The CD


When my friends Peter Neubäcker und Hildegard Sourgens had the happy idea of commissioning a CD recording from our ensemble EST!, the request dovetailed perfectly with the work I was doing at the time, which involved exploring the music of the late Middle Ages through a primal melody and making it possible to experience it in a meaningful way.

"Un fior gentil", a melody that features in various works by the ars nova musician and papal singer Zacharias da Teramo (one of many versions of his name), became the central theme of a journey through the landscapes of late medieval music in the 14th and 15th centuries. It has affinities with Gregorian antiphonies such as Salve regina and appears in various metamorphoses in motets, songs and dances – a playground of creative possibilities in the style and with the instruments of the time. Furthermore, the delight in experimenting with sounds and rhythms to which it testifies was an invitation to further experimentation, this time using the tools of a new type of sound editor.

 Un Fior Gentil - CD front side Un Fior Gentil - CD back side

Sleeve notes and texts

Ensemble EST! Un Fior Gentil Metamorphoses of a melody written around 1400

01 Un Fior Gentil - Cantio Ballata by Zacharias da Teramo

The melody has been handed down to us by Zacharias da Teramo (near Naples) but suggests earlier sources. A cheerful dance song, sung by children – our point of departure on a journey through the music of the late Middle Ages: "A noble flower appeared to me".

Un fior gentil m’apparse
O aspiratio prima
Ma bina ne va per rima
Poy duy cenquante prima'
e tosto sparse.
Angelicamente venne ad repararse

Passiona‘, passiona‘, passionato
Stando a iudicarme.
Poy commenza a donarme

De quel suo dolze frutto
Ay me che’l mundo tutto
Tal fior non se trovera
a ben cercarse.

A noble flower appeared to me
– O, the first breath,
a twofold rhyme
twice fifty, then again the first –
and straightway vanished.
Angel-like she came, and came again,

and stood there, full of fervour,
judging me.
Then she began to bestow upon me her sweet fruit.

Woe, that in all the world
now such a flower is nowhere to be found,
however carefully one looks.

Translation: Ewan Whyte

02 Sanctus - Mediolano Mass movement from Milan

Source: Oxford Bodleian Library

This anonymous mass movement – with two descants moving above a framework of tenor and contratenor may have been performed during the Council of Pisa in Milan Cathedral. Colleges of as few as 8 to 12 musicians could make vast rooms resound with the overtone richness of their singing to vielles as well as wind, plucked and percussion instruments.

Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth
Pleni sunt ciaeli et terra gloria tua
Hosanna in excelsis
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini
Hosanna in excelsis

Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth;
heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest.

[Divine Service of the Lutheran church]

03 Dal Ciel Venne Messo Novello Christmas Lauda from Cortona

Source: Cortona VI

The Italian lauda of the 14th and 15th centuries originated at and around the University of Perugia before quickly spreading to the towns of Umbria and Tuscany. It represented the musical expression of a radical movement of opposition to the papal churches of Rome and Avignon that had forfeited their claim to universality and their authority through their schism, mutual excommunications, simony, unashamed grasping after money and power, abuse of office and failure to meet the pastoral challenges posed by the devastating plagues and wars that beset the region at that time.

Feeling themselves abandoned by the church, the faithful chose instead to build upon the legacy of Francis of Assisi. Embracing the poverty movement of his minorites, and having no more use for priests and churches, they celebrated their faith in new popular forms of piety, in the vernacular, in town squares. The emphasis was upon community singing and dancing. The songs had choruses or riprese that everyone could sing along to, so the pattern was one of alternation, with the precentor delivering the often sermon-like verses solo, and the congregation joining in and dancing during the refrain.

This lauda tells the part of the Christmas story that deals with the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel. It is taken from the Cortona Laudario of 1320.

Dal ciel venne messo novello
ciò fo Angel Gabriello

1. Nella città di Galilea
la vera la gente Iudea
favellavano in lengua ebrea
in città et in castello.

2. ch'e chiamata Nazareth
la una vergene naque e stette
sponsata era a Iosephe
secondo la legge col anello.

3. L'angelo fo messo a Dio
ben comenzo et ben finio
saviamente senza rio
annuntio lo suo libello.

4. Ave Maria gratia plena
Dio ti salvi stella serena
Dio e con teco che ti mena
enn-el paradiso bello.

5. Tu se' regina et elli e reie
virgo Maria credi a meie
non avra fine il dico a teie
lo so regno altissimo e bello.

From heaven came a new messenger:
the angel Gabriel …

1 … to a town in Galilee
inhabited by Jews,
where Hebrew was spoken
in both town and castle.

