Les premieres polyphonies françaises

Les premieres polyphonies françaises
Organa et tropes du XIe siècle
Ensemble Gilles Binchois - Dominique Vellard, dir.
Virgin Veritas 45135


  1. Organum: Alleluia V. Multifarie olim
  2. Messe de la Nativité

  3. Trope: Gaudeamus hodie - Introït Puer natus est nobis
  4. Organum: Graduel Viderunt omnes
  5. Antienne Ecce annuntio vobis
  6. Trope: Qui es sine principio - Offertoire Tui sunt celi
  7. Trope: Radix Iesse virga - Communion Viderunt omnes
  8. Messe pour un martyr

  9. Trope: O si gereus - Introït Statuit ei dominus
  10. Organum: Graduel Posuisti domine
  11. Messe de l'Épiphanie

  12. Trope: Descendens ab etherei - Introït Ecce advenit
  13. Organum: Graduel Omnes de Saba
  14. Messe de Pâques

  15. Trope: Paschale carmen - Introït Resurrexi
  16. Graduel Hec dies
  17. Organum: Alleluia V. Pascha nostrum V. Epulemur
  18. Antienne Ego sum Alpha et O
  19. Fêtes de la Circoncision

  20. Organum: Répons Gaude Maria virgo - Prose Inviolata
  21. Antienne Ibo michi
  22. Organum: Répons Petre, amas me?
  23. Prose Symon Bariona
  24. Organum: Alleluia V. Video celos apertos

Ensemble Gilles Binchois

Anne-Marie Lablaude, Brigitte Lesne, Lena-Susanne Norin, Anne Quentin, Catherine Schroeder, Emmanuel Bonnardot, Gerd Türk, Dominique Vellard

Directed by Dominique Vellard with the collaboration of Wulf Arlt

Playing time: 70'

Recording date: October 1994

[2]-[6] Virgin Classics 0946 356902 2 4 [CD] Music from the time of the Crusades (1096 - 1270).

Virgin "Veritas" 61640 Millenium - Music from the Middle Ages
Virgin "Veritas" 61940 - Early French Polyphonies

Nathan Wilkes

The earliest traces of notated two-part music actually appear from the end of the 10th century in central France, with theoretical discussion surviving from the 9th century. The former are the famous Chartres Manuscripts, the source of the present recording. It was once thought that this music (organum) was not recoverable, because it is not written with specified pitches. However when the theoretical treatises are combined with the notation, it becomes fairly straight-forward to learn the notes (according to Wulf Arlt who was principally responsible for this reconstruction).

Of course, it is generally believed that composed polyphony grew out of the practice of improvising a second line to a pre-existing chant. What is unknown is how long it might have been going on. A related practice which became codified at around this time was troping, or adding text with a different melody into the middle of a pre-existing chant. Tropes from this era have been similarly reconstructed here, and indeed the practice of troping and of singing a second melody seem to have been closely intertwined. This is evident in the famous Winchester Troper (c.1000) from England, not represented in the present program, which also includes some of the earliest surviving written organum.

Although the surviving body of organa from this era is not large, and what does survive appears to be almost an after-thought in manuscript, there is actually a large degree of variety present. While the end of the two-part section was always signified by returning to the pitch of the underlying chant, and simple intervals were generally employed, many different ideas were used within this general framework. It has been speculated that only pieces which were exceptional in some sense have been notated. At any rate, the later repertory of St. Martial de Limoges & Notre Dame, while larger & more complex, are perhaps more uniform bodies of music.

A recording featuring the Winchester Troper:

Music for a King: The Winchester Troper
From Mss. of the XIth Century
Works by Pierre Chépélov & Joël Rust
Discantus - Brigitte Lesne
Aeon 1436

And a recording presenting an excellent selection of songs (i.e., those pieces without an explicit liturgical context, although devoted overwhelmingly to theological themes) highlighting early polyphonic developments in France:

Nova Cantica: Latin Songs of the High Middle Ages
Dominique Vellard & Emmanuel Bonnardot
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77196

Returning more specifically to the subject of the Chartres Manuscripts from which the present program is drawn, these are written in what are called "staffless neumes" with ligatures indicating the direction of pitch movement from one note to the next. It is therefore a sort of relative pitch system. The specification of notes as we know them did not really exist before the landmark work of Guido d'Arezzo in his Micrologus (c.1030). However earlier theoretical & pedagogical examples, such as the famous Musica Enchiriadis (c.900) which uses a simple alphabetical designation, used different combinations of grid lines or letters. The Chartres Manuscripts can therefore be seen as the earliest surviving practical written polyphonic examples, together with the isolated contemporaneous Winchester Troper, and as a real attempt to make something trained singers could use rather than reading about in treatises. The later neumatic notation follows more or less continuously from here, with the introduction of gridlines and the concurrent sol-fa hexachords.

A recording related to Guido's development of sol-fa hexachords:

The Mystery of Do-Re-Mi
Christopher Gabbitas / David Muller
Signum 098

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Todd M. McComb