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ClassicsOnline Home » GLOGAUER LIEDERBUCH (Das) (Dulce Melos)
The Glogauer Liederbuch is a forgotten treasure, a rich repository of fifteenth-century music. It contains 292 songs, devotional chants and instrumental pieces which were performed by educated enthusiasts or students, not by professional musicians. The collection also includes several pieces known as ‘Schwanz’ (tail), which probably designates them as dances (‘schwanzen’ being a derivation of ‘tanzen’, ie dancing). The music sung or played in this Lower Silesian monastic community originated in many different countries, but all the pieces show a richly developed standard. The Liederbuch is the oldest known set of part-books from central Europe.
By Karen Cook
Early Music America
By David Vernier
The Glogau Song Book
Songs, Comic Tales and Tails
The musical history of central Europe contains an abundance of forgotten treasures, among them the music of the Glogauer Liederbuch. This manuscript contains 292 songs, devotional chants, and instrumental pieces, which served a small monastic community in Lower Silesia as daily entertainment around the year 1480. It was also used for Sunday worship—apparently it did not make much difference. The collection itself tells of a joy in private music-making which has become rare today.
The pervading tone is quite intimate. Almost all the pieces are in three parts, to be performed on three string instruments or sung in the registers SAT or ATB, also transposed or mixed for voices and instruments, if necessary. Many of the numbers, especially the songs with texts, are very short, as if they should only be taken as an inducement for longer improvisation. Additional verses, often missing in the manuscript, might be sung from memory. The collection contains many settings of songs which were popular at the time, the well-known main melody of which was to be performed in the upper register (discantus) or by the main voice in the middle register (tenor), while the other voices contribute counterpoint, ornament, and harmonic accompaniment. Some of the melodies occur several times in different contrapuntal arrangements. The pieces are not ordered by genre or function, much less by sacred or secular content; rather, they are set down as a colourful mixture. The performers sang or played all over the place, as it were, enjoying the change and recurrence of musical forms.
It is important to recognize that the Liederbuch does not consist of a single volume, but of three separate part-books (descant, tenor, contratenor). The Glogauer Liederbuch is the oldest known set of part-books from central Europe. This form of music book was meant for a small group of equal musicians, not for a cathedral chapel or an instrumental ensemble at court; the music was not played from memory, but read from the part-book. The users were musical amateurs: not professional musicians, who usually played from memory, but educated enthusiasts or students, who could read mensural notation. Iconographical evidence for this practice is still quite rare in the fifteenth century; illustrations after 1500 mostly show well dressed ladies and gentlemen, who have gathered to play and sing at a ‘private’ concert. Shortly after 1500 the first printed part-books appeared in Italy and southern Germany.
Our three part-books were essentially written by a single hand. Expertise and care are evidenced in the unvaryingly clear writing, the inclusion of a precise alphabetical index and the distinct marking of separate numbers, often by coloured initials. The music notation is remarkably competent. Who was this scribe and producer of the manuscript, and who were its first users?
The Glogauer Liederbuch was found and first described in 1874 in the Berlin Royal Library. The name Glogauer Liederbuch was given to it later, because it contains a note, written in the sixteenth century, which describes the cathedral of Glogau (Głogów) as its owner. It has long been thought that the manuscript originated in Glogau and might have belonged to the town’s grammar school. The manuscript disappeared after 1945, but reemerged in 1977 in the Biblioteka Jagiellońska of Kraków, where it is kept today. A complete edition in four volumes and a facsimile edition have been published.
As early as the 1930s there had been speculation that the manuscript might have a connection to a certain clerical user, Andreas Ritter (ca. 1445–1480) from Grünberg (Zielona Góra). This is because a humorous and satirical motet in the volume (Probitate eminentem), composed by the Bohemian musician Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (b. 1392), refers to him. It can, of course, not be discounted that Wilhelmi wrote the motet on somebody else and that the name of Andreas Ritter was only substituted in the text of our manuscript, but the ironical statements in the motet, concerning this ‘outstanding gentleman’, tally strikingly with Ritter’s known biography. He was said to have been just as fond of alcohol and women as he was of the monastic life. Ritter was engaged at Glogau’s cathedral school until ca. 1465, and then became canon at the Augustinian collegiate foundation in Sagan (Żagań). Grünberg, Glogau, and Sagan are situated near to each other in what were then the Lower Silesian duchies of the Piast dynasty, today provinces in Western Poland. Another motet in the manuscript (Sempiterna ydeitas) was composed in 1477 to celebrate the birth of a Piast duke (Jan, the son of Frederick and Ludmila); since the manuscript can therefore not have been begun long before that year, it could well have originated in the Sagan monastery—if it had something to do with Andreas Ritter.
