The chant of "the Field of the Stars"

I was listening recently one of the last CD by the Ensemble Organum : Compostela – Ad Vesperas Sancti Jacobi - Codex Calixtinus XII century

I have always appreciated the work of Marcel Peres - who likes to sing for the Latin Mass and organizes workshops for the priests and seminarians of our Fraternity in France – so I expected another great recording and I was not disappointed. It brings us back 9 centuries ago on the ways of one of the greatest pilgrimages of the whole Christendom. I wanted to know a little bit more about this music from an old Codex and I found the following text.

The Codex Calixtinus and the development of polyphony
in the twelfth century.

by Sean M. Raleigh, Vanderbilt University.

The city of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain has been a popular destination for pilgrims since the middle ages. The origin and nature of this tradition are described by the twelfth century Codex Calixtinus. Especially noteworthy is the inclusion of music, some of which is polyphonic. The study of this early organum has provided new and often controversial insights into the development of the genre, owing to the fact that it is some of the earliest polyphony in our literature.
The Cult of St. James

In the late 8th century, Charlemagne had a "vision" in which a knightly figure appeared to him, identifying himself as St. James, the apostle (Santiago in Spanish). St. James described to Charlemagne that his body was resting in a tomb in the furthest reaches of western Europe, finis terrae, or "the ends of the earth." However, the path to his resting place was blocked by the "infidels," i.e., the Moors that had conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula. Charlemagne was to follow the path of the stars, the Milky Way, through Spain, liberating this holy ground from Islamic influence. So recounts Book IV of the Codex Calixtinus. The book continues on to describe the various battles of Charlemagne and other men in the reconquista of Spain. Throughout these "crusades" the name of St. James was invoked as a rallying point and became central to uniting all Christendom against the Moors.
The enormous influence of the figure of St. James contributed to a phenomenon known as the "cult of St. James." Legends of miraculous healings and blessings attributed to the power of St. James began to spread. The faithful Christians of Europe, seeking to magnify their piety and devotion, began making pilgrimages to the site which had been designated as his final burial place, a small town in northwestern Spain called Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela
According to legend, after the martyrdom of James in Jerusalem at the hands of Herod, his body was carried in a boat to Galicia by some of his disciples. (Galicia is the name of the northwestern region of Spain.) Although the various stories differ significantly, the actual tomb was purported to have been discovered by one of two people in the 9th century: Pelayo, a local hermit, or Theodomir, a local bishop in Galicia. Nearly all the legends describe how the discovery of the tomb was accompanied by bright lights or stars above the wooded area where the tomb rested, and angels who proclaimed the divinity of the location. A small church was constructed on the spot, which would later be replaced by the stately cathedral now present. The place was called Campus Stellae, or "Field of the Stars," later shortened to Compostela. (Edwin Mullins, in his book The Pilgrimage to Santiago, points out that the true derivation of Compostela is the Latin Compositium or Compostum, meaning "burial ground.") The popularity of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela was surpassed only by Jerusalem and Rome. There are a couple of reasons for such popularity. First was the idea of "divine grace," or the intercession of saints either to provide a miracle (such as a healing) or pardon from sins. Traveling long distances to pay homage to a saint was considered a worthy price to pay to merit forgiveness. The other motivation for pilgrims was the medieval fascination with relics. Oftentimes, these relics were believed to be endowed with healing or restorative powers. Less significant relics located in other places, such as slivers of wood from the Cross, or individual bones of some saint, attracted fewer people. The entire body of St. James was considered to be one of the more significant relics of the Middle Ages.

The Codex Calixtinus
The Codex Calixtinus, housed at the cathedral in Santiago, is a manuscript of the book entitled Liber Sancti Jacobi written between 1130 and 1140. It is considered by many to be the first tourist promotional book in history. Its several books describe the history of St. James and his importance in liberating Spain from the Moors, the miracles of St. James on behalf of pilgrims and others, and information about the principal route leading to Santiago de Compostela (popularly called the "Camino de Santiago" or more specifically, the camino francés). It wasn't actually written in Spain; evidence suggests that monks in southern France may have authored parts of it. Scholars believe that it was carried to Spain in the early 12th century by a man named Aymery Picaud, who also happens to be the editor of the Liber Sancti Jacobi, and perhaps the author of Book V, which is the pilgrims' guide. Aymery Picaud was the chancellor of Pope Calixtus II, and in order to give the book more authority and authenticity, he inserted into the text forged letters from the pope and from other important historical figures.

