Open book with music notation on the left side and song text on the right hand side, landscape format

Late-Medieval German Love Songs. Concert and Talk

In 1524, the Augsburg organist Bernhart Rem started writing the part books Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Ms. 18 810 from which the songs for the concert are taken. The pre-concert talk will explore the writing and music-making of late medieval Germany. The early 16th-century soundscape was varied and colourful, ranging from street cries, via religious songs in processions and meetings of the Meistersinger, to instrumental music performed by “town waits”, groups of instrumentalists playing for festive occasions. The songs of Ms. 18 810 retain features of this exclusive aristocratic song culture. They might look like pop music with run-of-the-mill lyrics but in fact these are cutting-edge text-musical combinations. Singing about love’s woes and (occasionally) joys, and of how the poet, assuming the persona of a male lover, constantly runs into and (occasionally) overcomes the obstacles society throws in his way, is as noble a pastime as falconry or commissioning costly manuscripts.

On 7 March 2023 (Tuesday of week 8 of Hilary Term for the Oxonians), music editor and viol player David Hatcher, Professor of German Literature & Linguistics Henrike Lähnemann, and singer James Gilchrist met in the Holywell Music Room to discuss the songs of this manuscripts, taking in music, literature and culture in early 16th century Germany.

Pre-Concert Talk recording by Dr Natascha Domeisen for Oxford Medieval Studies

The authors were members of the same courtly circles or, in cases such as Ludwig Senfl’s autobiographical song ‘Lust hab ich ghabt’, even writing texts themselves as singer-songwriters of the period. In line with the poetic habits of the period, they pay more attention to stanza form than to originality of content. Maximilian’s court was an international meeting point: not only would all forms of German dialects have been spoken, but Latin, French, and even English as well; Ludwig Senfl’s teacher Heinrich Isaac was Dutch.

The pre-concert talk also mentioned the autobiographical song Lust hab ich gehabt zur musica, a song in praise of music education which spells in the verse initials the name of its author and composer, LUDWIG SENNFL, and charts his musical training.

Henrike Lähnemann writes: It is appropriate that with James Gilchrist this repertoire is interpreted by a non-native speaker. Coming to the repertoire not from within the system gives performers the advantage over a German singer to be aware of temporal and regional varieties of the language of song. I was delighted when James contacted me via Claire Horáček – alumna of my own College St Edmund Hall – to check out historical pronunciation. It was exciting to go through this repertoire which can only be grasped when spoken out aloud; this is not a text for silent reading!

Concert in the Hollywell Music Room with the Linarol Consort of viols and James Gilchrist (tenor)

Recording of the concert by Natascha Domeisen

Book further concerts with the Linarol Consort. Listen to the concert playlist.

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