ensemble Red Byrd recorded two discs of liturgical repertoire
as performed in Paris in the 12th century; a genre generally
referred to as the 'Notre Dame school'. Most of this repertoire
is anonymous, but the two names associated with the style are
Leoninus and Perotinus. With this disc the ensemble continues
its exploration in this field. However, contrary to what you
may have expected, the music presented here shows strong similarity
to that sung at Notre Dame.
the Middle Ages St Andrews was the seat of the bishop of Scotland.
In the 13th century a cathedral was built there as well as a
castle which served as the bishop's residence. Most of the liturgical
music sung there wasn't very different from that elsewhere on
the British Isles, and was largely based on the York/Sarum rite.
As the bishops came almost exclusively from Norman families
there were strong connections with the European continent. This
explains the fact that a manuscript of liturgical music in the
style of the Notre Dame school was put together in St Andrews.
Music from this manuscript, now in the Ducal Library of Wolffenbüttel
in Germany, and referred to as W1, is performed on
this disc. It is likely that pieces were taken from Paris during
the travels of the bishop and then copied.
interesting in the manuscript are the pieces in the 11th fascicle.
"These are works probably composed in St Andrews in a local
style and reflecting the pan-national enthusiasm for the Lady
Mass. Well before the thirteenth century, the Lady Mass had
become established as one of the principal ceremonies in the
liturgical week, and by the thirteenth century was celebrated
daily, often in a chapel specially dedicated to the Virgin Mary
(the Lady Chapel); St Andrews had just such a space. The works
in the eleventh fascicle of W1 are remarkable both
for their liturgical idiosyncrasy and for their musical style",
Mark Everist writes in the booklet.
manuscript of St Andrews differs from the repertoire in Paris
in two respects. Firstly there is a difference in repertoire:
this manuscript contains troped sections of the Ordinary (with
the exception of the Credo, which was usually not sung polyphonically
on the British Isles), tracts, sequences and offertories. By
contrast in Paris the setting were mostly of graduals, alleluyas
and responsories. There is a difference in style as well. In
the repertoire of the Notre Dame school the combination of a
lower part in long note values and a florid upper part predominates.
In the repertoire connected to St Andrews most pieces are written
in the note-against-note style. "The St Andrews style is
simpler, more direct and – it might be argued – more accessible
to the modern ear."
disc also contains two monophonic pieces from the 10th fascicle
of the manuscript, both troped sections of the Ordinary: the
Sanctus 'Christe ierarchia' and the Agnus Dei 'Archetipi mundi'.
These require a voice with a very wide range. Here John Potter
only just manages to sing the upper notes, but the stress it
causes is clearly audible. I just wonder whether at the time
this music was written singers were switching from chest to
falsetto register in the highest passages. Maybe John Potter
should have done the same, and if he is not able to, another
singer should have sung it. This doesn't detract from my admiration
and general satisfaction with the way this repertoire is performed
here. Most pieces are long and complicated, and require not
only great vocal skills but also great concentration. The two
singers of Red Byrd, John Potter and the baritone Richard Wistreich,
meet these requirements impressively.
are some question marks regarding the pronunciation of the Latin
texts. It seems that this is mostly Italian, with some modifications,
but I wonder whether this is how the texts were pronounced in
St Andrews in the 13th century. Could it be done in a strongly
anglicised way or perhaps following the French manner?
seems likely that performances of the St Andrews music were restricted
to a couple of soloists with the schola participating only
in those parts of the plainsong that were not set in polyphony.
The same applies to the monophonic tropes, but there the balance
between soloist and chorus is much more even", according
to Mark Everist. And that is the way the music is performed here.
Red Byrd and Yorvox give splendid performances, and the result
is a disc with fascinating music, which is a must for everyone
interested in early liturgical repertoire.
Johan van Veen