Ecole de Notre-Dame de Paris 1163 / 1245 - Monodies et Polyphonies vocales

Ecole de Notre-Dame de Paris 1163-1245 
"Le Chant des Cathédrales" 
Vocal Monodies and Polyphonies
Organum, Conduits, Motets 

Ensemble Gilles BinchoisDominique Vellard 
Anne-Marie Lablaude 
Brigitte Lesne
Catherine Schroeder
Gerd Türk 
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Philippe Balloy
Willem de Waal

"Choc" du Monde de la Musique n°99 
"10" de Répertoire n°131 
"Recommandé" par Classica n°18


Because of its educational institutions and the increasingly frequent visits of the royal family, Paris during the 12th century gradually grew to be the artistic and intellectual centre of Europe.

Musical scholarship, which had been carried out in provincial monasteries, crystallized during this period around the cloister of Notre-Dame. And then came the decision to rebuild the cathedral, in 1160.

This powerful focal point drew into its radius the most renowned artists, scholars, and theologians. In the resulting intellectual ferment, the world of the Church, which hands down the spiritual and cultural tradition, was confronted with the world of the burgeoning city. And, as the city grew, its denizens acquired a faith in the ability of enlightened intelligence to resolve the uncertainties and contradictions of the Scriptures.

"The rays of the true sun
will break through the shadows of the law,
and the darkness will recede."

It was in the context of this faith in the progress of thought and in the opening out of the church to the world that the compositions of the School of Paris were to take shape.(1)

The "nouveau chant" of the 12th century represented a new conception of monody and polyphony, the best examples of which appear in the manuscripts of Saint-Martial in Limoges.
Although it is difficult to establish with precision the stages leading from this "new song" to the School of Notre-Dame, it is nevertheless possible to analyze certain aspects of the latter : first, in three large manuscripts preserved in the Laurenziana Library in Firenze and the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel; second, in treatises on composition such as the one in the Vatican, written in the north of France around the year 1160 - a complete treatise on counterpoint and two-part organum; and, third, in the works of theoreticians such as Francon de Cologne, who taught at the University of Paris, and Anonymous IV of Coussemaker, an English theoretician who described the musical practices of the Notre-Dame School at length.
The works of these theoreticians have much to tell us about the forms used at Notre-Dame and subsequently spread among the various cathedrals and monasteries of Europe, such as the Cistercian Monasterio de Las Huelgas in Spain.

First of these forms was the organum duplum - two part - which is passed down to us in the manuscripts as a juxtaposition of two styles, the "florid" and "descant". Wrote Anonymous IV in 1275 : "People say Maître Leonin was the best composer of Organum (optimus organista), he composed the Great Organum Book for the gradual and antiphonary in order to prolong the divine service. This book remained in use until the time of the great Perotin who abridged it and composed clausules and sections that were many in number and better because he was the best composer of descant (optimus discantor)".

The "Benedicamus Domino" is a good example of what he said : "Benedicamus" corresponds to the definition of the florid style, which was Leonin's, and "Domino" to the descant style, which was Perotin's. The piece concludes with a "copula", an exercise in vocalization to be performed "delicatore modo et subtiliore voce", i.e., delicately, the voice relaxed and unemphatic. Performances of organum duplum should aim to preserve a sense of unity within this stylistic duality. Although a knowledge of the musical modes makes it relatively easy to decipher the descant style, the florid organum style presents problems that are more acute.
Both Francon de Cologne and Anonymus IV demonstrate how to recognize - using the same written symbols as with descant - the short and long notes through the shape of the notes, the rests, and the consonant or dissonant relationship to the tenor line.

The organum triplum "Alleluia, nativitas" is - according to Anonymus IV - the work of Perotin ("Magister Perotinus"). It is a vast cathedral of sound, an expression of great joy, a work intended to enhance the splendor of the liturgy, to echo in its majestic gothic edifices bathed in the multi-coloured light of the stained glass windows.

