Listening Assignment #1

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To do this assignment you'll need to head to the Language Resource Center in Lamont Library request the CD for Literature and Arts C-22.  Bring your sourcebook and this assignment with you, so that you can follow the Latin texts and English translations of what you will hear.

On this sheet you will notice indications of specific tracks have been placed in boldface; definitions of specific musicological terms have been enclosed in square brackets [] and the terms themselves have been set in italics.

An Explanation of the Selections:

The selections on this CD were made on the basis not primarily of musicological considerations but rather of thematic and cultural ones. In other words, I chose these tracks because they connect with characters, real people, and texts we will be seeing and not because they are necessarily the best examples of medieval music.

My principle of selection helps to explain why the CD opens with tracks from a modern composition. From Carl Orff's 1937 oratorio (which is most definitely the creation of a twentieth-century composer [Orff lived from 1895-1982] and not a performance based on modern transposition of medieval notation) you will hear six tracks. [An oratorio is a composition with a long libretto, often of a religious or contemplative nature, that is performed in a church or concert hall with orchestra, chorus, and solo voices and without costume, scenery, or actions.] Three (tracks 1-2 and 6) deal with the theme of fortune <sourcebook pp. 97-98>, which we will encounter in a tradition both literary and artistic that leads from Boethius down to the Carmina Burana manuscript. One of the tracks (track 3) from Orff's Carmina Burana is a spring song <sourcebook p. 99>, another (track 4) a drinking song <sourcebook pp. 103-105>, and a third (track 5) a "love in spring" song <sourcebook pp. 107-108>. Because it is a favorite with the folks who decide what to put into movie soundtracks, Orff's oratorio is as close as many people ever get to the lyrics of the Middle Ages: real medieval lyrics (although incomprehensible to the average multiplex audience because in Medieval Latin and Middle High German) but modern music. The music has clearly defined tunes, powerful rhythm, and strongly emotional solos. Instruments are rarely given solos.

Orff’s oratorio comprises cantata composed for solo voices, choir, and orchestra and which he organized into scenes. [The cantata is a composite vocal form that contains a number of movements, such as arias, duets, and choruses.] Orff’s composition has a circular structure, in that it begins and ends with “O Fortuna” (tracks 1 and 6). Through this structure Orff highlighted the medieval conception of the wheel of fortune, which is always turning and which exposes human life to constant alternations between good and poor luck. The three major central sections of the oratorio are devoted to human appreciation for nature, especially as nature comes to life in the spring (track 3); human appreciation for gifts of nature, particularly wine (track 4); and human appreciation for love, which is sometimes associated with spring, sometimes wine, and sometimes both (track 5). After Orff comes an intermezzo unrelated to the Carmina Burana: track 7 is an early twelfth-century song (attested in at least two manuscripts: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds latin, MS 3549 and MS 3719) that offers an allegorical interpretation of King Solomon's temple <sourcebook pp. 122-123>. This is a polyphonic song. [Polyphony is music that assembles simultaneously several voice-parts of distinctive design, as opposed to monophonic music where there is a single melody or homophonic music where there are several voice-parts of identical design. The different voice-parts in this song are mostly consonant, but even so they are often enough separate even though simultaneous to sound very different from harmonic sonority as we think of it.] On March 23 we will examine a very heterogeneous assemblage of texts and legends associated with Solomon.

Having cleared your sonic palates, you will return to the Carmina Burana but not to Orff. Instead, you will listen to four attempts to recreate what individual songs in the Carmina Burana might have sounded like in the Middle Ages. Such reconstruction is an art and not a science. The notational signs that were used to record medieval music offer partial information about pitch but much less about rhythm. [As you have probably guessed or as you knew already, notational signs are the signs used for writing down music. In the Middle Ages there developed a system of stenographic symbols known as neumes that served to indicate the contours of melodic movement.] Furthermore, the notational signs work differently when applied to plainsong (which is monophonic and rhythmically free melody, especially the Gregorian chant), to secular monophonic melodies, and to polyphonic music. To complicate matters further, medieval musical instruments were not standardized in the way many modern ones are . . . and often our only way of recreating them is to put together their early modern counterparts (since few medieval instruments survive!) and representations of them in medieval art. Maybe our lack of information about the instruments does not really matter much, since it is very rarely that we have any indication of which instruments were supposed to be used in playing which songs. All of this adds up to mean that considerable variety is possible in performing one and the same medieval song. That is perhaps appropriate, because our sense of a stable version of the music for a given song differs greatly from the attitudes toward music and song that must have prevailed in the Middle Ages.

