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February 3, 2004

Chant Wars
Posted by Teresa at 02:53 PM *

Have you ever looked at something and simultaneously thought “Hey! That’s cool! I’d really like that!” and “I am a complete and utter geek” ? Lise Eisenberg just dropped me a note about this upcoming performance:

In February 04, the men of Sequentia will be joined by the men of Dialogos in a fascinating program co directed by Katarina Livljanic titled “Chant Wars”. Performances will be in Boston, New York Montreal and Los Angeles. The theme of CHANT WARS is nothing less than the first known ‘globalization’ of European music. Specifically, the men of Sequentia/Dialogos will perform music which illuminates the legendary 9th-century confrontation between the Frankish cantors of the Carolingian emperors (including their attempts to learn ‘historically-informed’ Roman singing styles from the wily, virtuoso cantors of the Papal court) and the European chant traditions the emperor sought to replace with these ‘new’ musical repertoires and vocal styles. The merging of two separate male vocal ensembles will make it possible for today’s listeners to hear the astonishing diversity of chant styles of medieval Europe, at a time when chant traditions were competing for ascendancy in the vigorous young empire of Pepin, Charlemagne and their successors.
When I become Empress of the Universe, documentary makers will get heaps of funding.
Comments on Chant Wars:
#1 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:50 PM:

O quam frigidus, hombre!

#2 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:52 PM:

homine...I meant homine

(Never try to exclaim in Latin when you've been working in Spanish all afternoon!)

I will now slink back to my dictionary. Please don't anyone tell my Latin prof.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:55 PM:

My little Spanish frequently treads on my less Latin. In Italy I sometimes lived on stems alone.

#4 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 04:56 PM:

Right up there on my list (next to: film version of Beowulf in the original Old English with subtitles)!

#5 ::: Melanie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:08 PM:

This is worth a trip to New York. Which probably means I've just declared myself terminally geeky.

#6 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:11 PM:

Waaah! And I won't even be up there until the end of the month!

I hope they make a CD of that. I really prefer later medieval music, but that's still very cool.

#7 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:20 PM:

Dang! I will be in Anaheim just the weekend before they will be performing at Mt.St. Mary's up behind Brentwood. I hope they record this.

Definitely bad timing on my part . . .

#8 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:20 PM:

And why didn't Ms. Eisenberg send me a note about this, I wonder? I shall have to ask her. Hm.

#9 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:20 PM:

Dang! I will be in Anaheim just the weekend before they will be performing at Mt.St. Mary's up behind Brentwood. I hope they record this.

Definitely bad timing on my part . . .

#10 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:21 PM:

I really should back out and try again after getting an error message . . . sorry about that.

#11 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 05:38 PM:

Cool! It makes me think of West Side Story with monks!

I like chant a lot. I find it very soothing to listen to. I hope someone gets the skinny on the recording of this.

#12 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 06:19 PM:

jennie, multi frigent, pauci rigent.

This does sound rather cool. I may...oh, who am I kidding? I can't get my act together to see a MOVIE, let alone a concert like this.

#13 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 06:52 PM:

"Have you ever looked at something and simultaneously thought “Hey! That’s cool! I’d really like that!” and “I am a complete and utter geek” ?"

Uh. Pretty much on a daily basis, I'm afraid.

But this particular bit of neat is definitely on my list of neat as well.

#14 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:12 PM:

By the way, Lise did inform me, so she's absolved. Maybe I'll see you there.

#15 ::: Kate Yule ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:23 PM:

"When I become Empress of the Universe....."

How are plans for that coming along, Teresa?
Anything we can do to help? (as long as it doesn't interfere with the Bartlet for President campaign, mind you)

#16 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 10:05 PM:

What does it make you if you've actually been curious enough to sit down with recordings of Gregorian, Ambrosian, Gallican, and Mozarabic chant - but you couldn't detect a dime's worth of difference between them?

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:10 PM:

Christopher, you wretch, that pun made me yelp out loud -- and I shouldn't have gotten it in the first place.

Chris, if I go, I do hope I'll see you there, since I'd probably be there unaccompanied. Of course, we could conspire to press-gang Christopher into going.

Simon, I'm not sure what it makes you. I know from one of my college Humanities classes that some people can't distinguish one chant from another. Fortunately for them, no two of our required listening selections were from the same part of the Mass, so they could ID them from the words instead.

Kate, I've always assumed it would happen by a sort of general approbation; but that seems to be taking an awfully long time.

