eborn 600 years ago, Michel Beheim was the last of his kind, a singer in the tradition of the proverb poets who hired themselves out at the courts of the late Middle Ages and gave honor to their lords in exchange for cash. Beheim’s words: “he who dwells with the wolves must howl with them” – a proverb we know as “whose bread I eat, whose song I sing”. More than 400 songs have been preserved in response to his 11 Meistersingermelodies, on every subject: be it a didactic poem on the temperaments of men, a warning against bad singers, a fable parable against corrupt jurisdiction, or a song of praise to the Holy Spirit. Between Beheim’s songs and stories, instrumental music is heard, which, to his chagrin, was becoming increasingly popular at the courts of his time; in addition to the alta capella, the duo of large and small lute was very popular because it allowed the whole range of polyphonic music to be played.
Ivo Haun – vocals | Crawford Young – plectrum lute | Marc Lewon – plectrum lute; direction
Dr. Crawford Young – lutenist and musicologist
Dr. Thomas Christ (TC): As an American, you spent your first years of training in Boston – how does one come to medieval and Renaissance music in America?
Dr. Crawford Young (CY): I grew up in the New York area, where the music scene was extremely stimulating in the ’60s. I attended a Beatles concert in 1965, and from then on everything went by itself.
My guitar playing led me to study classical guitar at the New England Conservatory, which at the time had an excellent early music department, from my current perspective the best in the entire United States. One of my teachers played us a recording by Thomas Binkley from 1970 “A chantar m’er de so qu’eu no volria” (Chansons of the Troubadours, Telefunken/Das Alte Werk), which was a key experience for me. At the same time, some fellow students moved to Basel to study with Binkley and other teachers at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis. They said he would be the perfect teacher for me.
Around 1977 I knew I wanted to devote myself entirely to the medieval lute world, because this music corresponded to my joy of improvisation, my preference for small ensembles and the familiar technique of playing with the plectrum. In addition, at that time there had obviously not yet been any serious effort made to historically reappraise the lute before 1500 in order to appreciate it as an independent “voice” on the concert stage.
TC: Why did you choose Basel as the city of music for your further career?
CY: I did not study in Basel. For in 1977, Binkley left the Schola after breaking new ground in music education at the Basel School: he created a career path with a specialized diploma in medieval and Renaissance music. As I recall, the idea initially came from the brilliant musicologist Wulf Arlt, who became director of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in the 1970s. (The Schola remains to this day the only conservatory in the world with a separate department for “medieval music,” that is, for the in-depth study of pre-1600 repertoire).
The idea of Thomas Binkley’s “Studio of Early Music” team was new and attractive to me at that time, in 1977, because it contained an offer or a model of a successful performance practice that explored the early music repertoire in a quartet, a kind of ideal combination of musicological research and stage experience at the highest level. Who couldn’t be excited about that as a career goal? And indeed, at that time at the Schola, its students – by the way, interestingly enough, a majority of them American – were well on their way to achieving this goal; the medieval performance practice course at the time, for example, released a recording for instrumental music (Estampie) that I found very compelling at the time.
It wasn’t until Binkley left Basel in 1977 that I traveled from Boston to Stanford to study with him. There I received an invitation to join a medieval quartet of Schola graduates in Cologne, where I spent three years. Then, in 1982, I was called to Basel to teach medieval music, taking over Binkley’s place at the Schola, so to speak.
TC: Regarding your instrument, the lute: on the one hand, the lute has almost completely disappeared from the instrumental repertoire since the Classical period, but on the other hand, it seems to have a long history in representations going back to ancient times (kithara). Perhaps you can tell us briefly about the historical significance of the lute?
CY: Plucked string instruments have a special role in the history of mankind. The lyre or kithara was the central instrument in education as well as in the sciences of classical antiquity, as well as in Hebrew culture under King David – in biblical times it served as a medium of communication between man and God. These early currents are known to have profoundly shaped and influenced our world and our cultural expressions to the present day. The kithara has gone through many different manifestations through the centuries – plucked, struck with a plectrum or fingers or even a keyboard, or bowed at the end.
Today, for over half a century, we have been living indisputably in the age of the guitar, whose popularity seems to eclipse other instruments worldwide. During the Renaissance, the lute was the queen of instruments, as its characteristics harmonized with the ideals of humanism: not only was it considered the classical instrument of antiquity (the treatise “De musica” by Boethius paraphrases the cithara as the fundamental tool for understanding musical theory), but it was also considered the perfect accompaniment to sung poetry, following the example of ancient poets in their pictorial representations with the lyre. The lute became the preferred means of expressing human feelings and emotional moods; with its harmonies and intervals, it brought the intimate, the private, but also the ephemeral into musical form. And, it was easy to transport and easy to maintain compared to some other instruments, such as the organ. The lute eventually also became a Christian symbol, a standard instrument of angels, and appears in the imagery of courtly love scenes and enchanted gardens (Garden of Déduit, Roman de la Rose, poem by Guillaume de Lorris, 1230). In short, it becomes the instrument of the emotional manifesto – so it is hardly surprising that the lute is chosen as the icon of humanism.
