Ecole de Notre Dame de Paris - Perotin - Sancte Germane, Viderunt omnes

Ecole de Notre-Dame de Paris
Sancte Germane
Viderunt omnes

Ensemble Gilles Binchois
, Dominique Vellard
Anne-Marie Lablaude
Lena-Susanne Norin
Gerd Türk
Hervé Lamy
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Willem de Waal

Digital/Digital/iTunes Plus

As has been amply noted by many commentators, the School of Notre-Dame de Paris is one of the most fascinating and fully-achieved artistic phenomena known to Western history. Between 1150 and 1270, a combination of circumstances led to the fruition of a creative current firmly rooted in tradition, and yet so novel it was destined to influence European music everywhere and for all time. The Parisian school’s repertory, and the theoretical treatises analyzing and explaining it, were disseminated throughout countless monasteries and cathedrals in France, England, Spain, Italy, Germany, and German Switzerland. Due both to this wide dissemination and to the interest it aroused among theoreticians, the music from Paris soon constituted a "classic" repertory with a status comparable to that of Gregorian chant.

But even before achieving this broader influence, the music of Notre-Dame already played a significant role in the liturgical life of Paris, due to its more immediate impact on local chapter houses, churches, and monasteries. This is because, contrary to what many have long believed, liturgical polyphony was not sung exclusively within the main choir of the cathedral, but was also performed in the side chapels, the nave, and outside the choir gate as processions halted for a "statio". The choir also often took its music beyond the confines of Notre-Dame itself when participating in the numerous processions, masses, and services celebrated regularly at other churches in Paris, in honour of their respective patron saints.

Tracing the various stages in the physical construction of Notre-Dame cathedral is not our purpose here, but it is worth noting that in 1160, the year construction work on the vast edifice that still commands our admiration today began, new space first needed to be cleared for it. As a result, the crumbling Merovingian Church of St. Stephen was razed, and the nave of the much smaller pre-romanesque Notre-Dame church (known as Notre-Dame II) was temporarily used for services until the choir of the new cathedral (Notre-Dame III) was completed in about 1180. The organa dupla pieces were thus originally composed for, and performed in, the pre-romanesque edifice, before being heard within the walls of the new Gothic structure. The transept and nave were built between 1180 and 1220, and by the time the façade and spires were completed in about 1250, the choir and nave were already being rebuilt in order to let in more light.

It should also be recalled that the choir was surrounded by a wall, built in 1240 and not replaced by a rood screen until the 14th century. Over a span of about one hundred years, starting in 1236, some thirty chapels dedicated to various saints were built around the edges of the nave and choir, and these played a major role in votive mass processions and, hence, in the history of liturgical music.

Pérotin, like all great artists, deployed his considerable talents and virtuosity not only as an innovator, but also as an interpreter of the styles and forms he inherited from his predecessors. In his organa tripla and quadrupla, independent voices are not superimposed rhetorically, but are combined according to pre-established principles of formal composition, musical architectonics and thematic coherence among the different voices. What we see here is the birth of an entirely new melodic and rhythmic archetype, a set of rules constituting the foundation-stone of western melodic equilibrium. In the quadruplum, themes are stated, varied, and developed from one voice to another. Pérotin stands as much more than the mere heir of a musical tradition based largely on the techniques of improvisation. He actually pioneered a wholly new compositional approach exerting broader control over both form and content of the contrapuntal materials.

Surviving today is an 1189 reference to the presence of Magister Petrus Capellanus Episcopi (Master Pierre of the Bishop’s Chapel) employed in the service of Bishop Maurice de Sully. That chapel’s clergy also officiated at services in the episcopal chapel contiguous to the cathedral, and polyphonic music was apparently performed there until at least 1279, since we find the name of a certain Henricus Organista listed among the bishop’s clergy for that period.
We learn which pieces should be sung using 2, 3, or 4 voices from two decrees (1198 and 1199) promulgated by Odon de Sully and banning the New Year’s Day Feast of Fools. These documents provide the earliest surviving evidence that the organum was part of the Notre-Dame liturgy (although it had probably been in use long before), and we may justifiably assume that the reference is to Pérotin’s "Viderunt" and "Sederunt" quadrupla.

