Formerly Houston
Harpsichord Society

New York Ensemble
for Early Music



New York Ensemble for Early Music

"A Rose in Winter"

Saturday, December 6, 1997, 8:00 p.m.
Trinity Episcopal Church, 1015 Holman at Main

Celebrate the joys of Christmas with jolly dances and contemplative carols from the middle ages and the Renaissance. Then join us for entertainment by candlelight with Morris Dancers and wassail.

The Program


John Alston, bass
Marshall Coid, countertenor, vielle
Todd Frizzell, tenor, symphonia
Wayne Hankin, winds, tenor
Wolodymyr Smishkewych, tenor, percussion
Jon Szabo baritone, vielle


Notum fecit Dominus
Hodie Christus natus est Plainchant

Rex virginum amator
Edi be thu hevenqueene
"Nota" late 13th century
Angelus ad virginem a 1 c.1200
a 3 c.1350

Annus novus in gaudio Saint Martial School
late 11th century
Beata viscera Perotin
Diex soit Adam de la Halle
De Innocentibus Hildegard von Bingen
Minnesang (instruments) Niedhart von Reuenthal
Der May, Winder, Maienzit c.1190-c.1240

Nicholai presulis
Exultemus et letemur/
Gaudens in Domino Notre Dame School


Cantigas de Santa Maria [Galicia] (instruments) Alfonso el Sabio
Como poden, Muit'amar, Tan beeyta, Maravillosos 1221-1284
Polorum regina [Catalonia] Llibre Vermell
14th century
Orientis partibus
Verbum patris humanatur
In natali summi regis Notre Dame School
Laude novella late 13th century
Verbum caro factum est
Verbum patris hodie 14th century
Cristo e nato late 13th century
Alleluya (instruments) 14th century
Stella nuova late 13th century
Saltarello (instruments) late 14th century

Program Notes

New York's ENSEMBLE FOR EARLY MUSIC has performed medieval Christmas repertoire at THE CLOISTERS of the Metropolitan Museum of Art annually since the Ensemble's inception in 1974. In residence at the CATHEDRAL OF SAINT JOHN THE DIVINE for nearly a quarter century, the Ensemble has taken inspiration from both these magnificent spaces in chosing and performing music for this festive holiday season.


There were songs of joy for the Christian festival of Christmas long before there were Christmas carols, just as for millennia before there had been songs for the festival of the Sun-god at the time of the winter solstice. The Western church had its ritual Christmas songs of praise - plainchant - since the time it possessed a formal liturgy. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, however, there are songs of a different kind being written down, forthright and vigorous songs which bear many signs of importation from the secular side of the winter feast. These songs were composed and sung by cathedral choristers and cloistered monks as festive embellishments to their liturgical plainchant repertoire.

These new songs elaborated the praises of the virgin Mary, the Visitation of Gabriel, the story of the Nativity (the Shepherds, The Three Kings, Herod and Rachel lamenting the slaughtered children), the New Year and Epiphany. Although not a part of the medieval Christmas season, the EEM also includes songs in praise of Saint Nicholas, the bearer of miraculous gifts.


The plainchant antiphon Notum fecit Dominus comes from the Office of Sext for Christmas Day (The Nativity of Our Lord) and Hodie Christus natus est, made familiar by Britten's borrowing of this antiphon to precede his Ceremony of Carols, is for Second Vespers.

The two-voice trope Rex virginum amator, thought to be of British origin, is an example of early polyphony where a second voice is composed above an existing plainchant melody. Using the plainchant melody "Kyrie eleyson" of Mass IV for this interpolated (troped) text, one hears the original word "eleyson" at the end of each phrase. As is the custom in performing a nine-fold Kyrie (i.e., Kyrie eleyson x 3; Christe eleyson x 3; Kyrie eleyson x 3) alternatim, the EEM alternates sections of this thirteenth-century two-voice composition with the (single-line) chant upon which it is built.

"Dance" is untitled in a rare, English, thirteenth-century manuscript containing numerous statutes, many referring to Coventry. It is in the estampie form; that is, there are a number sections, each repeated. Although undoubtedly in dance form, only pitches and not rhythms are notated. There is considerable latitude in determining meter in realizing this unique English composition for performance.

Edi be thu combines a lovely melody accompanied by a second lower voice, moving mainly in parallel thirds (an interval relation favored by the English). Its poem in the vernacular, pronounced as closely to original intent as is known, is from a thirteenth-century Augustinian priory in Gloucestershire.

The "Nota," also an untitled dance and one of a few in two voices (most extant dances are monophonic) is in a manuscript of the late thirteenth century containing the well-known rota "Sumer is icumen in." The EEM has added an additional, middle voice in the improvisatory spirit of a medieval dance musician.

The tune Angelus ad virginem dates from circa 1200. A second voice was added later in the thirteenth century, and the three-voice version appeared circa 1360. It is assumed that this tune is the one referred to in Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale":

And all above ther lay a gay sautre (psaltery),
On which he made a-nightes melodye,
So swetely that al the chamber rang,
And Angelus ad Virginem he sang.


