January 24 to February 21, 2014, Les Enluminures, New York
Beginning January 24, Sacred Song: Chant in the Middle Ages and Renaissance on view at Les Enluminures Gallery NY explores the history and mystery of Gregorian chant. The exhibition features over 30 extraordinary examples of these early music manuscripts and their many varied forms, including a monumental set of complete Antiphonals from Germany c. 1570 (no other known surviving codices exist that document this practice), and a one-of a kind Gradual, Italy, Lombardy c 1430. by one of the leading masters of the fabled Olivetan Benedictine order known as the Olivetan Master.
Representing the earliest substantial body of music preserved in written form, Gregorian chant has continued as a living tradition throughout the medieval age and well into the modern era. Featured in the liturgical services of the Roman Catholic Church, this sacred chant owes its origin to the legend of a dove – or the Holy Spirit – singing directly into the ear of Pope Gregory the Great (Reigned from 590-604 AD). Reflecting the inseparability between music and liturgy throughout the Middle Ages, the chant consists of a vocal, monophonic music composed in Latin using sacred texts from the Old and New Testaments. Often referred to as a “sung Bible,” it did not appear in written form until the ninth century.
Divided into three thematic groups, ‘Sacred Song’ begins with “In the Church: in the Choir,” featuring monumental manuscripts that were used to present the music for the Mass and the Divine Office. Choirs sang from these large books (mostly Graduals and Antiphonals), the colorful initials of which signaled the beginnings of each feast. Both monks and nuns, not only chanted within the walls of the medieval church, but outside on foot as well. Thus, “Outside the Church: in the Cloister, in the Cemetery, and in the City and Countryside” features portable music manuscripts called Processionals; some illuminated and often personalized that were used during outdoor liturgical processions. A final group of manuscripts: “Apart from the Church: in the Classroom, in the Chapter House, and in the Congregation” presents those forms of chant that were often preserved in non- liturgical contexts.