2 The name of the town was Nazareth.
There lived a virgin, born in the town,
and betrothed to Joseph
with a ring, in accordance with the law.

3 The angel was sent by God
and careful from the start
to reassure her
as he proclaimed his message.

4 Hail, Mary, full of grace,
God will preserve you, glad'ning star,
for he is with you, leading you
to his beauteous paradise.

5 You are the queen as he is the king,
Virgin Mary, believe me:
his sublime and glorious reign,
I tell you, will be without end.

Translation: Ewan Whyte

04 Medee Fu Ballade from southern France

Source: Codex Chantilly c. 1390

The voice leading of this ballad is such as to allow each of the three voices – cantus, tenor and contratenor – the greatest possible rhythmic and melodic freedom. Its dense interweaving with improvisational freedoms in the contratenor sets the melodies in the closest proportions of harmony and time to one another. The principle of minor distantia shapes the avant–garde character of the song: a tree moves in the wind, its trunk, branches, twigs and leaves finding their proportions in God's Gesamtkunstwerk, which the composer attempts to recreate.

The result is this ballade, written around the turn of the fifteenth century by an anonymous composer of the ars subtilior school, in which the poet contrasts the fickleness of his own mistress with the devotion of the sorceress Medea, the daughter of a king, who helped her lover, Jason, steal the Golden Fleece from her native Colchis, sacrificing family and home to follow him to Greece and the catastrophe of poison, murder and fire.

05 Celi Solem Sequitur Instrumental sequence

Sequences are considered the first contributions of free non–liturgical music to the choreography of the Mass, often to the offertory. They were handed down soon after in the form of virtuoso instrumental works. A tonal bridge in the improvisation of instrumental music between Arabic origins and European adaptation in the Middle Ages.

06 Un fior gentil - Organetto Version for organetto by Zacharias

In the skilful simplicity of its two-part harmony, the melody, played on the organetto, speaks the language of ars nova – a style largely shaped by Guillaume de Machaut.

07 Un fior gentil - Gloria Gloria by Zacharias da Teramo

An elaborate 3–part setting of the Gloria above the original melody. The tradition of constructing entire masses on the elaboration of a well-known melody reached its zenith in the quattrocento, continuing into the Renaissance. Zacharias based some of these settings of the mass upon his own melodies, which had apparently developed into major "hits" of the day.

Gloria in excelsis Deo

et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis.
Laudamus te,
benedicimus te,
adoramus te,
glorificamus te,
gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam,
Domine Deus, Rex caelestis,
Deus Pater omnipotens,
Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe,
Domine Deus, Agnus Dei,
Filius Patris,
qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis;
qui tollis peccata mundi, suscipe deprecationem nostram.
Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, miserere nobis.
Quoniam tu solus Sanctus,
tu solus Dominus,
tu solus Altissimus, Jesu Christe,
cum Sancto Spiritu:
in gloria Dei Patris. Amen.

Glory be to God on high

And in earth peace, good will towards men.
We praise thee, we bless thee,
we worship thee, we glorify thee,
we give thanks to thee for thy great glory,
O Lord GOD, heavenly king, God the father almighty.
O Lord the only begotten son, Jesu Christ,
O Lord GOD, Lamb of GOD, son of the father,
that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us:
thou that takest away the sins of the world,
receive our prayer.
Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the father,
have mercy upon us:
For thou only art holy,
thou only art the Lord. Thou only (O Christ)
with the holy Ghost,
are most high in the glory of God the father. Amen.

[Book of Common Prayer (1549)]

08 Una Cosa Di Veder Ballata by Don Paolo da Firenze

Source: Squarcialuoi Codex

A subtle ballata by Don Paolo da Firenze, probably also attributed to his teacher, the blind Florentine organettist Francesco Landini. An exhilarating, spirited piece of dance music in a tarantella-like three-step known as the tripudio.

09 De Ma Dolour Ballade by Philipotus da Caserta

Philipotus, one of the leading exponents of the so–called ars subtilior musical style mentions in a letter "the joyful cantilenas the young folk sing". Admittedly the focus of De ma dolour is upon the pain that love must bring a young man. Perhaps we hear the sounds of that time differently today? And hear only the melancholy of the songs? Or should we consider new ways of interpreting them?

De ma dolour ne puis trouver confort
car en tous cas m'est fortune contrayre.
Languir m'estuet car mis sui a tel port
qu'a mon vouloir ne m'en puis pas retrayre.
Mar vi le jour que vi le doulz viaire
car perdu ay la joiouse pasture
Quant ne la voy, la parfaite figure.

