Photo: Mara Winter
Amrae Coluimb Chille
A newly created musical setting for the Old Irish text Amrae Coluimb Chille, a formal lament for the medieval Irish abbot and missionary, St Colmcille (Columba) of Iona (520/1– 597).
Left: Manuscript image depicting Marie de France. Right: Beginning of the lays in the manuscript British Library, Harley 978 (13th c.)
The lay of the werewolf Bisclavret. Text by Marie de France (ca. 1135-ca. 1200). Music by Hanna Marti
An economic boom in the 12th century supported high creative productivity and the production of a large number of books: At that time, scriptors wrote by hand on parchment, so a book was a precious object. Some of these new manuscripts were no longer written in Latin, which was the common (international) language for administrative and clerical purposes, but also in the vernacular languages of the country. The fact that people also sang in these languages is shown by the surviving pieces from the period: They demonstrate great knowledge of the – mostly orally transmitted – established styles of music, and at the same time new musical forms and styles emerged. The 12th century is the time of amour courtois ("courtly love", later minnesang) and cantus gestualis (stories told in music/song). The lais of Marie de France fall into this period.
Almost nothing is known about Marie de France, her epithet "de France" comes from her own pen: "Marie ai nun, si sui de France" (I am called Marie, I come from France), as she writes in her translation of Aesop's fables. Marie translated into Anglo-Norman, a dialect of Old French that was spoken primarily at the English court: It is therefore assumed that Marie de France lived and worked in these circles.
In addition to Aesop's fables, she also wrote and translated twelve lays. She writes that she heard Breton minstrels performing them, and then decided to translate the lays into her own language so that they would not be forgotten. In the last lines of her lays, Marie usually mentions a song composed from that very story, and sometimes specific instruments are mentioned for it. So the connection between storytelling and music-making seems very strong for the lays. This gave me the idea to realize such a story musically.
The story of the werewolf Bisclavret begins with his wife, who is worried because her husband disappears without a trace for three days every month. When she learns his secret, she is afraid and wants to separate from him. During another absence of Bisclavret, she sends her lover to steal Bisclavret's clothes from their hiding place so that he cannot change back. The king of the country finds the wolf Bisclavret during a hunt, which almost costs Bisclavret his life. But the two become friends and from then on Bisclavret lives at the king's court. When his wife's lover appears at the court, Bisclavret becomes furious and attacks him. Only now does the king sense that a there is secret around his wolf-friend...
Program length: ca 40 min. Additional lays can be added for a full concert (ca 75 min).
Presented with projection of translated overtitles.
Promo-video for the project Bisclavret (2020)
Riddle songs from the Exeter Book. A musical collaboration with Stef Conner. New settings of Old English riddle poems from the Exeter Book (10th c.). Music by Hanna Marti and Stef Conner.
The Riddle Songs project consists of two parts: this was not planned from the beginning, but has evolved this way due to the global coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
Originally, Riddle Songs was and is a concept album by English composer and musician Stef Conner. She created new music to selected Anglo-Saxon riddle poems from the Exeter Book (10th century). Some pieces she set in a medieval style with lyre and chant, some in a completely new context, sung by the fourteen-part vocal ensemble Everlasting Voices. A few settings by Hanna Marti, who is involved on the CD as a vocalist and harpist, are also part of the album. Riddle Songs is released on Delphian (2020).
With the corona virus raging and making a concert to celebrate the CD's release impossible, musicians Stef Conner and Hanna Marti looked for another way to draw attention to their album. The result was a series of short, simple, sometimes not entirely serious "riddeos", i.e. riddle videos, which they published on Youtube. The riddeos became a weekly ritual, which also helped the musicians not to lose courage and joy in creative play during the difficult pandemic lockdown period.
So, depending on the focus, a concert of the Riddle Songs can include parts of the album or songs from the later riddeos.
Program length: flexible.
Persons: Duo program (Stef Conner and Hanna Marti) or 14-person vocal ensemble.
Presented with overhead projection of translations.
If you would like to book Riddle Songs, please contact Hanna Marti.
Stef Conner and Hanna Marti. photos: Jacob Mariani
Amrae Coluimb Chille
A historically inspired new setting of the Old Irish text Amrae Coluimb Cille: A Lament for the Medieval Irish Abbot and Missionary St. Colmcille (Columba) of Iona (520/1–597).
