And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

tirsdag 16. oktober 2018

Music for the season - Ana Vidovic and Isaac Albéniz

Even though it is a significantly warmer October than usual, there is still an unmistakably autumnal feel about these days, a certain crispness in the air, and the scent of rotting leaves and distant aromas of mulch and soil. Somehow, this mood seems to me to be perfectly encapsulated by the instrumental piece "Asturias" by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), here mesmerisingly performed by Ana Vidovic.

onsdag 26. september 2018

The sausage-maker in Trogir

In the Croatian city of Trogir there is a medieval cathedral with a stupendous and beautifully crafted stone arch. I will tell you more about this in future blogposts, but today I will give you one of my favourite details of this masterpiece of masonry.

The stone arch is the accumulative product of the skills and efforts of several masons over a period of three centuries. But the earliest elements of the arch were put in place by the master mason Radovan, who finished his work in 1240. We know this because an inscription survives from the time of its completion, giving the name of the maker and the year it was finished.

The arch has been the subject of extensive study throughout the twentieth century, and there has been established a consensus concerning the layers of its genesis.

One of the details established as belonging to Radovan's workmanship is a scene depicting some of the labours of the year, namely the making of sausages. Below, we see how skilfully and life-like Radovan rendered this scene, one with which he was most likely very familiar from his own life. We see the sausage-maker in his clogs, minding the stew that will go into the intestines already prepared and drying from being cleaned, hanging above him. Meanwhile, a young boy pours liquid into a bowl. This is most likely pig's blood that will be mixed in with the stew that will go in the sausage.

There are many stunning things about this depiction. For instance, it shows that realism and sophistication were not absent from medieval masonry - a point that should not have to be made, but which bears repeating. Secondly, moreover, this scene is a great reminder that we modern people are not all that different from those of the Middle Ages. Having grown up on a farm, I am well familiar with the making of sausages, and in its basic elements we do this in the same way as the thirteenth-century Dalmatian man who served as Radovan's inspiration for this beautiful carving.

mandag 24. september 2018

A requiem by Cristóbal de Morales

As the autumn takes hold on Denmark and various signs of ending and transition appear in my everyday life, it somehow feels fitting to share with you a mass for the dead by one of my favourite composers, the Spanish Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500-53), whose music is among the most beautiful things in this world.

Cristóbal de Morales, Missa pro defunctis

lørdag 15. september 2018

The World in His Hands - a medieval representation of the earth in Early Modern Denmark

He's got the whole world in his hands
- Traditional

One of the most pernicious misunderstandings about the Middle Ages is the erroneous belief that people then thought the earth was flat. They did not, and we have much textual and artistic evidence to show that both lay and learned of the medieval period would have encountered depictions and formulations of the earth as round several times throughout their lives, be it in manuscripts, in sermons or in church art. The idea that medieval man and woman believed the earth to be flat was propagated by Washington Irving in a novel about Christopher Columbus, where part of the construction of Columbus as a hero of modernity consisted of him knowing that the earth was round. (In actuality, as Umberto Eco has demonstrated in his Book of Legendary Lands, Columbus suggested that the earth was not a perfect sphere but slightly elongated to the West.)
In the Middle Ages, it was well known that the earth is a sphere, and it was often, but far from exclusively, depicted with the three known continents divided by waters in the shape of a T in the middle of the sphere of the earth. From this design, these depictions are now known as T-O maps.

Yesterday I went to Dalum Church in Odense, Denmark, a former Benedictine nunnery established in the twelfth century and converted to a Protestant parish church in the sixteenth century. The pulpit of the church, which appears to be late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, depicts Christ flanked on both sides by the evangelists - a very common pictorial sequence in Protestant pulpits. Interestingly, in his left hand Christ holds the spherical earth, but depicted as as a medieval T-O map. This representation of the earth is very interesting to find at this point in time, since America had long since made its way onto contemporary European maps, and it seems that the craftsman deliberately harkened back to an older model, one of Christ as the redeemer of the world established in late-medieval Renaissance art.

I was very happy to discover this little detail, as it provides yet another example of the sophistication of medieval imagery, and how it has endured even into the modern world.

søndag 9. september 2018

A chant for the birth of the Virgin Mary

Yesterday, September 08, was the feast of the birth of the Virgin Mary, one of the oldest of the several Marian feasts that were implemented at various points throughout the medieval period. The universal importance of Mary in the medieval cult of saints meant that this feast was celebrated throughout Christendom and had a significant repository of liturgical chants.

In this blogpost, I wish to share one of these chants from the Latin calendar which is included in a manuscript fragment housed at the university library of University of Southern Denmark. This fragment, fragment XII of RARA Musik M 4, is most likely of German origin, but of unknown date, and it contains a partly-surviving column from the feast Nativitas Mariae. As part of my research on this fragment, I have transcribed the text of the chant, and this transcription - maintaining the spelling of the manuscript but having dissolved abbreviations - can be found below together with a translation of the text itself (this translation is my own).

Natiuitas tua
Syddansk Universitetsbibliotek RARA Musik M 4

Natiuitas tua
(CID: 003852)

Natiuitas tua dei genitrix uirgo gaudium annuntiauit uniuerse mundo ex te enim ortus est sol iustitie christus deus noster qui soluens maledictionem dedit benedictionem et confundens mortem donauit nobis uitam.

Your birth, god-bearer, virgin, announced joy to the whole world, namely that from you is risen the sun of justice, Christ, our god, who loosening the bonds of punishment, giving blessings and dismaying death, gave life to us. 

fredag 31. august 2018

Felix, and Adauctus the added saint

Yesterday, August 30, was the feast of SS Felix and Adauctus, who were believed to have suffered during Diocletian's persecution of Christians, one of the most wide-reaching of such persecutions to have taken place, and the persecution that occupied the most important place in the cultural memory of medieval Christendom. Diocletian, and his co-augustus Maximian were the main antagonists in many of the stories of early and often apocryphal saints, and this includes the story of Felix and Adauctus, a story which Jacobus de Voragine dates to c.287, i.e. before the persecutions were begun.

The story of these two saints is not a long one, and it mostly revolves around Felix. He was a priest, together with his brother whose name was also Felix but who disappears from the story and does not take part in his brother's passion story. The older Felix was brought before the two emperors and commanded to sacrifice in the temple of Serapis. Felix blew in the face of a statue of Serapis and the statue crumbled, a common topos in martyr stories. He was then taken to statues of Mercury and Diana, but with the same result, and the Romans seized him, tortured him and brought him to a sacred tree. Felix blew on the tree as well, and it fell over, crushing an altar as it did.

As Felix was about to be exectued, another man of unknown name and background stepped up and said he was a Christian as well, and the two martyrs-to-be embraced each other and were then killed. According to Jacobus de Voragine in Legenda Aurea, the two saints were buried in the hole of the sacred tree by Christians who managed to retrieve their dead bodies. Since the man who had joined Felix in martyrdom was unknown, he was given the name Adauctus, meaning "added" or "increase", to signify that he was an addition to the martyrdom of Felix.

Collect for the feast of Felix and Adauctus
Syddansk Bibliotek, RARA Musik M 4

onsdag 29. august 2018

A requiem by Duarte Lobo

Since so much of my work consists of researching medieval liturgy, much of the music to which I listen in the course of a workday is also liturgical, albeit early modern rather than medieval. Currently, one composition that both reflects my late-August mood and is well worth sharing is a requiem composed by Duarte Lobo (c.1565-1646), one of the most important composers of polyphonic music in early modern Portugal.