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8.572632 - Anima mea - Sacred Music of the Middle Ages (Ensemble Cosmedin)
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Anima mea (My soul)
Sacred Music of the Middle Ages


Anima symphonizans est” writes Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179): the soul is tuned harmonically, since it has its origin in the music of the spheres. It is orientated towards harmony. “All things that stand in God’s order correspond with one another.” (Liber vitae meritorum). Music is an expression of the most exalted harmony, for it arises directly from the human soul. It is the most beautiful kind of worship, the lingering echo of paradise, the preecho of becoming united, the melody of life-bringing greenness, O viriditas digiti Dei (O greenness of the finger of God [7]).

The mystic Master Eckhart (c. 1260–c. 1328) approaches the concept of the soul in ever new images—and yet he knows that the soul is essentially ineffable. “Love alone draws the soul into the world” (Sermon 17). The antiphons Adorna thalamum (Adorn thy chamber, Sion) [1], Immutemur habitu (We shall go in sack-cloth) [8] and Exaudi nos, Domine (Hear us, O Lord) [12] originate from the Erfurt Ritual. The manuscript, dated 1301, contains sung music from Master Eckhart’s historical context. Master Eckhart himself entered the Dominican order in Erfurt in 1275, where he later became prior. After the Reformation the manuscript fell into oblivion and has only recently been rediscovered. The antiphons from the Erfurt Ritual (today in the possession of the “Prediger” Church in Erfurt) are performed here by Ensemble Cosmedin for the first time since their rediscovery. “Musically speaking, this is the closest one can get to Meister Eckhart” (Stefan Hoffmann, SWR2).

The tract is the oldest form of psalmodic solo chant in the liturgy of the Roman Mass. Qui habitat in adiutorio altissimi (Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the most High) [4] and Sicut cervus (Like as the hart) [6] hark back melodically to their origins in the solo singing of cantors in eastern synagogues. For the theologian Romano Guardini, Psalm 91 is one of the most impressive. When the listener enters this psalm “a space opens up for him in which a quiet presence makes itself felt, full of power and goodness. He is taken by the hand and taught how he may achieve harmony with this benevolent power. If he responds to it, he will be safe. (The Wisdom of the Psalms, Mainz 1987, p. 251)

The early Christian hymn, Christe qui lux es et dies (Christ, that art light and day) [5] was first documented in Milan (before 534). It starts with an exploratory movement, seeking the way from darkness towards the light. The voice blends into the sound of the bells through the vowels of the Latin text. The tonal colours shine from within.

The two-part organa of the Notre Dame School represent a highlight of sacred music in the Middle Ages. Léoninus (around 1180) and Perotinus (around 1220) slowed down the original choral melody [9] to an extreme degree and used it as the foundation for the highlyvirtuoso solo voice. The rhythmically incisive passages introduced for the first time pulsating rhythms in Gregorian chant [10].

Magnificat anima mea Dominum (My soul doth magnify the Lord) [11] is Mary’s hymn of praise after the proclamation of the birth of Jesus (Luke 1, 46–55). Mary experiences a condition of exalted joy, deep emotion and humility. Her soul soars. She sings. The Magnificat is the most famous canticle of the Latin liturgy. We have chosen a version in the sixth psalm tone, which was documented in 1250 in the monastery of St Emmeran in Regensburg. In our interpretation, the vibrations of the human voice cause the tubular bells to resonate softly in response. The Canticum Beatae Mariae Virginis corresponds in content to Salutatio Beatae Mariae Virginis [3], the song of praise by St Francis of Assisi (1182–1226).

Instruments in early Christian sacred music

The songs of early Christian communities were often accompanied by instruments—in spite of the disapproval of the clerics, who regarded this practice as a profanation of sacred music. Repeated decrees by Councils against the use of instruments in church made it apparent how stubbornly communities opposed this ban. The traditions of Mediterranean musical culture lived on in the playing of the kithara and of other string instruments in the house churches of the early Christians and they were, and still are, influenced by the bourdon principle. Unlike her contemporaries, Hildegard of Bingen argued in favour of the use of musical instruments in the praise of God, referring expressly to the harp-player David (Scivias, 13. Vision of Part III, No. 16).

The musical instruments used in this recording

The psaltery and the long-necked lute were developed in the early high cultures of Mesopotamia and Persia. Bowed string instruments arrived in Europe in the eleventh century from central Asia via Byzantium and North Africa. Bells too had their origins in Asia. Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, is said to have brought bells from Byzantium to Rome.

Stephanie and Christoph Haas
English translation by David Stevens and Patricia Kilcoyne

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