Thursday, January 23, 2020

A New Series on Medieval Liturgy from Canticum Salomonis

Our friends at Canticum Salomonis have just finished up another interesting series, which those who like medieval liturgy will certainly find especially enjoyable, including several recordings of troped liturgical texts. This series describes in detail the reworking of the liturgies for the feast of the Circumcision, both Mass and Office, at the cathedral of Sens in France. Because of the feast’s coincidence with New Year’s Day, and the riotous celebration thereof, special liturgical customs were often introduced to encourage the faithful to come to church. One of the most complete surviving records of such a liturgy is preserved in MS. 46 of the Bibliothèque Municipale de Sens, which contains the music for the entire Office and Mass for the feast, with all of the parts heavily troped, as well as several Latin carols to be sung at various moments during the day.

The cathedral of St Stephen in Sens. (©Raimond Spekking, CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons)
The manuscript has traditionally been attributed to Peter of Corbeil, bishop of Sens from 1200 to 1221, who was not only a noted theologian and philosopher, but also a poet and musician. A similar pastoral approach to the issue of immoderate celebrations on New Year’s had been taken in Paris in 1198, where he had previously been a canon. In his Office, Peter generally transcribed musical pieces that were already in use and are attested elsewhere, but he also appears to have taken the chance to incorporate songs of his own composition. These are all of paraliturgical character; the canons of Sens would likely not have tolerated innovations in the liturgical offices themselves.

Here are the links to the six articles in the series.
Some highlights, with recordings:

The Benedicamus Domino at the end of each Hour provides the occasion for a final hymn produced by troping both the verse and response; the example here is taken from None. Several such medieval Benedicamus tropes in the form of hymns survive, Puer natus in Bethlehem and O filii et filiæ are two examples which are still used today.

Compline and Prime feature one of the very few examples of a troped Pater noster as part of the preces towards the end of the office. The tropes are short “quotations” borrowed both textually and musically from other liturgical pieces.

Although both the Our Father and Apostles’ Creed at Compline and Prime are normally said silently, on the Circumcision they were sung at Sens; this is the only surviving Gregorian setting of the Apostles’ Creed. The tropes are also musical and textual quotation from other parts of the liturgy.

At the Mass, while the subdeacon prepares to sing the Epistle and the deacon to sing the Gospel, the canons sung a special chant called a “conductus - leading up to” the reading. Here is the one for the Gospel.

The Gospel itself is sung to a special melismatic tone.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: