Formerly Houston
Harpsichord Society

Newberry Consort



Newberry Consort

"A Medieval Cosmology"

Tuesday, November 4, 1997, 8:00 p.m.
St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 5501 Main Street

Early Conversations Lecture:

7:00 p.m., Chapel, Dr. Jane Chance

Discover how medieval people felt about their place in the cosmos. It's all here: A serious and comic look at feelings about love, pleas to saints for protection from the devil and the influence of the mystical forces of the universe. Is it still releventtoday? You be the judge.



Cosmology and the Medieval World View
Intermission (15 minutes)

  • The Artists
  • The Early Conversation
  • Program Notes

  • The Artists

    The Newberry Consort is the resident early music ensemble of the Newberry Library, and is one of the institution's oldest and most valued public programs. The Consort was formed in 1986 from the nucleus of performers who had appeared on the Early Music from the Newberry Library concert series. Those programs were organized by Mary Springfels, musician-in-residence at the Newberry since 1982. The Consort performs music of the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries, specializing in the late Middle Ages and early Baroque. Its programs are based on research in musical, historical, and literary works in the Newberry's magnificent collections. The Consort has toured nationally since 1987, performing in such locations as Boston, Chapel Hill, Schenectady, San Francisco, San Diego, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York City. The ensemble began international touring in 1992 with performances at the Holland Festival Oude Muziek Utrecht, where it returned in 1993. The Consort has also performed at the Regensburg (Germany) Early Music Festival and at Villa I Tatti, Florence. Since 1988, the Newberry Consort has released seven discs on harmonia mundi usa, including ¡Ay Amor!, Il Solazzo, Wan-erers' Voices, and The Golden Dream: Music of the Low Countries. Its latest release comprises Stradella cantatas, with soprano Christine Brandes. One of last season's programs—Paris from Villon to Rabelais: Music of the Streets, Theater, and Courts—will be released on CD in 1998 and marks the first of three recordings made possible by a $30,000 grant in memory of Howard Mayer Brown.


    Mary Springfels, Director
    Fred Leise, Manager

    Mary Springfels (viola da gamba) has been musician-in-residence at the Newberry Library since 1982 and has served as director of the Newberry Consort since its founding in 1986. Ms. Springfels has played with many American and European ensembles, including the New York Pro Musica, the Waverly and Folger Consorts, Concert Royal, the New York Renaissance Band, Pomerium Musices, the Harwood Early Music Ensemble, and Orpheus Band; she was a founding member of the Elizabethan Enterprise and Les Filles de Sainte-Colombe. Ms. Springfels serves as director of the Collegium Musicum at Northwestern University and has taught at Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Chicago. She also is an active teacher in early music workshops across the United States. Ms. Springfels has recorded for Titanic, Nonesuch, Columbia, Decca, and harmonia mundi.

    Among the world's premier countertenors, Drew Minter is also an accomplished stage director and recitalist. His engagements include the opera companies of Brussels, Nice, Boston, Washington, Santa Fe, Wolf Trap, and Glimmerglass; the Halle, Karlsruhe, Maryland, and Göttingen Handel Festivals; and the Opéras de Marseille, and Toulouse. He has appeared with many of the world's leading early music ensembles. In 1996 he debuted at the Edinburgh and Spoleto/USA Festivals. Mr. Minter is one of the founding members of the Newberry Consort. He is represented by over 40 recordings on harmonia mundi, Hungaroton, Koch, Decca/London, and other labels and is especially well remembered for his portrayal of Tolomeo in Peter Sellar's film of Handel's Julius Caesar. His latest CD, Love Letters from Italy, is on the Lyrichord label; he is on the faculty of New York's Mannes School of Music, teaching voice and directing opera.

    In addition to his work with the Newberry Consort, David Douglass (early violins) is the founder and director of the King's Noyse, a Renaissance violin band, and frequently performs with such ensembles as the Musicians of Swanne Alley, the Harp Consort, the Parley of Instruments, the Toronto Consort, and the Folger Consort. His playing has been praised by the New York Times for its "eloquence" and "expressive virtuosity." Through his ground-breaking work in the field of the early violin he has developed a historical technique that produces "a distinctively 'Renaissance' sound and style for the violin." (Fanfare Magazine) Mr. Douglass has been Artist Faculty at the Aston Magna Academy, teaches at many summer early music institutes and workshops, and is a frequent lecturer on early violin technique and repertoire. He has recorded a number of CDs for the harmonia mundi usa, Virgin, Erato, Berlin Classics, and Auvidis/ Astrée labels.

