Musical premieres happen all the time. A new piece makes its debut in a concert hall or music club. But there's another kind of premiere — when centuries-old music, lost in the dust of history, gets rediscovered and performed once again.
Music commentator Tom Manoff has made something of a discovery himself. He's been listening to a new CD of very old music — a collection of anonymous medieval sacred songs, recently discovered in manuscripts from convents in an area of Northern Germany called the Lune Heath.
Spiritual Emotion In Music
The new CD, God Shall Be Praised, Music from Lune Convent, features music from a cloister first established in the year 1170. The pieces date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, and have remained unknown for hundreds of years. It's like listening to a lost musical world.
Many spiritual traditions share something universal in their music — a sense of devotion and of the way music turns that emotion into pure sound.
The music on this CD may sound simple, but it's not. The rising and falling patterns of the melodies were composed with subtle genius, to interest the ear but also create a sense of calmness and inner reflection. The performances are by the Ensemble Devotio Moderna, a group of fine musicians who took these recently discovered manuscripts and transformed them into a remarkable world of music, sound and culture.
There are several ways to enjoy this recording. One is to follow each piece with the Latin text, taking notice of how the melody makes a particular text sing. For example, Tribus Signis Dignis tells the story of the three kings who follow the star to Bethlehem. After the soloist sings a verse, there is a group response, always on the same words, translated as: "The star, the star shines, the whole congregation rejoices."
Another way to listen is to just let the music float beyond such details and experience it as a lost world — a world less cluttered, when time was measured by shadows on a sundial in a garden.