The number of singers shown in notation for 2, 3, and 4 voice organa dated between 1198 and 1271 varies from two to six, implying soloists rather than a choir. However, the vocal intensity is such, it is reasonable to consider alternation and also, for some sections, the possibility of doubling the tenor voice.

The organa dupla manuscripts show the workings of what amounts to an experimental laboratory for musical composition. Different transcriptions of a single organum frequently present variants demonstrating the degree to which the repertory was reworked or "reorganized". For the "Viderunt omnes" gradual we have used the second version of the Florence manuscript. This combines - as do all the Notre-Dame organa dupla - highly-embellished, rhythmically free sections based on functional consonances and dissonances, set off by "clausulae", contrapuntal sections governed by a metrical rhythm. Completing these two contrasting musical forms is added the Gregorian chant that punctuate the solistic sections. The whole constitutes an extremely complex mosaic whose essential unity must be revealed by the performer.

I believe the factor responsible for limiting recognition of the richness contained in Pérotin’s organa quadrupla has been the attempt to deduce the work’s overall tempo from its melodic themes - which are delightfully simple - without taking into account the fascinating variety of harmonies generated at the points where these melodic lines meet, whether on long notes or short.

Thought with a solemn, sweeping movement, this work exhibits a grandiose architectural construction and a variety in each section which in no way impede the broad, moving sonority our own century’s performers and listeners still find so impressive today.

It is now deemed probable that the "Sancte Germane" organum was also composed by Pérotin; first, because of its striking stylistic similarities, particularly with the "Sederunt"; and, second, because there is a conductus by Philippe Le Chancellier based on the "Sancte Germane" music. The careers of Pérotin the Great and Philippe Le Chancellier were closely connected. We know Pérotin’s monodic conductus "Beata Viscera" setting of a text by Philippe Le Chancellier, and at least four texts by the same poet intended for musical settings by Pérotin, particularly the two organa quadrupla, have survived. Craig Wright suggests that the "Sancte Germane" response for the confessor bishops’ feast may have been performed at the celebrations accompanying the "translatio" of a Saint-Eligius relic, by the Noyon chapter, to the Cathedral of Paris in 1212.

For this recording we have chosen a "domestic" interpretation consistent with the Montpellier manuscript - a vast collection of 13th-century motets, the first gathering of which contains several organa, some attributed to Pérotin - the position of the "Sancte Germane" amid compositions intended for non-liturgical entertainments suggests performance combining male and female voices, as it may have been practised during the period among intellectuals of the bourgeoisie and nobility.

In conclusion, a word about the reasons leading to the decadence of the School of Notre-Dame, whose supremacy eventually waned as that of the court and the University grew. The increasing intrusion of the royal court into the affairs of Notre-Dame, the development of a reactionary attitude towards music on the part of the Church - which eventually discouraged the use of polyphony, and the advent of the organ, an instrument able to replace the lead choristers, all contributed to its decline. The cathedral also probably ceased to attract major composers because the prevailing creative current no longer coincided with the imperatives of liturgical music as such. It is interesting to note, however, that the archives contain references as late as the mid-16th century to "Tenoristae" choristers, whose function was to sustain the plain chant, and to "Machicoti" choristers, who embellished plain chant with improvised counterpoint (Abbé Lebeuf is still referring, in the 18th century, to the practice of "machicotage"), thus preserving traditions that had flowered into the grandeur of the Notre-Dame de Paris music at its apogée.

Dominique Vellard
English adaptation by Louise Guiney 

This text is based largely on "Music and Ceremony at Notre-Dame of Paris" by C. Wright (Cambridge University Press) and on the preface to the E.H. Roesner edition of "Magnus Liber Organi" (L’Oiseau-Lyre).

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
Lena-Susanne Norin
Gerd Türk
Dominique Vellard
Hervé Lamy
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Willem de Waal


Organum triplum
attribué à Pérotin. Manuscrit de Montpellier (Mo. folio 13)

Organum quadruplum
Pérotin. Manuscrit de Florence (F. folio 1)


"Choc" du Monde de la Musique n°192 
"Diapason d’Or" de Diapason-Harmonie n°419 
"10" de Répertoire n°82 
"10" de Classica/Répertoire n°82
Retained in "Les meilleurs disques de l'année" par Le Monde n°15829
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