Jul 082012
 

Strange song for that image? Well, maybe, maybe not. The Cantigas de Santa Maria are a collection of pilgrim songs from medieval Spain, so maybe the bus stop, the road and the motorbike are not completely off.

I had a time, about 12, maybe 15 years ago, when in my voyage through musical history I had arrived at a point where I couldn’t easily go back any further. Those pilgrim songs, the songs of the troubadours, the original Carmina Burana, they all lack reliable notation. All performances are speculative. In the early fourteenth century, with the advent of Ars Nova and its notation capable of denoting rhythm, that all changed, but still, think of all the controversies about how to perform Mozart, and that although Mozart employed a rigid notation system. What could we possibly expect from the thirteenth century?

Any earlier than the troubadours and music stops being interesting to me anyway. Gregorian Chant? Sorry, it bores me to death and I find nothing that differentiates one song from the other. I admit, I didn’t try hard though 🙂

The Song of the Day is “Santa Maria, Strela do Dia” by Jordi Savall. It’s not a bad version and it’s available in my collection, as digital download and on YouTube.

  6 Responses to “2090 – Santa Maria, Strela do Dia”

  1. Just on its own, without any musical references or title concerning that, I find I’m really liking this image. The point of view is excellent. It gives us the book from the bench level and just enough of the bench to tell us the context, from the book’s viewpoint.

    Then in the background, we’re confronted with a scene from modern times, featuring a motorcycles, buildings and billboards/signs. Definitely the book is out of its element. If it really is from the era of “Santa Maria, Strela do Dia”, perhaps the book feels abandoned during the centuries contained and referenced within its covers. Now it’s being exposed to our modern era, although not in a kind way.

    But perhaps this book is just a modern telephone book and who will be interested in it in even a few years, except a historian trying to figure out who lived where during that year of the book’s publication?

    Either way, I do not envy the book its present position.

  2. I find your observations regarding music interesting Andreas, especially your comment “All performances are speculative”. I recently watched a documentary about Janine Jansen, a highly talented and gifted violinist (you have probably heard of her). At one stage she was trying to record a piece from Bach and she was deeply frustrated and unhappy with her efforts explaining how she was finding it difficult interpreting how to play it. At another point in the documentary someone talked about how a G note can be played hundreds of ways and that for someone like Jansen it was all about finding the one right way to play that G note in a particular piece. Quite inspiring and fascinating. Much like your photo really.

    • Hmm … as an example for even more speculative music, take MUSIC OF ANCIENT GREECE by Atrium musicae de Madrid 🙂

      But even later, even early renaissance music is impossible to perform “authentically”. We just don’t know if particular pieces were performed with voices alone or also with instruments, sometimes or always, or in a mixed case if instruments just doubled certain voices or replaced them. We have notations that record tonal value (but are not certain about how that maps to frequencies) and rhythm (which is normally relative, but to which base interval?), but there is no reliable information about how the voices were performed, by vocal cord or by instruments. And if instruments, what instruments?

      It is very similar to medieval churches. What we have is the basic architecture, and we principally know that most or very likely all were painted in wild colors. What colors, designs, etc? Sometimes something is left in a few places, often almost nothing. It’s hard to imagine what Cluny has looked like (just as an example, Cluny may or may not be well known for whatever reasons).

      As for me, a certain kind of speculation is charming, gives variation and may arguably be in line with a certain practice of performance that may have been in use in parallel to others, but way beyond that threshold it loses attraction to me. Sure, the Paniaguas have their reasons why they call that “Music from ancient Greece”, but really, apart from the language it could be Klingon music as well 😀

  3. Perhaps I’m the “odd man out” in this discussion. Why such an emphasis on being “authentic”? I’d rather take the suggestions offered by what little we know of early music notations and just “run with it”.

    “Variations of a Theme by (whomever had inspired that particular composer)” – are frequently found among well-known composer’s works. They didn’t try for authenticity – they took the themes that had attracted them and had fun with them. This is what I’d like to see done, instead of all the “head bashing against a brick wall” kind of thinking. That’s no fun. Music should be enjoyable.

    Many people deplore the fact that modern orchestras much larger than Bach, et al ever had access to, play Bach’s et al’s works. I like to think that we’re imagining that Bach et al would have loved to have heard their compositions played by modern orchestras or groups on modern versions of the instruments they knew back in their days.

    Music is fluid and has evolved over the ages. IMHO, it should keep on evolving, rather than going backwards.

    Do we want photography to go backwards? Some do, because they’re exploring all the old time processes. But others want to go forward. I’m among the “forward” crowd in both music and photography!

    • Flo, don’t misunderstand me. That’s OK, but look at the feuds among performers who use “authentic” instruments or perform using “authentic time intervals”. Many try to kindle interest by saying that they present the “original” version as intended by the composer. Sometimes the reasoning is sound, sometimes it is not, but it’s still speculation to a certain degree. Please hear what you like to hear, please compose what you like to compose 🙂

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