About this Recording
8.573346 - ARGENTUM ET AURUM (Ensemble Leones, Lewon)
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Argentum et aurum
Musical Silver and Gold


The recordings by Ensemble Leones brought together on this release grew out of an academic research project at the University of Vienna led by the music historian Professor Birgit Lodes. This project, entitled “Musical Life of the Late Middle Ages in the Austrian Region (c.1340–c.1520)”, which has been sponsored by the FWF (Austria’s central fund for the promotion of academic research), makes it possible to experience through music a period of European cultural history during which the house of Habsburg emerged as a world power and Vienna as a city of music.

Ensemble Leones’ aim is to recreate a little of the sound-world familiar to people of that time. The listener is invited to eavesdrop on various 15th-century musical entertainments. Imagine, for example, a luxuriously furnished room in a Tyrolean palace c.1490, where the Flemish virtuoso Heinrich Isaac is performing his latest motet for the prince and his family [1]. The text, Argentum et aurum non est mihi, quod autem habeo, hoc tibi do (Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I thee give), is taken from the Biblical story of Peter healing the cripple. Is the composer trying to tell the prince that whilst he, Isaac, might not own any silver mines, he does have his music to offer—and suggesting that perhaps he might receive some of the abundance of the precious metal then being mined in the Tyrol by way of recompense?

In the Austrian region, patronage of travelling artists had already begun under the Babenberg dynasty. Being a proud nobleman in the service of Duke Frederick II (the Bellicose), the minnesinger Neidhart (c.1190–c.1236) was in a position to deride the peasants (“Dörfler”). But that did not stop him incorporating some of their tales into his texts. Around 1431–1435 the Viennese student and future schoolmaster Liebhard Eghenvelder noted several traditional Neidhart melodies in a commonplace book that he kept for his own use [9] [10]. He also noted down songs with a different provenance, such as the beautiful Ave Maria paraphrase Gegrusset seistu maria (Hail Mary, purest of virgins) [13]. Musical material of this type—monophonic, easy to sing—was intended for personal use, perhaps in a schoolmaster’s house.

Noble singer-poets did not need to be composers as well. Around 1400, Count Hugo of Montfort had the melodies to his poems composed by his “squire” (or minstrel) Bürk Mangolt—among them the tune to Ich fragt ain wachter (I asked a watchman) [3], which sits well with the longing for the life to come that is expressed in the verse. Hugo of Montfort’s contemporary, the hitherto unidentified “Monk of Salzburg”, on the other hand, tried to encapsulate both the world of the spirit and the natural world in monophonic song. Das kchúhorn – Untarnslaf (The cow horn – A midday nap) [4], to be accompanied on the natural notes of a cow horn, is, on the one hand, a satire of the lazy peasantry, and on the other a striking miniature of life in the country. Only Oswald von Wolkenstein, a knight from South Tyrol whose more than 100 songs finally overstep the bounds of courtly tradition, was bold enough to essay such musical realism.

His song Frölich geschrai so well wir machen (Let us have a merry kerfuffle) [5] is a realistic evocation of a scene in a brothel; its polyphonic structure even manages to reproduce the jumble of sounds characteristic of such a setting. The marginal annotation “Skak” in a Vienna manuscript is a reference to the instrument known as the “Schack” (exchiquier)—an early form of dulcimer, on which Oswald himself may have played the song. Freu dich, du weltlich creatúr (Rejoice, worldly creature) [11] can also be performed polyphonically with instruments alone. In the strophic song Durch Barbarei, Arabia (Travelling through the land of the Berbers and Arabia) [8] the poet presents himself as a much-travelled man of action, who is now discontentedly growing old at home in his castle. From there (in [12]), while the birds are singing their spring songs, he gazes down melancholically, seeing the misdeeds of his enemies emerging from under the melting snow, and feels his own “heartfelt pain” also melting away. With the words “Heýa, heýa” (Hey, hey) [23], Oswald pokes fun at the fat peasants on Rittner Alm around the year 1444, after he has again got his own back on them. The melody of the four-line strophe (the other verses have been lost) was given a four-part setting around 1460–1465, perhaps by Nicolaus Krombsdorfer, who was then cantor at the court in Innsbruck.

Manuscript fragments in the Austrian National Library add to our picture of the musical life of the period. The love address Soyt tart tempre (Whether early or late) [6], set out in a manner reminiscent of a dialogue, and the splendid bird-call song Or sus vous dormes trop (Get up, you sleep too long) [7], from the polyphonic repertoire of northern France, were well-known in the region circa 1400. The English song My ladi, my ladi, myn happ (My lady, my lady, my joy) [18] may have been brought to the area by the same person.

Hermann Edlerawer was cantor at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna from 1441 to 1444. He imitated the elegant chansons of Binchois and Guillaume Du Fay—for example in his rondeau Hermann Edlerawer, which sadly was noted down without text, the author’s name here replacing the title [14]. The humanist Hartmann Schedel from Nuremberg seems to have noted down the three-part setting of Von osterreich – Sig, säld und heil (From Austria – Victory, happiness and health) [15] in a book of songs he collected on his student travels whilst in “Austria” (c.1463). The song also occurs in Tyrolean sources as a cantus firmus in church music. Seigneur Leon (c.1441) [19], a four-part eulogy of Leonello d’Este, Margrave of Ferrara, is nowadays attributed to Du Fay. Doubtless this outstanding composition appealed to Viennese musicians, who included it in a collection of music assembled for practical use (A-Wn 5094).

