A 600-year-old Book Comes to Life in Our January Concert

Dec 5, 2018 | blog, Luevan, medieval | 0 comments

Four years ago, some art collectors discovered a tiny, 600-year-old music book in a pile of artwork in Belgium. When they looked inside they discovered it was in almost pristine condition, barely touched since it was written in the 15th century.

Now, the Newberry Consort is pleased to bring the long-forgotten manuscript and its music to vivid life in a multimedia program entitled “What’s Old is New: The Leuven Songbook,” happening Jan. 11 to 13 in Chicago, Hyde Park and Evanston.

Produced in collaboration with the Cleveland early music group Les Délices, What’s Old is New: The Leuven Songbook brings together solo voices with medieval fiddles, harp, lute, organetto (a special tabletop organ), and recorders to perform songs by Ockeghem, Busnois, and others — all accompanied by gorgeous projected images and supertitles.

“We are so excited about the opportunity to not only play this beautiful music, but also to give audiences a chance to peek inside this gorgeous manuscript,” said Ellen Hargis, co-artistic director of the Newberry Consort.

The Leuven Songbook’s origins can be traced to France’s Loire Valley c. 1475. Containing 49 songs (of which 12 were previously unknown), the book was produced by a team of artisans. Like Books of Hours, songbooks belong to a rich tradition of small, beautiful, personal books.

Debra Nagy, artistic director of Les Délices, compares songbooks, which contained both popular and little-known or unique songs, to today’s personal playlists or mix tapes. “Some of these songs were hugely popular — traveling the continent and clearly remaining in the repertory for decades. The unique songs, however, seem to have had but a brief moment in the sun — we can delight in these little-known works like a rare record’s B-side.”

The Newberry Consort’s production will also encourage audiences to consider Medieval readers’ experiences as they use the book’s contents to construct an imaginary narrative of love and loss. Nagy explained, “I looked at other so-called songbooks from the time that lack music (really, books of poetry) and thought about why the collector or editor chose to print them that way. Some scholars believe that anytime we read a series of poems or listen to songs in a certain sequence, we try to find links or relationships between them. Someone chose to put them in a certain order, right? I hope that this narrative element in our program provides listeners with yet another way to connect to the music.”

The concert will feature soprano Ellen Hargis, tenor Jason McStoots, baritone Daniel Fridley, plus Debra Nagy (recorders, harp, voice), Allison Monroe (vielle and rebec), David Douglass (vielle), Charlie Weaver (lute and voice), and Charles Metz (organetto).

We hope you’ll join us for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear this rare music!

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