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"Sacer Nidus - St. Adalbert, Boleslaw I, the Valiant, and Otto III in Music of the Middle Ages"

Ensemble Peregina
Dir: Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett

rec: July 25 - 30, 2011, Poznan, St Adalbert Church
Raumklang - RK 3106 ( 2012) (70'09")
Liner-notes: E/D/P; lyrics - translations: E/D/P
Cover & track-list

anon: Adalbertus presul; Alme presul, responsory; Annua recolamus, sequence; Beatus es (improvisation); Alleluia Beatus es; Alleluia Salve decus Polonie; Bogurodzica, song; Consurgat in preconia, sequence; Fulget in templo legifer, hymn; Hac festa die (improvisation); Hac festa die, sequence; Magnus cesar Otto, song; O preclara Adalberti, sequence; Omnis etas, omnis sexus, planctus; Salve sidus Polonorum, sequence

Kelly Landerkin, Cristina Rosario, Agnieszka Tutton, voice; Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett, voice, harp; Baptiste Romain, vielle, lyre

This disc centres around the figure of St Adalbert, also known as Adalbert of Prague, patron saint of Poland, but also of Hungary, Bohemia and Russia. He was born around 956 in a noble Czech family. He was not yet 30 years old when he became Bishop of Prague. In this capacity he was known for living a simple life and for his charity and austerity. He tried to dispose of the remains of pagan habits in the lives of the Bohemians, but met with strong resistance from the nobility. That didn't change when he returned after a period of four years in Rome where he lived as a hermit. It led to a conflict in which brothers of Adalbert were killed. He went to Hungary and then to Poland where he was welcomed by Boleslaw I the Brave. The latter sent soldiers with Adalbert on his journey to Prussia whose inhabitants he wanted to convert to Christianity. It was here that his life came to an end in 997 as he was killed when he chopped down sacred oak trees. Not long after his death Adalbert was canonized as Saint Adalbert of Prague.

If one reads these biographical data it can hardly surprise that texts were written in his honour and to remember facts from his life. In this programme he is connected to two people who played an important role in his life and career. The first has already been mentioned: Boleslaw I the Brave who from 992 to 1025 was Duke of Poland and its first King from April 1025 until his death two months later. Under his rule Poland saw a remarkable development which gave it a position among the major powers in Europe. He also extended its territory. He was an ally of Otto III, Holy Roman Emperor from 996 to 1002 when he suddenly died. Adalbert was one of his counselers when he aimed at reorganizing his empire.

After Adalbert's death Boleslaw bought his body and built him a tomb in Gniezno, expecting the Vatican making him a saint. That would be very much in the interest of the Polish state. Otto also saw the importance of the remains of a martyr, and in 1000 he made a pilgrimage to Gniezno where he met Boleslaw. "Otto exalted Boleslaw above all the Princes of the Empire. He gave him a copy of the Empire's holy spear, and in his great idea of a united empire, he appointed him a special role. Thus, Boleslaw, as a ruler of all Slavs, of the realm Sclavinia, was to become the eastern flank of the Holy Roman Empire. (...) The premature death of the young emperor two years later brought this first European union to an end before it really had time to develop." (booklet)

There are many uncertainties about the repertoire selected for this disc. Much of it came into existence in Poland as Adalbert's importance for the country was immediately recognized. Hoc festa die is the oldest of 140 sequences dedicated to Adalbert and was written in Gniezno. The writing of texts and composing of music in Adalbert's honour continued for a long time, until the early 16th century. As pieces were also copied it is not always possible to exactly date them. It is quite possible that new texts were adapted to existing music. In some cases texts were set to music from the western part of Europe. Agnieszka Budzinska-Bennett explains that such adaptations are sometimes anything but perfect, for instance in regard to prosody and the versification structure. In such cases she has decided to correct them. "I tried to retain the original idea of the scribe, adapting the problematic fragments of the piece (...) in a new way, being guided as much as possible by a more correct prosody to propose solutions more satisfying musically and in terms of versification". This seems an issue which is open for debate. As much as it is understandable that performers want to present pieces which are stylistically satisfying and convincing, should one adapt what has come down to us from the time the music was originally written?

The various pieces on this disc are very different in character and style. This can partly be explained from the fact that they are from different times. The latest piece dates from the 16th century: Alleluia - Beatus es comprises just a couple of lines but takes more than two minutes. It is a highly elaborated piece with long melismas which is quite different from the older repertoire. The earliest piece written in Adalbert's honour is not from Poland, but rather from the monastery of Reichenau, Annua recolamus (1001): "In yearly recurring joy, we remember St. Adalbert". This piece, and the sequence Hac festa die (Gniezna, after 1090) use the technique of neumatizing. "It is based on alternately performing verses of the sequence and its untexted melody, usually on the vowel a. Fragments with text were performed by a group of soloists, melisma - neuma - by a choir. This was a technique known and often described in Western Europe".

This is a most fascinating disc. First of all, the repertoire is unknown. The programme begins with a piece in Polish which is remarkable, considering that sacred music in the vernacular was highly unusual at the time. Secondly, it shows how texts and music in the Middle Ages were often closely connected to political and religious events. With this music we get a view on a part of European history which most people are not acquainted with. The performances are outstanding: the singers have the perfect voices for this kind of music, clear and flexible. I should not forget to mention the impressive playing of fiddle and harp by Baptiste Romain - just listen to O praeclara Adalberti. If you love medieval music you should not miss this disc.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Peregrina


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