#18 ::: BCN ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:36 PM:

EMPRESS? The same day they appoint me to be the official namer of all businesses, profit and non, including boutiques, services, and not excluding some churches. We'll wait together.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 11:50 PM:

Is that the position you want? I had no idea. I promise I'll appoint you to it immediately upon my accession. Is this because you have lots of zippy ideas, or because you want to outlaw trick spellings, cutesy-barfy names, and the zillionth iteration of the Unique Boutique?

#20 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 12:19 AM:

they could ID them from the words instead.

Ah, my first harmony teacher, who tried to train our ears to detect the difference between major and minor chords he'd play on the piano: but he always played minor chords much more softly than major ones. We told him he did this, but it didn't help.

#21 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 02:39 AM:

Damn damn damn. I'll be in Boston the week before they're in Boston and NYC. When they're in LA I'll be helping run Potlatch in Seattle. And there's no way I'm going to Montreal in February. Recordings pleeeease.

Berni; Westside Story with monks!?!


#22 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 08:20 AM:

Yes! Squee! And they're only doing it in four places and I live in one of them!

I didn't think we'd ever have anything weirder than dervishes whirling to Gregorian Chant.

Thank you for telling me. That's just awesome.

(Incidentally, have you ever heard Masters of Chant? They sing Gregorian versions of things like Metallica and Simon and Garfunkel.)

#23 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 10:35 AM:

Gregorian... Simon... and... Garfunkel?

Oh. Dear.

#24 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:11 AM:

Tina: Gregorian "Scarborough Fair" is just like the original. Gregorian "The Sound of Silence", however, is really growing on me.

There are several Masters of Chant albums, I only have the first, and considering the number of misfires on it am unlikely to get the others. The Metallica track, "Nothing Else Matters", is however, by fortunate concidence of source material and style, absolutely outstanding. Makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

#25 ::: Katherine Farmar ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 11:42 AM:

Gregorian "Brothers in Arms" is better than the original.

The thing about chant that makes it so odd to listen to, and so difficult to distinguish one kind or even one composition from another, is the complete lack of harmonies. Harmony is such a fundamental part of music nowadays (and has been for centuries) that music with no harmony sounds... strange. It's a taste worth acquiring, though.

#26 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:08 PM:

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I've gotten to hear a couple sample clips for the Masters of Chant albums. I must now own them.

*shakes fist* DARN YOU! DARN YOU ALL!

Katherine F: Maybe we've been listening to different chants. I hear harmony in them. Well. Not always, but sometimes.

Chants don't really sound strange to me. Tuvan throat-singing, now, that sounds strange to me.

#27 ::: Dennis Moser ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 04:53 PM:

Thanks to Ms. Eisenberg for letting you know of this event and to you for passing it along. Here's hoping the day of your coronation approaches quickly.

As for jennie's "O quam frigidus, hombre!" well, round these here parts, that's got a rather "quam frigidus" ring to it over the more Latinistically-correct "homine." I think I'd rather use it, instead! Those who know I'm in Houston will understand...

I've listened to, and played, Mozarabic music, listened to Gregorian, Gallican, and Ambrosian this point, Tuvan throat-singing, while exotic, sounds perfectly normal. I'm still grappling with Noh, though...

#28 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 06:57 PM:

Tuvan throat singing is sufficiently atonal to my ears to still get to me. Noh doesn't come across atonal to me, though its tonal expression is decidedly not Western. (Is 'tonal expression' a real term? Well, I imagine folks here will grok what I intend.)

I had to look up Mozarabic, and I still am struggling to figure out if I've heard it. (Quite probably -- I listen to anything that stands still long enough, except gangsta rap and my-dog-drowned country -- but not so much so as to make an instant connection.)

#29 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:02 AM:

Sigh. My Latin knowledge comes from:
  i)   interest in the roots of English words;
  ii)  studying biology (mostly botany);
  iii) working in medical research;
  iv) working in legal publishing;
  v)  learning Italian opera lyrics.

I can get the gist, but not the guts of the jest.

#30 ::: Dennis Moser ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 01:22 PM:


I think that "tonal expression" probably means something...but I think I understand the gist of what you're trying to descibe. And yes, Noh's tonality is VERY different (that's where I have a problem with, uhm, it's appreciation!), but Tuvan throat singing reminds more of the Karnatic tradition with it's known examples amongst a certain, uhm, "age group" would be a certain defunct British musical group whose dabbling with the teachings of a certain Indian meditation instructor, which itself resulted in one group member studying with a very well-known pracitioner of the tradition. It was that group that Sir Paul was in before he was in Wings (and before "Sir" Paul!)...8-)...

