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"Les Maries du Rhin - Rhenisch Hymns of Praise to the Virgin from ca. 1500"

Ala Aurea; Ars Choralis Coeln
Dir: Maria Jonas

rec: March 28 - 31, 2011, Knechtsteden, Basilica
Talanton - TAL 90011 (© 2013) (74'53")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Alma redemptoris materaef [1]; Ave maris stella/Laet ons mit hogher vrolicheitabcde [1]; Ave pulcherrima reginabcd [1]; Bist grust maget reineac [6]; Dies est leticie/Eyn kyndelyn so lovelichabcde [1/4]; Fonteyne, moederabcdef [1]; Gaude, virgo, mater Christi/Jhesus nam dat korffgenaf [1/4]; Kinder, ny loeftae [1]; Maria rogatrix [5] (arr M Lewon)/Mij lust te loven hochentlijc [1]abcde; Maria suesse meichdekyn/Ave Maria, gratia plenaabcdef [1]; Nu wil ich vroelich heven anae [4]; Ons is gheboren eyn kyndelynabcde [4/7]; Resonet in laudibus/Magnum nomenabcde [4/7]; Salve Reginaacf [1]; So vro steynt bloemenabde [5]; OSWALD VON WOLKENSTEIN (c1376-1445): Ave muetter küniginnebd; WALTHER VON DER VOGELWEIDE (c1200) (attr): Marya [3]

Sources: [1] Berliner Handschrift 190; [2] Berliner Handschrift 922; [3] Kolmarer Liederhandschrift; [4] Liederbuch der Anna von Köln; [5] Rostocker Liederbuch; [6] Straßburger Manuskript; [7] Wienhäuser Liederbuch

[AA] Maria Jonas, voicea; Elisabeth Seitz, dulcimerb; Lucia Mense, flutesc; Johanna Seitz, harpd; Susanne Ansorg, fiddle, bellse
[ACC]f Christine Wehler, Stefanie Brijoux, Pamela Petsch, Cora Schmeiser, Sylvia Dörnemann, Lara Langguth, voice

Many songs from the Middle Ages and renaissance have been preserved in songbooks. The present disc is entirely based on such collections. Many of them include pieces which belong to the genre of the contrafactum. This is a piece which uses a pre-existing melody for a new text. This was a very common procedure, and is in fact still used in our time. Many songs came into existence in religious communities. Secular melodies - which everyone knew - were given a religious text. This made them much easier to memorize, but it was also a way to banish less virtuous words from the minds of the members of the community.

The present disc is based on a remarkable manuscript which is known as Berlin 190. It was probably put together in a nun's convent somewhere in the Utrecht region. Its content reflects the spirit of the Devotio Moderna. This was a movement for religious reform whose origins go back to the 14th century and which is inextricably connected to the name of Geert Groote. It had a strong influence on Thomas à Kempis, the author of Imitatio Christi. Its ideals were humility, obedience and simplicity of life. These are exposed in this manuscript as many songs are about repentance, warnings against the dangers of the world and suggestions to look forward to afterlife and the union with the Bridegroom.

Songbooks often refer to the original melody by making mention of its title. As the music is not always given it often needs a comparison with other sources to find the melody. Maria Jonas is a specialist in Rhenisch, Lower-Rhenish and Netherlandish song repertoire, and was quite happy when the late Ike de Loos, one of the editors of a modern edition of Berlin 190, made this source available to her. "For Les Maries du Rhin I was thus able to leaf back and forth between the song books and also to discover melodies to songs that are preserved without melodies, for example the Song Book of Anna of Cologne: it was a rich booty!"

This particular manuscript is in some ways different from other song books. It not only includes songs in the vernacular but also liturgical or para-liturgical repertoire in Latin, sometimes monodic, sometimes polyphonic, for two or three voices. This part of the manuscript comprises various Benedictus verses, troped Kyrie chants, hymn settings and verses to Marian antiphons. In addition there are Christmas songs and songs for some saints.

The programme is made up of songs from various sources, and includes pieces in the vernacular as well as chants in Latin. Alma redemptoris mater is an example of a chant taken from Berlin 190. Eyn kyndelyn so lovelich appears in this manuscript and in the Songbook of Anna of Cologne; in the latter source the origin of the melody is given as Dies est leticie. The probably best-known piece is Ons is geboren eyn kyndelyn; the original title is Puer nobis nascitur. Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck used it for a set of variations for keyboard. Nu wil ich vroelich heven an is from the Songbook of Anna of Cologne and is a specimen of a song for a saint: Gertrude, probably Gertrude of Nivelles, a 7th-century abbess who died in 659. Even when no source is given in the tracklist (and also not in the manuscripts?) one will recognize some liturgical chants. Kinder, ny loeft is a song for Christmastide and based on A solis ortus cardine, a hymn from the Lauds of that period in the ecclesiastical year.

This is an intruguing production as it includes repertoire which is seldom performed and which can only be performed after a large amount of research. It is a shame that Ike de Loos passed away before this recording was made. Because of that the liner-notes don't include details about the various pieces recorded here. Sometimes it is not quite clear what exactly the connections between the pieces are. However, we should be grateful for what is on offer here. This repertoire shows great variety and receives an exemplary performance from Maria Jonas. In a number of pieces parts are performed by a 'choir', the members of Ars Choralis Coeln. To what extent instruments should be used here is hard to say. Obviously it is not specified in the sources, but it seems plausible to use the kind of instruments played here, although one could debate the number and the variety used simultaneously. In addition some pieces are performed instrumentally.

For lovers of music of the early renaissance this disc is not to be missed.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Maria Jonas

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