Ockeghem – in Memoriam (literally)

Fors seullement, one of the cantus firmus by Ockeghem that I memorized first and won´t ever forget

As a spontaneous experiment I am in the process of memorizing all chansons by Johannes Ockeghem – a composer who showed me the way to my beloved 15th century. He has been quite present in my life for quite some months now and I will start the memorization game and intuitively share my thoughts and feelings right here. Very likely any kind of introduction will only follow after my first steps (linear time is an illusion). Lets start this: Au travail suis – avec assez de confiance pour une alliance avec ces 19 chansons – and who knows, maybe with Ockeghem as well? —- Updated 07.04.2023 —-

Starting point: when I began to read Clemens Goldberg´s Book on Ockeghem´s Chansons I of course realized I want to know his chansons really well to enjoy the book the most. I thus set a first goal – I will memorize at least one part of each of the 19 (according to the book) chansons attributed to Johannes Ockeghem. I already knew 5 parts from 3 different chansons by heart at that moment.

Ma bouche rit & Baisiez moy – in memoriam

  1. Ma bouche rit. Ma bouche rit is fantastique! I already knew the cantus and then played a couple of times through all parts, not really focussing on memorization but just for the experience. As I knew the cantus (and the whole piece) very well it was already great to just let my inner ear enjoy the beauty this piece even while playing alone. (08.02.23)
  2. Baisiez moy. learned the cantus first part inbetween and while cleaning the kitchen, making some phone calls and downloading music for another project (15 seconds imslp :D! even if I am a member, I am always to lazy to login and now it was great to wait the 15 seconds with some okeghem. the feeling that ockeghems chansons are far from „normal“ is strong, I see the rather big range and the beauty of the end of cantus makes me freak out, it is soooooooooo freaking good. while practicing I focus on singin open, „forward“, not do to strange stuff with my eyes, moth or other body parts but enjoy the flow and overcome the reflexes. this is the hard part. memorization is surprisingly quick and easy, I am amazed, euphoric! I´ll now go through tenor and bassus and always come back to my freshly memorized cantus in between. FUN! Anways I was surprised to first find this song in Basevi Codex – will surely have a closer look on the sources later. When I played it on pommer in the evening I noticed even more how well balanced and creative the rythms happen … yes, typically for Okegi chansons in general and at the same time strong in this very cantus line. (10.02.2023)

In the picture Ma bouche rit comes from Mellon Chansonnier and Baisiez moy as I said from Basevi. There´s also the cave in the background which reminds me about Plato´s care parabel but also about different layers of perception and reality and last but not least polyphony.

Reading diary on Die Chansons Johannes Ockeghems by Clemens Goldberg

I started the book and many many times I felt a big internal yes to what I read. Still in English for a little balance: the book is of course very German although it has the ease and flow I rarely find in German „scientific“ papers of books. And up to now numerous and numerous long quotations in the book are in french. So it might just be for the balance – or for the flow. 

It also got wayyy more philosophical than I had expected from the mere title „Die Chansons Johannes Ockeghems“.

Luckily as a daughter of a philosopher (who is a philosopher since 1935) I kind of swallowed some of the big topics and also conflicts of 20th century philosophy. 

Yes of course this gives me a tiny tiny bit of the feeling of growing up in a culture of – e.g. of chanting or creating polyphony all day long what was the case for some composers I admire: just knowing without really having read a lot complex books, just reading complex language without the urge to understand everything. From my perspective, Clemens Goldberg is more a poet than an analyst or maybe shall be called an analyst in the way of analysis he invites the reader into. or outto*. Now, really already after many things that I liked a lot, I´ll stick to the analysis topic and share a nice quote: 

„Das scheinbar ‚Objektive‘ einer Analyse, die Dinge Objekte sein lässt, erweist sich als Haupthindernis, um den Texten aus ihrer Stratifizierung herauszuhelfen, ihrer Anlage als Potenzial gerecht zu werden.“ (CG, p. 38) 

Anlage als Potential – anything more to say? 

maybe a tiny explanation: text is not limited to written language here but applies at least to all sorts of not only instantaneous forms of art or creation.