The organum was typically composed on the basis of liturgical songs that already existed in the Gregorian tradition. This was not true for the conductus, however, since for this form the same composer wrote both song and descant. Thus, "anyone wishing to compose a conductus must first invent a song, the most beautiful possible, and then use it as the base for composing his descant... further, anyone wishing to compose a triplum (a third voice) must take into consideration the tenor and the descant".
It was this autonomy of the separate vocal lines that gave counterpoint its extraordinary freedom. The separate voices enjoy such complete independence, we sometimes find two - and three - voice versions of the same piece, and sometimes even a monodic version of a two-voice conductus.
In the polyphonic conducti presented here, vocalized (sine littera) sections alternate with syllabic (cum littera) sections. Written in modal notation, their melodic structure is based on a system of "ordines" (sections set off by rests) that define the phrase.
The monodic conducti, the texts of which are attributed to Philippe le Chancelier of the University of Paris, are somewhat severe theological dissertations. Even though it is theoretically possible to read the melodies from the modal notation, the musical result is so unconvincing that we have preferred to adopt an Interpretation in the great tradition of the 12th century monodies in conductus form, deducing the rhythm form the relationship of text to music, from the melodic structure, and from the balance of the phrases.

In its initial form, the motet is a trope from a section of organum (in the sense of syllabization of the organum voice of a clausules). It served as an area for experimentation in 13th century composition, and progressively left its function within the organum to become an autonomous musical form.

Archbishop Odon Rigaud of Rouen's account of his pastoral visits in mid-13th century demonstrate the time devoted by monks and nuns to the pastime of singing cantilenas, conducti, and motets in their cloisters, their convent gardens, and even inside the sanctuaries of the churches.
Salva nos, Stella maris and O summi regis mater inclita are two monodic rondos (rondellus) with a refrain and alternating soloist-chorus.
They may have been used for group dances - some kind of round dance - performed by monks and nuns. Such dances were, in fact, the object of vehement criticism of the part of archbishop Odon Rigaud.
The qualities required in order to sing this repertory are seldom described in the medieval texts, but the aesthetic constants that recur in them make it possible to identify a line of continuity in the vocal art of the Middle Ages.
Friar Salimbene summed up these qualities in 1247 : "Habebat vocem grossam et sonoram, ita ut totum repleret chorum. Quillam vero habebat, subtilem altissimam et acutam, dulcem, suavem et delectabilem supra modum" : "he had a strong and sonorous voice, one that filled the entire choir of the church. His voice was truly subtle, very high and sharp, soft, sweet, and infinitely delectable".

Elie Salomon, priest of Saint-Astier in the Périgord region of France, emphasized harmony among the singers, in his own text dated 1274 : "The four who are to sing must be trained in the art of polyphony ... The sounds must be well proportioned, each singer must know the other parts and consider them when performing his own. The singer serving as leader of the group must guide his companions. He will first give each one the note on which he is to begin, a note the singer will hold firmly until all the voices are placed and the leader is ready to take his own part... He will lead the group by beating his hand on his book, indicating the pauses and taking care that the syllables of the text are clearly enunciated. If one of his singers has a weak voice or lax rhythm, or if he introduces superfluous notes, the rector should whisper politely in his ear : "you are singing too softly, you are singing too loud, you are adding too many embellishments, but so the others do not hear".

An observer could have made the same kind of comments at the conclusion of these recording sessions. It is in the continuity of this tradition that the performance of ancient music becomes meaningful; in a continuous quest for harmony between the voices, balance in the sound, respect for the text and listening each other.

Dominique VELLARD

(1) The development of the School of Notre-Dame and the construction of the cathedral occurred simultaneously; we have therefore indicated the dates for the latter (1163-1245) on this album.

Ensemble Gilles binchois, Dominique Vellard


It was in the choir of Notre-Dame de Versailles, where he sang as a child, that the main lines underlying all his musical activity became clear to Dominique Vellard. His choirmaster, Pierre Béguigné, trained at the Niedermeyer School, passed on his passion for Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, the French masters of the 17th century, organ music and Bach chorales. After an obligatory stint at the Versailles Conservatory, he soon found himself confronted with a new manner of interpreting Baroque music, led by the generation of "harpsichordist-conductors" of the 1970s.