    Fred Leise Manager, Newberry Consort The Newberry Library 60 W. Walton St. Chicago, IL 60610 phone: 312-255-3610 fax: 312-255-3513 Check the Newberry website at

    Raphael Mizraki started working at the age of fourteen as a professional jazz drummer and pianist, despite being at the time mostly a cellist. During three years at York University his interests became increasingly diverse, including school workshops, ballet accompanying, jazz big bands, rock bands, Japanese drumming, composing/arranging, touring theatre, and percussion in contemporary music. For the last ten years his main instrument has been the electric bass, due to an involvement in jazz, blues, and soul music, through he is also frequently employed on double bass and violone with some of London's leading early music ensembles such as His Majesty's Sackbutts and Cornets and The Gabrieli Consort. As well as regularly taking part in cross-cultural projects with African and Arabic musicians, he tours extensively with Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band, and was for several years a member of the Dufay Collective, in which he played oud, rebec, viol, and medieval percussion.



    Through the "Early Conversations" preconcert lecture series, you will gain new insights about music and its cultural contexts. These lectures are free and occur an hour prior to concerts. The following speaker and subject were featured in this evening's lecture:

    Dr. Jane Chance -

    Jance Chance, professor of English, has taught medieval literature for twenty-six years, first at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, after receiving her Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois in 1971, and then at Rice University. Former President and founder of the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages, Inc., founder of the Rice university Medieval Club and Medieval Studies Program and Workshop, and one of the co-founders of the Rice Commission on Women, Chance has published thirteen books, on mythography and the Latin influence on medieval literary culture, Old and Middle English literature, Chaucer, and modern medievalism. At present she is at work on an edition of the fifteenth-century poem, Assembly of Gods. Editor of a series entitled the Library of Medieval Women, she has been an NEH and Guggenheim fellow, a member of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, Eccles Fellow at the University of Utah Humanities Center, and director of an NEH Summer Seminar for College Teachers on Chaucer and Mythography and an NEH institute for College Teachers on "The Literary Traditions of Medieval Women."

    The City of Ladies

    A handful of women in the Middle Ages, often associated with the court, wrote poems and works outside the visionary autobiographical experience of the religious. The very influential Franco-Italian woman poet and scholar Christine de Pizan (1364-1430?), a near-contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio, was the first French woman poet to make her living by the pen. How did this astonishing and prolific woman write and achieve so much? Christine was encouraged to read--very much like the modern Virginia Woolf--by her father. As a result, she wrote many works, both verse and prose, on moral political, and educational philosophy, religion, etiquette, medieval warfare, autobiography and biography, literary theory, mythography, courtly love, and the history, defense, and education of women. Most interesting to modern readers is her Gothic castle in the Le Livre de la Cité des Dames (Book of the City of Ladies) constructed by means of hte help of contemporary, ancient, and early medieval women as a bulwark against the attacks of others--an interior castle of self-esteem. Christine creates a Utopian community of women in opposition to what she perceives to be the troubled cities founded by men. This slide lecture will examine her illuminations of herself as author, of her mythical creation Othea, female deity who counsels Hector, and of Minerva, goddess of wisdom and armor-making, as well as Amazon queens, female classical deities, and personifications of Reason, Jusitce, and Righteousness, all part of her "City of Ladies."


    Program Notes

    The Alchemical Art

    White swans, peacocks, giant black toads, androgynes, red dragons, yellow serpents who consume their own tails; triple-headed birds sealed up in crystalline vessels; skies filled with gods, cosmic eggs, hieroglyphs, and winged pyramids; all of these wonders, prodigies, mon-sters, and portents are the stuff of the art and literature of medieval alchemy.

    From the time of Hermes Trismagistus (second century, A.D.) onwards, European adepts insisted that, while the actual alchemical process was relatively straightforward, it was necessary to couch descriptions of the Great Work in an impenetrably obscure occult language.

    This was ostensibly in order to keep out the riff-raff, but I also believe that alchemical secrecy and recondition satisfied an almost limitless appetite for mystery, intricacy, and conspiracy. The result of such an approach was the creation, over the course of the Middle Ages and Renaissance of an alchemical art that is today frustrating, compelling, touching, strangely beautiful.

