Ach, homo fragilis

SGP - Ach, homo fragilis

Sacred lyricism in the late medieval Bohemia. Guest - Petra Noskaiova, mezzo-soprano.
Supraphon, SU 3623-2231 © 2002
Total time 70:55

Complete texts and commentary in Czech, English, French and German
Choc du Monde de la Musique (March 2003)

Schola Gregoriana Pragensis: Hasan El-Dunia, Jiri Hodina, Marian Krejcik, Ondrej Manour, Michal Medek, Martin Prokes, Stanislav Predota, Jan Stetka, Matous Vlcinsky
artistic director - David Eben

Petra Noskaiova - mezzo-soprano

I. Ah, fragile man
1 Lejch Ach homo perpende fragilis 5:03
2 Antiphona Media vita 4:09
3  Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz: O felicem genitricem / Bohu svemu Krali nebeskemu 2:44
4 Lejch Audi tellus 2:27
5 Litaniae Aufer a nobis 5:27
II. Mary, Recourse of Sinners
6 Cantio Ave spes et salus 2:10
7 Lejch Pax vita salus 1:26
8 Alleluia Salve virga florens 2:19
9 Lejch Ó Maria, matko Božie 2:10
10 Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz: Presidiorum erogatrix 3:00
11 Cantio Vigilanter melodum 2:42
12 Lejch Angelus ad virginem subintrans 1:38
13 Gloria Spiritus et alme 4:08
14 Lejch Ave non Eve meritum / Cantio Digna laude 5:21
15 Cantio Stella maris diceris 2:49
III. ...for man falls into sin ever again
16 Responsorium Afflicti pro peccatis 2:21
17 Rondellus Gentis mens labilis 2:10
18 Lejch Vanitas vanitatum 5:18
19 Lejch Felici signo 2:22
20 Motetus Homo luge - Homo miserabilis - Brumans est mors 2:09
21 Lejch Fletus et stridor dentium 2:17
22 Cantio O quantum sollicitor 2:22
23 Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (?): Kyrie Fons bonitatis 2:55

From the beginning of the modern age, history has witnessed an ever stronger tendency towards viewing man as the centre of universe. In the process, humans have come to feel increasingly convinced of their being the masters of all creation, and accordingly, their self-realization has come to be focused exclusively on the purely human domain. In this sense, the medieval era kept a greater sense of detachment from its exclusively human qualities. Indeed, it was profoundly involved in actually experiencing the fragility of the human nature, as something that cannot be overcome without assistance from God. For the medieval man, the way towards the overcoming of this fragility led through the realization and confession of one’s mistakes, that is, through repentance. In fact, it was in the act of repentance that people of that time expected to find an answer to their questions concerning their own failures, as well as a method of achieving progress in their spiritual life.

From the earliest times there has existed an extensive repertoire centered around the theme of repentance; arguably its most significant part has been constituted by liturgical chants pertinent to the season of Lent. However, general concern with this particular range of questions became markedly accentuated towards the very end of the Middle Ages. Perhaps this can be accounted for by the fact that it has been very often exactly during such periods of radical change, as an old system is being subverted in one way or another and a new one is gradually taking over, that the transience of the worldly aspects of existence has come to be accentuated, not without a certain amount of melancholy.

At that time — roughly from the late 14th century onwards — Bohemia witnessed the production of a literary form similar to songs, using poetic language, known collectively as lais. Their place in the performing practice of the period is now not absolutely clear. They may have been employed as part of the liturgy, as additions (interpolations) to earlier choral chants, but they may just as well have been sung separately, possibly even out of the liturgical context, during functions of social character. Text-wise, this repertoire is characterized by an exceptionally high degree of expressiveness of its poetic language, involving a whole range of naturalistic, apocalyptical images. In some cases, this took on the form of a sort of musical-literary “danses macabres”, analogous with the plethora of visual depictions of this particular theme (Fletus et stridor dentium). From the musical point of view, these chants constitute a fairly disparate category. Some of them are strophic, in that sense resembling hymns (Ach homo fragilis, