Notre Dame Organum, Conductus & Gregorian chant 12th-13th centuries

Project Weeks
2016-08-22 18:00 - 2016-08-28 19:00
An der Johanneskirche, 06110 Halle (Saale), Germany

General information

The project week is intended for both singers and singing instrumentalists—students, professional musicians and advanced amateurs.

Participants should be open to aural, modal and language-oriented training.

Solmisation is used as a basic tool. Rehearsal and performance is only from facsimiles of the manuscript sources. The notation is mensural. In some pieces, the voices are notated separately. This visual approach helps to open the ears and to develop a flexible and transparent voice.

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As participants are expected to be well prepared, material needed for preparation (the ‘Singer’ and ‘Reader’) will be sent out towards the beginning of August.

Location: Johanneskirche, 06110 Halle (Saale), Germany.

The course will begin on Monday 22 August 2016, at 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

From 23 August: Daily instruction roughly from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2.30 to 6.30 p.m.. Individual lessons in the evenings.

Final concert for all participants: Sunday 28 August, 5 p.m., Johanneskirche, Halle.

Languages of instruction: German and English.

Course fee: €160 (copy costs included), to be paid in cash during the week.

Accommodation: free sleeping accommodation is possible for up to 8 persons who are prepared to sleep in one large room, at An der Johanneskirche 2, across the street from the church. A kitchen and shower are available. Please bring your own (air) mattress and bed linen or sleeping-bag. Everyone else will be offered single or two-bed rooms in guest apartments close to the church for about €20 per night.

Babysitting is available at a small fee.

Application deadline: 24 July 2016.

Application and contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or

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Singer and specialist in Early Western music Prof. Dr. Rebecca Stewart, born in California, received her Ph.D. In ethnomusicology in 1974 after having worked for many years in Hindustani Classical music. After moving to The Netherlands she taught music theory and created and lead the Baroque singing department at the Royal Conservatorium in The Hague. In 1989 she started the Early Modal Music Department at the Brabants Conservatorium in Tilburg. She was founder and leader of the Cappella Pratensis and is now head of Cantus Modalis.


Martin Erhardt teaches historical improvisation and music theory in Weimar and Leipzig and recorder in Halle. As a recorder player, harpsichordist, organist, portative-organ player and singer, he gives concerts with several specialised ensembles for medieval, Renaissance and baroque music. He is the director of the Leipzig Improvisation Festival and author of the textbook Upon a Ground - Improvisation on Ostinato Basses.


Milo Machover, born in New York, received his musical education in and around Paris and studied the flute in Freiburg. Since 2001, he has been specializing in medieval and Renaissance music as a singer and Renaissance flute player. After working with the ensemble Non Papa he is now a member of Cantus Modalis, Schola Stralsundensis and Nusmido. Since 2011, he has been teaching early ensemble music at Frankfurt University of Music.


Ivo Berg graduated at the UdK Berlin for his work on the phenomenon of musical tension. Alongside his scientific research his interests include active musicianship and the challenges of music education. He currently teaches and conducts research at the Vienna University of Music (Institute for Music Education). As a recorder player and singer of early music he gives concerts with the ensembles Cantus Modalis, Hemony und Nusmido, among others.


An entire period of music history named after a cathedral – take a moment to savour that thought.

Today, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris bestows upon its visitors an immediate sense of awe. At first glance, this church of superlatives presents itself as an archetypal example of Gothic unity. However, on closer inspection, it is clear that its construction was the result of a very long process: From 1163 to 1345 generations of architects took part in its planning. As it expanded, many parts of the cathedral had to be rebuilt. The choir in particular, which was erected first, was rebuilt in order to conform to the changing aesthetic ideals. At first conceived as a Romanesque building, Notre-Dame became the inspiration for the construction of many Gothic cathedrals across France and in Europe.