*At this point I might call these lines a review since it is the kind of review I am naturally receiving to share. 

„So besteht die Hauptaufgabe der Analyse darin, Aufzubrechen, Aufzulösen, die Oberfläche mit Dimension zu verstehen – nicht etwa, ein Objekt als Ganzes heil zu lassen und es in seiner Objektivität unangetastet zu lassen, es scheinbar so darzustellen, ‚wie es ist’.“ (CG, p. 38) – nice. 

I was chatting with pater meus on the phone in the meantime and told him how surprised I was discovering these kind of thoughts in what I thought to be a musicological book. My father didn´t like to call for instance a musical line a „text“ and I see his point, it is a word we usually use to describe words, linguistical language. I actually have no clue how I would call „IT“ – I would not call it an artwork, because there is much more association with a concept of „art“ that comes from times way past the 15th century. I´ll definately bring the book when I visit him next week. (15.02.)

Au travail suis – in memoriam

  1. Au travail suis. I started it on tenor pommer (maybe my 5th time playing tenor pommer at all), so I had enough of a challenge with the instrument itself. but my instrument made me chose to learn the tenor line. and so I did it! interesting, seems much more in some kind of order than baisiez-moy. it is short and it has cadences on all kinds of pitches (a, e, c, g,…). the tenor + contra are having rythmical fun togehter or rather contra each other. but as my spontaneous singing parter had a sore throat I only had one chance to try both parts togehter. while memorizing I had a lot of fun playing it with a bourdon: e was definately the best fitting note (I chose the high e on top of tenor cled), but d was also kind of good. the next day I was playing it on bassett recorder and it was not easy to feel stable and grounded and have a earthy sound. anyway when I switched to the cantus of baisiez moy on the same recorder this was even harder. Together with other people it would have been fine but yes, playing these lines alone makes me want to cover all „wholes“ that come up when I don´t have perfect attention … I realized this might bring me closer to the practice of chant or this might be a new path for me towards it. being seriously in playing or singing a part of polyphony alone… one nice funfact: as the chanson is of course in the loire valley chansonniers I could sing it from the little facsimile book we have at home. Too small to play tenor pommer from but beautiful to sing. There´s also a little difference in rythm towards the end of the piece.

The screenshot is from Dijon Chansonnier – yes, with my favourite background cave! Just saying, it might be different than what it looks like.

Quant de vous seul – in my heart – first Rondeau with full text!

4. Quant de vous seul – the first one that I actually started also learning the text. I learned it while singing only and so far I know the music and the first 4 lines of rondeau text. will surely learn the rest as well. I noticed how much easier all kind of playing or singing without text was 😀 and I actually spent a few (3 or 4) sessions with it, singing it like it is written and also a couple of times on different notes lower. one night, after I received an email by rebecca, and practiced quant de vous seul I had an intense dream of singing really well in lower alto/higher tenor range, hahah! let´s see when and how this will get true 🙂 

as I´m writing this I am also listening through a couple of recordings. it gives the magic of polyphony: I did never listen or sing the other parts with the cantus that I memorized and now there are suddenly these nice extra parts! love it. there is much more fauxbourdon than I expected, nice. the first recording was cantus plus viol + lute and the second one is fully sung so I am pretty amazed. the recording is well done, tenor and cantus come from the left side and contra from the right. and I don´t even have good earphones, but am still amazed !!!

actually I started listening to learn the text. but now I am completely blown away by the polyphony. just deprive me from it for a week and let me make music alone and listen to nothing I can completely freak out about it. three persons singing this poem is just another crazy level of polyphony, it is completely heart-blowing. 

listened many, many times more.

