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"Fragmentum - Auf der Suche nach dem verlorenen Klang" (In search of lost sounds)

Ordo Virtutum
Dir: Stefan Johannes Morent

rec: August 19 - 28, 2016, Bebenhausen, former Zisterzienserabteikirche; Hirsau, former Benediktinerkloster (Marienkapelle); Maulbronn, former Zisterzienserabteikirche; Salem, former Zisterzienserabteikirche; Alpirsbach, former Benediktinerklosterkirche
Cornetto - COR10049 (© 2017) (66'16")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance]
[Cistercian Monastery Maulbronn: Gradual, 15th C] De Martyribus: Alleluia V. Beatus vir; Offertory Iustus ut palma; Communion Magna est gloria; De Confessoribus: Introit Statuit ei dominus; De S. Michaele: Offertory Stetit angelus
[Benedictine Monastery Alpirsbach: Gradual, 15th C] Commune Dedicationis Ecclesiae: Lectio Evangelii; Offertory Domine deus; Communion Domus mea
[Benedictine Monastery Hirsau: Antiphonary, 2nd half 12th C] Commune Confessoris Pontificis in ii nocturno: Antiphon Domine iste sanctus - Psalm 4; Antiphon Vitam petiit a te - Psalm 20; Antiphon Hic accipiet - Psalm 23; Responsory Inveni David; Responsory Posui adiutorium; Responsory Iste est qui
[Cistercian Monastery Bebenhausen: Antiphonary, 15th C] Dominica de Passione in iii nocturno: Responsory Tota die; Feria II infra hebdomadam IV Quadragesimae: Responsory Vos qui transituri estis; Antiphon Solvite templum hoc - Magnificat; Responsory Sicut fui
[Cistercian Monastery Salem: Gradual, 15th C] In nativitate S. Ioannis Baptistae: Introit De ventre matris mee; In nativitate Domini nostri Jhesu Christi in i nocturno: Antiphon Tamquam sponsus - Psalm 18; Antiphon Diffusa est gratia - Psalm 44; Responsory Hodie nobis celorum rex; Ad vesperas feriae IV/V infra octavam Paschae: Alleluia V. Christus resurgens

Hubert Mayer, Johannes Mayer, Simon McHale, Stefan Johannes Morent, Jörg Rieger, Csongor Szántó, chant

Monasteries have played a major role in European history. They were centres of science and culture, and thanks to their activities in the field of copying many writings from the Antiquity have come down to us. The monasteries were also important in the development and preservation of chants for the liturgy of the Christian church. Until the late 19th century there was much variety in the repertoire, textually and musically, from one region to the other, and even from one convent to the other. This variety came to an end when the Vatican published three chantbooks between 1905 and 1912. At that time the use of the Italian pronunciation of Latin also became the standard for the church around the globe.

Part of the development of historical performance practice was also a growing interest in liturgical sources from ancient times. The problem is, that large parts of the repertoire sung in the Middle Ages and the renaissance have been lost. There are various reasons for that. Sometimes a convent or at least its library and choirbooks were destroyed by fire. In Germany the Reformation resulted in many convents being disbanded. In the decades around 1800 a process of secularization took place. In France the Revolution had a damaging effect on monastic life.

But even before these historical events liturgical repertoire was destroyed. Before the late 18th century music was seldom considered being of any value per se. Music was written for a purpose. If it had lost its function it was replaced by new repertoire. Music manuscripts which had become obsolete, were recycled in some way or another. Choirbooks which were no longer usable, were often cut to pieces and used to strengthen the bindings of other books. As a result much of the repertoire from the Middle Ages has come down to us fragmentarily. This explains the title of the present disc. The ensemble Ordo Virtutum aims at bringing the liturgical music sung at German convents to life again through concerts and recordings. The present disc is the result of its efforts. It is what the subtitle says: a search for lost sounds.

The programme is divided into five sections, each of which is devoted to the repertoire connected to a specific monastery. These five monasteries are all from the southwestern region of present-day Germany. The manuscripts are preserved in three places: the Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart, the Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart and the library of Heidelberg University. The chants are ordered according to their place in the ecclesiastical year, such as feasts for martyrs, Easter Sunday or the birth of St John the Baptist, or for special occasions. What is also very interesting is that the chants are performed in the convent churches to which they are connected. In his liner-notes Stefan Johannes Morent points out the differences in acoustic between the various churches. He specifically refers to the differences between the churches of Maulbronn and Alpirsbach - which follow each other here, which allows a direct comparison - and although both are quite reverberant the sound is indeed very different. Third on this disc is the - probably much smaller - chapel of Hirsau which has a more intimate, almost dry acoustic. The performance of liturgical chants in the churches where they were once sung lends this recording a strong sense of authenticity.

But there is more to this disc. Too often we hear in recordings, for instance with liturgical reconstructions, only fragments of psalms. That is the case with some psalms here as well, but we also get several psalms at full length. Moreover, in many recordings psalms are preceded by an antiphon, but its repeat after the psalm is often omitted. In this recording every psalm is preceded and followed by the appropriate antiphon. In the performance of the psalms we hear the antiphonal singing which is the basis of various forms that were to develop later in music history: the technique of cori spezzati, the alternatim practice and the form of the dialogue which is the foundation of oratorio and opera. This way of singing - here the alternation of a solo voice and the schola - is quite exciting. My favourite is Psalm 18 (19), sung in the church at Salem. Also rare is a complete Lectio, here from the gospel after St Luke.

There are probably still quite some music lovers who think that plainchant is boring. There was a time that I thought the same, especially having heard recordings by monks of Solemnes Abbey. With all due respect to their important work in contributing to the revival of plainchant, their performances were rather mediocre, and certainly not based on historical considerations. Much has changed since. Today several ensembles care about a more historical approach to ancient liturgical music, and Ordo Virtutum is one of them. In recent years I have welcomed some highly interesting recordings of monastic repertoire from several regions in Germany. The present disc is another treasure which documents impressively the variety and the quality of the repertoire from former monasteries which have been fragmented. Reconstructing this repertoire and bringing various chants together into a coherent programme is a major achievement.

The singing is excellent throughout, not only of the ensemble, but also by the various singers who take care of the solo parts. They have handled the different acoustical circumstances perfectly. In antiphonal singing it is important to make sure that the various lines are clearly separated. The timing in these performances is such that they can be clearly distinguished.

This is an intriguing and often exciting disc which every lover of liturgical music should add to his collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Ordo Virtutum

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