Ensemble Gilles Binchois

Music and Poetry in St. Gallen

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What is known as Gregorian chant seems static and timeless today, and to an extent it was. One of the important political developments of the Middle Ages was the spread of what became the Holy Roman Empire, and among its reforms was the standardization of chant: with a few prominent exceptions, monks in France, Germany, and Italy would sing the same music. But the musical notation that helped make this standardization possible also helped fuel a new spirit of creativity in the forms of the sequence (original poetic-musical compositions incorporated into the celebration of Mass) and trope (chunks of added material providing commentary or gloss on an existing chant). This album by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois under Dominique Vellard, with full translations into English, German, and French of the original Latin texts, is devoted to sequences and tropes from the monastery of St. Gallen, now in Switzerland, composed in the ninth and tenth centuries C.E. Some of these pieces are among the earliest in the Western tradition with a single named composer, mostly Notker of St. Gallen, also known as Notker the Stammerer. The program is organized according to feast days (the opening "Gallus" is the feast day of the Irish saint for whom the monastery was named), with from one to four chants for each one. For the listener unfamiliar with these genres, both the sequence and trope techniques are demonstrated unusually clearly. There's an idea of how polyphony -- a musical expansion on chant -- would spring from the ground prepared by works like these a century or so later, and comparing the mode of expression in both music and text of the new pieces helps attune the ear to the differing qualities of chants in general. An excellent chant release for the generalist.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 1:50
2 2:09
3 4:48
4 1:32
5 2:26
6 2:25
7 7:24
8 2:23
9 4:33
10 8:21
11 6:26
12 1:18
13 3:39
14 1:47
15 2:13
16 1:39
17 3:43
blue highlight denotes track pick