Middle Ages

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The sequence Dies Irae (mp3source
Gregorian Chant - Sequences
Gregorian Chant – Sequences. By: Capella Antiqua München; Konrad Ruhland (Sony SBK 61868)
)
is part of the Requiem Mass, which is celebrated for the departed. In threatening words, the Dies Irae announces the final judgment: “Day of wrath! O day of mourning! See fulfilled the prophets’ warning, Heaven and earth in ashes burning!”. On that day, when history will end, creation will have to give an account of itself to God. Who could exist in such a judgment? It, therefore, is no surprise that the last part of the text is a prayer for the soul’s eternal rest.

This text has been set to music very often; in most cases as part of a Requiem. The earliest Requiem that includes the Dies Irae, is the one by Antoine Brumel (c.1460-1512/3) (mp3source
Antoine Brumel - Missa 'Et ecce terrae motus', Sequentia 'Dies Irae'
Antoine Brumel – Missa ‘Et ecce terrae motus’, Sequentia ‘Dies Irae’. By: Huelgas Ensemble; Paul van Nevel (Sony SK 46348)

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)
. In the course of music history, the binding with the original gregorian melody declines. The Italian composer Antonio Lotti (1660-1740) provided completely new music for the Dies Irae: (mp3source
Antonio Lotti - Requiem
Antonio Lotti – Requiem. By: Balthasar-Neumann-Chor und -Ensemble; Thomas Hengelbrock (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77507 2)

Details: Amazon.com
)
. A few decades later, Mozart composed his a Dies Irae as part of his Requiem, which is a personal document rather than liturgical music. He used more expressive means than his predecessors to display the overwhelming character of the Dies Irae (mp3source
W.A. Mozart - Requiem
W.A. Mozart – Requiem. By: Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi France HMX 2901620)

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)
. This development was carried on further in the nineteenth century, in which the approach became more and more megalomaniac. An impressive climax is the Dies Irae (1874) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) in which the final judgement is announced with thundering violence (here in a performance conducted by Claudio Abbado):

Thus, the text of the Dies Irae was widely used without its original melody. The opposite also happened often: the gregorian melody has been included in many instrumental works, especially the opening motif: (mp3source
Gregorian Chant - Sequences
Gregorian Chant – Sequences. By: Capella Antiqua München; Konrad Ruhland (Sony SBK 61868)
)
. Within the nineteenth-century Romantic movement, in which artists were fascinated by such notions as transiency, lunacy, morbidity, ruins, night and death, this melody became a symbol for threath, darkness and decease. One of the earliest examples can be found in the fifth movement of the Symphonie Fantastique (1830) by Hector Berlioz, which depicts a witches’ sabath (mp3source
Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique
Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique. By: New York Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta (Decca 448 987-2)
)
. Another famous example is the Dance Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, a symphonic poem that has a poem by Henri Cazalis about death as its program (mp3source
Saint-Saëns - Dance Macabre
Saint-Saëns – Dance Macabre. By: Philharmonia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyung Wha Chung (Decca 425 021-2)

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)
. Also the composer Sergej Rachmaninoff was obsessed by the theme. In numerous of his instrumental works the characteristic motif is cited. For instance in the symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead (1909), which is related to the painting Die Toteninsel by Arnold Böcklin. After a climax, a passage follows in which one by one various instruments play the Dies Irae theme (mp3source
Rachmaninov - Symphony No.1 - Isle of the Dead
Rachmaninov – Symphony No.1 – Isle of the Dead. By: The Philharmonia; Jacek Kaspszyk (Collins 12132)
)
.

