Tiburtina Ensemble

Hildegard Von Bingen

Ego sum homo

Sequentia O, Jerusalem, aurea civitas

First part of Gloria from Misssa Vidi Speciosam by Tomás Luis de Victoria


Guillaume de Machaut's

Messe de Nostre Dame

and Marian poetic song forms of the late Middle Ages

Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame (Mass of Our Lady) is the earliest example of a complete polyphonic Mass ordinary written by one composer. Machaut composed the Mass for the Saturday Votive Lady Mass, celebrated in one of the side altars of the cathedral in Reims in the 1360s. This Mass had been also used in the cathedral as a commemorative Mass for Machaut's death until the 15th century. Guillaume de Machaut has exploited all of the compositional tools of the ars nova style (for example, the isorhythmic structure) in this composition. Thanks to his effort to preserve his own music, a manuscript made in Machaut’s presence exists today, containing all of the composers compositions.

We can point to the Messe de Nostre Dame as a “repertoire piece” of any vocal ensemble interpreting medieval music nowadays. Despite many recordings and concert performances of this Mass, the interpretation by the Tiburtina Ensemble has one unique and arresting feature: the use of an all-female ensemble (though the alto part is here sung by a countertenor Alex Potter). Musical practice of vocal music in this period allowed the transposition up a fourth (“alla quarta alta”) for use by women (mostly in convents). The clear, bright and completely different sound of our interpretation has fascinated audiences since its premiere in 2014.

Machaut’s presence in Bohemia during his service to John the Blind has not left any trace. We cannot find anything of his extent oeuvre in Bohemian manuscripts. What we can find for sure is an inspiration by his music and that of his contemporaries in the field of monophonic sacred vocal music. That is why we are presenting here some examples from Bohemian unica of 14th century forms called the leich and the cantio. We feel they present an effective contrast to Machaut’s splendid polyphony.

(7 singers)


the Birth of Polyphony

Music history took an important turn at the end of the 9th century when the first treatises about the composition of improvised polyphony were written. Sacred music had for some time been breaking out of the dominance of monophony – of western plainchant – and there had begun a lengthy period of fascination with harmony and its numerical formulation. In the 10th century attempts were made to find a term for a kind of polyphony which allowed certain consonances – at first just parallel fourths, fifths and octaves – to occur between the two voices. One of those terms was organum, still used by music historians today. A synonym of this term is diaphonia. We can find this term in treatises from the 9th century, for example in that of Hucbald of St. Amand.

Our concert program highlights the birth of polyphony as found in the principal European manuscripts from the end of the 10th century. In them we see the progress of early organum in the 11th century flourishing at Notre Dame in Paris in hands of Magister Leoninus and following up with the monumental pieces of his successor Magister Perotinus.

(6 -7 singers)

Flos inter spinas

Flos inter Spinas

Blossoms among the Thorns

The lives of Saints Margaret, Barbara and Catherine in a medieval plainchant and polyphonic pieces

The widespread depiction of the Virgin Mary as the queen of virgins surrounded by four companions and venerated virgins – St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Dorothea, St. Barbara and St. Margaret – clearly demonstrates the great honor and attention paid to these five women during the Middle Ages. The program of our concert commemorates the thorny lives of these martyrs, whose veneration is preserved in numerous medieval musical manuscripts.

The roots of the veneration of the Virgin Mary reach back to about the 4th century AD. Thanks to this strong tradition, we find in medieval musical sources a considerable repertoire of monophonic and polyphonic Marian music. During the 13th century in Western Europe there emerged a new musical genre known as the motet. Performed on this program are multi-text motets from the La Clayette and Bamberg manuscripts, both of which come from the region of Paris or the Ile-de-France and contain compositions especially typical of the period 1260 to 1290. The motet texts are largely Marian, but texts on St. Catherine can also be found.

The centers from which the veneration of saints in the Middle Ages emanated were monasteries and cathedrals. The extent of this veneration is documented mainly in well-preserved liturgical books, in our case mainly the manuscripts of the women's Benedictine Convent of St. George at the Prague Castle from the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Much of the repertoire on this program can also be found in other European sources. But the compositions for which we do have other sources exhibit in the Prague versions a flavor typical of the late medieval Gregorian chant in Bohemia.

(6 singers + 1 harp)