20:00 – 22:00
An attempt to reconstruct the contemplative art of instrumental improvisation in thirteenth-century Paris
Norbert Rodenkirchen – flutes
Tickets: 80 dkk / 50 dkk (stud)
Early Monday støttes af Statens Kunstfond og Knud Højgaards Fond.
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The Medieval Art of Improvisation
The program Tibia ex tempore – Medieval sketches is an attempt to reconstruct the medieval art of improvisation, following the path of vocal sequence, lai and planctus to the earliest notated instrumental tunes.
There is nearly no written trace of genuine instrumental music before the thirteenth century. The earliest notated instrumental pieces, including the ductia and estampie, are surprising for their high level of melodic invention and formal organization; and it may therefore be assumed that they represent the first attempt to notate the late form of a highly-developed improvisatory tradition which had been transmitted orally for centuries. The music in this program is an attempt to recapture the earlier forms of this tradition, before the instrumental pieces were actually written down.
Melodic invention was regarded differently in the Middle Ages than in other eras. Most of the music preserved is anonymous. This anonymity is based partly on a medieval world view, according to which the individual artist subordinated any claims to recognition to the higher religious ideal of cosmic unity. It is also rooted in the most important phenomenon of medieval music: the system of the modes. The modal system is a blueprint for melodic organization which uses the church modes as a framework. In the Middle Ages these church modes were far more than scales; they functioned as musical character types, each with its own typical melodic formulae and gestures.
Modal music found itself in a perpetual state of flux, and melodic ideas could be borrowed, varied or completely changed without any danger that charges of plagiarism would be made. There was no great difference in the value placed on a new composition and one consisting of borrowed material. Rather, medieval musicians had to master a certain modal vocabulary which provided the material out of which their melodic forms would crystallize. They made no claims to their value as finished works. It is in this context that the contrafactum, a borrowed melody from a different context, and the free exchange of melodic material between the sacred and secular realms, should be understood. The procedure of creative borrowing and quoting could be applied to a single phrase or to complete melodies of existing compositions. It can be stated that most of these contrafacta were well known tunes, and therefore more than suitable for a pure instrumental approach. This practice of instrumental performance of wellknown vocal music is well documented in examples of medieval literature. (In the new live version of Tibia ex tempore 2016, nearly all the original melodies have been chosen as a coherent suite from the repertoire of contrafacta available in the thirteenth century in Northern France, including Paris).
But to what extent did a medieval musician also improvise his very own music, apart from quoting already existing music, and what does this mean for a creative approach to historical improvisation today? How much of one’s own invention is convincingly suitable for an attempt to authentically reconstruct a lost art of playing ex tempore? This question leads directly to another question: To what extent did the musicians of the time depend on vocal music, using
the unique characteristics of their instruments to reflect and extend preexisting songs; and how much did they rely on the collective modal vocabulary independent of vocal models?
The very impossibility of answering this question provides ample impetus for an attempt at reconstruction. There can be only individual artistic answers. My program follows the middle path. In some cases, vocal pieces from the Middle Ages are used as sources of melodic material; in others, a conscious effort is made to break free of such models and to use melodic figures and
compositional forms typical of the Middle Ages to create something wholly new. The music appears as a continuous stream of sound, which flows through various levels of orientation towards concrete melodic models and fills a spectrum between a literally exact “note to note” approach and free modal inventions. Without the own creative input of a modern performer the attempt to trace back the ancient roots of improvisation would only lead into an empty ruin.
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EARLY MONDAY støttes af Statens Kunstfond, Københavns Kommune og Knud Højgaards Fond.