Annus novus in gaudio features monophonic verses with a two-voice refrain response. From the School of Saint Martial, Limoges, the artistic center of Aquitaine (southern France) as Paris was for the north; the development of polyphony is claimed by many scholars to have started here in the eleventh century and then moved to Paris soon thereafter. Others argue that initial development of polyphony was simultaneous, with the North becoming dominant along with the growing political strength of the Paris-based kings. Not only a tribute to the New Year, this text honors a beloved choirmaster (cantor) as well and, in so doing, sheds some light on the mundane concerns of these eleventh-century choristers.

Most of the pieces on this disc are anonymous with the occasional attribution. Perotin, the composer of Beata viscera, was choirmaster at Notre Dame in Paris at the end of the twelfth century and a leader of the "Notre Dame School". He, along with Leonin, is associated with the development of polyphony; although, by proof of this monophonic tribute to Mary, it is evident that the ability to produce a well-wrought melody was paramount. An accompaniment has been invented by the EEM performers.

Diex soit, with its vernacular text, has its primary melody in the top voice in contrast to the Notre Dame songs with the tenor in the lowest voice. Adam de la Halle (c. 1230-1287) likely took the tune of this chanson de quete, sung by children at Christmastime for alms, to use as the basis for his three-voice version. With the repetition of its initial strophe in the middle and at the end, this composition shows a unique instance of rondo form, which became popular much later - in the sixteenth century. Note the word nohelison, a composite of noel and elison, which foreshadows the use of the word noel in Christmas songs. (See Nova vobis gaudia.)


The Cantigas de Santa Maria, collected under the auspices of King Alfonso the Wise (1221-84), was a collection of songs telling of the many miracles performed by the Virgin Mary. These monophonic songs lend themselves, with their inherent rhythmic organization, to pure instrumental treatment, utilizing some of the many instruments vividly depicted in musicians' hands in the manuscript illuminations.


It isn't until the Renaissance that we can use the term Christmas Carol in the traditional sense. However, Orientis partibus is probably one of the few medieval tunes that has found a place among familiar seasonal songs. The tune appears in a manuscript of items for the Feast of the Circumcision at the Beauvais Cathedral in the twelfth century; the tune was used as a basis for a three-voice setting in the Notre Dame style. The Feast of the Circumcision was also called the Feast of the Ass in honor of the beast-of-burden that carried the Three Kings and their gifts to Bethlehem. The short refrain in the three-voice version might be understood to be descriptive of a braying ass since this holiday (also called the Feast of Fools) is known to have permitted license to parody ritual.

Verbum patris humanatur is an alternative variation of the text Verbum patris hodie whereas Verbum caro factum est is a widely dispersed song (taking its departure from the beginning of St. John's gospel) whose text and music survive in many varying forms (see below). Eya is an exclamation of attention and roughly equivalent to our English "hey."

The EEM's "arrangement" of In natali summi regis utilizes musical settings from two manuscripts of the same poem, one in two voices, in imitation of psalm-tone singing and a contrasting, dance-like monophonic tune. The text, like that of Annus novus in gaudio gives a hint of the context for which these conducti (religious songs) served. In the last verse, the lector is invited to "begin the lesson."


Hildegard (1098-1179), abbess of the German Benedictine convent of Bingen, was a visionary, artist, composer, poet and consul to the Pope. She is responsible for a prolific corpus of monophonic religious chant, both as composer and as patroness of her talented charges. De Innocentibus is a poignant plaint to the Innocents who, in a violent chapter of the Christmas story, were slaughtered by King Herod in his vain attempt to assassinate the newly born Christ-child. Neidhart von Reuenthal (c.1190-c.1240) was a master of monophonic song, called Minnesang, directly influenced by the Troubadour movement. His songs are particularly modal and share striking stylistic traits with the melodies of Hildegard.


Though Saint Nicholas had no direct connection with Christmas celebrations in the middle ages, his Feast-day on December 6, is the first major "holy-day" in Advent. For this reason, along with the legendary miracles of his gift giving beneficence, perhaps confused with the Three Kings and their gifts to the Christ-child celebrated at the conclusion of the Christmas season, there was in the nineteenth century a melding of holiday celebrations not unlike the early absorption of Winter Solstice and the pagan new year. Nicholai presulis is another example of a three-voice "conductus", with the dominant tune or tenor being the lowest voice. Exultemus et letemur and Gaudens in Domino are two two-voice songs which have been arranged for the EEM in alternation; Gaudens in Domino is represented by two manuscript versions in tandem. Again, as in In natali the text invites the "reader" to step forward and intone the lesson, suggesting that these conducti (from L. to conduct) were sung while a reader proceeded to the lectern.


Polorum regina is a monophonic song praising Saint Mary the virgin from the fourteenth-century Catalonian Llibre Vermell. As in the Cantigas, the poetic and musical forms utilize a recurring refrain, a tantalizing invitation for everyone to join in - particularly in this popular form in contrast to the solo "artifice" necessary for performing more complex polyphonic compositions. In fact, Polorum regina has been traced into the nineteenth century as proof of its popular usage.