From my suffering, I can find no relief,
for Fortune is against me in all things.
Longing alone is left me, for I am come to such a pass
that I am no longer master of my will.
A sad day it was, when first I saw that beauteous face,
for I can delight in nothing
have I not before my eyes her perfect form.

Translation: Ewan Whyte

10 Onne Homo Ad Alta Voce Lauda from Cortona

"Let all men with a loud voice / praise the true cross!"

The legend of the true holy cross which, according to a relic legend, washed ashore at Pisa. This lauda recounts the Passion of Christ in response to this miracle.

Onne homo ad alta voce
laudi la verace croce!

1. Quanto è digna da laudare
core no lo pò pensare,
lengua no lo pò contare,
la verace sancta croce!

2. Questo legno pretioso
è di legno virtüoso:
lo nimico à confuso
per la forza de la croce.

3. Poi ke Cristo fo pillato,
strectamente fo ligato,
d'ogne parte fo tormentato
e donato a la croce.

4. Iesù Cristo redemptore
come falso bufadore,
come latro e traditore,
fo donato a la croce.

5. San Iovanni evangelista
lo suo core multo era tristo,
quando vidde ‘l suo maiestro
stare innudo in sulla croce.

6. La sua madre è dolente,
multo trista la sua mente:
piange e dole amaramente,
stando a piede de la croce.

7. La sua madre cum dolore
kiama e dice “Dolze amore,
öimé, fillio e signore,
perké fosti posto in croce?”

8. La sua madre dice: “O fillio
aulorito più ke gillio,
perké fo questo consillio
ke morisse nella croce

Let all men with a loud voice
praise the true cross!

1 How worthy it is to be praised
no heart can conceive,
no tongue can tell:
the true holy cross!

2 This precious wood
is redolent with virtue;
yet enemies are confounded
by the power of the cross

3 His tender limbs
were stretched and pulled
all bloody,
and nailed to the cross.

4 When Christ was taken captive,
he was tightly bound,
tortured in all his body
and hung upon the cross.

5 St. John the Evangelist
was grief-stricken
when he saw his Lord
hanging naked on the cross.

6 His mother in distress
calls out to him: “Sweet beloved,
O woe, Son and Lord,
why have they nailed you to the cross?”

7 His mother is full of sorrow,
sad of heart and mind,
and weeps and suffers bitterly
as she stands at the foot of the cross.

8 His mother says: “My son,
more fragrant than the lily,
wherefore was it decided
thou shouldst die on the cross?”

Translation: Ewan Whyte

11 Un Fior Gentil Ballata by Zacharias da Teramo

Secular 3-part ballata based on the original melody. Zacharias has buried a riddle in the text:
"O the first breath, / a twofold rhyme, / twice fifty, then again the first"
The key to the riddle, which this recording also elucidates, is the word AMARYLLIS.

Un fior gentil m’apparse
O aspiratio prima
Ma bina ne va per rima
Poy duy cenquante prima'
e tosto sparse.
Angelicamente venne ad repararse

Passiona‘, passiona‘, passionato
Stando a iudicarme.
Poy commenza a donarme

De quel suo dolze frutto
Ay me che’l mundo tutto
Tal fior non se trovera
a ben cercarse.

A noble flower appeared to me
– O, the first breath,
a twofold rhyme
twice fifty, then again the first –
and straightway vanished.
Angel-like she came, and came again,

and stood there, full of fervour,
judging me.
Then she began to bestow upon me her sweet fruit.

Woe, that in all the world
now such a flower is nowhere to be found,
however carefully one looks.

Translation: Ewan Whyte

12 Aquil Altera Madrigal by Jacobo da Bononia

Jacopo da Bologna's madrigal Aquila altera/Creatura gentil/Uccel di Dio is found in the magnificent Codex Squarcialupi. Although the song may have been heard in 1360 at the marriage of Giangaleazzo Visconti of Milan (beneath the emblem of the eagle) to Princess Isabella of Valois (whose emblem was the dove), Jacobus da Bononia introduces into the contemporary discourse of musicians and poets about the truthfulness and value of their art the analogy of an "awe-inspring eagle", who, from an immeasurable altitude, enjoys a panoramic view, can look directly into the sun, and acknowledges only those of its young as can do the same, rejecting the incapable; that is its "justicia", its justice. With an eye no less severe, such is the implication, should contemporary art be judged.

Aquila altera, ferma in su la vetta
Dell’alta mente l’occhio valoroso
Dove tua vita prende suo riposo.
Là è ’l parere, là l’esser beato.

