The earliest western polyphony… and a murder mystery
Programme for four women's voices
This programme explores the oldest existing polyphonic music of medieval Europe, coming from 10th century Winchester (England) and from Fleury sur Loire (France) during the period of the famous Abbon, considered by his biographers to be 'the most cultivated man of his times'. Notated in a very complex system of neumes which allow several possibilities for reconstruction, these rich polyphonies would normally have been condemned to oblivion because of the impossibility of finding a unique solution for their deciphering. For this programme, Dialogos has worked with Susan Rankin (Cambridge University), the principal international specialist of Winchester polyphony.
The intellectuals who lived at Fleury and Winchester around the year 1000 were also highly talented and lucid poets: some rare gems of their poetic opus are also a part of this program – the heart-breaking epitaph for Abbon written after he was killed on November 13th, 1004; a strange poem against fever with an almost obssesive flavor; acrostic poems by the famous Wulfstan of Winchester and by Abbo, with incredible word-games in honor of the emperor Otto III… A strong musical voyage is created with a simple but very expressive staging: it starts with liturgical polyphonies and closes in concentric circles with growing atmosphere of intimacy and potent texts leading to the murder of Abbon.
The mysterious presence of very rich and unusual polyphonic tradition in extremely rare written records encouraged us to explore this completely unknown repertoire which, paradoxically, plays a crucial role in the history of European music: the four singers of Dialogos create a powerful ambiance of words and sounds, in which 10th century music dialogues with improvisations in the style of the medieval cantors whom Abbon might have heard in his own abbey.
In the potent sound of these virtuoso polyphonic songs, the concept of medieval music becomes almost paradoxical because the most archaic chants are sung along with modern reconstructions in a very delicate and yet very audacious sfumato.