On early Christian chant

February 20, 2010

Les Tres Riches Heures du Moyen Age. Harmonia Mundi. HMX 290649.54

This is the first CD in a boxed set, an anthology put together from the Harmonia Mundi backlist, devoted to music of the Middle Ages. The first CD is devoted to music from the dawn of the Christian Era, including chant before Gregorian plainchant: Byzantine chant, Melchite sacred chant, Ambrosian chant from Milan and Roman chant from Rome, as well as Mozarabic chant from Spain.

This 74-minute CD sets me up well for Gregorian plainchant and follows on well from study of music from Antiquity, Ancient Greek and Ancient Rome.


What grabbed my attention in particular, as a result of my current uni music history course, was the the Psalm, Te principium from Milan. It complements the Gregorian Christmas Day chant, Te principium, an example of an antiphon for Vespers, as included in Timothy Roden, Craig Wright and Bryan Simms, Anthology for Music in Western Civilization: Volume A. Antiquity through the Renaissance, CD1 track 3.

Sheet music

HAM vol.1 (Archibald T Davison and Willi Appel, Historical Anthology of Muisc: Oriental, Medieval and Renaissance Music) is really showing its age compared to the outstanding blossoming of Early Music studies since it was published. But in its Chapter II: Early Medieval Music (400-1300) there are at least some examples of liturgical monophony relevant to this album: Ambrosian hymns and chant, Gregorian chant and sequences.  13th century Byzantine Chant is included – an ode for Christmas (Esose laon thaumaturgon) and a hymn from the Octoechos (Hymnou menton sotera). The details of the HAM scores are as follows: Ambrosian hymn (Aeterne rerum conditor and Aeterna Christi munera); Ambrosian chant (Verse Erutacvit of the Gradual Speciosus Forma) in Milanese and Roman chant.


The background to these tracks is provided in pages 17-29 of the liner notes, starting out with the excellent point that there is a world of difference between the Jewish synagogue precedents for this music, noisy and vital, and the Gregorian chant, by contrast, the height of serenity and contemplation. One boon of this album is its inclusion of Lombaridan Beneventan chant. For those interested in pursuing early Christian chant, got to the six separate Harmonia mundi albums from which this CD has drawn its examples.


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