Perotin: Viderunt omnes
Hilliard Ensemble

Perotin: Sederunt principes
Hilliard Ensemble

Producer Geoff Ballinger.

03Troubadours And Trouveres20170802

Donald Macleod continues the story of early polyphony.

Donald Macleod continues the story of early polyphony, as new musical forms emerge in France through combining secular song and sacred polyphony.

The transition from pure monophony to complex polyphony was a gradual one. It is argued that polyphony was never entirely absent from European music-making; nor did monophony suddenly go out of fashion. Nevertheless, a fascinating development can be traced between the 12th and 14th centuries, with the emergence of new musical forms, new rhythmic modes, and new methods of musical notation.

In today's programme, the fascinating results of what happened when secular song met the polyphonic traditions of the church. The troubadour or trouvère poets sang of secular love affairs, while in the cloisters many songs were concerned with saints and feast days. Extraordinarily, these two traditions come together with the birth of the motet, when three different parts may be singing at the same time about three completely different things! Finally, Donald looks at the life and work of Adam de la Halle from Arras.

Anonymous: Fas et nefas ambulant (words by Walter de Châtillon)
John Potter, tenor
Christopher O'Gorman, tenor
Rogers Covey-Crump, tenor

Beatriz de Dia: A Chantar
Sigrid Hausen, soprano
Estampie

Richard I: Ja nuls homs pris
Blondel de Nesle: A L'entrant d'Este
Estampie
Graham Derrick, director

Anonymous: motet On parole - A Paris - Frese nouvele!
Instrumental motets
Anonymous: motet De la virge Katerine - Quant froidure - Agmina milicie - Agmina,
Clemencic Consort
Rene Clemencic, director

Adam de la Halle: Le jeu de Robin et Marion
Sofia Laznik-Galves, soprano
Olivier Marcaud, tenor
Ensemble Micrologus

Producer Geoff Ballinger.

04Machaut And Ars Nova20170803

Donald Macleod explores the astonishing work of Guillaume de Machaut.

Extraordinary developments in mathematics in France were matched by some extraordinary feats of polyphony. Donald Macleod considers the life and music of Guillaume de Machaut and his place in the development of polyphony.

The transition from pure monophony to complex polyphony was a gradual one. It is argued that polyphony was never entirely absent from European music-making; nor did monophony suddenly go out of fashion. Nevertheless, a fascinating development can be traced between the 12 and 14th centuries, with new musical forms, new rhythmic modes, and new methods of musical notation.

In this episode, Donald traces the career and some of the music of Machaut, music that is partially indebted to the theoretical foundations of his predecessor, Philippe de Vitry, who wrote an influential treatise on the new art of music, or Ars Nova. Machaut once served as secretary to the slightly unhinged King John of Bohemia - a man who gallantly rode to his death at the battle of Crecy tied to his horse. Besides his considerable literary output, Machaut's compositions evince astounding sophistication, and his masterpiece is the first ever polyphonic setting of the Mass ordinary - a setting which he may have intended to be sung as his own memorial.

Guillaume de Machaut: Doulz viaire gracieus
Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dominique Véllard, director

Philippe de Vitry: Gratissima virginis
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

Guillaume de Machaut: Cinc, un, trese; Ma fin est mon commencement
Orlando Consort

Guillaume de Machaut: Liement me deport
Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dominique Véllard, director

Guillaume de Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame
Ensemble Gilles Binchois
Dominique Véllard, director.

0520170804

Donald Macleod explores the growth of polyphony in Italy and the birth of the madrigal.

Rival composers compete for prizes at Verona, and a blind organist astounds Florence with his talent. Donald Macleod uncovers the fascinating early days of polyphony in Italy during the 'trecento'.

The transition from pure monophony to complex polyphony was a gradual one. It is argued that polyphony was never entirely absent from European music-making; nor did monophony suddenly go out of fashion. Nevertheless, a fascinating development can be traced between the 12th and 14th centuries, with new musical forms, new rhythmic modes, and new methods of musical notation.

In today's programme the art of polyphonic composition comes of age in the Italian states. Italian musicians of the 1300s are deeply indebted to certain of their French counterparts (two of today's composers chose to set words by Guillaume de Machaut). But they also develop a distinctive style, and develop new forms such as the madrigal - a very different form to its later incarnation. Rivals such as Giovanni da Cascia and Jacopo da Bologna compete for favours from a noble patron. But the greatest of all trecento composers - or at least the most prolific - is the blind Francisco Landini, who stunned the citizens of Florence with his skills as an organist, and as a composer of polyphonic music.

Anthonello de Caserta: Beaute parfait
Ensemble Alba Musica Kyo

Giovanni da Cascia: Sedendo all'ombra d'una bella mandorla
La Bella Stella
Palatino87

Giovanni da Cascia: Quando la stella
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

Jacopo da Bologna: Aquil'altera, ferma; Elas mon cuer
Francesco Landini: Non ara may pieta
Ensemble Unicorn
Michael Posch, director

Francesco Landini: Ochi dolente mie; Per seguir la speranca
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

Francesco Landini: Nessun ponga speranca; Giunta vaga bilta
Gothic Voices
Christopher Page, director

Francesco Landini, Adiu, adiu, dous dame yoli
Ensemble Alba Musica Kyo

Producer Geoff Ballinger.