    Physically, the alchemical process involved the transformation of "base" metals into gold. Precisely what this base material consisted of was a matter of continuing debate over the centuries, though most alchemists agreed that it had to contain salt (white), sulphur (yellow), and mercury (red). This base substance was hermetically sealed inside a glass vessel called an alembic; then it was submitted to hundreds of processes that could take years to complete. "Patientia" was a favorite alchemists’ motto. In the initial phases, the raw material was slowly cooked down into a nasty black mess sometimes called the Toad of the Earth, from which a vapor was extracted. To achieve this end, the substance was changed from earth to air, then to fire and water. Later in the process, the four elements were reunited and turned to a white mass inside the alembic.

    Then, through "fermentation," the matter grew root- or branch-like crystals that seemed to rise like a tree out of the putrific stuff at the bottom of the vial. Finally, if the alchemist had gotten his recipe right, extraneous metals were separated from the end product, which was the red-gold philosopher’s stone.

    The Symbolism of Alchemy

    Philosophically, the Great Work was nothing less than an attempt to attain eternal spiritual life through an intense study of the neo-platonic cosmological system, and all the Judeo-Christian mystical philosophies (Kaballah, gnosticism) that complemented it.

    For fervently Christian alchemists (many clerics were alchemists in the Middle Ages), Christ was the lapidus, the philosopher’s stone. All approaches to alchemy in Europe involved some sort of process of death and resurrection.

    It is important to understand that the great alchemical writers insisted that the seeker after truth had to be pure of heart and that the Great Work was the supreme allegory of human life; every stage of the alchemist’s journey served as an analogy for a spiritual step in the transformative process.

    Alchemy and Music

    Medieval and Renaissance alchemists embraced as central to their philosophy the idea of the Music of the Spheres. The ancients believed that the motions of the planets produced a series of harmonies that rang through the heavens but were beyond the capacities of earthly crea-tures to hear. Nevertheless, they intuited their presence, and, on the level of mi-crocosm, imitated their sounds.

    When they were in tune with the cosmos, their music could take on magical and healing powers, focusing the concentration, and, by giving joy to their hearts, cure them of melancholia, sleeplessness, and the stings of venomous insects.

    Boethius’s Lady Philosophy and Machaut’s Lady Hope recommended song as a gentle remedy for the psychic wounds meted out by Dame Fortune.

    Musical instruments often appear in pictures of alchemical laboratories. However, real alchemical music is extremely rare, "En pulcher lapidis" being one of the three examples that I know of.

    "En Pulcher Lapis"

    Johannes Tecenensis was a central Euro-pean priest and alchemist active in the later fourteenth century. His metrical alchemical "recipe" was set to music around 1400. The poem is conventionally obscure: the white, yellow, and red flowers are the salt, sulphur, and mercury that make up the base matter; the "fourfold motion" may refer to the exposure of the substance to heat, moisture, cold, and dryness.

    In the next section, the poet seems to be telling us that the Great Work is cyclical and without end, like the ourobouros (the snake that eats its tail) or a moebius strip. The "thirsty, fruitful land" symbolizes that part of the process in which water vapor rains down on the black mass in the alembic, while the "root," or tree of life represents some form of crystallization of the substance.

    In many alchemical images, this tree is surrounded at its base by the ourobouros, the "roaring" dragon that stands for the element mercury. A winged disc (here, the moon) can be an intermediary between god and man. The "triple essence" is clearly the Christian Trinity, which refers back to the triplicity of salt, sulphur, and mercury. The final imagery of the descent back to earth describes the successful conclusion of the alchemical experiment, the cyclic return to earth of that which has been there all along.

    The music, a single melodic line, is highly unusual; it consists primarily of two motifs, a seven-note descending scale, and a rising four-note figure. Both occur at appropriate places in the text. Both numbers, 7 and 4, are numericalogically significant, 7 being the number of days of the creation, the known planets, and metals, while 4 is the number of elements, humors, alchemical colors, and Evan-gelists. Tecenensis may have followed a seven-part alchemical process that con-sisted of:

    1. death
    2. the mirror of the soul
    3. the raising of the corpse
    4. the elevation of spirits
    5. descent and planting of the seed
    6. tinctures of the soul
    7. resurrection

    The deliberate ambiguity of this and all other alchemical texts allows almost limitless room for interpretation. Additional insights into its hidden mysteries will be gratefully received!

