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Mirabilia Musica - Echoes from late medieval Cracow
La Morra
rec. 2020, St. Leodegar, Möhlin, Switzerland
RAMÉE RAM2008 [62]

The present disc focuses on the music scene at Cracow in the first part of the 15th century. At that time, the city was the political, commercial and cultural capital of the Crown of Poland. It held this status until 1596, when the political capital was moved to Warsaw.

The repertoire is taken from two important manuscripts. One is known as 'Kras 52', a collection of music and theological writings. It probably dates from around 1440. The second, 'Wn 378', may be from the same time and is only available as photographs taken before World War II. The original manuscript was probably destroyed by fire after the collapse of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The two sources have some specific features: the former suffers from a number of mistakes in both texts and music. The latter includes remarks in Polish, some of which are about the music or the performance.

If one looks at the track-list, one may be surprised to find very un-Polish names, such as Johannes Ciconia and Antonio Zacara da Teramo. The presence of pieces by these Italian masters attests to the international character of music life during the medieval and renaissance periods. Pieces were disseminated in manuscript across Europe, often in the luggage of musicians looking for a job or collected by travellers with a special interest in music. "Given their highly informal character, both manuscripts appear to have been personal collections of works that most likely belonged to music teachers and/or students who were also performers", Michal Gondko writes in his liner-notes.

The main Polish composer represented in the programme is Mikołaj Radomski or Nicolaus de Radom. To date it has been impossible to establish his identity with any certainty. Gondko suggests that the two collections from which the pieces in the programme are taken, could be the products of his teaching. His own compositions show the influence of the Italian masters mentioned above - another good reason to include specimens of their oeuvre here - but also of Guillaume Dufay. Radomski's setting of the Gloria is notable for his use of the so-called divisi technique, which means that a voice - in this case the discantus - is split into two equal voices, which at some moments creates a four-voice texture within a three-part piece. In his Magnificat he makes use of the fauxbourdon technique, which harmonizes the plainchant. In this recording, it is preceded and followed by the antiphon Sancta Maria succurre in plainchant.

A number of pieces have been preserved without the name of the composer. Sometimes they can be attributed to a composer with the help of other sources, where the same pieces are found. The Sanctus: Gustati necis pocula appears in Austrian sources under the name of Jacobus de Clibano, who was active as a singer in Bruges, or a certain Sweikl; the performers have chosen the former as the most likely candidate. In this version, new lines have been added to the liturgical text - so-called tropes. Nitor inclite claredinis, a piece reconstructed by Michal Gondko, is attributed to a certain Nicolaus, as his name appears as an acrostichon in the first lines.

Two features of the repertoire need to be mentioned. First, the programme includes some contrafacta. A contrafactum is a piece whose original text has been replaced by a different text. French songs were especially popular as subjects of this adaptation technique. The programme includes two examples, both anonymous: Postaris in presepio / Maria amplioribus and Maria en mitissima. The former is derived from a rondeau, the latter from a ballade.

Second, the repertoire includes several pieces that are connected to the country or to historical events. One of them is the above-mentioned Nitor inclite claredinis by 'Nicolaus'. "According to the source, the piece can be sung with two Latin texts: either with a conventional Christmas poem, or with a version of it modified into another panegyric for the Polish royal couple; in this case, however, the occasion is the birth of their first son, Władysław" (Gondko). The anonymous Cracovia civitas is a laudation of the city of Cracow and the royal family. The programme starts with another anonymous piece, Breve regnum erigitur, which is about the annual student carnival. It opens with a refrain that is repeated after each stanza.

This disc offers a most fascinating survey of what was written and performed in late medieval Cracow, and the Polish music scene at large. It is very interesting to note the different composition techniques and styles which were in vogue at the time. The programme also documents the international character of the music scene in the Middle Ages. I can't imagine better performances than we get here from La Morra. Four outstanding singers are the pillar of this recording, and produce exciting performances of the vocal music. The role of the instrumentalists is modest, but their contributions certainly add to the attraction of this disc. The fact that the repertoire is largely unknown only adds to the importance of this production. Reasons enough for a special recommendation.

Johan van Veen

Breve regnum erigitur
Ave maris stella
Mikołaj Radomski (fl c1425)
Postaris in presepio/Maria amplioribus
Maria en mitissima
Salve thronus trinitatis
Sancta Maria succurre/
Mikołaj Radomski
Johannes Ciconia (c1370-1412)
Mikołaj Radomski
Cracovia civitas
Jacobus de Clibano (fl 1430-1450) (attr)
Sanctus Gustati necis pocula
Agnus Dei
Nitor inclite claredinis (ed. Michal Gondko)
Virginem mire pulchritudinis
Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (1392-after 1452)
Presulis eminenciam
Antonio Zacara da Teramo (c1350-1413)
Gloria (Ad ongni vento)

Published October 27, 2022

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