Two days later and two walks later I made it: a whole rondeau with text placement in my heart! have not tried it with anyone else though but I somehow achieved more than I ever did. dear singers (probably): did anyone of you get to this point? or does anyone know more chansons of that kind by heart? About the text placement and words: of course I am not sure about any of it. But as an instrumentalist I have not many times experienced this certain freedom of choice where to place a syllable. It´s the first one that I practiced that much and will continue to practice as I am still very busy remembering all of it. I made some choices of my own as well (concerning the actual words and therefore meaning of the text). (03.-05.03.2023)

La despourvue et la bannyue & some singing experience

5. La despourvue is a spontaneous choice for the next one – it has been two weeks since I started with the previous chanson and I think that´s quite ok because of the text. But this morning was time for a new chanson and I chose from Peter Christoffersen´s great homepage about the Loire Valley chansonniers which contain a lot of Okeghem´s chansons of course. I took it from Laborde, immediately sang with one of my beloved youtube tanpura drones. this time I memorized the phrases of the first half, then the last one because there was a suspicious rhythm and then the 2 phrases inbetween. it worked although I am not a hundred percent sure if I could recall it very well right now, 10h later. But we´ll see. After the first time memorized throught I started working on my singing technique which means that I touched my nose gently and felt the vibration. Anytime it would take me too long to „open“ that up when beginning a note I´d simply practice it until I stayed open. It worked surprisingly well – usually one or 2 tries, even when I inserted consonants as well. The reasons why I closed and didn´t allow the vibration anymore mostly seemed quite random to me, simple question of attention or what we sometimes call support. Surely not the modern way of support but something very very subtle. Sometimes I left the vibration zone when going back in sound, a technique I observed and learned from my modal singing role models during the last years, hehe. Quite not so easy to still have your nose and all the connected bones open to vibe and go back in sound in order to let the music/note/phrase move freely and actually vibrate. Afterwards my nose and my whole body felt really good. Sometimes even my bones up to the elbow would vibrate strongly! I changed the drone notes, tried to sing higher and lower and observed what note changes made it more difficult to have a strong vibration than others. In general my tendency is to feel a more subtle vibration on higher notes (that´s probably super obvious but I love to explore). Today I received a very special email concerning a course on the Missy My My – I inhaled Rebecca Steward´s  instructions for a first time and I read a couple of ideas and practicing methods that I did receive as well in the last months. no wonder when I´m on such a deep Okey (as the cantus modalis teachers apparently call him and us) journey. Is this prooving that we are receiving advice from Ockeghem himself? I know that I know nothing and sometimes I just know… anyway the second reason why I include this on my In Memoriam – blog is that I did not yet receive something essential about the missa my my: It is based on Presque trainsi and no surprise this will be the next chanson I´ll be memorizing. It smells like I will learn all parts and all the text as well. So quickly settle down with la despourvue or even directly go to Presque trainsi. The course will take place in a little less than 2 months. And yes, I am damn grateful for all the Ockeghem that I will receive and allow to resonate until then! And for the algorithm an extra remark: I love this experiment. I love memorizing the chansons of Johannes Ockeghem. It is a big part of me being happy, more grateful than ever and even feeling grounded lately. (13.03.2023)

paranthèse – I visited Ockeghem!

Last weekend I went to Bruxelles, had one day of musicking with likeminded old and new friends, good choirbooks (De la rue septem dolores and of course some english music, a mass by Walter Frye) and loads of cantus super librum. Very, very nice & inspiring – I love to be among the least experienced in the room and be around people I can learn from. Then followed the pilgrimage to the 15th century and the lands were Ockeghem grew up, musicked and/or his music was copied into manuscripts… I saw, smelt, felt many manuscripts in this exhibition at KBR: just teasing, it was not only music but also some other really really special famous admired books, quite the best of 15th century (at least nowadays): Le champion de dames (with our beloved picture of Du Fay and Binchois, the latter described as père de joyeosété in Ockeghems chanson „mort tu as navré de ton dart“ after his death), La cité des dames by Christine de Pizan (one of my first early 15th century fascinations and of course an outstanding poetrice) or Le roman de la rose. There were also two chansonniers of Marguerite (the famous one and one beautiful and smaller one) and one choirbook with de la Rue in it. In the end of the day I would recommand anyone interested in 15th century to go and visit this exhibition if you haven´t already! On the next day we went again to this place where I had ordered my beloved B Br 5557: to touch it, feel it, smell it. It was a nice experience and I took a picture of Ockeghem back home. 😉

Later we took a train to Binche and then to Mons and besides all construction work, closed shops and cafés and overall not flourishing small towns St Wadrou is still standing and shining. It was build from 1450 on so some of the bricks do embody the spirit and energy that was around when Ockeghem, Binchois and their friends were singing/swinging/living in the region. I´m pretty sure I will visit Tours in the not so far away future :)))) and now back to memorization.