TC: Since musical sources, as well as references to the construction of old instruments, are often lacking, I assume that in order to study the “old lutes” you have intensively studied the literature and especially the imagery of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
CY: Yes, exactly. By carefully studying all sources of information, we have amazingly precise answers to questions of use, playing technique, construction, as well as the acoustics of the lute in Europe 500 years ago. Every historical source research – the visual, the literary, as well as that of instrument making – is embedded in different research fields today and has also developed a corresponding academic life of its own – m.a.w. the study of sources and the pursuit of the constantly expanding research fields, turns out to be a gigantic task and lifelong challenge. But this is actually exactly the promise we make if we want to do those studies seriously. Because we have a responsibility to understand that zeitgeist, that worldview, as well as those aesthetic preferences of that time, which is very different from our optics today. But this timely emergence of those works allows us to perceive historical performance practice as a new art form. Thus, on the one hand, we now enjoy unprecedented access to historical research, but we cannot yet assume that all the insights of theory have been incorporated into performance practice.
TC: Already in the Baroque period, the lute survived only in a few concerts, was the Baroque already too loud? How would you explain this early withdrawal of the instrument from performance practice?
CY: That is a question for a baroque lute specialist, I would be unqualified to give an answer.
TC: In the past decades, curiosity for the world of the Baroque, especially for Baroque opera, has increased enormously among the inclined audience for classical music. Could you imagine a similar development for Renaissance music?
CY: Our modern world loves the Middle Ages, or so-called Medievalism, possibly more than the Baroque or Baroque opera. But early music festival organizers may have learned how to market a baroque opera, and they cling to a fixed mode of performance, as they have for years. However, audiences would be receptive to pre-baroque productions, such as an original version of Orfeo from the late 15th century. – but the organizers are thinking all too conservatively here. The greatest commercial success with medieval “operas” and “operettas” (liturgical dramas) was achieved by the New York Pro Musica in 1958 with the “Play of Daniel” (another exception was the boom of Gregorian chant in the 1990s). But today, unfortunately, there are hardly any major pre-baroque productions.
Medieval as well as Renaissance music needs a narrative, a narrative background, and thus has to reinvent itself in the market. It should not be dismissed as the exotic corner of classical music or pushed aside as mere musical history. In general, historical terms or eras, but also designations such as “early music” should be avoided for a successful market strategy.
Festival organizers regularly base their decisions on the commercial added value as well as on the classical music scene (so in particular with the early operas); thus also the music schools (in the logic of a business model) follow the guidelines of the festivals and prepare the students for the later epochs. However, if the organizers were to shift their priorities to equally rich, earlier centuries (as ReRenaissance is currently attempting to do), a new trend would emerge, which would not be without consequences for the music academies. But today, medieval and Renaissance music majors appear as Baroque and Classical music minors, in a conservatory devoted primarily to the modern era. This model of studying early music dates back to the 19th century. and urgently calls for revision.
My own view in the late 1970s was that conservatories would establish stand-alone Medieval and Renaissance departments within a decade or two. Far from it. The main reason is that baroque music gets along with the classical world, is similar in structure and content to “normal” classical music, and is thus accepted. This is not the case with the Renaissance – and even more so with the music of the Middle Ages. These musical epochs or styles could never be marketed as ‘classical’, they belonged rather to the environment of folk or traditional music, or to jazz or even to the new music scene for laymen.
Medieval and Renaissance music must be “decoupled” from Baroque as well as Classical music. The differences between the baroque and the humanistic understanding of music, as well as their approach to art, are enormous, so they also differ in performance practice (which is blithely disregarded when musicians try to do both at the same time). The medieval or renaissance musician should therefore not see himself as an assistant or helper to a “mainstream” music, but should instead train at a conservatory, at an interdisciplinary institute with courses in art history and literature as well as linguistics. The focus of his education would then be cultural, historical, geographical as well as musical. My vision of an adequate education for a performer or an ensemble thus includes a study which at the same time does justice to art-historical and work-historical aspects and accordingly delves into an epoch of early music. Perhaps such a career once again deserves the term “authenticity”.