Creatura gentile, animal degno,
salire in alto e rimirar nel sole
singularmente tuo natura vuole.
Là è l’imagine e la perfezione.

Uccel di Dio, insegna di giustizia,
tu hai principalmente chiara gloria
perché nelle grand’opre tu hai vittoria.
Là vidi l’ombra, là la vera essenza.

Awe-inspiring eagle, fix your heroic eye
on the summit of the exalted mind
where your life finds its repose.
There, bliss both seems to be and is.

Noble creature, worthy being,
your nature's sole desire
is to soar heavenward and look deep into the sun.
There is the image and there the perfection.

Bird of God, symbol of righteousness,
all else pales beside your glory
for your triumph is in your great works.
There I saw the shadow and there the true being.

Translation: Ewan Whyte

13 Aquil altera - Diminuition Diminuition for flauto

Amid the virtuoso interludes and diminuitions of the treble instrument, a medieval flauto dolce, the outline of the song melody is only still discernible in the tenor – an example of the high art of improvisation of the late Middle Ages. There is a bridge here to the playing practices of the minstrels and Arab musicians of southern Italy but more especially the Iberian Peninsula.

14 Salve Regina Marian antiphon

The Marian Antiphon is usually sung as part of the office of compline; it dates from the 11th century. The soggetto at the beginning of the antiphon recalls the original melody of Un fior gentil. Salve Regina is regarded as the "green" antiphon; it is sung throughout the summer from Pentecost to Advent: one of the central melodies in the liturgical year.

Salve, Regina,
mater misericordiae;
Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve.

Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Hevae.
Ad te suspiramus,
gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo, Advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos
ad nos converte.
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, o pia, o dulcis virgo Maria.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.

To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.

Translation: Ewan Whyte

15 In Tua Memoria Lauda by Arnold de Lantins

A three–part lauda by Arnold de Lantins, a native of Flanders who began his career in Italy as a papal singer alongside Dufay, later winning fame as a musician at various courts as well as in Venice. In the ripresa and piedi of the responsory, this lauda praises the miraculous attributes of Mary, the Mother of God, made manifest in the virgin birth and her role as the central patron saint – this at a time when schism, simony, abuse of power and moral turpitude had robbed the church's male hierarchy of all credibility in the eyes of churchgoers. To this, the unifying figure of the Mother of God, the Madonna of the Sheltering Mantle, is presented here as the female antithesis

In tua memoria, virgo mater nata,
Simus ut sit gloria perpes nobis data.

Qui ad te confugium quaerimus securum,
Ne quaquam repudium reverentes durum,
Centrum peripheriae, doctrinae norma,
Et nostrae miseriae tu formarum forma.

Gaude plena gratia, virgo fecundata,
Mundi spes et gloria, mater illibata,
Peccatorum venia, sponsa consecrata,
Sanctorum laetitia, regina beata.

Let us abide in your memory, Virgin Mother,
so that eternal glory may be ours.

In thee, we seek refuge
knowing thou willst not reject us harshly.
Centre about which our world spins in confusion,
Beauty of all beauties, in our misery we look to thee.

Virgin full of grace, with child
the hope and glory of the world, rejoice,
to sinners lenient, hallowed bride,
joy of the saints, blessed queen.

Translation: Ewan Whyte

16 Apollinis Eclipsatur Motet by Bernard de Cluny (duplum)

This motet by the papal musician reflects music and the world on three levels: forming the foundation, the sacred tenor; then the dance of the stars of the zodiac in the sound of their proportions to each other, and finally a list of the musicians of the papal court at Avignon – some of whom perhaps were even singing and playing this motet – detailing their peculiarities and merits. According to this contemporary view, the musician is attempting in his work, with the limited means at his disposal, to reenact God's creation of the world.

The motet is heard first in its three–part version: to the "sacred" tenor and the contratenor of the zodiac is added the duplum with the sung list of musicians : "Apollo's light is never eclipsed / when he accepts the guidance of the twelve signs of the zodiac,"

Apollinis eclipsatur
nunquam lux cum peragatur
signorum misterio
bis sex, quibus armonica
fulget arte basilica
musicorum collegio
multiformis figuris,
e quo nitet J. de Muris
modo colorum vario,
Philippus de Vitriaco
acta plura vernant a quo,
ordine multiphario
noscit Henricus Helene
tonorum tenorem bene,
Magni cum Dionisio
Regaudus de Tiramonte
Orpheyco potus fonte,
Robertus de Palatio
actubus petulancia,
fungens gaudet poetria
Guilhermus de Mascaudio,
Egidius de Morino
baritonans cum Garino
quem cognoscat Suessio,
Arnaldus Martini, jugis
philomena, P. de Brugis,
Gaufridus de Barilio
vox quorum mundi climata
penetrat ad algamata,
doxe fruantur bravio!

Apollo's light is never eclipsed,
when he accepts the guidance
of the twelve signs of the zodiac,
which lend splendour to the basilica
in manifold signs
through the harmonic artistry
of the assembled musicians
among whom John de Muris is notable
for his iridescence,
Philippe de Vitry,
for his prolific output
with its variety of forms,
Henri d'Helene for his knowledge
of the tenor of tonalities
as is Denis Le Grant.
Renaud de Tirlemont,
who drank from the fountain of Orpheus,
Robert du Palais,
through the boldness of his execution,
Guillaume de Machaut,
rejoicing in poetry,
Egidius de Murino
sings baritone with Guarin,
whom Soissons should know,
Arnaud de Saint–Martin–du–Ré,
the ever–singing nightingale Pierre de Bruges,
Godefroy de Baralle.
The voices of these men make glad the furthest corners
of the earth, and on high
may theirs be the glory they deserve!

Translation: Ewan Whyte

17 Apollinis eclipsatur - Quadrupulm Motet by Bernard de Cluny (quadruplum)

In this five-voice polyphonic setting, the various lyrical levels coalesce, with the quadruplum instrumental, and the triplum Pantheon abluitur being added to the duplum Apollinis eclipsatur. "The Pantheon, temple of false gods, is purified and established in its place the Church of Saints".

Pantheon abluitur,
templum pseudodeorum,
ecclesia sanctorum,
plus error destruitur
mutavi bonorum;
prima Sancta Trinitas
ibidem veneratur,
gratiam divinitas
ut plene largiatur,
hinc laudum concinitas
majestate collocatur
ierarchias complete
post decem venerari;
laus sequitur prophete
Johannis tam  preclari.
Duodecim athlete
tunc debent collaudari;
martirum vibratio
consequenter laudatur,
confitens flagratio
vicissim decoratur,
virginum fragratio
laude simul fruatur;
nos ubique locorum
his festum celebrare
jubemur singulorum.
Si non constat servare
jus supplent honorum
quos contigit peccare;
nunc caput deprecentur,
istius membra festi
corda nostra laventur;
sic lavate celesti
ne nobis dominentur
proditores scelesti.

The pantheon, temple of false gods,
is purified
and established in its place
the Church of the Saints.
Egregious error is rectified
and turned to good.
Now, the Holy Trinity is worshipped here,
wherefore the Deity
will be not be stinting with its grace;
then the glad sound of hymns of praise
rings out;
after that, the ten hierarchies
are exalted.
There follows the praise
of the celebrated prophet John.
Then the twelve athletes, too,
are praised
the glory of the martyrs,
and the zeal to confess
are each extoled in turn;
at the same time
the fragrance of virgins finds praise.
we are called upon
to celebrate the feast of all the saints.
Those who do not know how to keep the commandments
are aided by devotion.
Those who have fallen into sin
now crave pardon from the Most High.
You whose feasts we celebrate,
make pure our hearts.
Cleanse them, company of heaven,
so that iniquity and treachery
cannot prevail against us!

Translation: Ewan Whyte

18 Zodiacum Signis Lustrantibus Contratenor of Apollinis eclipsatur

The underlying "sacred" tenor of Psalm 18:5 of the Vulgate ("In omnem terram") is only quoted but not sung: "Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their words to the ends of the world."

The programme of the work brings our journey to an end: the metamorphosis of the original melody into the dance of the stars of the zodiac, as seen by Bernard de Cluny.

Zodiacum signis lustrantibus
armonia Phebi fulgentibus
musicali palam sinergia
Pictagore numerus ter quibus
adequatur preradiantibus
Boetii basis solercia
Bernardus de Cluni mittens energia
artis practice cum theoria
recomendans se subdit omnibus
presentia per salutaria;
musicorum tripli materia
noticiam dat de nominibus.

As the signs illuminate the zodiac,
effulgent with the harmony of Phoebus,
their musical synergy apparent,
as, radiating outwards
the number of Pythagoras, thrice, is,
made equal through ingenuity to the base of Boethius.
Bernard de Cluny, shining with the active power
of the practical art joined with theory,
humbly commends himself to all
by the present greetings.
The words of the triplum name
and provide information about the musicians.

Translation: Ewan Whyte