Dieses Projekt entstand im Rahmen einer Zusammenarbeit mit Dr. Ann Buckley von Trinity College Dublin. Der altirische Text Amrae Coluimb Cille ist aus dem 9. Jahrhundert ohne Musik überliefert, Ann Buckley geht aber davon aus, dass er musikalisch vorgetragen wurde. Für meine Rekonstruktion orientiere ich mich an der Sequenzmelodie Planctus Cygni. Diese Melodie vertont im 9. Jahrhundert unter anderem die Sequenz Clangam filii ploratione una, den Klagegesang eines Schwans, dessen Not während eines Fluges durch die Nacht, die durch das Aufgehen der Sonne am Horizont verdrängt wird, wohl als eine Allegorie für den Sündenfall des Menschen zu lesen ist. Die Sequenzmelodie Planctus Cygni war lange nach seiner Entstehung in Gebrauch und innerhalb Europas verbreitet.
This project was developed in collaboration with Dr. Ann Buckley of Trinity College Dublin. The Old Irish text Amrae Coluimb Cille dates back to the 9th century. It has survived without music, but Ann Buckley assumes that it was performed musically. For my reconstruction, I am guided by the sequence melody Planctus Cygni. This was used in the 9th century to sing different sequence texts; the most famous of them is the sequence Clangam filii ploratione una, the lament of a swan who, flying through the night in distress, is finally saved by the rising sun. The text is probably to be read as an allegory for the fall of man. The sequential melody Planctus Cygni was widely used within Europe long after its creation.
The early medieval lyre on which Hanna Marti accompanies herself for this piece was historically both plucked and struck with a plectrum. Both uses of the instrument can be heard in the Amrae.
The piece is about 15 minutes long, but can be extended to a full concert program, containing pieces on other saints of the early Middle Ages, sequences and their melodies, as well as instrumental improvisations.
Program length: 15min - 60 min, on request.
Presented with overhead projection of the translations.
Video about the project Amrae Coluimb Chille (2020)
The story of Orpheus from the 10th and 11th book of metamorphoses by Publius Ovidius Naso. Musical re-imagination by Hanna Marti.
The story of Orpheus is probably one of the most renowned love stories. Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC – 17 AD), the great poet of antiquity, tells this story – and many others – in the Metamorphoseon libri, the books of Metamorphoses. The Metamorphoses are a collection of many stories, mostly of mythological content, the different episodes being interlinked with one another to form one continuous poem. It is certain that the Metamorphoses were read in educated circles in the Middle Ages, many verses of Ovid's text are quoted in late medieval polyphonic music and episodes from the Metamorphoses are worked into new songs and stories. Johannes de Grocheo describes as late as around 1300 the practice of the cantus gestualis, in which „the noble deeds of the heroes and the works of the old fathers are recited“.
The story starts with Orpeus' marriage to Eurydice, who is bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus moves the inhabitants of the underworld with his singing and is granted permission by the king of these dark lands to take back his wife, but he will only bring her back safely if he does not turn around to her on the way out of Hades. Orpheus cannot resist turning around to see if his wife is following him, and Eurydice falls back to the underworld. When the Thracian bard sits down in the mountains to tell his stories, he attracts a crowd of wild animals and birds, even stones and trees; among them the cypress that has its own tragic story. But the wild Ciconian women also find Orpheus and attack with much noise: They kill the singer and his audience, only Orpheus' head and lyre are carried away on the river; in a miraculous way the lyra continues playing and the head keeps telling stories. Orpheus arrives in the underworld and is united with his Eurydice.
No melodies for a cantus gestualis on the stories of Ovid are left to us, nor have there been found any neumed texts. For my recreation of Orpheus I looked at medieval musical settings of odes by Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65 BC-8 BC), a poet of late antiquity who also was well known during the Middle Ages. In medieval times there was no strong understanding of creative ownership for artists: Both texts and melodies were constantly repurposed and re-constructed. To repurpose melodic material from Horace's odes is therefore a historically appropriate method. The harp supports me in finding suitable modal patterns for accompaniment, which also help direct the mode.
No musical score exists for my work with Orpheus, nor was there any music „composed“ on paper in any stage of the working process: The piece presented today is performed only from a text in which I have noted a few modal markers to guide my recitation through the basic modal gestures. This ensures that each performance presents a unique version. With this method of music-making I aim to approach the practices and the mindspace of a medieval singer of canti gestualis. This singer's song was the result of a spontaneous composition – in the sense of lat. com-ponere i.e. „putting together“ different parts – which was not fixed and notated on paper or parchment, but which was based on an oral tradition. Since the medieval oral tradition of story-telling is lost today, my performance hardly claims to provide the only „solution“ to what a cantus gestualis may have sounded like. But through by approaching singing and music-making without the use of musical notation, combined with flexible and spontaneous, but conscious connecting of melody gesture and word, I can come closer to a musical mindspace of the Middle Ages.