Night Office in 15th-Century Oxford

A re-enactment of a forgotten liturgy for St Thomas Becket

When: Tuesday 6 June at 9 pm
Where: New College Chapel

Free entry. All welcome!

The service has been prepared specially by Dr Henry Parkes (University of Nottingham), currently Albi Rosenthal Visiting Fellow in Music at the Bodleian Library. His research project ‘Music in the Shadows: Staging the Medieval Night Office’ explores the cultural history of Christian night worship through a mixture of archival, performance-led and ethnographic research.

Many Oxford colleges preserve the late evening office of Compline, once sung daily. But in medieval times there was a much more substantial service to follow, known as Nocturns, Vigils, or the Night Office.

New College Choir will enact a short-form Night Office as it might have been known in 15th-century Oxford, to explore how this now- forgotten liturgy worked in performance. In southern England from the late 14th century on, Tuesdays were commonly given over to the veneration of St Thomas Becket. This service recreates a ‘commemorative’ Tuesday Becket office, as precribed in late medieval books of the Sarum Use—many of which survive in Oxford libraries.

For an introduction to the service, watch a presentation of some of the manuscripts in the Bodleian Library
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.

A Puzzle of Fragments from Late Medieval Catalonia

Our understanding of medieval culture vastly relies on fragmentary sources. Musicologists are especially well-acquainted with this —most historians working on pre-1500 music rely to a significant extent on ‘waste’ parchment as a source of information about lost musical cultures. Working with fragments is challenging; however, it can also yield extremely rewarding results when we are able to reconstruct a wider picture.

In a recent publication, I re-examined a group of musical fragments preserved in Catalan archives. They transmit a highly sophisticated repertory inspired by the musical practices of late fourteenth-century cardinals and popes in Avignon, alongside northern French aristocratic and royal households. My essay traces the provenance of these fragments, recalibrating the way we think about the connection between the original manuscripts, local ecclesiastic and courtly institutions, and individual clerics. To make a long story short, most of the manuscripts converge with the itineraries of King John I of Aragon (b. 1350, r. 1387-1396) —who was an enthusiastic lover of music— and his court. The rather concrete picture emerging from my study confirms the long-held hypothesis that the royal court of Aragon was a major force behind the dissemination of this refined musical repertory throughout late medieval Catalonia.

In order to make the results of my research accessible to non-specialists, I have put together this ten-minute video. I couldn’t resist including footage of some of my favourite medieval towns and buildings. I Hope you’ll enjoy watching it.

David Catalunya is a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford, and a member of the ERC-funded project ‘Music and Late Medieval European Court Cultures’. Earlier he has worked at the University of Würzburg, where he served as an editor of Corpus Monodicum. He has been an Associate Director of DIAMM, and a member of the research board of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. His scholarly research embraces a wide range of topics in music, history and culture from the early Middle Ages to the Early Modern period. He is currently completing his book project Music, Space and Ceremony at the Royal Abbey of Las Huelgas in Burgos, 1200-1350.