Böcklin - Toteninsel (third version, 1883)
Böcklin – Toteninsel (third version, 1883)

Recommended cd’s

Antoine Brumel - Missa 'Et ecce terrae motus', Sequentia 'Dies Irae'
Antoine Brumel – Missa ‘Et ecce terrae motus’, Sequentia ‘Dies Irae’. By: Huelgas Ensemble; Paul van Nevel (Sony SK 46348)

Details: Amazon.com

Antonio Lotti - Requiem
Antonio Lotti – Requiem. By: Balthasar-Neumann-Chor und -Ensemble; Thomas Hengelbrock (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77507 2)

Details: Amazon.com

W.A. Mozart - Requiem
W.A. Mozart – Requiem. By: Philippe Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi France HMX 2901620)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Saint-Saëns - Dance Macabre
Saint-Saëns – Dance Macabre. By: Philharmonia Orchestra, Charles Dutoit – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyung Wha Chung (Decca 425 021-2)

Details: Amazon.com

Verdi - Messa da Requiem
Verdi – Messa da Requiem. By: Claudio Abbado (EMI CDC 5 57168 2)

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DVD Verdi Requiem
DVD Verdi Requiem. By: Claudio Abbado (EMI 926949)

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The Mass of Tournai

Tournai (Doornik) is one of the oldest cities in Belgium. In the middle of this city stands an impressive medieval cathedral, which is immediately recognizable from its five towers. Except for the towers, this cathedral is also well-known because of a fourteenth-century music manuscript that is preserved in the cathedral’s library, containing a mass cycle commonly referred to as the Mass of Tournai.

The towers of the cathedral of Tournai (photo: OliBac)
The towers of the cathedral of Tournai (photo: OliBac)

The Mass of Tournai one of the earliest polyphonic masses that combines all five sections of the ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei) into one cycle, indicating that all these sections were intended to be sung in the same service. Apart from the ordinary sections, there is a section for the “Ite missa est”, the final words of the mass. Except for the Mass of Tournai, there are three other complete mass cycles from the fourteenth century, the Mass of Barcelona, the Mass of Toulouse and the Sorbonne-Mass. The mass of Tournai is the oldest. All four masses are anonymous. In fact, there is just one fourteenth century mass cycle of which we know the composer, the four-part Messe de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377).

Although the Mass of Tournai was compiled as a unity, the individual sections certainly have independent origins. The Kyrie (mp3source
Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

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)
, Sanctus (mp3source
Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

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)
and Agnus Dei (mp3source
Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

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)
are probably the oldest. The musical notation that is used in these sections was already outdated at the time the Tournai manuscript was created, which was around 1350.

The Credo (mp3source
Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

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)
seems to have a wide dissemination in the fourteenth century. In at least three other contermporary manuscripts a version of this section has been preserved.

Of the ordinary sections, the Gloria (mp3source
Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

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)
is most advanced in its musical notation. It makes use of the innovations of the Ars Nova, which allowed more diverse rhythms to be notated. A remarkable feature of this section is the long expansion of the word ‘amen’. It is almost as long as the rest of the section. In this ‘amen’, the so called hoquet technique is used: two voices alternately sing a note such that it seems that only one voice is singing: (mp3source
Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

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)
.

The last section is quite unlike the other sections. Each of the three voices has a different text. The tenor sings in long notes the words ‘Ite missa est’, which are the last words of the mass. The second voice has a latin text that urges the rich to remember the poor. The third voice has a secular French text. (mp3source
Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

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)
.

We do not know much about the way the mass was performed. The manuscript is more than 600 years old. Accounts of performance practice in those days are very scarce. For example, the exact pitch at which this mass was sung is unknown. In the audio examples, the mass is sung by male voices. There is also a recording by a female choir: (mp3source
Missa Tournai
Missa Tournai. By: Ensemble De Caelis; Laurence Brisset (Ricercar RCR 265)

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)
. Anyhow, it is impressive that nowadays we are able to listen to this music that was written down so long ago. It might sound a bit exotically to our modern ears, yet it is an important link in the rich history of Western music.

Recommended cd’s

Messe de Tournai
Messe de Tournai. By: Ensemble Organum; Marcel Pérès (Harmonia Mundi France HMA 1901353)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Missa Tournai
Missa Tournai. By: Ensemble De Caelis; Laurence Brisset (Ricercar RCR 265)

Details: Amazon.com or Emusic.com

Download 25 FREE songs at eMusic.com!

If we go back in history in search of the beginning of classical music, Gregorian chant appears to be one of the most important sources. According to traditional knowledge, it was Pope Gregory the Great who composed the melodies for the liturgical texts of the catholic church. Gregorian chant is named after this Pope, who lived around the year 600. He is often depicted with a dove on his shoulder. This dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, who whispered the melodies into Gregory’s ear.