It is not known exactly why those of southern France would be so interested in promoting the pilgrimage to Santiago. One reason may be that people of Europe first had to pass through southwestern France on their way to Spain. Fernando López Alsina, in his article, "La Formación del Camino de Santiago," attributes a more religious significance to the area of Galicia: ". . . The location of the tomb of the apostle James certified the sure fulfillment of the Master's charge to carry the good word to the ends of the earth." (Translation by the author.) The books of the Codex Calixtinus are as follows:

Book I Book I contains sermons and other liturgical material, much of which is set to plainchant. Although much of the material is attributed to important historical figures, scholars doubt their authenticity. Since the codex is written in honor of St. James, it is fitting that the liturgy provided revolves around two occasions: July 25th, the Feast of the Passion of St. James; and December 30, the Feast of the Translation and Election of St. James. A collection of poetry and pilgrims' hymns is also included.

Book II This book contains 22 chapters which describe various miracles that were performed through the power of St. James. Many of them occurred in cities along the Camino de Santiago, and the recipients of such miracles were often pilgrims.

Book III The story of how James ended up in Spain is told in Book III. It is the shortest of the books of the Codex Calixtinus.

Book IV After Charlemagne's vision of St. James, he began a series of campaigns against the Moors. The battles are described in this book. It was supposedly written by Turpin, an archbishop who accompanied Charlemagne in these military expeditions. Nevertheless, Book IV is often called the pseudo-Turpin because it is doubtful that Turpin had anything at all to do with the book or with the expeditions.

Book V Book V is often labeled as Book IV because of King Philip, who ordered that Book IV be removed from the Codex. Later, of course, it was restored, but the numbering is often based on the unrestored version.
Book V is the pilgrims' guide, probably written by Aymery Picaud. It describes conditions along the camino for the traveler. Obviously, the travelers couldn't carry copies of the manuscript with them, but the information was available in copied manuscripts, especially in France.
Of interest musically is a supplementary section of polyphonic settings which augment the music available in Book I. There are a total of twenty pieces, each set for two voices with the exception of one which is probably a three-voice texture. It seems that, when performing this music (usually the polyphony was reserved for the masses, not the offices) the choirmasters were at liberty to substitute any particular section of the mass from Book I with a polyphonic equivalent from Book V. The most common substitutions seem to be tropes of the Kyrie and the Benedicamus Domino.

12th Century Polyphony
Polyphonic pieces of music are often interspersed throughout the more standard, monophonic plainchant that makes up the liturgical service (whether it be an office or a mass). In the 12th century, as in the previous centuries, polyphony is limited to those sections of the music in which the soloist sings. Choir parts are still sung in plainchant. However, with the increasing usage of additions to the liturgy, such as sequences, tropes, and versus, more opportunities are provided for the use of polyphony.
The 12th century marks the beginning of the style called Aquitanian organum, or "florid" organum. In contrast to the note-against-note style of the 11th century, the organal voice is allowed to sing up to five or six notes to one note in the chant melody. Cadences are still found at perfect consonances, such as unisons, octaves, fifths, and sometimes fourths.

The Polyphony of the Codex Calixtinus
What makes the Codex Calixtinus so important in assessing 12th century polyphony is its readability. Along with three other manuscripts originating from St. Martial in France, it is the best source of information for musicologists tracking the development of polyphony up to the Notre Dame school. These four manuscripts are in very good condition and the notation is clear and generally unambiguous. The Codex Calixtinus doesn't use "square-note" notation; the neumes are a modified variety of Aquitanian neumes which Paul Helmer (in The Mass of St. James, pg. 44) calls "Galician neumes." The polyphonic sections often distinguish between the two (or three) voices by writing one in red ink.

