These four musician-scholars joined forces last night to illustrate a theme dear to the heart of Jessica Gould, Founder and Artistic Director of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts.
So many of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts focus on the cross-fertilization of cultures through music. Ms. Gould does a thorough job of teaching us history through the prism of music, making such learning not only painless but downright pleasurable.
Last night's program, presented in the lovely Brotherhood Synagogue, was entitled Of Meistersingers and Mizmorim ("mizmorim" means "psalms") and was meant to explode the myth of Teutonic purity dating back to the Middle Ages, a myth beloved by Richard Wagner. Strangely enough, one of the songs performed by the terrific tenor Ivo Haun, could have been sung in the song contest held in the final act of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg!
The truth is that mittel-Europa in the Middle Ages involved traveling troubadors, Jewish counselors advising royalty, and Christian theologians exchanging intellectual ideas with rabbis. Jewish musicians played in German courts and Yiddish civilization became intertwined with the mainstream history of countries that became modern day Germany, Poland Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, and Western Russia. This weaving together of cultural strands waxed and waned with the acceptance and persecution of the Jewish people.
Much of this music has been lost but count on Ms. Gould and her network of fellow scholar/musicians to have uncovered enough of it for a full evening's concert. Some of it was found in the Glogauer Liederbuch and the Lochamer Liederbuch of the second half of the 15th c.; some was found in the 13th c. Vatican Organum Treatise which lies in the Biblioteca Vaticana, a compendium of melodies that found their way into later sacred music, both Jewish and Muslim. Some Hebrew chants and songs of Jewish troubadors were found in the Bibliotheque National de Paris. Some were tracked down in Prague.
Mr. Haun's sweet tenor was accompanied by Corina Marti's prodigious skills on the recorder and clavisymbalum (a table-top precursor to the harpsichord) and Ayelet Karni's wizardry on the recorder, and tabor, a drum worn around the neck. These three musician/scholars are all connected with the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and came from Basel to share their musical discoveries and talents with us. We will likely never get to read their scholarly dissertations but, on an experiential level, we can say that we were utterly transported back nearly a millenium.
The fourth member of the ensemble, Christa Patton, played a small baroque harp and played it with virtuosity and the same respect for the music as the other members of the ensemble. She surely merits the high position she holds in the world of Early Music.
We were given to understand that this music, much of it never heard before in our time, contains the seeds of Klezmer music. We have only heard Klezmer music once before and were honestly unable to hear the similarities but we will accept that point on faith.
What we did hear comprised some beautiful Hebrew chants by Obadiah the Proselyte who wrote in the 12th c., and some anonymous tunes of 12th c. Italy, 13th c. France, and 15th c. Germany and the Czech Republic.
Let us share our favorite moments. Ms. Patton's lovely harp playing in the French "Dance Real"; Ms. Marti's playing of a bifurcated pipe (double flute), harmonizing with herself; her spirited playing of the recorder in a duet with Ms. Karni--playing that brought fioritura to mind, Ms. Karni's simultaneous recorder playing and drum beating to complex rhythms, and finally, the wonderful settings of "Der Winter will hin weichen" found in the Lochamer Liederbuch and the Buxheimer Orgelbuch.
Mr. Haun's tenor sounded just right in all languages. We do not understand Hebrew but --just as German can sound more beautiful when well sung--the Hebrew that he chanted sounded soft and lovely, not harsh as spoken Hebrew can.
In the aforementioned German song, every word was crystal clear and we observed that Germans were singing about nature and the joys of Spring long before Schubert set similar texts. Perhaps modern German hews more closely to early German than modern French does to early French, but we had more trouble understanding the French of Mahieu le Juif's "Por autri movrai mon chant" and wished for a translation.
Lest we conclude that Germans only sing about nature, the encore was a German song about a lovelorn and heartsore man who didn't get the girl!
We left after the program wondering if our planet will survive another millenium and what shreds of our music might then be discovered and played and appreciated with the same sense of wonder we experienced last night.
(c) meche kroop