Interested by the way that the interpretation of the Baroque repertoire was being called into question, but somewhat alarmed by the presumption of the participants in this evolution, he preferred to devote most of his activity to the interpretation of music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance that fascinate him and in which he is free to express his aesthetic choices. Aware that professionals and listeners alike aspire to more personal readings of these repertoires, he now strives for a more lyrical and contrapuntal interpretation of 17th and 18th century music.

The Gilles Binchois Ensemble,

founded in 1978, bears the hallmark of a group dedicated to the discovery and interpretation of music from the Middle Ages. Unaffected by fads or fashions, the group has remained completely loyal to its objectives, which include close study of the various repertoires (especially French) and of their relationship with music of the oral tradition, study of different types of notation, and an attempt to achieve the vocal and instrumental tones appropriate to these repertoires.

The Ensemble has deliberately chosen to accept only those engagements which fit in with the goals it has set itself, devoting the time required for research and preparation of the programs offered. This self-imposed discipline may have slowed development of the group's public image, but it has fostered the maintenance of extremely valuable contacts and privileged relationships with musicologists, instrument makers and record companies who have nourished and stimulated the group's creative work.

In the course of the last ten years, the arrival of numerous specialized artists of different nationalities has enriched the quality of the Ensemble. The Gilles Binchois Ensemble has received public recognition throughout Europe as the result of its recordings, tours and concerts (Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Switzerland as well as Hungary, Baltic Countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia with the help of the Association Française d'Action Artistique and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). In France, the Ensemble is subsidized by the Conseil Régional of Burgundy and the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles of Dijon.

for this album the vocalists of the Gilles Binchois Ensemble are :

Anne-Marie Lablaude 
Brigitte Lesne
Catherine Schroeder
Gerd Türk
Dominique Vellard 
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Philippe Balloy
Willem de Waal


Organum triplum du Maître Perotin

Conductus monophonique du Maître Perotin

Conductus à trois voix

Rondellus monophonique

Motetus à trois voix

Rondellus monophonique

Motetus à deux voix

Organum duplum

Conductus à trois voix

Conductus monophonique

Conductus à deux voix

Motetus à deux voix

Conductus à trois voix

Organum duplum


"Chocdu Monde de la Musique n°99 :

Les dates qui encadrent le titre de ce disque (1163-1254) correspondent à l’édification de l’actuelle cathédrale de Paris dont le maître-autel fut consacré en 1183. Elles correspondent aussi au développement de l’Ecole de Notre-Dame. Voilà qui nous mène donc tout droit aux origines mêmes de l’art musical européen, au moment où la préhistoire et ses organa cèdent la place à l'histoire autrement dit à la première polyphonie musicale.
C'est que les déchanteurs parisiens viennent alors de s'aviser de rompre la monotonie du vieil organum où les voix du chœur procédaient par mouvement parallèle. La voix principale s'est donc mise à se déformer, à allonger ses valeurs pour laisser le déchanteur libre d’orner le contrepoint qu’il improvise ou que l’organiste (c'est à dire le faiseur d'organa) compose à son usage exclusif.
Voilà donc un contrepoint qui s'anime, le même dessin passant successivement dans les différentes parties de la polyphonie. Un formidable creuset, en somme, qui atteint à des limites insoupçonnées avec, l’organum à vocalises dont l'Ecole de Notre-Dame, avec Léonin, puis Pérotin, naturellement représentés ici, sera la championne.Cet ars antiqua, c'est celui de la claire rudesse, de la noblesse des contours et de la nudité abstraite qu’on trouve à la fois, dans l’architecture des premières cathédrales et dans la théologie scolastique. Et si ces musiques apparaissent comme des chefs-d'œuvre, de construction, d’ampleur et de développement c'est que le XIIIè siècle est celui des constructeurs. Il est peu de musiques, d’ailleurs, qui épousent à ce point l’esprit de l’édifice pour lequel elles ont été conçues, ce dont la prise de son très aérée de cet enregistrement rend tout particulièrement compte. Pour que l’archéologie soit véritablement passionnante, elle requiert de sévères connaissances et de patientes recherches. D’évidence, Dominique Vellard et l’Ensemble Gilles Binchois apportent de ce point de vue toutes les garanties. Leurs voix bien droites, ne “phrasent” pas au sens moderne du terme et ont parfois une rudesse qui ajoute au naturel du chant. Il n’en faut pas plus pour que cette superbe anthologie sonore presque intégralement inédite défie la monotonie et s’affirme comme une réalisation majeur... François Pigeaud

