hen Ambrosius Kettenacker passed on his collection of songs in 1510, he was just 17 years old and had already completed his studies in Basel. His even younger friend Bonifacius Amerbach was the lucky recipient, who would in due course amass a much larger collection of music. Kettenacker’s songbook, however, was the cornerstone and is today the oldest piece in the Amerbach cabinet (UB Basel, F X 10). It once consisted of four part books, but only the bass part book survived. The program includes specially reconstructed movements of the songbook, most of which have been supplemented from other contemporary sources. The famous “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” is also among them, but with a bass voice that cannot be found anywhere else. So there are also unique things to hear.
Grace Newcombe – vocals, clavisimbalum | Jacob Lawrence – vocals | Katharina Haun – cornett | Baptiste Romain – vielle, renaissance violin, small violin | Tabea Schwartz – grand violin | Elizabeth Rumsey – grand violin | Marc Lewon – lute, grand violin, vocals; conductor
Concert clip June 2020, encore from “Frölich Wesen” – Aus dem Liederbuch des Kettenacker, audio: SRF2 (Lars Dölle), video and editing plots-art.com,
The full bruoder kond oüch dar zú – anonymous
From the Kettenacker songbook 1508, concert 26.6. 2020, Basel Barfüsserkriche
Die Frau vom Himmel ruoff ich an … From the songbook of Ambrosius Kettenacker (Basel, 1508)
From Frölich Being, 26.6. 2020, Barfüsserkirche, Historical Museum Basel
Baptiste Romain – Lecturer for Fiddle and Renaissance Violin at the Schola Cantorum, Basel
Thomas Christ (TC): Mr. Romain, as probably the youngest lecturer at the Schola Cantorum, you devote yourself practically exclusively to music of the 14th century, 15. and 16th century. How do you explain your love of Renaissance music to your peers?
Baptiste Romain (BR): It is indeed true that I devote myself exclusively to the music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In doing so, one could open the frame you mentioned a bit more and say: from about 1000 to 1650.
As you can imagine, this time slot includes an enormous variety of repertoires and musical styles. It’s hard to explain why some sounds appeal to you and others less so, why, for example, the purity of a perfectly tuned fifth does me good while it might be unsettling to others.
When I was 11 or 12, a school friend showed me editions of medieval dances and songs. He played the recorder and intended to perform this music with me (on the “modern” violin). I remember which pieces they were and how they immediately excited me.
At the age of 14, I discovered other repertoires when we were presented with music history in high school, including the organas of the Notre Dame School, Trecento ballatas, or the Requiem of Okeghem. One day, when we were analyzing and listening to a motet by Guillaume de Machaut, I decided to deal only with early music.
TC: Do you come from a family of musicians? Did they experience this very early music as “courant normal” in their youth?
BR: Both my parents pursued musical activities in my childhood. My mother sang in a choir, my father played guitar, piano and later even harpsichord at home. Early music was already part of my cultural landscape, along with jazz and classical. In this range of variation, the Middle Ages were still hardly present, but the few records that went in that direction piqued my interest.
TC: Baroque music has experienced a real audience boom in the last 20 years; almost all opera houses now regularly venture into Baroque singspiels. How do you estimate the response or interest of the inclined public in Renaissance music? Do you stay in the circle of enthusiasts or does the spirit of the times allow you to mobilize new target groups?
BR: In some places in the world, the reappraisal of early music has met with a lively interest in recent years: medieval and Renaissance concerts are increasingly being performed as alternatives to later repertoires. At some festivals, some audiences even prefer these early programs. In many other venues, however, earlier music unfortunately remains limited to “that one exceptional concert” – the “special offering” within an otherwise baroque festival week or series. Unfortunately, due to the general economic conjuncture, there are now even fewer festivals and concert series devoted exclusively to early music.
TC: The violin is known to be one of the few instruments that has made the leap from early to new music. Explain to us briefly the differences between the fiddle, the Renaissance violin and the classical violin.
BR: Between the 10th and 16th centuries, people in Europe played stringed instruments, which today are generally referred to as “fiddles.” There were important regional differences in construction, sound concepts, playing styles and designations. In the 15th century, “vielle” was understood to mean a five-stringed instrument with a relatively flat bridge that was played on the arm. From 1520 on, a new form of the same instrument developed, with stronger indentations on the body and a bridge that favored the playing of polyphonic lines. Initially, the violin was equipped with three strings, then somewhat later (around 1550) with four. Around 1560, it acquired the shape and construction that is still commonly known to us today.