    Mythology in the Middle Ages

    One of our most fondly held motions about the Renaissance is that it saw the rebirth of the study of Classical mythology. In truth, the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses were kept alive through the disciplines of alchemy and astrology, and their stories were retold throughout the Middle Ages.

    Boethius included an affecting version of the Orpheus legend in the Consolation of Philosophy (c. 520), and many mythological tales crop up in Jean le Meun’s part of the Romance of the Rose (c. 1275).

    Medieval writers and readers drew on surviving copies of the works of Virgil and Ovid’s Metamorphoses as primary source materials for Classical mythology. Ovid’s works were sufficiently popular to inspire an Ovide moralisé, an anonymous, Christianized version of the Clas-sical legends in the early fourteenth century.

    Jean de Berry and Gaston Fèbus

    By around 1400, there existed a group of French humanists, which included Christine de Pisan, who were deeply involved in classical studies. Among their patrons were Charles V of France and his brother Jean, the Duke of Berry. Berry was one of Medieval Europe’s great arts supporters, a veritable four-teenth-century J. Paul Getty. He com-missioned the writing and illuminating of all kinds of books, including the fabulous Tres Riches Heures, painted by the Limbourg brothers, an Ovide moralisé, and several works by Christine de Pisan.

    Berry was also a music lover. He was responsible for the renovation of several church organs and is thought to have imported the first Flemish pedal organs into France. The duke was a lifelong acquaintance of the enigmatic Count of Foix, Gaston Fèbus. While both men were learned and shared a passion for dogs and music, they were not friends. Few spoke kindly of Jean, who valued art objects and animals more greatly than the lives of human beings. Fèbus spent a good deal of his time protecting Gascony from the greedy duke.

    One particularly distasteful bit of political maneuvering Fèbus was forced to undertake was the virtual sale of his young charge, Jeanne de Bolougne to Berry, who on the death of his first wife, expressed a desire to have a young girl for his next bride. Even Berry’s mad nephew, Charles VI, was taken aback when he heard of his uncle’s marriage plans.

    Fèbus stalled Berry for a year, until Jeanne was thirteen, and then exacted from the duke the formidable sum of 30,000 francs and several of his finest mastiffs. The ceremony took place in Toulouse, and according to the chronicler Froissart, the music was splendid.

    Poet, musicians, and their patrons formed a series of tightly knit, inter-locking circles during this period; everybody knew everyone else. Both Berry and Fèbus knew Machaut and Froissart. Christine di Pisan’s father was an astrologer and alchemist in the court of Charles V, and doubtless knew Ma-chaut, Berry and Foix, as did Jean Frois-sart.

    Poets and musicians often quoted one another’s works. They shared a love of clever, almost recondite verse and music of the greatest delicacy and sophistication.


    "Calextone" is one of the loveliest com-positions of the era, and "Fumeux fume" one of the more outrageous. "Calextone" is Callisto, a lovely nymph who followed Diana. Jupiter saw her and desired her. In order to seduce her, he assumed the form of Diana. As a result of this liaison, Callisto became pregnant, which the real Diana discovered one day when she and her nymphs were bathing together. The enraged goddess banished her nymph.

    Meanwhile, Juno, who had watched his affair with smoldering jealousy, now saw an opportunity for revenge. She metamorphosed Callisto into a huge she-bear and exposed her to the tortures of perpetual pursuit by hunters both human and animal. Finally Callisto was run to earth by her own grown-up son by Jupiter. Just as he was about to drive a spear into his mother’s breast, Jupiter at last intervened, whirling them into the firmament where they became the neighboring constellations Ursa major and Arcas.

    There can be no doubt that "Calextone" was written for the Duke of Berry, who was as lecherous as Jupiter and also very fond of bears. He kept several in a small menagerie, which accompanied his stately progresses through the French countryside. Bears appear frequently in the illuminated borders of manuscripts belonging to the duke.

    But who was Callisto? In classic medieval fashion, the first letter of each line of poetry spells an acrostic: C-A-T-H-E-L-L-I, presumably some form of Catherine. (Incidentally, the last word of the poem is a play on the name of the composer, Solage.)

    "Calextone" was composed at about the time of the duke’s marriage to Jeanne de Bolougne and seems to be concerned with a royal nuptial. Perhaps Cathelli was Jeanne’s middle or family name.

