musica Dei donum

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anon: Historia Sancti Martini

Diabolus in Musica
Dir: Antoine Guerber

rec: Nov 27 - 30, 2009, Fontevraud, Abbaye
Aeon - AECD 1103 (© 2011) (66'02")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F

Olivier Germond, Branislav Rakic, tenor; Jean-Paul Rigaud, bariton; Geoffroy Buffière, Emmanuel Vistorky, bass-baritone; Philippe Roche, bass

The Christian church of the West has a long tradition of venerating people who were given the status of 'saint'. This veneration was reflected in the liturgy as chants and even complete offices were written to celebrate their lives and achievements. One of them is St Martin of Tours, or - in Latin - St Martinus Turonensis.

He was born in 316 in Savaria (Pannonia - now Szombáthely in Hungary). At a very young age he became interested in Christianity, which at the time was legal in the Roman Empire, but still far away from being the dominant religion. Like his father he entered the army, but soon he converted to Christianity and decided to leave the army. In the 360s he established the first monastery in Gaul. In 371 he became bishop of Tours, and established the monastery of Marmoutier, at the opposite side of the Loire. Soon after his death in 397 St Martin started to be venerated, in particular in the region between the Loire and the Marne. His shrine became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. There was also a special bond between the cult of St Martin and the French kings. "Impressed by the healings he witnessed with his very own eyes, Clovis [c466-511] converted to Catholicism. From then on, royalty and the cult of Saint Martin would be linked up until the French Revolution and the final destruction of the mediaeval basilica [of Marmoutier] in 1801", Antoine Guerber writes in the liner-notes.

Here a "perpetual praise" (laus perennis), established in the 6th century, was practised by an increasing number of canons. They outnumbered even those in the Notre-Dame in Paris, which shows the importance of the veneration of St Martin. "A precious manuscript informs us very precisely about the liturgies practiced in the collegiate church at the beginning of the 13th century: between 1226 and 1237, the canon Péan Gatineau wrote a ritual or rather a customary-Ordinary, which meticulously describes the usages and sequence of ceremonies, with a wealth of detail and amazing precision." Four feast-days were dedicated to St Martin; the most important of them was 11 November, when his death and burial were celebrated. The lessons consisted of texts from the biography by his friend Sulpicius Severus, Vita S. Martini. The service comprises three nocturnes, each made up of three psalms flanked by their antiphons, then by three lessons followed by three responses. This reconstruction begins with the procession, followed by the three nocturnes. The responses are sung, but the antiphons and their psalms are left out, and so are the lessons. What is especially important in this performance is that several elements are sung popyphonically. There are several indications in the manuscript that this was practised. The 9th response, Martinus Abrahe, for instance, is sung in 3-part organum as we know it from the Notre-Dame School. The melodies of the office have been found in several manuscripts from the collegiate church, preserved in the Bibliothèque Municipale of Tours.

The performance by the ensemble Diabolus in Musica is magnificent. The group consists of six singers, from tenor to bass, and creates an impressive kind of sonority which suits the repertoire perfectly. Also spot-on is the acoustic, with just the right amount of reverberation. The fact that some pieces are performed as plainchant and others in polyphony guarantees some variety within the office. Not that it is really necessary, because the chants are different enough, and the singing is such that there is no chance of boredom. With the Te Deum laudamus the office comes to an exciting close. Notable is the use of a kind of pronunciation of Latin which is based on the langue d'oïl, which was used by the troubadours, and also influenced, according to researchers in historic phonetics, the way Latin was spoken.

The only regret one may have is that not the whole office, including anthems, psalms and lessons, is performed. According to Antoine Guerber that would take about two hours. With a performance like this I wouldn't mind ...

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Diabolus in Musica

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