Moreover, in the Renaissance there were larger instruments that were held between the knees. The viola d’arco / viola da gamba originated from a parallel development of the Spanish fiddle and gained a special place in the musical culture of Europe in the 16th century.
TC: You also teach so-called “modal improvisation.” How should we imagine the notation of Renaissance music? Can it be played at all without improvisational patterns? How freely must the layman imagine these patterns or individual figures? Can you recognize a good musician by his improvisational skills?
BR: Personally, I don’t necessarily think you’re a better musician if you focus on the art of improvisation alone. It’s clear that audiences like to crave personalities and timeless experiences. But without understanding and humility towards the original text, such a performance – in my opinion – is often not convincing. Finally, Renaissance notation conveys the musical thinking of a composer or a scribe with very precise indications. The liberties that the performer has can relate to various areas of interpretation: Micro-ornaments that make the line imperceptibly richer, occasional diminutions with which the singer or instrumentalist gradually frees himself or herself from the source text, or finally the continuous playing (or singing) of virtuosic diminutions that bring to the fore the creativity and understanding of the performer. In addition, there are still some aspects that today’s musicians can acquire, such as the art of foreplay or improvised counterpoint.
TC: As a connoisseur of Renaissance music, you are by necessity also a historian. Baroque paintings tell us a lot about baroque gestures, but where do you get your sources for the sounds and preferences of the old performance practice?
BR: For the reconstruction of the performance practice of that time, there are a few main elements that I think of spontaneously. The pictorial representations of musicians, performance situations and instruments are of great importance to us and have been studied for a long time. In addition, there are the theoretical treatises and writings that describe the practice of music. Here the gradation is very broad: one finds texts intended to serve the teaching of music to children, some explain a specific, technically oriented practice, while others philosophically paint the musical zeitgeist of a particular era. Add to that all the reference works … Thanks to musicology, you always find new aspects and building blocks – its study is an important source of inspiration for us.
TC: Not everyone knows that you are also a gifted bagpipe player. How did they get this instrument?
BR: When I was 13 years old, the sounds of this instrument fascinated me. This passion (or addiction!) led me back then – even before I bought a fiddle – to order a small bagpipe from a Dutch farmer. When it arrived (about 20 years ago), I went to the forest every day to practice – sometimes in rainy weather, which had severe consequences for the instrument. At that time, I searched everywhere in the libraries of the Paris region for recordings to notate and learn new bagpipe pieces, no matter from which traditions of Europe. There I discovered many Breton and Scottish pieces, but also Swedish, Italian, Hungarian melodies, which were connected with a special vocabulary of ornaments and articulations. During the time when I then studied at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, I tried to develop my own bagpipe language adapted to the old repertoire. In the meantime I own ten different instruments. About a month ago, during the lockdown, I ordered another bagpipe from the Pyrenees. The obsession is still there …
TC: Thank you for your insights into the world of early music!
It is a great idea to open the new Basel concert series “ReRenaissance
with music from one of the smallest songbooks in the university library. Small because it is a private collection with only 28 songs – but small also because of four volumes only the bass part book is preserved until today. However, a large part of the missing voices can be inferred from other contemporary manuscripts and prints.
On the last page of the booklet there is the inscription: “Ambrosius Ketenacker dedit Bonifacio Amorbachio Basiliensi hos libbellulos quatuor Anno MDX” (“Ambrosius Kettenacker gave Bonifacius Amerbach of Basel these four booklets in 1510”). Ambrose enrolled at the University of Basel in 1508 and later became a priest of the Reformed Church in Riehen.
But his songbook is also small because of its format: it measures only 11 x 16 cm. Somewhat later in the 16th century, there were even smaller music books: the most famous are probably the prints of Christian Egenolff in Frankfurt, some of which measure only 11 x 8 cm, and in the Basel University Library there are some handwritten part book sets of similar size. But these are extreme cases. What and how Ambrosius notated was probably intended and adapted for the musical activities of a student in Basel. The songbook is small, very small in fact, but not too small to still be comfortably legible, with appropriately wide line systems – only three of them per page – and pleasantly large note heads.
More difficult to answer is the question of how he performed the music. Did he use viols (also called “great violins” in Kettenacker’s time), which had been introduced only 20 years earlier in Spain and Italy? Or were recorders used, which were easier to make and apparently popular for over a century? Or did he use some of the more exotic instruments illustrated at the same time in Sebastian Virdung’s Musica getutscht – printed in Basel in 1511: crumhorn, shawm, cornett or rebec? Or did he just sing, even if there are only a few lyrics in the bass part book. Unfortunately, the booklet does not give us any clues about the intended lineups.