Tracks 8-10 offer three recreations of songs from the Carmina Burana under the direction of Thomas Binkley, who work is highly regarded by many musicologists. His attempt to reconstruct and perform the Carmina Burana in the early 1960s (and that is what you hear in these three tracks) was pioneering. The first track (track 8) <sourcebook pp. 100-101> is one of the Middle High German lyrics in the Carmina Burana (its contents are largely but by no means entirely Latin!). A mezzo soprano is accompanied by a bass-sized shawm (technically this instrument is a “bombarde,” an ancestor of the oboe). The other two tracks (tracks 9-10) <sourcebook pp. 99-100 and 107-108> present medievalizing versions of two songs that you heard already in Orff: the point of these last two is to allow you to compare modern and would-be medieval. “Ecce gratum” is performed by a tenor, to the accompaniment of lute, fiddle, organetto, bells, and tambourine. “Tempus est iocundum” has a tenor singing to the harp, psaltery (a zither-like instrument), and rahab (or rebab: a type of bowed string instrument that spread from the Islamic world into Europe through Spain).

Track 11 creates a further juxtaposition, since it offers what another group of performers recorded when they tried to render in medieval style one of the Carmina Burana pieces <sourcebook pp. 103-104> to which you listened in the Orff selections. Ever hear someone slightly intoxicated skirling on a bagpipe? The Clemencic Consort aimed to emphasize the international character of the Carmina Burana music, especially by incorporating the flavor of Middle Eastern (Arabic) music. Whether the result corresponds in any way to what medieval music would have sounded like is an interesting question. In their recording of this song the Consort employs male voices, two types of rabab (or rebab), an alto cornett [not to be confused with the cornet, with one t!] (a tube of wood that is octagonal in cross section), a bass shawm (the ancestor of the oboe mentioned in the preceding paragraph), and two types of drums.

The Nitty-Gritty:

Below you will find full information on the titles of the recordings, the names of the singers and conductors or directors, and the disk numbers and barcodes from the jewel cases.  If you decide that you cannot live without your own CDs, you would do well to order them from a specialized shop or from a site on the web--you will not find them in places like Strawberries!  If you prefer live to digitized, know that the early music scene in Boston is very active, with both active local artists and frequent visits from out-of-town and foreign performers.

                              TITLES, NAMES, AND NUMBERS

Carl Orff (1895-1982), Carmina Burana. Singers: Edita Gruberova, John Aler, Thomas Hampson. Shinyukai Choir and Knaben des Staats- und Domchores Berlin. Berliner Philharmoniker. Conducted by Seiji Ozawa. Philips 422 363-2 [barcode 0 28942 23632 5].

  1. "O Fortuna" [2:19]
  2. "Fortune plango vulnera" [2:41]
  3. "Ecce gratum" [2:30]
  4. "In taberna quando sumus" [2:55]
  5. "Tempus est iocundum" [2:22]
  6. "O Fortuna" [2:33/original track 25]
Nova Cantica. Latin Songs of the High Middle Ages. Singers: Dominique Vellard and Emmanuel Bonnardot. Schola cantorum basiliensis. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77196-2-RC [barcode 0 5472-77196-2 2]
  1. "Rex Salomon fecit templum" [6:53]
Carmina Burana. Studio der Frühen Musik: Thomas Binkley. Teldec LC 6019 [barcode 7 4509-95521-2 1].
  1.  "Chramer gip diu varwe mier" [0'59"]
  2. "Ecce gratum" [2'58"]
  3. "Tempus est iocundum" [3'17"]
Carmina Burana. Clemencic Consort: directed by René Clemencic. harmonia mundi HMA 190336.38 [barcode 3 149025 044396].
  1. "In taberna quando sumus" [2:42]