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CD reviews

"Piae Cantiones, Anno 1582"

Ensemble Laude Novella

rec: March 8 - 10, 2010, Oppmanna (S), Church
ELN Records - ELNCD0901 (2 CDs) (© 2009) (1.50'40")

Ad cantus laeticiae; Aetas carmen melodiae; Alle tingh pa iordenne; Autor humani generis; Benedicite tres Personas; Cedit hyems eminus; Cum sit omnis caro foenum; Ecce novum gaudium; Gudh uthsende Engel sin; Ieremiae prophetiae; In dulci iubilo; In hoc vitae stadio; Iesus Christus nostra salus; Iesus humani generis; In stadio laboris; In vernali tempore; Insignis est figura; Iucundare iugiter; Laetemur omnes socii; Mars praecurrit; Mirum si laeteris; O mentes perfidas; Olla mortis patescit; Omnis mundus iucundetur; Paranymphus adiens; Parvulus nobis nascitur; Personent hodie; Puer natus in Bethelehem; Ramus virens olivarum; Regimen scholarium; Scholares convenite; Scribere proposui; Sum in aliena provincia; Tempus adest floridum; Unica gratifera; Zachaeus arboris

Aino Lund-Lavoipierre, soprano; Ute Goedecke, soprano, recorder, shawm; Annemieke Cantor, contralto; Per Mattson, voice, viola da braccio, sinfonia; Stefan Wikström, voice, sackbut, percussion; Johan Folker, percussion

Music from the Scandinavian countries is seldom part of programmes of renaissance music. The collection from which the pieces in this recording are taken is one of the main sources of sacred songs from this period. The original title is very long; the first phrase says Piae cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum episcoporum, which means 'The Old Bishop's Pious Church and School Songs'. The collection contains 74 songs, which are mostly for one voice. A number of songs are for two to four voices. They are divided into several groups, like music for the ecclesiastical year, songs about the misery of life or about the life of schoolboys as well as some about spring.

The collection was put together by Dijderijk Pehrsson Rwtha (or Theodoricus Petri Ruuth) who was born in southern Finland and probably attended the Cathedral school in Viborg, which was then in the most eastern part of the Swedish kingdom (today it is part of Russia). He became a lover of ancient literature and rhetorics, and almost all songs in the collection are in Latin. They were printed in 1582 in Greifswald, and in 1625 an enlarged edition was published in Danzig (Gdansk) in 1625.

About half of the songs only appear in this collection. It also contains existing pieces, like Puer natus in Bethlehem. They became popular in Sweden and were sung in Swedish schools; they were still reprinted in the late 18th century. Some songs also became known outside Sweden. Personent hodie is known as the carol On this day youthful voices sing aloud, and the spring song Tempus adest floridum was used by John Mason Neale for the carol Good King Wenceslas. Jesus Christus nostra salus has become known as the hymn Jesus Christus unser Heiland, with a text by Martin Luther.

The booklet doesn't give any indication as to the scoring of the various songs. It is told that in the early 17th century instruments were used in schools. "But one can presume that even before the 1600's that (sic) the songs in the Piae Cantiones were performed with instruments, in accordance to an older medieval practice of improvised accompaniments to single voiced songs". But as the number of parts is not given I can't tell which accompaniments are improvised and which parts are written out in the collection. The use of various instruments results in some diversity which is needed considering the fact that all songs are strophic. Vocally there is too little differentiation as most songs are performed by two female voices. The lower voices are hardly used.

One is well advised not to listen to these discs at a stretch. There is too much uniformity in the way they are performed, for instance in regard to tempo. I am also not very impressed by the singing which is often a bit monotonous, and the singers don't have particularly interesting voices anyway. Especially in some of the longer songs it is hard to keep concentration. An ensemble like Sequentia would perform this kind of songs in a far more compelling way. They have some artistic skills the members of the Ensemble Laude Novella have not.

This disc seems only recommendable to those who have a more than average interest in this kind of repertoire. The booklet contains liner-notes in Swedish and English as well as the lyrics with a Swedish and English translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Laude Novella

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