Gregory the Great

Gregory the Great

As usual, the story is nicer than the history. There was not just one tradition of monophonic liturgical singing in the Middle Ages. Instead, there were many local traditions. In the eight century, the Frankish king Pippin III wished to harmonize all liturgical chant in his vast empire with that of the church of Rome. His son, Charlemange, continued this policy. Thus, the tradition of Rome became very influential. The Roman chant books that were copied by the Frankish scribes named Gregory as the composer of the melodies. It is very well possible that these Roman books referred to Pope Gregory II instead of Gregory the Great, but the Franks assumed the latter was meant. This made the chant tradition of Rome the standard for the entire Western church.
The chants we know from Roman sources are, however, not the same as the chants in the Frankish copies. Probably some alterations were made during the dissemination of the melodies across the vast Frankish empire. The exact history of Gregorian chant is therefore still obscure.

Starting form the ninth century, we find indications of polyphonic singing in the historical sources. To the Gregorian melody one or more other parts were added. Initially quite simple and straightforward, but as early as 1200 in the Notre Dame at Paris, very complex compositions were made. One example is the Alleluia Nativitas by Perotinus. (mp3source
Perotin
Perotin. By: The Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 837751-2)

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)
. The genesis of these early polyphonic compositions can be considered an important starting point of western classical music.

After the Middle Ages, Gregorian chant kept its influence. Except for being the ‘breeding ground’ for later styles, the melodies themselves were used often in all kinds of compositions. Let’s have three examples.

When Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the Credo of the Hohe Messe, he included the Gregorian melody for “Credo in unum Deum”. Listen to the Gregorian melody: (mp3source
Thomas Stoltzer - Missa duplex
Thomas Stoltzer – Missa duplex. By: Weser-Renaissance; Manfred Cordes (CPO 999 295-2)

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)
, and to the beginning of Bach’s Credo: (mp3source
J.S. Bach - Messe in H-Moll
J.S. Bach – Messe in H-Moll. By: Collegium Vocale, Ghent; Philippe Herreweghe (Virgin Veritas VCD 5 45163 2)

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)
.

Another example from the Baroque we can find in French organ music. François Couperin (1668-1733) composed a mass for organ, incorporating Gregorian melodies. Listen to the sung Kyrie: (mp3source
François Couperin - Messe pour les Paroisses
François Couperin – Messe pour les Paroisses. By: Michel Bouvard – Schola Meridionalis (BMG 74321470042)
)
, and to Couperin’s organ verse, where the melody is played in long notes on the pedal: (mp3source
François Couperin - Messe pour les Paroisses
François Couperin – Messe pour les Paroisses. By: Michel Bouvard – Schola Meridionalis (BMG 74321470042)
)
.

Maurice Duruflé is a twentieth-century composer who was profoundly influenced by Gregorian chant. One can hear it in almost all of his compositions. In his Requiem (1947) these ancient melodies are interwoven with the sound of the modern orchestra. At the beginning of the Introit, the choir sings the unaltered Gregorian melody. Listen to the chant: (mp3source
Chant - Music For Paradise
Chant – Music For Paradise. By: Cisterciënzer Monniken Van Stift Heiligenkreuz (Universal 4766774)

Details: Amazon.com
)
, and to the beginning of Duruflé’s Requiem: (mp3source
Fauré - Duruflé - Requiem
Fauré – Duruflé – Requiem. By: Richard Hickox (Eloquence 466 844-2)

Details: Amazon.com
)

Recommended cd’s

Chant - Music For Paradise
Chant – Music For Paradise. By: Cisterciënzer Monniken Van Stift Heiligenkreuz (Universal 4766774)

Details: Amazon.com

J.S. Bach - Messe in H-Moll
J.S. Bach – Messe in H-Moll. By: Collegium Vocale, Ghent; Philippe Herreweghe (Virgin Veritas VCD 5 45163 2)

Details: Amazon.com

François Couperin - Messe pour les Paroisses
François Couperin – Messe pour les Paroisses. By: Michel Bouvard – Schola Meridionalis (BMG 74321470042)

Fauré - Duruflé - Requiem
Fauré – Duruflé – Requiem. By: Richard Hickox (Eloquence 466 844-2)

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