Medieval music program is surprisingly robust
Performers turn back the clock with medieval
BEACH -- A large audience sat transfixed Wednesday night at Our Lady of Lourdes
church in Daytona Beach as a group of six men sang us through a medieval Italian
Christmas with a program consisting of religious songs and antiphonal music
recounting the Christmas story.
would have thought it? Doesn't the conventional wisdom allow that modern
audiences don't particularly care for early Western European music? Not so on
Wednesday night when Lionheart gave the second concert in the season series
presented by Central Florida Cultural Endeavors. May the CFCE tribe increase!
group's music harkened back to that of the medieval Italian oratory (prayer
hall), where people could drop in off the street to listen to a liturgical drama
recounting Biblical morality plays.
was not church music. It was the popular music of the devout in pre-reformation
Italy, which might have been called (forgive me) contemporary Christian. While
these laudi (songs of praise) were credited to the influence of St. Francis of
Assisi, they really belong to a genre started by Philip of Neri in oratories and
that grew in the following century into what we now call the oratorio -- works
such as Handel's "Messiah." Other, later examples of this genre
include compositions by Respighi and Pietro Yon. Modern descendents of this
genre include Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" (1942) and
"The Prodigal Son" (1968).
voices of Lionheart -- countertenor Lawrence Lipnik, tenors John Olund and
Michael Ryan Wenger, baritones Richard Porterfield and Jeffrey Johnson, and bass
Kurt-Owen Richards -- are lyric, pure in intonation, and wonderfully blended.
Quite often a lower voice provides a drone bass while a higher voice provides
ornamentation. The lower voice actually sings a Gregorian chant in very long
notes that substitute for an organ, which might have been used were one
available in the 13th century prayer hall. This was a practice called "troping"
and was to be thrown out by the Counter-Reformation.
of this music is antiphonal -- that is, a deacon sings the story and an
answering voice sings the part of a character in the Christmas drama. The
characters usually include Gabriel, Mary, the shepherds and more.
notable in the ensemble was countertenor (male alto) Lipnik, whose phenomenal
range is evinced all the more when he shifts into his lower tenor range. These
sounds recall Noah Greenberg's New York Pro Musica at his heyday and
performances of "Play of Daniel" at the Cloisters museum in New York.
case you are wondering, Lionheart is named for the hero of the anonymous 14th
century romance "Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard the Lionheart)." The
mood they conjured Wednesday night certainly transported listeners to the Middle
Paul Langston is dean and professor emeritus at Stetson University's School of Music.