Late-Medieval German Love Songs. Concert and Talk

Tuesday week 8, 7 March 2023

5:30pm Pre-concert talk in the Old Dining Hall at St Edmund Hall: music editor and viol player David Hatchet, Professor of German Literature & Linguistics Henrike Lähnemann, and singer James Gilchrist in conversation, discussing music, literature and culture in early 16th century Germany. The pre-concert talk includes tea at 17:30 with the discussion from 17:55 to 18:45

7:30pm Concert in the Hollywell Music Room with the Linarol Consort of viols and James Gilchrist (tenor); free entry for students, £20 for everybody else

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.

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. 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 Horacek – 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!

The pre-concert talk will concentrate on 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.

1 Lust hab ich ghabt zur Musica
von Jugend auff wie noch bisher,
von erst ut re mi fa sol la
geübt darnach durch weytter leer;
kam es darzu,
das ich kain ruw
mer haben mocht, dann nur im gsangk
stund mein begir;
da halff nicht für;
aus dem ervolgt der erst anfang.

2 Und bald ich das ergriffen hett,
das ich kund von mir selber wol
den gsang verstenn, darnach ich thett
mer fragen, wie dann ainer sol,
dem sollichs liebt,
und sich selbst yebt,
das er erlanng den rechten grund;
hueb mich darzu,
spat und auch fru
zu dienen wol, wie ich nur kund,

3 Dem Herren mein mit ganczem vleys,
daran er dann ein Gfallen trug.
Es schicket sich mit solcher weys,
das er mir gab zu schreiben gnug.
Was von im gmacht,
ward wol betracht,
darnach ich mich auch richten solt;
das gfiel mir seer,
weyl er steets mer
mir zaigen thett, was ich nur wollt.

4 Wie er mit seinem namen gnandt,
das thu ich nachher melden schon.
Er ist in aller welt bekanndt,
lieblich in kunst, frölich Im thon.
Sein Melodey
was gstellt gar frey,
darab man sich verwundern thett.
Es was gut ding,
zu singen ring,
künstlich darzu die gnad es hett.

5 Izac das war der name sein;
halt wol, es werd vergessen nit,
wie er sein Composicz so fein
und clar hat gsetzt, darzu auch mit
Mensur geziert,
dardurch probiert
noch heuttigs tags sein lob und kunst
verhanden ist;
herr Jhesu crist,
tail im dort mit götlichen gunst.

6 Gern wolt ich gott drumb dankpar sein,
wann ich nur das verbringen kundt
wie yeder soll. Es steet gar fein,
das man ihn lob, weil er aym gundt
zu lernen hie.
Was er vor nye
hett mugen von im selb verstan,
des mir erzaigt
und zugeaygt
mit gnaden ward durch diesen Mann.

7 Sein vleyß der ward an mir erkennt,
deßhalb trug mir der kayser huld;
dann weyl man mich sein schüler nent
Must ich erfüllen on mein schuld
den Chorgsang sein,
wie wol da mein
erlernte kunst was vil zu schwach.
Noch thett ichs pest,
so vil ich west
mit arbait groß, die ich noch mach.

8 Erkenn erst yecz, was mir gebricht
und sich, daß als auss gnaden kombt
von oben rhab; drumb wann ainer spricht
Er künd so vil, wie wenig frumbt
Im soliches lob;
thut er ain prob
empfind sein unvolkomenhait.
Erst wirt er ynn
sein hohen synn,
darzu Im all sein kunst erlaydt.

9 Nach dem ich dann derselben kunst
Ergeben bin, das ich verricht
Mein dienst, damit so wers umbsonst,
wo ich nit hielt, es würd für nicht
geachtet hie
alls, was ich ye
hett gmacht, gleichwol mit höchstem vleys,
Wann ich darinn
nit hett den synn
das ich gut geb den höchsten breyss.

10 Nun danck ich got umb das ich hir
dermassen bin versehen wol,
dann wer in pit, den liess er nie,
das selb ain yeder mercken sol
und dancken offt;
wer in In hofft,
der wirt nymer in schand gestellt;
soll haben acht,
das er betracht
allain zu thun, was Im gefelt.

11 Fürstliche gnad mir bschehen ist,
dieweyl ich mich darein ergab
Zu dienen undertänigist
dem herren mein und lass nit ab,
vorauss so ich
sich, das man mich
zu gottes eer noch prauchen mag
mit Chorgesanng,
das ich yetz lanng
getriben hab unnd thus alltag.

12 Liebt mir auch seer für ander ding,
das man yecz treybt in dieser welt;
dann wers versteht, der achts nit ring
wie wol es nit ain yeden gfelt;
ligt mir nit an;
Weyl ich nur han
die gnad und gunst des herren mein
so acht ichs nit
und bhilff mich mit,
will got mein tag drumb danckpar sein.

1) I have had a passion for Music ever since my youth, at first trained with solfeggio (do re mi fa sol la) and then through further instruction; it recached a stage when I could find no rest, only in song; it could not be helped; that was how it first began.

2) As soon as I had grasped as much of song as I was able to achieve on my own, then I began to ask more questions, which is what somebody ought to do who loves such things and wants to train themselves to achieve the proper foundation; I applied myself at all times, as best I could, to serve

3) my master well, sparing no effort. In this he in turn took pleasure which led to him giving me plenty to copy out. Whatever he produced I carefully studied and used as a guide also for myself; I greatly enjoyed it when he kept showing me more and more of exactly what I wanted.

4) What his name was, I will reveal shortly. He is known throughout the world, pleasing in his art, joyful in his music. His melodies were arranged very freely which was a surprise to everyone. These were excellent works, very singable as well as artfully, that was its special grace.

5) His name was Isaac; I am sure it will not forgotten how expertly and clearly he put his compositions together, as well as embellishing them rhythmically, and ensured that his renown and his art continue to this day; Lord Jesus Christ, bestow on him your divine mercy.

6) I would be very thankful to God if the only thing I managed to do was what anyone ought to do. It is entirely fitting to praise Him while He allowed one to advance here in learning. What one would never previously have been able to understand by oneself was revealed and granted to me by this man through grace.

7) His efforts were recognised in me, so that the emperor showed me favour; then, while I was called his pupil I was – not by my own doing – made to fill a post in the choir even though the skill I had acquired was then far too feeble. Still, I did my best and worked as hard as I could, as I still do.

8) I only now realise what is lacking in me, and I see that everything comes through grace, from above; so when somebody claims to be able, how little benefit comes from this praise; as soon as these people have to prove themselves, they sense their deficiency. They will only then realise his (Isaac’s) high intellect which will then make all their own art loathsome.

9) Since I am devoted to this art and to doing my duty, it would all be for nothing if I did not uphold the principle that everything which I have ever done, albeit done with the greatest effort, would count for nothing here, if in doing so I were not minded to set the greatest store by what is good.

10) Now I thank God for the fact that I am so well equipped here, for whoever prays to Him, He would never abandon, which is something everybody should note and often thank Him; whoever trusts in Him will never be put to shame (quotation from the Bible / proverbial saying: wer auf Gott traut / hat wohl gebaut); everybody should take care to think of doing only what pleases Him.

11) Princely grace was bestowed on me when I gave myself up to serving my lord in all humility, and I continue to do so, as I foresee that, to honour God, I may still be needed to sing in the choir, as I have long done and keep doing daily.

12) This is also my pleasure above other things which are now practised in this world; for whoever understands it does not consider it trivial even though it is not to everyone’s taste; this does not bother me; as long as I have the grace and favour of my lord, I do not pay attention to this; I am content, and will be thankful to God as long as I live.

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.