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The School of Notre Dame

Donald Macleod considers the place of Notre Dame and the composers Leonin and Perotin in the story of polyphony.

A new cathedral calls for a new type of music. Donald Macleod considers the place of Notre Dame and the composers Leonin and Perotin in the story of polyphony.

The transition from pure monophony to complex polyphony was a gradual one. It is argued that polyphony was never entirely absent from European music-making; nor did monophony suddenly go out of fashion. Nevertheless, a fascinating development can be traced between the 12th and 14th centuries, with new musical forms, new rhythmic modes, and new methods of musical notation.

In today's episode Donald discusses the earliest piece of true polyphony ever discovered, and the the story of Paris's ambitious new cathedral, Notre Dame. Contemporaneous with construction of this mighty edifice we find compositions for two, and subsequently three or four voices. Not only that, we also have names for two of these composers: Leoninus (Leonin) and Perotinus (Perotin). But the line between composition and improvisation is still as indistinct as the lighting in the new building. And it's likely that polyphony was for special occasions only - such as the riotous Feast of Fools. Polyphony seems to have been deployed as a kind of crowd control, to avoid the lewd excesses of this particular occasion!

Leonin: Gloria redemptori meo
Hilliard Ensemble

Anonymous: Sancti Bonifati (transcribed Giovanni Varelli)
Quintin Beer
John Clapham

Leonin: Iudea et Iherusalem
Leonin: Descendit de celis
Red Byrd

Perotin: Viderunt omnes
Hilliard Ensemble

Perotin: Sederunt principes
Hilliard Ensemble

Producer Geoff Ballinger.

1 hour

Music Played

  • The Hilliard Ensemble

    Gloria: redemptori meo

    • CORO.
    • COR-16046.
  • John Clapham & Quintin Beer

    Chant for Saint Boniface

  • Red Byrd

    Iudea et Iherusalem

    • HYPERION.
    • CDA-67289.
  • Red Byrd

    Descendit de celis

    • HYPERION.
    • CDA-67289.
  • The Hilliard Ensemble & Paul Hillier

    Viderunt omnes fines terrae

    • Coro.
    • COR16046.
  • The Hilliard Ensemble & Paul Hillier

    Sederunt principes

    • CORO.
    • COR-16046.

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