musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Insula felix - Medieval music from Reichenau, the island monastery"

Ordo Virtutum
Dir: Stefan Johannes Morent

rec: Sept 4 - 7, 2009, Reichenau, St. Georgskirche
Christophorus - CHR 77328 (© 2010) (68'08")

anon: Et enim sederunt principes, tropes for introitus for St Stephen; Cantemus cuncti melodum, sequence; Cignea (instr); Gorio fuor ze malo (Georgslied); Occidentana (instr); Pangat ymnum Augiensis (De Sancto Ianuario), sequence; Puella turbata (instr); Sancti martyris festum (De Sancto Marco), sequence; Veni spiritus aeternorum alme, sequence; BERN VON REICHENAU (c978-1048): Venerandi patris Uodalrici (antiphon) & Magnificat (In Evangelium); HERMANNUS CONTRACTUS (1013-1054): Miris magnorum (Ad primas vesperas), responsory; Salve Regina; plainchant: Adoremus regen Christum & Venite exultemus, invitatorium; Beatissimi pontificis (In primo nocturno), responsory; Confessor domini (In tertio nocturno), responsory; Post sancti patris obitum (In primo nocturno), responsory; WALAHFRIED STRABO (808-849): Musa nostrum plange (Versus in laude felicis Augiae)

Hubert Mayer, Jörg Rieger, Alexander Yudenkov, chant; Stefan Johannes Morent, chant, harp, lyre, portative organ; Susanne Ansorg, fiddle

The island Reichenau is situated in the Bodensee in southern Germany. Today it consists of three villages, all of which have a medieval abbey. In the Middle Ages it was dominated by a monastery which was founded in the 8th century and which - together with St. Gallen - was a centre of science and art, and was particularly famous for its library. Unfortunately the manuscripts containing the musical heritage of the monastery were dispersed, and only fairly recently it has been possible to reconstruct some of its musical culture. This disc is the result of the research into this culture.

In the early centuries of its existence the core of the liturgical repertoire was plainchant. But as in other monasteries of the early Middle Ages this repertoire was extended by embellishments, both in texts and music. An important phenomenon is the so-called trope, an extension of a pre-existent chant. It appears in several forms: a musical phrase which is added to an existent text, a text which is sung to existing music, and an addition of text and music to an existent chant. An example of the latter is the first chant on this disc, Et enim sederunt principes. It is an introit with tropes who connect it with the feast of St Stephen. It is followed by a text set to an existing melody. Stefan Johannes Morent, in his programme notes, calls it a 'melody model'. They were used at several places for existing texts. The model of the sequence for Whitsunday, Veni spiritus aeternorum alme is called Occidentana, and is performed on fiddle and harp after the sequence. Another such model is Puella turbata, played here on fiddle and portative organ.

A number of pieces are connected to the saints who were celebrated in the monastery. The sequence Sancti martyris fstum is written for St Marcus, the sequence Pangat ymnum Augiensis for St Januarius. The veneration of St George was especially important in the Reichenau monastery, and was established by Abbot Hatto in the 9th century. The old German Georgslied is the oldest poem in honour of a saint in the German language (Gorio fuor ze malo). Although it doesn't have its origins in Reichenau, but probably in the middle Franconian region, a reconstruction of this song by Stefan Johannes Morent is performed here because of the importance of St George for the monastery.

Most pieces are anonymous, but two important personalities from his history of the Reichenau monastery are represented. Bern von Reichenau was abbot from 1008 to 1048, and was also active as a music theorist, poet and composer. He is the author of the Historia Sancti Uodalrici (Office for St Ulrich), from which here the antiphon Venerandi patris Uodalrici is performed, preceding and following the Magnificat. Bern's pupil Hermannus Contractus (Hermann the Lame) was severely handicapped, but highly gifted as a historian and music theorist. He also composed some music for various saints. From his Historia Sancti Magni (Office for St Magnus) the responsory for the First Vespers, Miris magnorum, has been selected. The setting of the Salve Regina performed here is also attributed to him, although his authorship can't be conclusively established.

The disc ends with a piece by Walahfried Strabo, who was abbot of the Reichenau monastery from 842 to 849. He has left a number of important literary works. His poem Musa, nostrum, plange is an ode on the island of Reichenau. The melody has been reconstructed by Stefan Johannes Morent, but the programme notes don't give any details about it. From this poem the title of this disc, "Insula felix" (happy island), has been taken.

Most pieces are monophonic, but in several a second part is sung. Whether this is original or a matter of performance practice remains unclear. In some pieces an instrument is used. The singing is excellent throughout, and the text is clearly audible. The Latin is pronounced in the German manner. The booklet contains informative programme notes in German, English and French, but the lyrics are only translated in German. That is a shame, but hopefully it will not hold anyone back from purchasing this disc. It is musically captivating repertoire and historically intriguing. In particular those with a special interest in early liturgical music shouldn't miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Ordo Virtutum

CD Reviews