Liturgy 10

Music at Amiens Cathedral

Amiens, like nearby S-Quentin, was a major center of musical production in the Middle Ages. The existence of choir boys as well as an officer in charge of music, the chanter or cantor is documented as early as the eleventh century. It is clear that the Amiens clergy was determined to reform and enhance their music in the aftermath of the 1215 Fourth Lateran Council when Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy created the office of the precentor, superior to that of chanter, allowing the latter to busy himself mainly with the logistics of music production. Similarly Dean Jean d'Abbeville reorganized psalmody in the cathedral. Hopes of fully realizing these reforms were dashed by the 1218 fire and the Gothic choir was not occupied by the clergy until around 1270. Soon afterwards Bishop Guillaume de Mâcon ordered the codification of liturgical practice at Amiens in the great Ordinary which recorded protocol throughout the cycle of the year. Musical production flowered in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


About the music and recording of the Amiens Choral Experience

Amiens Cathedral Choral Experience

Recorded on 18 September 2018 in Amiens Cathedral, written by Frédéric Billiet, translated by Susan Boynton

Singers : Ensemble Quadruplum, directed by Christian Ploix

Artistic director and consultant: Benjamin Bagby (Associate Professor, Sorbonne Université)

Recording and editing: Marie-Angélique Mennecier of the Department of Music and Musicology (Sorbonne Université)

The five pieces chosen for this experimental recording in the Cathedral of Amiens represent vocal practices in the choir of the cathedral between the thirteenth and the sixteenth century.

1. The first example is the famous monophonic Kyrie Fons bonitatis, a Gregorian Kyrie with tropes identified in the ordinal of Raoul de Rouvroy (1291). The Kyrie is an ancient form of the litany, sung at the beginning of the Mass. The base text combines Greek and Latin:

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison (“Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy”). In the Middle Ages, the melismatic (melodically florid) Kyrie melody was sung with interpolated Latin texts known as tropes; the Kyrie Fons bonitatis is an example. 

The title of the Fons bonitatis trope recorded for this website is cited with its melodic incipit in the Ordinal of Raoul de Rouvroy (1291), which is now MS 184 in the Bibliothèque municipale d’Amiens. The title of the ordinal appears on folio 14 : ordinarius liber, de novo emendatus, sicut in ecclesia Ambiensi per totum cantatur et legitur annum (“Ordinal book, newly corrected according to the chants and readings in the church of Amiens for the entire year”). In this period, chants were rarely notated in the ordinals, which drew upon different liturgical books to summarize the order of the office and the mass for each day (feriae or ordinary days, Sundays, and feasts). Nevertheless, musical notation appears in this ordinal from Amiens, but only the intonations of the chants are noted with square notation in campo aperto (without clefs or staff lines). The melody of this Kyrie has been identified on the basis of the neumes next to the incipit, which makes it possible to complete the reference in the Ordinal with a fully notated version.

2. Antiphon Plebs Ambianica, from the Amiens office of Saint Firmin, with the Magnificat. The antiphon is a brief chant sung before and a psalm or canticle during the Divine Office For this performance the antiphon is performed with the Magnificat (the canticle of Vespers that is based on the words of Mary in the Gospel of Luke), which is sung to a recitation tone. The text of the antiphon addresses the population of the city: “People of Amiens, rejoice that you have been given such a father, but let that chorus sing to Christ with mouth in harmony with the heart.” (Plebs ambianica gaude tali ditata [Cannot read word] sed ore cordi consono Christo psallat chorus iste).

This musical example is preserved in a small Ordinal, now MS G2976 in the Departmental Archives of the Somme, which contains the Amiens office of Saint Firmin, the first bishop martyr of the city. This Ordinal, dated 1306, was chained behind the choir of the Cathedral. The wooden cover has been restored, but the original boards have been retained. The office begins on folio 71, signaled by the rubric In inventione beatissimi firmini – the feast of the Inventio (“finding” or “discovery” of the relics) of Saint Firmin in January. This major feast is still celebrated by many inhabitants of Amiens. The melody is notated in black square notation on a four-line red staff. 

3. The third example was chosen on the basis of the 1419 inventory of the Cathedral’s books, which mentions three books of organa (polyphonic vocal compositions): 

Item quidam liber novus notatus organicus de auro pulcre illuminatus. Incipit in quarta linea primi folii : mi fait souvent fremir. 

Item alter liber organicus notatus, qui vocatur magistri Petri de Cruce post kalendarium. Incipit in prima linea littere primi folii : Deus in adjutorium

Item quidam liber organicus, mediocris voluminis, notatus nota communi. Incipit in tertia linea secundi folii: Gloria Patri. 

Although it is not known if these organa were sung by the Cathedral’s choir (and unfortunately the books alluded to by the inventory are now lost), they are representative of the polyhony that might have been sung there in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The books described in this inventory share some contents with an important manuscript of polyphony now in Montpellier (Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire, Section Médecine, Ms H196). The inventory refers to the second book of notated organa as being “of” (presumably belonging to or in some other way pertaining to) Pierre de la Croix, the Amiens canon, music theorist and composer (1260-1300). The first item on the first page of this book is Deus in adiutorium. Therefore, we have chosen a three-voice conductus Deus in adiutorium preserved in the Montpellier manuscript. A conductus is a newly composed vocal work for one or more voices, set to a rhythmical Latin text, in this case based on the opening versicle of the office, Deus in adiutorium meum intende.

4.  Christe eleyson

Jean Mouton, Christe eleyson (à 4v), Missa Tu es Petrus, Jean Mouton: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Ms Capp. Sist. 16 (ff. 132v-133).

5. Ave Maria 

Jean Mouton, Ave Maria, Trium Vocum Cantiones Centum, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Mus. ant. pract. P 655.

Examples 5 and 6 represent the style of polyphony sung in the cathedral in the decades around 1500. Both pieces were composed by Jean Mouton (1459-1522), who is mentioned as “maistre des enffans” in the Cathedral of Amiens in a proceeding of the aldermen of Amiens dated 27 January 1500, in the context of a request for permission to perform the “mistère de la Passion de Nostre Seigneur Jhesus-Crist.” Mouton did not remain in Amiens very long, for in 1501 he obtained a post in the collegiate church of Saint-André of Grenoble. Subsequently he served Anne of Brittany and the French kings Louis XII and François I. Some of his sacred polyphony was certainly performed in the choir.  The two pieces chosen here are polyphonic settings of chants that were frequently sung. The Christe eleyson is part of a Kyrie for the Mass (like the first musical example), in this case composed for four voices and based on the plainchant Tu es Petrus. The Ave Maria, here composed for three voices, is set to a text employed in many services in honor of the Virgin Mary.