Another significant figure seems to have been Martin Rinkenberg, at that time abbot of the Augustinian foundation. He was born in Breslau (Wrocław) and graduated at the University of Leipzig with a Master’s degree in 1441. From 1468 he was abbot of Sagan, where his scholarship and love of music, especially in the private and secular realm, would have brought him into regular contact with Ritter. On 4 March 1480, the two had a violent altercation, after Ritter had returned from a pub crawl in the town and Rinkenberg confronted him. Thinking he had killed the abbot, Ritter jumped out of a window and died. Rinkenberg himself had a stroke in 1482 and remained paralysed down one side of his body until the end of his life (1489). The chronicle of the abbots of Sagan, where the section on Rinkenberg must have been written by a more pious successor, criticizes him for his secular cast of mind: multi-part music was, he writes, traditionally forbidden in the abbey, and women should not be allowed into the monastery at all. In the early sixteenth century the Sagan abbot Paul Lemberg introduced the Reformation to Grünberg. It is easily forgotten today that the Reformation was preceded by a period of relaxed monastic life, during which an educated elite indulged in their pleasurable interests.
There is, however, no conclusive proof that Ritter or Rinkenberg ever owned or commissioned the part-books, nor of the original author. But one of Rinkenberg’s musical foundations, known to his contemporaries, found expression in the manuscript, since the three-part Ave regina celorum, mater regis angelorum, which was to be sung regularly in the monastery by the pupils of the city school, according to the foundation script, turns out to be the famous antiphon of the same title by the Englishman Walter Frye.
As it happens, the pieces in the Glogauer collection originated in many different countries and demonstrate a high standard of European polyphony. Not all of them were written in Lower Silesia, to be sure. Where do the imported compositions come from? One or more of the preceding collections from which pieces were drawn might have been kept at the universities of Leipzig and Kraków, where Rinkenberg, Ritter and possibly other Silesian music-lovers had studied. About 66 concordances with pieces from other collections point to Saxony, Southern Germany, France, England, Italy and the Netherlands; a few untexted songs, as well as ones with Latin texts, could have originated in Bohemia or Poland. Many untexted pieces, and also ones with such lovely fantasy names as Pfauenschwanz [Peacock’s Tail] and Seidenschwanz [Silk Tail, also the German name of the waxwing] have been indentified as originally vocal compositions from France. The German texts of some seventy songs have traditionally been found in Silesia, Saxony, Bohemia/Moravia, North and South Germany. But apart from many imported pieces, there are also ‘successor compositions’, similar to the ones mentioned above and only recorded here, so they might be of local origin. People raided the international fund, as well as composing new pieces in similar styles. That led to musical ‘clusters’ of related works or ones based on the same melody. The organisation of this recording into ‘suites’ of related content reflects these connections.
I. The oldest sacred song of the collection is Christ ist erstanden [Christ is risen]. The melody in the Dorian mode, is originally derived from the Latin Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes. Here it is presented in two different settings. The third setting of the same text, played as the second of these pieces (GLOG 127), uses an unconnected basic melody, similar to the Protestant hymn In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr.
II. The collection contains several pieces known as ‘Schwanz’, i.e. tail, which probably designates them as dances (‘schwanzen’ was a word derivation of ‘tanzen’, i.e. dancing). Der Rattenschwanz [The Rat’s Tail] seems to be meant for instruments: it does not have the form of a song, but rather consists of three differing sections, to be played in succession. Such consecutive dance sections were known as puncta (‘periods’). In the second section, set in two parts, different kinds of canonic imitation are tried out. In the third section a simple rhythmic motif gains ground.