The extensive codex of Nikolaus Leopold (D-Mbs Mus. MS 3154) was produced in the court chancery at Innsbruck c.1470–1510. A number of short sentences on the subject of regional love songs or “courtly airs” [16] [20]–[22] reflect international stylistic trends. Such elaboration of well-known melodies was extremely popular. In the anonymous Alle dei filius (Halle[lujah]. God’s Son) [17], the processional trope Triumphat dei filius is richly ornamented with subsidiary parts. Salzburg master-organist Paul Hofhaimer (1459–1537), who worked in Innsbruck as a young man, made a four-part arrangement of the old pilgrim’s song (In) gottes namen fahren wir, (In God’s name we travel) with two voices in canon, as though one person were following the other [27]. The sacred song Maria zart, von edler art (Dear Mary, of noble descent, c.1500) [28] was given a makeover by a musician from Augsburg known as “Pfabinschwantz” (peacock tail).

At the same time as it was becoming increasingly common practice to play vocal music on instruments, purely instrumental pieces and genres were also gradually emerging. Among the latter was the Italian “fantasia”. The Netherlandish composer Johannes Martini wrote a piece of this type in around 1465 [24]. Its Italian title La Martinella identifies him as its creator. This was later to become the norm with dance compositions. The Pavane [25] and the Mantúaner dantz (Mantuan Dance) [26] are polyphonic treatments of dance tunes, though it is fairly unlikely that they were actually used for dancing, the purpose of music of that time being not only to accompany actual activities, but also to preserve the memory of them and call them back to mind as and when required.

Reinhard Strohm

A Century of Variety

When Ensemble Leones accepted the challenge of recording these musical examples representing “secular monophony and polyphony” and “instrumental music” for the “Musical Life” project outlined above, they found themselves faced with the exacting task of realising in a stylistically appropriate manner repertoire drawn from a wide variety of contexts, styles and sources and spanning an entire century. The traditional forms of secular monophony which, in the 15th century, could already look back on a 300-year-old tradition, demanded a completely different approach in terms of forces, instruments, tuning and interpretation to the latest polyphonic developments of this era.

We therefore undertook to depict this musical landscape with a broad variety of instrumental and vocal colours on the one hand, and by means of two different musical “temperaments” (tuning systems) on the other. For the monophonic songs and the polyphonic compositions that reflect 14th-century practice, we chose the lute, hurdy-gurdy and vielle—typical accompanying instruments tuned according to the Pythagorean system. The later song settings we performed with a homogenous ensemble of viole d’arco tuned according to the mean-tone system. The differences between the vocal parts also needed to be brought out. A sung cantus firmus such as those found in Heinrich Isaac’s Argentum et aurum (Silver and gold) [1], which gives the album its title, in Paul Hofhaimer’s Gottes namen faren wir (In God’s name we travel) [27], or in the anonymous Alle dei filius (Halle[lujah]. God’s Son) [17], makes quite different technical demands on the singer to the monophonic songs in several verses belonging to the Neidhart tradition, such as Der sunnen glanst (The glittering sun) [9] or Do man den gumpel gampel sank (When it was the season to sing the hip-swing dance) [10]. With these, the text needs to be declaimed like a narrative. The late, polyphonic song settings from the Innsbruck codex of Nikolaus Leopold [16] [20]–[22] require the singers to strike a balance between blending with the instruments and shaping their individual lines. Because of these very different approaches, the traditional, long-established styles stand in clear contrast to the novel sonorities of the period, showing to good effect the great variety of styles being cultivated simultaneously.

A number of historical testimonies to the popularity at this time of “Neidhart” songs amongst the burghers and in university circles are still extant in Vienna, among them Liebhard Eghenvelder’s collection of songs, the Neidhart grave at St Stephen’s Cathedral, the Neidhart frescoes of Tuchlauben 19 and the sketches of Neidhart figures in a university manuscript. These seem to have some connection with the “Neidhart plays” (“Neidhartspiele”), for which the Tyrol was an important centre alongside Vienna. The seed from which these theatre-like performances grew was the “Violet Prank” (“Veilchenschwank”), which is to be found under the heading Vyol (The violet) [2] in the Sterzing Miscellanea Manuscript (Sterzinger Miszellaneen-Handschrift). There are still echoes of 13th-century minnesang in many of these “Neidhart” songs—as also in those by Hugo von Montfort (Ich fragt ain wachter / I asked a watchman) [3].

Oswald von Wolkenstein’s contrafactures of French compositions, such as the polyphonic Skak – Frölich geschrai so well wir machen (Let us have a merry kerfuffle) [5], linked these local forms with the polyphonic innovations of the 14th and 15th centuries. This recording contains world première recordings of music from recently discovered fragments containing some familiar pieces (Or sus vous dormes trop / Get up, you sleep too long) [7] and some hitherto unknown compositions or parts (such as the two-part English song My ladi, my ladi, myn happ (My lady, my lady, my joy) [18], or a hitherto unknown contratenor part to Soyt tart tempre (Whether early or late) [6]), which may have found their way into the Austrian region via the Council of Constance (1414–1418).

In memory of our late friend, the Oswald specialist Ulrich Müller (d. 14 October 2012), we recorded the song Zergangen ist meins herzen we (My heart’s sorrows have dissolved) [12], which was the subject of his last article and which shows quite a personal side of Oswald with its description of the coming of spring around his castle. ¹

Marc Lewon
Translations: Susan Baxter

¹ Müller, Ulrich: „Oswald von Wolkenstein: ‚Zergangen ist meins herzen we‘ (Kl 116): Das erste europäische Naturgedicht?“, in: Grzywka, Katarzyna (ed.): Kultur – Literatur – Sprache. Gebiete der Komparatistik. Festschrift für Herrn Professor Lech Kolago zum 70. Geburtstag, vol. 2, Warszawa 2012, pp. 851–869.

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