There are, however, several difficulties in interpreting the musical texts. One such difficulty is the alignment between the voices. In the note-against-note style, it was fairly clear which notes went together, since they paired off nicely with few exceptions. On the other hand, when the upper voice is allowed to have more than one note for every note in the lower voice, one must determine on which notes the two voices coincide. A good indication is given by the theory of consonances, but there are many combinations possible which all align on proper intervals. Even this method fails to some degree: Theodore Karp indicates in The Polyphony of St. Martial and Santiago de Compostela (pg. 183) that certain intervalic dissonances, especially in some note-against-note portions, "have no strict counterparts in later practice." Helmer also notes, "Our polyphonic repertoire shows a decided penchant for dissonances which resolve to consonances. It is hard to believe that the chant singer surreptitiously waited for a suitable consonance before he leaped to that note; the organum here seems to embrace even dissonances of seconds and sevenths on occasion provided that they moved to a fourth, fifth, unison, or octave soon after." (The Mass of St. James, pg. 43)

Another difficult and rather controversial question has been the issue of rhythm. Normally one associates the idea of metrical music with the rhythmic modes, codified in the 13th century. It is clear that if the rhythmic modes were written down in the 13th century, then there must have been at least some metrical music in the 12th century. The question that has not yet been fully answered is which music has measured rhythm and which has free rhythm. Under such circumstances, Helmer, in his transcription of the Mass of St. James, notes that there must be some music which has a metrical interpretation, but notates nearly all the music in uniformly spaced round note heads (lozenge notation). The only unequivocally metrical sections, in his opinion, are the Gloria trope and portions of the Epistle (pg. 43). These are, consequently, the only pieces which he notates in grouped, rhythmic notation. In contrast to this viewpoint, Karp meticulously outlines a system of rhythmic interpretation in which every bit of the polyphony in the Codex Calixtinus is metrical. His modern transcriptions of the polyphony are all written in grouped notation.

Even after the question of rhythm has been decided, one still must decide whether the rhythm is duple or triple. Traditionally, much of the polyphony of the Codex Calixtinus has been transcribed as triple meter. Helmer states the opinion of most scholars that the editions prepared by Peter Wagner in 1931 and Dom Prado in 1944, which have functioned for many years as the "standard" transcriptions, are incomplete or misrepresentative (pg. 7). Helmer concludes that the few pieces that are metrical suggest more of a duple meter. Karp, when assuming that everything is metrical, uses the standard triple meter in nearly everything

Congaudeant Catholici

An illustrative example of the variations in transcription caused by such differences of opinion is the Benedicamus trope, Congaudeant Catholici. It is probably the most famous polyphonic piece of music from the Codex Calixtinus. It is the only piece that is scored for three voices, and it is the earliest known example of a three-voice texture. In the past, some scholars, including Peter Wagner, had argued that it wasn't really a three-voice texture, but was a two-voice texture with an optional tenor part. Their justification for this opinion was that one lower voice is written in black ink, the other in red ink. Helmer points out that the different colored inks did nothing more than distinguish between the two parts; since the two lines cross one another, it would be a necessary feature in the notation (pg. 80). The primary difference in the Karp transcription (Vol. 2, pg. 206) and the Helmer transcription (pg. 243) is that the former is in triple meter and the latter, duple. (Actually, the Helmer score is notated in free rhythm, but a duple meter is suggested. A grouped notation of the Helmer version can be found in the Norton Anthology of Western Music, Vol. 1, pg. 51.) Naturally, this affects the other important element of polyphony, the alignment of the notes. The only places on which the two versions agree on the alignment are the cadences because their placement is governed by rules which are more consistent and better understood.

The fact that there are so many differences in interpretation leads to two conclusions. One is that there is a lot of work yet to be done to standardize performance practices of 12th century organum. Because this type of polyphony is a major transition between two well-developed styles, the notation had not yet evolved to the point at which the modern performer can precisely interpret the composers' intent. The second conclusion is that the Codex Calixtinus (along with the St. Martial manuscripts) is a rare possession and a marvelous insight into the evolutionary process of early polyphony.