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KeyNotes - Early European Keyboard Music
Corina Marti (clavisimbalum, claviciterium, organ and organetto)
rec. 2019, St. Nicolai, Altenbruch, Germany; St.Leodegar, Möhlin, Switzerland
RAMÉE RAM1916 [65:54]

t is thought that the earliest keyboard music, found in the Winchester Troper, may come from before the 10th century. The pieces recorded here, however, are from sources generally recognised as the oldest ones which we clearly know about. The dating is from the late 13th century till the mid-15th century. The excellent booklet helpfully lists these sources. Mikhail Lopatin’s usefully detailed essay discusses the music in the order of its presentation, and gives something of the background to each work and its source.

One of those sources, the Robertsbridge Manuscript compiled c.1300-1320 – perhaps in time for Edward II’s visit to the Abbey in 1324 – is the earliest known source of intabulated music (arranged for keyboard). I secured part of a reproduced manuscript when years ago I visited the remote village in East Sussex. I discovered what remained of the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey in the garden of a private dwelling, with the owner mowing his lawn! The six pieces which survive are certainly not of English origin – three of them are Estampies – but represented here is an intabulation of a motet by Philippe de Vitry. About that time I also bought a copy of Music from the Buxheim Organ Book published by London Pro Musica EK4. Ton Koopman recorded some of these mid-15th century pieces on Astrée E7743. They tend to be dances, as track 2 here, and secular songs arranged for keyboard. The pieces from the Faenza Codex are even more significant. They illustrate the type of elaborate ornamentation a song or even a plainchant might be subjected to, for example tracks 16-17.

But what were these pieces played on? One assumes that Robertsbridge had an organ but what about courts and private houses? It is also quite likely that the music was played instrumentally or even sung, despite the fact that the texts were never inserted. Corina Marti uses primarily an organ, is illustrated within. It is from Altenbruch and dates from 1497. It has been reconstructed from the original pipework, retaining its seven stops. She also uses the rather mysterious Clavisimbalum, an early form of harpsichord from c.1450 reconstructed in 2010 by Andreas Hermet, an organetto by Stefan Keppler made in 2013/2017, and a claviciterium, reconstructed in 2000 by Emile Jobin after an anonymous instrument from c.1500. The latter’s sounding board faces the audience, so it stands upright.

One of the pieces more popular in the early renaissance may be Molendinum de Paris, often translated as ‘The Windmills of Paris’, by Pierre des Molins; ‘moulin’ is a windmill, of course. It was well known even into the sixteenth century. Also reasonably well known is the transcription of the German folk tune Mit ganczem Willen on track 10; I have always thought it was composed by the Nuremburg organist Conrad Paumann (d.1473).

It is of special interest that five secular songs from the 14th century are recorded in their intabulated forms, among them Giovanni da Firenze’s quite well known caccia Per larghi prati. This is a straight intabulation of the original. Otherwise, however, these Italian pieces from various sources including the Squarcialupi manuscript are quite extreme in the elaboration accorded to an already very melismatic top line, and become compositions of extreme virtuosity. Indeed, unless you are very familiar with the originals, it is most unlikely that you will clearly discern the melodic line.

The recording is immediate and clear. The booklet note, helpful and interesting, suggests romantically that we will be taken “on a dizzying journey” during which we will be “entertained by musical attractions that vary widely in terms of historical context”.

Gary Higginson

Descendit de celis [3:17]
Danse real [1:02]
Domino [2:09]
Tribum quem non abhoruit (after Philippe De Vitry (1291-1361) [2:50]
Chose Tassin [3:38]
Kyrie (‘Cunctipotens genitor Deus’) [7:39]
Ave Maris Stella [1:33]
Kyrie Angelicum [2:59]
Redeuntes in mi [2:45]
Mit ganczem Willen [1:19]
Humble Pitié [1:25]
Praeambulum super d a f et g [1:10]
A piece without title [0:43]
Stella pia (after Hessman de Argentorato fl.late 14th Cent)
Molendinum de Paris (after Pierre des Molins fl.14th Cent)
Benedicamus Domino [2:32]
Amen [1:33]
Io me son uno che per la fresche (after Jacopo da Bologna fl.1340-1360)
Deh, come dolcemente m’abbracciava (after Giovanni da Firenze fl.c1340-60) [3:47]
Se la vista soave (after Francesco Landini c.1325-1397) [4:55]
Per larghi prati (after Giovanni da Firenze) [4:03]
Cantano gl’angiolieti Sanctus [3:22]
Benedicamus: Sane per omnia [2:02]
Benedicamus [2:55]

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