About this Recording
8.553578 - Let Voices Resound: Songs from Piae Cantiones

Piae Cantiones (1582)

In 1882 three important musical foundations were laid in Finland - the Helsinki Music Institute (now the Sibelius Academy), the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Helsinki University Chorus. The Helsinki University Chorus became the principal choir of the Finnish- speaking community, and today Finland is known as the 'Land of a Thousand Choirs'. Indeed choral singing has been an important feature of Finnish cultural life for hundreds of years. In medieval times the musical centre was the city of Turku on the South- Western tip of Finland, and it was in Turku at the end of the 16th century that an important collection of songs emerged - the Piae Cantiones. In 1582, exactly three hundred years before the founding of the modern Finnish musical establishment, the headmaster of Turku Cathedral School (Jaakko Suomalainen) compiled and edited a collection of seventy-four songs which he entitled Piae Cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum Episcoporum (Devout church and school Songs of the ancient Bishops). Jaakko Suomalainen was a confirmed Protestant, whereas the publisher of the Piae Cantiones (the young Theodoric Petri) held distinctly Catholic beliefs: this religious tension between compiler and publisher is evident throughout the two hundred pages of the Piae Cantiones.

The uniqueness of the Piae cantiones lies in the preservation not only of songs for the church, but of songs specifically for school use. This is unusual. Church songs were self-evidently the domain of important ecclesiastical establishments and their preservation against destruction (accidental or deliberate) would have been at a premium. School songs, on the other hand, would not have justified comparable preservational efforts; apart from anything else, they would generally have been learned by rote and consequently were preserved as much by an oral tradition as by a scribal one. However, this is not to undermine the cultural and musical importance of these songs- quite the contrary. The texts of these songs throw important light on late-medieval European culture, and their musical effect is immediate and memorable.

The majority of the Piae cantiones are monodic - no fewer than sixty-two of the seventy-four songs are single-line melodies. Of the remainder, seven are two- voice songs, three are three-voice songs, and two are for four voices. The melodies originated at various times between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries, and in some cases a few of the added voices derive from the sixteenth century (in some cases possibly added by Jaakko Suomalainen himself). Few of the songs would actually have originated in Scandinavia. In the majority of cases the songs were of Bohemian, German, French, and English origin and they would have travelled to Finland in the memories and diaries of Finnish students enrolled in foreign universities. Piae Cantiones is a motley collection indeed, yet the influence of these few songs on the history of church music has been enormous. Even if they are not necessarily aware of it, there will be few people with even a limited knowledge of Western church music who do not recognise the melodies or the texts of at least a couple of the songs in this collection.

The songs on this recording are performed by the uppermost voices of the Oxford Camerata. This is intended to highlight the educational nature of these songs- one imagines the schoolrooms of Turku (then as now) to have reverberated with the sound of children's rather than adult voices. However, these songs would also have been common adult currency, and the limited vocal ranges allow for performance by any group of devout souls in almost any location. Most musically complex are the three songs taken from the Passiontide section of Fiae Cantiones : Aetas carmen melodiae and Cedit hyems eminus are for three voices, and the wonderfully resonant Jesu dulcis memoria is one of only two four- voice songs in the entire collection. Of the two-voice songs included here, Fuer natus in Bethlehem is a setting of a thirteenth-century text which has become one of the most celebrated and oft-translated of Christmas texts. The other two-voice songs are the prayer-hymn Farce Christus spes reorum and the doleful Jeremiae prophetae. The remaining seven songs are monodic, all but one of which are from the Christmastide section of the Fiae Cantiones. The best known of these Christmas songs are the lilting Resonet in laudibus, the four-square Personent hodie, from which the title of this CD is drawn, and the infectiously macaronic in dulci jubilo. But perhaps most interesting of all, historically speaking, is the Springtide song Tempus adest floridum. This fourteenth-century song has nothing whatever to do with Christmas, but in the nineteenth-century its tune was hijacked for use with the newly-composed text Good King Wenceslas. This Wenceslas (though in reality only 'good' when compared to his deeply unpleasant relatives, and moreover not a King) was the tenth-century Duke Václav of Bavaria. Because the nineteenth-century text concerns itself with charity, the carol has become associated ever since with St Stephen's Day (26th December), traditionally a day for giving to the poor. It is a testament to this catchy tune that it was able to represent the joys of spring to the medieval schoolchild as successfully as it now conjures up the image of deep, crisp snow in the mind of today's Christmas caroller.

Oxford Camerata
The Oxford Camerata was formed in 1984 to meet the growing demand for choral groups specializing in music from the Renaissance era. It has since broadened its repertoire to include music from the medieval period to the present day, and has a growing number of composers who have written music especially for the choir. In 1992 the Oxford Camerata Instrumental Ensemble was formed, and in 1995 the choir was honoured by the Fördergemeinschaft der Europäischen Wittschaft.

Jeremy Summerly
Jeremy Summerly graduated from Oxford University in 1982 with First Class Honours in Music. During the next seven years he trained as a Studio Manger at the BBC, founded the Oxford Camerata, and undertook post-graduate research at King's College, London. In 1990 he was appointed conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford and in 1996 he became Head of Academic Studies at the Royal Academy of Music where he had lectured for seven years. He is a BBC Radio 3 presenter and a freelance writer and conductor.

Close the window