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The Glogau Song Book Recorded for Naxos

September 29, 2010

Between 9 and 12 August 2010 in Refektorium, Heilsbronn, Sabine Lutzenberger (voice), Martin Hummel (voice), Marc Lewon (lute, direction of the project), and Ensemble Dulce Melos—Margit Übellacker (dulcemelos, hackbrett), Yukiko Yaita (recorders, checker), Marc Lewon (lute, gittern, viola d’arco), Elizabeth Rumsey (viola da gamba, viola d’arco) and Uri Smilansky (viola d’arco) recorded German songs and instrumental pieces from the Glogau Song Book to be released on Naxos 8.572576. Marc Lewon writes:

Artists at the recording venue

The title of the musical collection that was the subject of our current recording is slightly misleading in several ways: the so-called “Glogau Song Book” is probably not from Glogau, it is not really a Song Book and it is not really one book. Most likely written about 1480 by the abbot Martin Rinkenberg in the monastery of Sagan (Silesia, now Poland) it is, however, one of the most remarkable sources of the Late Middle Ages. It represents the first source in music history that was written in part books, with one book each dedicated to the parts of discantus, tenor, and contratenor, and it is one of the first manuscripts to not only transmit songs but also a substantial instrumental ensemble repertory. The vocal repertory of the collection consists to a large degree of polyphonic renderings of liturgical chant in Latin. The other half of the source comprises ensemble pieces without titles and mostly of French origin as well as German songs and instrumental compositions with German incipits. It is this latter category that our recording project is dedicated to.

Since many of those pieces are rather short we were able to record a substantial part of the German repertory of the “Song Book” and thus give an exhaustive overview of this source’s character as one of the great German music collections of the 15th century. Almost all of the compositions therein are ensemble pieces in three parts so that the overall effect and appeal of the music differs substantially from the music transmitted in such collections as the “Locham Song Book” where monophonic versions of songs and instrumental intabulations for soloistic performances prevail. While the “Locham Song Book” which we had previously recorded for NAXOS represents a typical source of the mid-15th century, the “Glogau Song Book” undoubtedly leads into the aesthetics of Renaissance harmony and points towards a new age of music history.

Finding an instrumentation

As with all medieval musical sources there is no indication for an intended instrumentation of the pieces. The new aesthetics exhibited by the compositions of the “Glogau Song Book”, however, clearly call for an ensemble of equal instruments or of instruments with a comparable sound production. Performance with such an ensemble where instruments are mainly taken from one “family” guarantees that not only the voice leading of the individual lines can be portrayed properly, but also that the carefully planned harmonies will resound more beautifully. The resulting homogeneity of sound suits the pieces very well, not only in the instrumental ensemble works but also in the polyphonic arrangements of songs, where the main melody that also carries the text usually lies in the tenor line and is surrounded by untexted accompanying voices.

For the recording we thus chose to perform the pieces either with a combination of bowed strings made up of early Renaissance viols, or with a consort of plucked and struck string instruments comprising the lute, dulcemelos, and chekker (an early keyboard instrument).

Many of the German songs in the collection lack their text. Maybe they were intended for ensemble performance in a private circle, or perhaps their texts were collected separately or otherwise known to the contemporary singers. For some of the transmitted songs, however, other German sources survive that contain the complete poems so that for our recording we occasionally combined those texts with the song compositions of the “Glogau Song Book”. We thus included four kinds of German repertories in the recording: songs that are transmitted with their texts in Glogau; songs with the texts taken from other sources which we performed with our singers; songs without words and ensemble pieces that clearly were conceived for instrumental performance and which we interpreted accordingly.

Marc Lewon

Specialities of the “Glogau Song Book”

Among the many specialities of the Glogau collection are not only tenor songs (in our project interpreted by Martin Hummel) but also a few songs with the melody set in the upper voice. We therefore brought in the soprano Sabine Lutzenberger to join the ensemble. We also took this opportunity to record another novelty of the source, the earliest known quodlibet compositions, as duets between the two singers. These three special arrangements in the “Glogau Song Book” consist of the unchanged melody of the famous chanson “O rosa bella” by John Bedyngham in the upper voice while the tenor line presents a string of melodic beginnings of famous tenor songs lined up one after another in such a way that they form a perfect new counterpoint to the beautiful chanson tune. This astonishing feat of compositional virtuosity is presented in the recording so that the listener is led from the original setting of the chanson to these tongue-in-cheek arrangements in such a way that they can enjoy the development and full complexity of the pieces. Also some of the cited incipits can be heard in their proper form as tenor songs and thus create a link that helps understanding the quodlibets and their cultural context.

Martin Hummel

Recording “Glogau” in Heilsbronn

The beautiful remains of the vast monastery of Heilsbronn near Nuremberg (where the famous “Locham Song Book” was compiled) were a fitting backdrop to our project, with the Bayerische Rundfunk (BR) supplying technicians and equipment, and the engineer Johannes Müller being in charge of the recording process. We recorded in the church-like “Refektorium” once the dining hall of the fraternity and the ideal mixture between secular and sacred spheres, a crossroads that perfectly symbolises the cultural spectrum in which the “Glogau Song Book” was originally conceived. The acoustics mirrored this setting in that they resounded and enhanced the music marvellously while on the other hand not resembling a church atmosphere, thus adding room to the mixture of voices and instruments, but not going as far as “whitewashing” the complex polyphony and obliterating its beautiful structures.

Recording the 49 pieces of the current production within four days was a challenge that asked for the patience and commitment of all involved. Even though many of these pieces have a playing time of less than one minute, every new composition required the ensemble to capture a new mood and to try to convey the individual twist or idea of the particular piece in question. This took time and claimed full concentration, but it was mastered by the inspired ensemble, the spirited singers, and the extremely professional sound technicians.

The artists outside the recording venue

Building a programme

Since most of the pieces in this project are very short arrangements, especially those lacking a text (which in the case of a song with three strophes would extend the setting to triple its length), building a coherent programme for the modern concept of a “CD recording” was not an easy task. At the time when the collection was made the pieces probably were performed for private enjoyment and pastime entertainment, meaning that no “programme” had to be compiled of them, nor were they intended to be performed in such a way. In order to musically make sense and to build up a development over a succession of pieces it was decided to combine songs with matching or related instrumental pieces as pre-, inter-, or postludes, as well as constructing suites of instrumental compositions. Thus we were able to make the music of the “Glogau Song Book” fit for a modern medium, bringing back the forgotten sound of these little musical pearls to the ears of today’s audiences.

Marc Lewon


Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group