    "Fumeux Fume"

    Solage’s "Fumeux Fume" pokes fun at a group of giddy young men who

    called themselves the Society of Fumeurs (smokers). One of their number was the poet Eustace Deschamps, the self-proclaimed nephew of Guillaume de Machaut, and a habitué of the French court. I suspect that he is the "Smokey" of the song.

    The poem, a rondeau, is unusually short, while the composition is unusually long, inviting the singer and the audience to lose track of what little sense the words make in the first place.

    The marvelously bizarre chromaticism of the music also leads the musicians through tonal labyrinths. In short, the piece is a vivid, merciless evocation of drug-induced inebriation. Did the Fumeurs smoke? and if so, what? Opium or hashish are the most likely candidates.

    Strange Inhabitants of the World

    Most medieval people, even the most highly educated, believed in fabulous beasts, planetary influences, and other unseen powers that lay outside the Christian pantheon. It was thought that there was a kind of frontier area be-tween the realms of god and man that was peopled by daemons and familiar spirits like Orton in Froissart’s delightful story. Similarly, in remote, fabulous parts of the globe dwelt strange creatures like the basilisk.

    This was a composite creature, a venomous winged reptile with the head of rooster. It could kill at a glance, and was lethal even to itself if it beheld its own image in a mirror. There was no cure for its poison, but it did have one natural enemy, the weasel. We now suspect that the basilisk was a fanciful, hyperbolic version of the king cobra, which is crested, spits its venom, and at one time was believed to hypnotize its prey; and of course, its deadly foe is the fearless mongoose.

    In the manner of the medieval bestiary, Solage’s acid little song moralized the toxicity of the "basile."

    "Deus Deorum, Pluto"

    "Deus Deorum, Pluto" is a difficult piece to evaluate. Is it for real? If so, it is the earliest-known musical setting of a deal with a daemon. Is it part of some forbidden incantatory rite? Or is it, like "Fumeux fume" (which is resembles musically) a send-up of some human folly? Incredibly, Zacharias wrote two brilliant mass-movements based on this demonic chanson.


    Of all the Classical deities who lived on through the Middle Ages, the most powerful was the Goddess Fortuna. In Roman times, she personified the instability of life and was associated with other symbols of mutability, like the moon. She was such a considerable force over men’s lives that the Church Fathers had to struggle mightily to subdue her. Early Christian writers subjected her to God’s will by making her His agent, the great leveller of the rich, arrogant, and ambitious elements in society.

    Over the course of the Middle Ages, her power seemed to grow rather than to diminish, especially during the second half of the fourteenth century, the time of the Black Death and the worst period of the Hundred Years’ War.

    Her vast power was the subject of several major literary works, including The Consolation of Philosophy, the Anticlaudianus of Adam de L’Isle, Vitry’s Roman de Fauvel, and Machaut’s Remede de Fortune. There are at least forty pieces of music from the fourteenth century that concern themselves with her, and manuscripts abound with her likeness. Descriptions of her appearance and her realm still have the power to disconcert the modern listener.

    Chantari and Carduino

    All the music discussed thus far belongs to learned traditions and courtly societies. In the instances of "En pulcher lapidis," "Deus Deorum" and "Fumeux fume," a special kind of music was written to illuminate an unusual text. In contrast, the chantari were popular verses intended originally to be performed outdoors for a large, diverse urban audience.

    The chantari were about the great "matters" of medieval romance: the stories of King Arthur’s court, Charlemagne, and Roland. The great Renais-sance poet Ariosto remembered listening to these stories as a child and modeled his Orlando Furioso on the epic themes and stanza forms of the chantari.

    Because they belonged primarily to an oral tradition, no music to the chantari survives, though contemporary descriptions fell us that they were recited, sung, and occasionally accompanied by stringed instruments.

    Scholars suggest that there were two possible ways of setting the poetry to music: the first method was to use a melody that matched the versification and rhyme scheme; the second was to supply a chordal pattern over which the singer improvised an intonation.

    For Carduino’s first adventure, which will be sung in rhymed English brilliantly concocted by Lucy Cross, I have selected a fourteenth-century Italian melody, one of the very few that fits this poetic form. For the second episode, sung in the original Italian, I adapted a very old chordal pattern known as "La Spagna." This pattern may have accompanied performances of the Roland story, as its name suggests.

    Fred Leise Manager, Newberry Consort The Newberry Library 60 W. Walton St. Chicago, IL 60610 phone: 312-255-3610 fax: 312-255-3513 Check the Newberry website at


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