III. The three-part setting of GLOG 237 probably originated in France. The middle voice was given the text of the German love song O wie gern und doch entbern [How I long, but must abstain], so that it became a ‘tenor song’. To ‘disguise’ it in a spiritual fashion (perhaps to cause less offence in the monastery?), a hymn to Saint Barbara was also written under it. An untexted version in our manuscript (“Beth”) is contained in a group ordered after the Hebrew alphabet. Here, the Aeolian scale, named much later but typical of many pieces in the manuscript, is emphasized by imitating motifs.
IV. A well-known German comic song with the admonition Rumpel an der Türe nicht [Don’t bang on the door) was given the shortened title Rompeltier in the Netherlands and Italy. The woman lets her lover know that her husband has not gone to the mill, as anticipated, so he should not come to the door and bang on it! Consequently, the lover is practically forced to drink himself into a stupor (‘All voll’).
V. The Morgenstern [Morning Star] songs in the Dorian mode are held in a more delicate tone. In the Tagelied (daylight) genre, the lovers lament the coming of morning, when they will have to separate. In many songs, the morning star was used as a symbol of lovers’ general yearning (as in Ich sach einsmals den lichten Morgensterne – I once saw the bright morning star), or of religious hope.
VI. This group is set in the Lydian mode. The German strophic song Zu aller Zeit [Always]—a so-called ‘courtly song’—is given with its full text, which is added to from another source. The wonderful rondeau Helas, que pourra devenir by Firminus Caron from northern France is given the nice fantasy title Seidenschwanz in the manuscript, as one of the dance pieces given the collective name of Schwanz (i.e. ‘tail’). It also gained the text of a Marian hymn. If you listen closely, the piece reveals itself as an incredible puzzle of very closely scored imitations.
VII. Elende du hast umfangen mich [Miserable one, you have embraced me]—the text is also that of a courtly song, but the melody was also known with a French text (Vive, madame, par amours); moreover, there were several different pieces under the generic heading of ‘Misery’, pertaining to the lover being far away (‘abroad’).
VIII. The most famous song from the middle of the fifteenth century was certainly Leonardo Giustiniani’s Italian ballata, O rosa bella, set to music by the Englishman John Bedyngham (ca. 1440). For decades the piece had been tinkered with in different vocal and instrumental arrangements. In our manuscript, there are actually four quodlibets (i.e. medleys) on the main melody, which has gathered forty more well-known melodies around it, akin to a flower-garden.
IX. The text of the courtly song Ich bins erfreut [I am pleased] is dated ‘Anno 67’ in another source. Judging by its form, the lovely four-part piece in the Lydian mode again seems to be a chanson of French origin. The tenor song Die libe ist schön [Love is beautiful—the rest of the text is lost] is set in the Bar form A-A-B.
X. At the time there were several pieces named Pfauenschwanz [Peacock’s Tail]. In our manuscript there are two: one of them is the presumed ancestor of the whole ‘Tail’ family, a four-part composition by the Frenchman Barbingant (first name unknown, ca. 1460). The same tenor melody was treated very differently by the Netherlander Paulus de Broda (actually de Rhoda). Both pieces, however, are fully written out instrumental improvisations on a dance melody.
XI. In this Lydian group we hear a hit of the time, the tenor song In Feuers Hitz so brennet mein Herz [In fiery heat my heart is burning]. The words are recorded in a Middle German source as an alternative text to a sacred composition by Heinrich Isaac; in the margin next to it there is a drawing of a monk with a woman on his arm. The four-part setting in our manuscript has also been given a Marian prayer in Latin as devotional disguise (‘contrafactum’). The piece with the song text Ach reine zart [O tender pure] seems like a—very competent—improvisation on In Feuers Hitz.
XII. The French rondeau Entrepris suis by the Italian Bartholomeus Bruolo is probably the oldest multi-part composition in the manuscript (ca. 1430). Nobody knows for certain why the (substantial) piece was so popular everywhere—it was probably because the imitative setting and the finely worked ornamentation have something quite brilliant about them. Nothing more is known about the composer.
XIII. These two Dorian songs are woven around women’s names. Lætare Germania is a verse antiphon on St Elizabeth, the patron saint of Germany, in a chorale melody set for voices. Elslein, liebstes Elselein is set as a dialogue between two lovers ‘separated by deep waters’, in a folk style.