Much in the same way, one must resist the temptation to see the music of the Notre-Dame School as an isolated monument in history. Chronological and geographical overlapping between the slightly older St. Martial repertory on the one hand, and the younger Ars Antiqua on the other, seems to blur the lines. Notre-Dame was certainly an important musical centre at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries, but it was not the only place where polyphony was cultivated. Beyond what might differentiate these repertoires from one another (and modern terminology does tend to place them in separate boxes), there is one thing that they have in common: they are all firmly based on the most long-lasting tradition of Christian music; namely, Gregorian chant. This is why chant will be a central part of our study during this project week.

Inextricably linked to this early bloom of polyphonic music – Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht calls it "Kathedralkunst" – is the name of one of the most enigmatic and yet significant characters of Western European music history; namely, Pérotin, also called "Perotinus Magnus" (Pérotin the Great), the very emblem of one of the most groundbreaking developmental steps of our musical culture.

However strikingly the music of Notre-Dame may resonate in us, any concrete picture of Pérotin as a composer and a singer has faded with time. The man is now seen as little more than a mythical figure and the master-works traditionally attributed to him as mere collaborations. The legend is in fact an enigma. The only mention of a "Perotinus Magnus" active in Paris comes from a few austere sentences written in the late 13th century by English music theorist Anonymous IV. But the practice he describes was already a century old at the time of writing, and modern research has been unable to find the name Perotinus in archival documents of the time. Even the written music raises questions: In his treatise, Anonymous IV describes a unified body of compositions, the Magnus liber organi, which he ascribes to Léonin and Pérotin. There is no evidence that such a book has survived. What we have is a collection of four large manuscripts, which have been digitalised and are available online:

I-Firenze MS Pluteo 29.1 („F“)

D-Wolfenbüttel Cod. Guelf. 628 Helmst. („W1“)

D-Wolfenbüttel Cod. Guelf. 1099 Helmst. („W2“)

E-Madrid m 20486. („M“)

A list of contents and additional information to these sources may be found here:

The repertoire is broadly congruent in all four manuscripts, although the sources differ in many details. While F and W2 appeared in France, W1 was probably compiled in England and M certainly in Spain. And again, none of these collections was written down before the middle of the 13th century.

Is it possible that these great works of polyphony were first improvised, passed on by word of mouth from master to disciple, composed as it were out of a living practice, and only later recorded on velum? Evidence for this interpretation can be found in writings of the time, such as the Vatican Organum Treatise (Rome, Bib. ap-vat, Ottob. lat. 3025).

The musical notation that was eventually used often remains ambiguous: While the six rhythmical modes help structure the energetic flow of the melisma – and we will be using these at times during the project week – explicit rules for the rhythmical interpretation of ligatures were only formulated later, by Franco of Cologne in 1280.

Therefore, in order to engage in this music one must constantly rely on one's own musical perceptions and trust one's intuition. Neither the creation process nor the resulting design of the music can be derived from later practices. Other – essentially aesthetic – considerations must guide the interpretation process. First we must connect to the acoustics and atmosphere of the church, which provides the resonating space for this music and allows its sound to expand from within. The manner in which vibrations are elicited within this space follows the speech patterns (the cadence) of the Latin liturgical word – here in its Old-French flavour. In turn, the melodic contour of Gregorian chant follows in a most congenial way the cadence of the language. The original notation serves as our most important source of inspiration and a guide to our interpretation. The energetic and flowing shape of the melodic lines are clearly suggestive of a most flexible and dynamic soundscape.

During the project week we will explore organum through a variety of liturgical pieces (i.e. music for mass and office), as well as conductus, written in a more freely-composed style, based on Latin poems of both secular and sacred origin, and possibly conceived as processional music.

How should one experience this music, both foreign and yet intimate and immediately touching when heard in its original acoustical environment? Our own experience of the music sways between two poles: on the one hand a mystical and mythical monumentality; on the other a lively form of communal musical practice, which at its core is always in movement and deeply moving.

Ivo Berg / Martin Erhardt

Translation: Milo Machover


All Dates

  • From 2016-08-22 18:00 to 2016-08-28 19:00
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