Laude novella, Cristo e nato and Stella nuova are Italian equivalents of the Spanish refrain song. These three laude (devotional songs), with their many verses (select verses have been chosen for this recording), virtually tell the complete Christmas story. Laude played an important part in the religious life of the Italian people from the thirteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth. Their origin and early development were closely connected with St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226) as well as with the many penitential fraternities (flagellants) of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Later, numerous congregations, called Companie de laudesi (or Laudisti) were founded to foster devotional singing among the Italian people.

Verbum caro factum est, though in Latin and for two voices, is actually a fourteenth-century polyphonic lauda with its unmistakable repeated refrain and internal poetic structure. Verbum patris hodie is for two voices as well but (like Rex virginum amator above) this text is built on a troped expansion of the salutation Benedicamus Domino with the response Deo gratias (sung at the conclusion of all Offices).

An untexted Alleluya is pronouncedly Landini-like in style and clearly represents the 14th century Ars nova period, with its contrasting and striking rhythmic patterns in both original voices. The EEM adds a middle voice in the spirit of the fourteenth-century improvising musician.

The concluding Saltarello is a fourteenth-century dance, part of a large collection of monophonic istanpittas from a manuscript of north Italian provenance. The accompaniment, again, is invented by the EEM and derived from "informed imagination."

Frederick Renz


Founded in 1974 by Frederick Renz, New York's ENSEMBLE FOR EARLY MUSIC (EEM) captivates audiences worldwide with its scintillating performances of music and music-drama from the medieval and renaissance periods. Profiled on the award-winning national news program - CBS "Sunday Morning" - the EEM regularly tours throughout the United States and has won critical acclaim at numerous international festivals including Spoleto, Brisbane, Jerusalem, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, Cracow, Rome, Siena, Ravinia, Caramoor, Charleston, Paris, Athens and Tokyo. The EEM is in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and regularly performs at The Cloisters, the branch museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

John Alston is an Assistant Professor of Music at Swarthmore College where he conducts the choirs and chamber orchestra and teaches courses in jazz studies. Last season, John was the bass soloist for a recording of Buxtehude cantatas which was released by Quintessential Sounds. A Resident Artist of the EEM during the 94/5 season, John toured throughout the United States with the EEM singing the role of "Darius" in "Daniel and the Lions." During the 96/97 season, he also performed the role of "Christ" in the EEM's premiere of "The Play of Mary Magdalene" at The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Marshall Coid, Resident Artist of the EEM since 1994, has received extensive critical acclaim as a countertenor, composer, violinist and actor. Solo appearances: the United Nations, Lincoln Center, Spoleto Festival, MOMA, International Performers Festival (Belgium), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Broadway: BARNUM (violin soloist on the high wire), RAGS, GHETTO, DROOD. Television: ANOTHER WORLD, GUIDING LIGHT, FAME, MTB, Bernstein's MASS. Opera: Ithaca Opera, New York City Opera, Connecticut Grand Opera, Soho Baroque Opera.

Todd Frizzell has found himself in a variety of places and performance venues, including the San Francisco Opera Chorus, Pocket Opera in San Francisco, touring the United States and Asia in EEM productions, American Hawaii Cruises (cabaret and Broadway reviews), the Aspen Music Festival, Spoleto Italy, and singing leading roles in regional theaters. A Resident Artist of the EEM since 1995, Todd is also a member of the choir at the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields in New York City.

Wayne Hankin performs on radio (NPR), television (HBO) and film (PBS). A Resident Artist of the EEM since 1994, he performs with numerous early music groups and has worked extensively with Meredith Monk. Theatrical credits include the NY Shakespeare Festival, Long Wharf Repertory, Center Stage and American Repertory Theater. Wayne has recorded for SONY, Newport Classics, Lyrichord and ECM. He also composes and is a three-time Winner of the ASCAP Standards Award and a Meet the Composer Grant.

Wolodymyr Smishkewych holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees in performance from Rutgers University and Indiana University's Early Music Institute. Besides performing extensively in the New York area in both opera and oratorio, he has conducted extensive research in the fields of medieval Galegoportugues reconstruction, sinfonia technique, seventeenth century Spanish art song, and the indigenous music of North Atlantic Europe. The 97/98 season marks his debut as a Resident Artist of the EEM.

Jon Szabo, Resident Artist of the EEM since 1994, appeared in the 1997 Boston Early Music Festival's production of Rossi's Orfeo. Recent solo appearances include area performances of numerous Bach cantatas and Durufle's Requiem among others. He has appeared and/or recorded with Bach Works, New York Virtuosi, New York Concert Singers, the Cantata Singers, the Vedantic Arts Ensemble, and Ascension Music on the Delos and New World labels. An Ohio native, Jon previously taught high school and college music and was a Resident Artist with the Toledo Opera Association.


Carl K. Steffes, Managing Director
217 West 71 Street New York, NY 10023
Telephone: 212-749-6600


Copyright 1996-9 by Houston Early Music 
P.O. Box 271193 | Houston TX 77277-1193 | Phone 713-432-1744 |