Notker Balbulus, or Notker the Stammerer (he apparently gave himself the nickname), was a monk at the Benedictine monastery of Sankt Gallen (St. Gall) in what is now Switzerland. Born around 840, he was apparently one of the creatively talented figures of his time; much of what is known of the murky figure of Charlemagne comes from a set of anecdotes Notker noted down, and he wrote various other chronicles and poetic works. Musically, he was one of the first composers known by name: he was an early practitioner of the sequence, a new kind of chant that added syllabic poetry to a melody following the Alleluia of the mass, and it is those works that are under consideration here by the German ensemble Ordo Virtutum. He also may have composed tropes -- color commentary, as it were -- inserted into chants; these attributions are less clear, but several examples are included. This is at heart a rather wonkish recording, directed toward medievalists and occupied with the question of how one can most closely approximate what Notker's music might have sounded like, given the incomplete forms of chant notation in which it appeared. (The musicians had various manuscripts to work with, at least, Notker was quite famous in his own day.) But it holds interest for general listeners curious about how chant developed over the centuries and why it took the forms it did. Group leader Stefan Morent takes a middle ground between trying to present groups of pieces that would have been heard together in their original context and looking for a wider perspective: he pairs Notker's sequences with Alleluia chants, but also includes other music that monks of St. Gall would have known, including instrumental pieces connected with their sacred repertoire and a ballad of King Ludwig of the Franks and his glorious victory over Norman fighters. There are also a few passages where the singers break into parallel organum, examples of the very dawn of polyphony. Detailed notes are in German, French, and English.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
Tropen Hodie clarissimam, Olim promissus, Forma speciosissimus / Olim quem vates, zum Introitus Ecce advenit
Tropen Ex numero frequentium / Quasi quid incredibile / Qui vobis terrigenis, zum Introitus Viri Galilei