"10de Répertoire n°131 :

HARMONIC CLASSICS (Records) Le retour tant attendu
L'un des plus beaux labels de l'histoire du disque avait disparu... Harmonic Classics renaît aujourd'hui de ses cendres et quitte les rives d'Evian pour les embruns bretons... Pour ceux d'entre vous qui s'intéresseraient depuis peu à la chose enregistrée, il est important de présenter le concept d'Harmonic. Cela pourrait s'intituler "la plus belle chose dans le plus bel écrin". Un disque mitonné par François-Dominique Jouis n'est pas un "produit" comme un autre; c'est aussi un objet esthétique. Le plus grand soin et la plus grande inventivité ont présidé à la réalisation de la pochette, voire du boîtier (cf. la profondeur du noir de celui de l'Office des Ténèbres de François Couperin). Si aujourd'hui Glossa en Espagne ou Symphonia en Italie nous ont habitué à trouver de "beaux" disques ailleurs, il ne faudra jamais oublier que François-Dominique Jouis fut un pionnier en la matière. Et comme il a aussi du flair, le contenu est très fréquemment aussi beau que le contenant. Harmonic Classics peut ainsi s'enorgueillir d'une véritable moisson de "10" de Répertoire, mais aussi de la découverte de talents déterminants : rappelez vous l'organiste Kei Koïto dans Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach ou Gérard Lesne dans le Stabat Mater de Vivaldi, ainsi que l'Ensemble Gilles Binchois...
... Grands pourvoyeurs de beaux disques au sein du label Harmonic, Dominique Vellard et l'Ensemble Gilles Binchois se voient honorés par cinq rééditions, toutes majeures. Il y a la bouleversante et incontestable Messe de Notre-Dame de Machaut, l'un des plus beaux disques du catalogue ("10" de Répertoire, N° 38, HCD 8931), que l'on complétera avec deux CD sur une époque antérieure, consacrés à l'Ecole Notre Dame (1163-1245). Le premier reprend les manuscrits de Florence et de Wolfenbüttel (HCD 8611), le second s'attache au rayonnement de l'Ecole, avec des manuscrits de Florence, Las Huelgas et Montpellier, la moitié du programme étant consacrée à Pérotin (HCD 9349). Ces deux CD méritent leur "10" de Répertoire, le second ayant été attribué dans notre N° 82. Le plus beau disque de Chant Grégorien est peut-être bien ce "Tons de la Musique"... Ce n'est certainement pas participer à une inflation éhontée que de transformer le 9 attribué dans notre N° 35 en un très évident "10" de Répertoire (HCD 8827), exercice que l'on opérera aussi sans crainte, par rapport à la note attribuée dans notre N° 68, pour "Les Escholiers de Paris", un programme de Motets, Chansons et Estampies du XIIlème siècle, qui complète parfaitement les deux CD de l'Ecole Notre Dame, avec un programme d'une intelligence suprême et d'une réalisation parfaite qui intéressera les mélomanes au delà du cercle des initiés de cette musique (HCD 9245, "10" de Répertoire). Le retour au catalogue de ce label était espéré : vous comprenez à présent pourquoi!

"Recommandépar Classica n°18 :

... Quel magnifique cadeau que de retrouver ce label dépositaire de somptueux trésors! Vous pourrez désormais vous délecter de titres qui, lors de leur sortie, ont été unanimement salués et récompensés. L'Ensemble Gilles Binchois et son chef Dominique Vellard ont trouvé dans la collection un terrain propice aux récompenses de leur indiscutable talent : goûtez au hiératisme des Tons de la Musique à travers le chant grégorien, aux deux florilèges de l'Ecole de Notre-Dame du XIIème au XIVème siècles et à leurs sculpturales Monodies et Polyphonies vocales et terminez enfin par les Estampies, chansons et motets des "Escholiers" venus étudier à Paris au XIIIème siècle.

Selected by "Les Indispensables" du Guide du disque compact Fayard
Selected by Le Monde de la Musique n°193 dans "La Discographie médiévale"
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