Organum has been making CDs for over twenty years. Their raison-d’être
has centred on music as ancient as Roman times right up to the
14th and 15th centuries. If there is one
particular era with which one might associate them it would
be the twelfth century. They are currently based at the superb
Romanesque Abbey church at Moissac in South-West France where
they can research this period with financial support from the
French Government. This disc was recorded where the ensemble
was based until 2001 at the Cistercian foundation of Fontrevraud
Abbey built about 1100 in the beautiful Loire Valley.
often have French ensembles recorded early music at this spot
that I decided to go and see it for myself, driving down last
May (2006). I arrived exhausted on a hot afternoon to walk into
one of the most inspiring and magnificent if somewhat austere
of Romanesque church interiors I have ever seen. No wonder it
is such a sought after venue, indeed on my arrival a group of
singers were setting up for a recording session to take place
after dark. And what an acoustic! I sang a few plainsong fragments,
the sound swimming around the vaulting and the vast now empty
spaces. What a totally inspiring locale in which to attempt
to get close to this repertoire.
highlights for an English visitor lie right in the centre of
the nave: the tombs of English Kings Henry I, Richard I and
their wives and my dizzy mind starting to say “What music did
they hear when Fontrevraud was at its height, as a double abbey
for both nuns and monks?”
this disc is all about the music that might be associated with
the ‘Knights Templar’. I’ve always thought of them as a warring
group whose main aim was to attack the ‘Infidel’ and ultimately
to claim back Jerusalem for Christians. But this is not really
the story and on reading Marcel Peres’ fascinating essays I
realize how wrong I was. To emphasise the more peace-loving
aspect of their lives and their concern for the liturgy and
general religious order the disc ends - at least the penultimate
track does - with the Antiphon ‘Da pacem domine in diebus
nostros’- ‘Give Peace in our time, O Lord’.
1118 the Templars were founded to guard the holy places in Jerusalem.
They were based in the ancient ‘Temple of Solomon’ so that was
how they forged their name: ‘The Knights of the Order of the
Temple of Solomon’. At first there were just nine knights and
they were assiduous at keeping the Latin liturgy in the basilica
of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The order expanded after
1130 and their influence spread from the Holy land back into
Europe. They retained brothers who were especially attached
to the daily services and the liturgy and those who took on
more material tasks.
music here comes from a manuscript dated c.1175: “a breviary,
written down when Parisian musical circles were just beginning
to formulate square notation” (Peres). It is clearly a French
manuscript and includes some unique pieces. We know it belonged
to a certain Anselm, a monk connected with the Knights Templar’s
liturgy at the Holy Sepulchre; a very remarkable manuscript
in many ways. Some vocal ornamentation is indicated as is some
sense of the rhythm - all explained in Peres’ notes.
is this reflected in the performances? If you have heard any
of the Ensemble Organum’s thirty discs made over a period of
25 years you will know that they have their very distinct sound
and method of performance. It was originally inspired by Corsican
singers and more generally vocal sounds associated with the
near east and/or the Greek Orthodox tradition. This means that
the group incorporates singers who have especially cultivated
the use of the extreme register, I mean down to D and C below
the bass clef. These they sustain as a drone often for some
considerable period of time. Other vocal techniques include
use of parallel organum, very ornamental solo lines above the
drones, and plainsong which is performed not as a free line
but moving at a regular pulse with rhythmic patterning sometimes
even with a sense of triple time.
final track, a long Salve Regina is a good example of
their approach. The melody is often sung at the end of the day
whilst the choir stands around the Lady Altar and statue; it
makes an appropriate ending to this well filled CD. The well-known
chant - you will recognize it although it has a few changes
from the usual - is heard sung in a rhythmical way. Later the
verses are performed soloistically with some considerable ornamentation
over deep drones which last the entire fourteen minutes or so
of the track. The style of singing is open and full-throated.
This is a troped text, that is words are inserted as verses
which are not normally part of the hymn, such as the lines ‘The
Alpha and Omega sent from on high a glorious solace’. The whole
effect is deeply moving, spiritual and quite remarkable.
all texts are clearly laid out in the booklet.
to this disc is a fascinating, fulfilling and rewarding experience
although you do need to change your musical ears, as it were.
You need to listen not as an audience member but to let the music
come to you in a spirit of total acceptance and absorption. Allow
it to take its time; you can’t rush anything. The final emotion
is a spiritual one, so open up the mind and ears and let the full
experience sweep you along.