A Wind Blows from the East - Four German Medieval Tales
Neidhart von REUENTAL (c.1180-1250)
Lied: Blozen wir den anger ligen sahen [8.10]
Wolfram von ESCHENBACH (c.1170-1220)
Excerpts from the Titurel fragments [24.56]
Oswald von WOLKENSTEIN (1377-1445)
Tagelied: Es seusst dorther von Orient [13.46]
Hans SACHS (1494-1596)
Gesangweise to the tune of “Our Lady” [17.39]
Drew Minter (voice and medieval harp)
rec. Christ the King Episcopal Church, Stone Ridge, New York (no date given)
BRIDGE 9372 [64.27]
On this disc of German Minnesinger music Drew Minter accompanies himself on a harp or more particularly on a 14 string gothic harp and also on a 27 string one made by the redoubtable Lynne Lewandowski. He performs in the style of minstrel entertainment in medieval Germany. The title, I presume, refers to the influence of instruments and other musical practices on central Europe from the Middle East during the extended period of the crusades.
In his ground-breaking book ‘Voices and Instruments of the Middle Ages’ Christopher Page (Dent, London, 1987) quotes on p.86, from the great troubadour Gautier de Councy: “A clear, pleasing and beautiful voice, the sound of harp, fiddle psaltery … is suitable for the devotion of the musician’s heart”. So I can say immediately that Minter fits those categories. Later, on p.92, Page quotes from the ‘Roman de Horn’ (c.1170) “The he took the harp. God! whoever saw how well he handled it, touching the strings and making them vibrate, sometimes causing them to sing and at others join in harmonies … reminding us of the heavenly harmonies.” Again Minter gets as close as modern man can to attaining this wondrous world.
In another source ‘Music in the Middle Ages by Gustav Reese’ (Dent, London, 1941) we read that the Minnesinger came “from the South, many from Austria” and that “they fall into three main groups, the first from 1150-90” which do not concern us on this recording. The second “and best from c.1190-1220” includes figures like Wolfram and the Bavarian Neidhart, the most prolific it seems of the Minnesinger. The third includes figures like Walter von de Vogelweide and does not concern us either although their more sophisticated songs, texts and notation fed into the great Wolkenstein later in the century. Even later it contributed to the incredibly long-lived composer/poet Hans Sachs who was immortalised by Wagner.
So Drew Minter gives us a wide historical range and a reliable overview of early German musical history. The length of these pieces, so often curtailed on discs of early German songs, is heard in full with texts neatly translated in the booklet.
Minter dramatizes the songs wonderfully. He is a counter-tenor but there is variety on offer. He uses his ‘big boy’s voice’ in Wolkenstein’s song where he speaks on behalf of a male lover in a colloquy. He also takes on the persona of the evil father in Hans Sachs’ Gesangweise then reverts to counter-tenor when acting as narrator. He has an even lighter voice for a female speaker. In addition he uses subtle and occasional speech, which just lifts the texture as it were and adds even more interest. Occasionally, in between verses, there are harp improvisations using speech rhythms. The harp does not play throughout. Moments of silence allow for the words to register. It might appear to be rather random but it must be remembered that Minter is improvising. He allows the harp to act so as to highlight the tension of a situation, to suggest the lissom attractions of a scene or to convey the unimaginable beauty of the lady.
In much music of the 12th and 13th centuries the subject of springtime arises as it does in Neidhart’s piece. “We saw the field lying bare/until the fair Spring drew near”. Also praise and thanks for the miracles of the Virgin Mary are consistent topics as in Hans Sachs’ song in which an evil, adulterous husband who murders his child gets his comeuppance due to the Virgin’s intervention.
The longest performance is the piece by Wolfram von Eschenbach, Two fragments from the unfinished ‘Titurel’. Here there’s a real burden on Minter to sustain interest, which on the whole he does. Any decent bookshop will have a Penguin copy of Wolfram’s huge prose tome ‘Parzifal’, which again served to inspire Wagner. What is less well known is that Wolfram also left us two melodies, which Minter uses here. There are two extracts. The first is catchily described as 'The intimate connection of Love, Fate and Death exemplified in the joys and misfortunes of two lovers, Sigune and Schionatulander”. The second has a Conan Doyle type title ‘The Episode of the Mysterious Hound’. Minter also uses word-painting in this long tract for which the harp describes with arpeggios the wind in the evening. Pain is also evoked with some exciting broadening of the modal harmonic palette. Again Minter uses differing voice ranges to hold the attention. On occasion we also get a melodic harp interlude between the verses.
Ultimately this is probably a disc for someone already versed in early music. A non-musician friend of mine, when he heard it, was quite captivated and wants me to give him the CD. I may well do this as I am not sure how often I would really want to play it.
Full texts with clear and neat translations are given as well as a detailed but not too technical essay by Drew Minter himself.
Gary Higginson 

In the style of a minstrel entertainment in medieval Germany.