Presque trainsi – full of specialité and a new favourite place

this chapter will consist of several parts for sure. Up to now I memorized the tenor (music) and half of the text of the A part. This piece has such interesting features like a repeat of the second part with another tiny and beautiful phrygian cadence ending. Very special and I must admit that I have not read anything about it yet but first memorized it. I also don´t really know how this shall work form-wise, it is supposed to be a rondeau but then has this extra repeat. Very, very special. Musically it is really special as well, the line moves around a pattern between high a la mi  (occasionally sol) and c sol fa ut very often, as if this c would be something to aim for. it is also the highest occuring note in the piece – maybe that´s what I find a bit unusual. I even mislearned something in the beginning because of this circling around certain notes… well, happens. Difficult to play on pommer, I hope the cantus will be easier in this aspect because I also need some pommer fitness for upcoming spring/summer. I made a reel on presque trainsi focussing on the text and I like this idea, might do more reels about chansons and my memorization experiment, (memorizing Johannes Ockeghem for optimal SEO results!). (28.03.2023)

now the cantus! I somehow just didn´t get to learn the second part of the text properly and after an awesome weekend of playing pommer, singing mass and taking part in the first liturgical procession of my life (! I recommend !) in Amsterdam I got a cold and was just unable to sing or speak properly for 2-3 days. So I realized how grateful I am that I am actually player of instruments I can still play when a bit sick! I learned the cantus first part on soprano shawm, it was the first real practising time on shawm since a while so I took it slow and played many long notes on a drone, carefully discovered intervalls and what different overtones they produce. I am not sure if what I hear when playing to a recorded shruti drone are the same overtones like if both sounds would be produced in the same room but anyways I hear something and that´s nice and satisfying. I felt super „chanty“ after the weekend on which I had sung as much chant (don´t know to measure, in words? or in meters? :D) as in my entire life before. I approached presque trainsi cantus from that perspective and it was fun with the already present tenor line in my heart/mind/body. they go sweetly together, no surprise. also the cantus generally moves around in an melodic area and then needs some effort to „leave“ it and enter a higher or lower one. Note that it is very distinct in which area the line currently is, it does not have one ambitus but rather two or three so. Just as the tenor of this piece as well, I didn´t go that much in detail there. PS I don´t really care anymore if the solmization scheme and points of mutation fit this exactly or not but the *idea* that at least I got from some teachers about mutation points is very present in this piece. I must say I learned the most about solmization when performing one 12 minutes long multidimensional hexachord together with sféra here. Although we work on A. Agricola there and of course his way to treat melodies and hexachords is a very different one than here. But it amazes me to compare Presque trainsi to other Okeghem cantus parts that immediately present and fill a big part of their range in the beginning of the first phrase. look at fors seullement, ma bouche rit or quant de vous seul. Back to Presque…  I have a favourite part that entered the most beautiful little melodic lines (you may check some collegues of this place in this post… right now I think I´ll make a real list hehe. It is at „qui sans cesser pis qu´aultre mefortune: 

It is overwhelmingly beautiful how it leaves the first zone (fa fa mi mi) and quickly reaches the high mi-fa as if the desire to get there and enjoy every little moment in this zone is pure deliciousness (or pure suffering, anyways the art of living is living to the fullest, right?) Of course there´s also one beautiful caracteristic of O´s chanson present: the dotted figure (“at me for”) makes up a phrygian cantizans clausula but instead of ending the prashe here – “be clear” – it goes on in the most delicious way possible. There´s eventually a cadence with the other parts here but by not having a long note or new start afterwards a new level, or new space or dimension is opened. I know I don´t use the official terms and if you look up “enjambement” on the internet you´ll probably find much better explanations that will also satisfy for this phenomenum. I´ve never consciously *felt* an enjambement or musical equivalent as strong as here. Grateful for this journey! (04.-07.04.2023)

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