XIV. Here, two comic songs on familiar themes in the Mixolydian mode have been put together. Auf rief ein hübsches Fräuelein [Up, called a lovely maiden] is a true round dance song in striking triple time and with the typical call ‘Hoiho’, which was originally a signal used in directing dances. Zenner, greiner [Scolding, whining, man] is one of the widespread mocking songs directed at the cuckolded husband who ‘whines’ about his unfaithful wife.
XV. At the time, Groß Sehnen [Great longing] was a standard title for dozens of pieces on several different melodies. The composition chosen here is based on the famous anonymous rondeau J’ay pris amours a ma devise: the two upper parts of the originals are used as lower voices (tenor and bass), and a new high part has been added to replace the original’s lowest voice. Die Welt [The world] is a popular ballad, of which, unfortunately, only the first verse seems to be known.
XVI. The collection contains works in the Ionian mode as well, even though this term was also coined later. Die Katzenpfote [The cat’s paw]—a name which would already suggest the ‘Tail’ genre—is an ingeniously composed instrumental piece with countless short imitations and sequences. The untitled piece GLOG 100 is a composition separated into several puncta with a songlike upper part, but not set in song form: it is comparable to the instrumental fantasia as it was already practised in Italy at the time.
XVII. Die congregational hymn (Leise) Nu bitten wir den heiligen Geist [We now beseech thee, Holy Spirit] originated in the thirteenth century. The setting places the melody almost without ornamentation in the upper voice, as with other sacred works in our collection, and accompanies it with more animated lower parts. The concluding ‘Kyrieleis’ is richly elaborated in triple time. Even Martin Luther had nothing to add to the intimacy of this pilgrim’s song, except for writing three beautiful extra verses.
XVIII. Der Vöglein Art [The way of little birds] is a courtly song in three long verses (here amended from other sources), in the Mixolydian mode. Because of the close rhythmic relationship between music and text, it is conceivable that it was composed as a part-song, i.e. not derived from an already known base melody.
XIX. When there were no more ‘Tails’ available in Sagan as names for popular music, new fantasy names had to be invented, among them the ‘Cat’s paw’ and the ‘Asses’ crown’ (Eselskrone), potentially reaching into the realm of mockery or ridicule. Both pieces are set in the same imitative style, which requires cleanly precise ensemble playing.
XX. These songs in the Dorian mode conclude our selection. Tärste ich [Would I be permitted] and Ach Gott, wie sehr [Oh god, how much] deal with a lover’s yearning; the first is in Bar form A-A-B and could be derived from a pre-existing basic melody—which is quite reminiscent of the lower part of J’ay pris amours. Ach Gott could be an original composition on the same text. Der Wächter an der Zinnen [The guard on the battlements—no further text is known] is definitely a daylight song (Tagelied), perhaps on a folk melody. The diminutive form of the last two songs invites further invention, ornamentation and improvisation.
Translation: Bernd Müller
Our special thanks to Jane Achtman, who generously provided her Renaissance bass gamba (made by Robert Foster, 2001) for this recording.
This recording is dedicated to the memory of Dietrich Schmidtke (†), a connoisseur of medieval German poetry and an enthusiast of the Glogauer Liederbuch.
Abbreviations of Sources:
GLOG = Glogauer Liederbuch / Glogau Song Book (Kraków, Biblioteka Jagiellońska, Ms. Mus 40098)
BUX = Buxheimer Orgelbuch / Buxheim Organ Book (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cim. 352b)
ODH = Harmonice musices odhecaton A (Venice: Ottaviano Petrucci, 1501)
CORD = Chansonnier Cordiforme (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Rothschild 2973 (I.5.13))
TR89 = Trent Codex 89 (Trento, Castello de Buonconsiglio, Monumenti e Collezioni Provinciali, (formerly MS 89) MS 1376.
The abbreviations of the sources are according to David Fallows: A Catalogue of Polyphonic Songs, 1415–1480, Oxford: University Press, 1999. The numbers following these abbreviations refer to the number of the piece in the source indicated as listed in the standard editions (e.g. GLOG 124 = Glogauer Liederbuch, piece number 124).
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GLOGAUER LIEDERBUCH (Das) (Dulce Melos)