(Translation: Marc Lewon)
1. the woman from heaven I ruoff to – Wolffgang Huber
Kettenacker tuning book, fol. 9v / Discantus, altus and tenor added from the broadsheet Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2 Mus. pr. 156-12-14#13 (1510) / Reconstruction of the penultimate line by Marc Lewon
2. f Du min schatz (instrumental) – Anonymous
Kettenacker tuning book, fols. 2v-3r / Discantus and Altus transposed supplemented from St. Gall, Abbey Library, Cod. Sang. 463 (“Songbook of Aegidius Tschudi”), fols. 60r/118r,
Tenor supplemented from Basel, University Library, Ms. F.X.21, fols. 78v-79r
3. i divorce with sorry – Anonymous
Kettenacker tuning book, fol. 10v / Discantus and tenor added from Basel, University Library, Ms. F.VI.26 f, fol. 3r
4. isbrüg jch (Innsbruck, I must let you) – Anonymous
Kettenacker tuning book, fols. 5v-6r / Discantus reconstruction using the cantus firmus inspired by Martin Staehelin / Altus and tenor recomposed by Marc Lewon
5. who the ellend büwen wel – Anonymous
Kettenacker tuning book, fol. 6r / Tenor reconstruction from cantus firmus, altus adaptation from the Trium vocum cantiones (Johannes Petreius, Nuremberg 1541) and new discantus by Marc Lewon /Text: Munich, Bayerische Staats-bibliothek, Cgm 809, fols. 61r-63r
6. ah hulf me sorry – Adam of Fulda (c1445-1505)
Kettenacker tuning book, fols. 11v-12r / Discantus, altus and tenor added from St. Gall, Abbey Library, Ms. 462 (“Liederbuch des Johannes Heer von Glarus,” c1489-1553), pp. 14-15.
7 Frow bin ich din (Glad I am thine) (instr.) – Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537)
Kettenacker tuning book, fol. 4r / Discantus, altus and tenor added from Munich, University Library M. 328-331 (“Stimmbücher des Hieronimus Welser,” Augsburg 1527), fols. 129v/78r/52r/[66v]
8. frólich wesen (A joyful being) – Jacob Obrecht (1457/58-1505)
Kettenacker tuning book, fol. 4r-v / Discantus, altus and tenor added from St. Gall, Abbey Library, Ms. 462 (“Liederbuch des Johannes Heer von Glarus,” c1489-1553), pp. 64-65.
9. it gieng guot tröscher over land – Anonymous
St. Gall, Abbey Library, Ms. 462 (“Songbook of Johannes Heer of Glarus,” c1489-1553), p. 57.
10th Prooemium in re / Adieu mes amours (instr.) – Hans Kotter (c1485-1541) / Josquin Desprez (c1450/55-1521)
Basel, University Library, Ms. F.IX.22 (“Tabulatur des Bonifacius Amerbach”), fols. 60r-v & 40r-41v
11th Kochersperger Spaniel (instr.) – Hans Kotter
Basel, University Library, Ms. F.IX.22 (“Tabulatur des Bonifacius Amerbach”), fol. 100r-v
12. maria tender – Pfabinschwantz (active around 1500)
Kettenacker tuning book, fols. 9v-10r / Discantus, altus and tenor added from Würzburg, Staatsarchiv, Kloster Ebrach Bücher (D7), Nr. 11/II, fols. 16r-19r
13. fortüna (Fortuna desperata) – Antoine Busnoys? (c1435-1492)
Kettenacker tuning book, fol. 8r / anonymous discantus and tenor, and three concordancie by Alexander Agricola (c1455-1506) added from Augsburg, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek, Hs. 142a (“Augsburger Liederbuch”), fols. 46v-47r
14. the full bruoder kond oüch dar zú – Anonymous
Kettenacker tuning book, fol. 9r / Discantus, altus and tenor added from St. Gall, Abbey Library, Ms. 462 (“Liederbuch des Johannes Heer von Glarus,” c1489-1553), pp. 58-59.
Main source: Basel, University Library, Ms. F.X.10 (songbook of Ambrosius Kettenacker, bass partbook: “Kettenacker Stimmbuch”).
Historical Museum Basel
Historical Museum Basel