A close look at the European music from between the 12th and 16th centuries will show you bits and pieces of Mozarabic music as it came both across the Iberian peninsula and in through Italy and on to the rest of Europe. There are some wonderful examples in both Spanish and Italian music of the period. Thomas Binkley and the Studio der Fruehen Musick did a two volume set (there were, apparently, to be more) of recordings ( , )of songs from the "Camino de Santiago", the songs of the pilgrimage to Santiago , which have some great examples of this influence. Lutenists are especially aware of this, "lute" = "al oud". Early depictions of lutentists show the playing technique being closely tied to that of the Arabic oud.

But enough of all's only rock and roll. "O quam frigidus, hombre" indeed!

#31 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:14 PM:

Dennis: Thanks for the links. I will have to check this out, as it sounds interesting.

I think one reason I find Noh easier to handle than some people do is I backed into by accident via anime composers, some of whom use Noh-influenced electronica (I know how weird that sounds even as I type it, but I swear!) or other Noh techniques.

Which reminds me that I need to find my copy of the Akira soundtrack and turn it into happy MP3s so I can start throwing them on my play-lists...

#32 ::: Dennis Moser ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2004, 05:40 PM:


You're welcome! As for coming to an appreciation of Noh the way you did, I understand completely because the "other" part of my appreciation of Tuvan throat singing comes from enjoying it as if it were a tone-painting/tone-poem/environment ala some of the electronic music that Hearts of Space programs (now about the ONLY programming I can enjoy from NPR these days...). Kind of the sound within the sound...the Art of Noise? (Oh, yes, I enjoy them, too, but I was actually being literal there!).
It's funny how for some people, music generates an amazing line of associations of other music...

#33 ::: Andrew Sigel ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2004, 09:01 PM:

I saw Sequentia and Dialogos present "Chant Wars" last weekend, by which time the program had acquired the far more staid title of "The Emperor's Cantors ? The Carolingian Globalization of Medieval Plainchant". Despite the image conjured up by the first title, Sequentia and Dialogos did not, alas, face each other across the church altar, one representing Rome and the other the Carolingian empire, and sing competing versions of a chant text.

It was, nevertheless, a fascinating program, with chant interspersed with readings from surviving writings about the confrontation between Roman and regional chant practices. There was chant from Gaul and Rome, Alsace and Switzerland, and different use of melody and mode. We heard various forms of monophonic melodic chant, a couple truly florid, the notes and words coming so fast that I was left breathless. Unexpectedly, as often as not, pieces were not monophonic. In two or three pieces, there were two lines running in parallel fourths; I'm far more used to the parallel octaves and fifths of later church homophony. Some pieces had vocal drones underneath the melody, sometimes joining a cantorial soloist for brief phrases. And yet, ancient as the manuscripts may have been, it was new music -- new in this millenium, at any rate, for as the program said: "For many pieces in this program, ours are the first known performances since the Middle Ages."

I think my favorite of the tales they recounted was the one in which the Emperor Charlemagne, wanting the pure, proper Roman singing in his empire, requested Pope Stephen to send him a dozen monks who could teach this chant to the singers in his churches. The monks (those "wily, virtuoso cantors of the Papal court" mentioned in the original post), looking down on the Carolingians, met secretly before they left and agreed to each teach different, incorrect chanting, and went off to confound the foreigners by causing many wrong methods of chant to take root. They were found out before they could do much damage, fortunately, and sent back to Rome where they were imprisoned or exiled. When Charlemagne asked Stephen for a replacement set of monks, Stephen replied that he could send them, but they'd probably do the same thing as the first set. If the Emperor would instead secretly send a couple of his own monks to Rome, they could be trained in proper chanting, then return home and correctly train the Carolingian monks. This plan succeeded admirably, and Roman chant spread through the empire.

In another cool recreation, Benjamin Bagby (director of Sequentia) has been commissioned by the Lincoln Center Festival to perform Beowulf in its entirety (six hours) in 2006. He currently does a performance version of the first quarter of that epic, and has a website that will give you an idea of what to expect... but unfortunately, I couldn't find any specific details on the 2006 performance. There's time yet.

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