In Zeiten, in denen der Literatur-Nobelpreis an einen Singer-Songwriter (2016 an Bob Dylan) verliehen wird, oder wie aktuell der sogenannte «Bard-Core» im Internet einen Hype auslöst, indem Pop-Hits neu in ein ‘mittelalterliches’ Klanggewand eingekleidet werden – in solchen Zeiten sollte man sich wieder für das ‘Original’ interessieren. Und der Held des ReRenaissance-Konzertes im September ist ein solches Original.
Today’s scholars call Michel Beheim (1420-1472/9) a somewhat unwieldy and unsexy “Sangspruchdichter” (poet of sings); he himself referred to himself with the pretty expression “fürtreter,” which also indicates the claim towards his performance qualities. And these are usually forgotten when looking at his written work.
When I revised his person entry in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians over 20 years ago, I had never heard a single one of his 450+ songs. Probably not least for this reason, his songs and the ‘tones’ he coined remained somewhat abstract to me. So I am all the more curious to see how Ivo Haun, as “fürtreter”, will now interpret Beheim’s songs.
Today one would say “When in Rome do as the Romans do” (Michel Beheim’s analogy is “Who howls with the wolves”) – which in turn means in early music-loving Basel: Come to the Barfüsserkirche and listen!
1st Ave Maria – Marbriano de Orto (c1460-1529)
Ottaviano Petrucci: Harmonice musices Odhecaton A, Venice 1501, fols. 3v-4r
2. these are written after the first in Michel Pehams hach guldin white, and all syllables have ir rhyme. it is kainer single. they gen uber haf verporgen and also open. and that first here and then in the notes, that says of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and so it begins.
(Hohe guldin Weise, No. 298):
“Küng, her der hersten mersten reiche ” – Michel Beheim (1420-1472/79)
3. phfawin schwantcz – Paulus de Roda (fl. late 15th c.)
Krakow, Biblioteka Jagiellonska, Berlin MS Mus. 40098 (Glogau Songbook), no. 22: fols. B1v (discantus), B1r (tenor), B2r (contratenor bassus), B3r (contratenor altus)
4. the yeger horn – anonymous
Glogau Songbook, no. 132: fols. F9r (Discantus), G3r (Tenor), G5r (Contratenor)
5. mer ains von torechten singern (Slegweise, no. 420):
“You tell me vil of the silmen zal ” – Michel Beheim
6 The Entepris (= Entrepris suis par grant lyesse) – Bartolomeo Brollo (fl. c1420-1435)
Glogau Songbook, no. 102: fols. E6v (Discantus), E7v (Tenor), E10v (Contratenor)
7. agwillare habeth standiff – anonymous
Trento, Castello del Buonconsiglio, MS 88 (Trento Codex 88), no. 348: fols. 209v-210r
8. These are the first written words in this long book, but the rhymes are more complicated and not as verbose as the first ones. sie sein offen, als in disem geticht gehärt wirt, wann ich han ain aigen getiht da von (Lange Weise, Nr. 438):
“Here I start, I, Michel Pehamere ” – Michel Beheim
9. on riff eyn hubsches freweleyn – anonymous
Glogau Songbook, no. 251: fols. K13r (Discantus), N13r (Tenor), L13r (Contratenor)
10. dy werlt dy hot eynen thummen syn – anonymous
Glogau Songbook, no. 256: fols. L1v (Discantus), L9r (Tenor), M2r (Contratenor)
11. the pfawin tail – Barbingant (fl. c1445-1460)
Glogau Songbook, no. 208: fols. K1v (Discantus), K9r (Tenor), K12v (Contratenor bassus), L1r (Contratenor altus)
12. the fochsz schwanctz – anonymous
Glogau Songbook, no. 122: fols. F5v (Discantus), F10v (Tenor), F12v (Contratenor)
13. vom eim fuchslein & die auslegung des peyspils (Kurze Weise, no. 57a&b):
“Ain fuchslein lag” & “Etlich gericht ” – Michel Beheim
14. i sachs eyns mols den lichten morgensterne – anonymous
Glogau Songbook, nos. 47 & 189 (arr. Marc Lewon): fol. C5r (cantus firmus in the contratenor book) & fols. I6v (Discantus), L7v (Tenor), L12v (Contratenor)
15. from the uir cumplexen (Verkerte way, no. 246):
“I want you dy nature and krafft ” – Michel Beheim
16. mole gravati criminum (= In fewirsz hitcz zo bornet meyn hertcz) – anonymous
Glogau Songbook, no. 221: fols. K5v (Discantus), K12v (Tenor), L5v (Contratenor bassus), L6r (Contratenor altus)
17. nu we ask the holy spirit – anonymous
Glogau Songbook, no. 123: fols. F6r (Discantus), F11r (Tenor), G1r (Contratenor)
Basel Historical Museum
Historical Museum Basel
Place still open
Historical Museum Basel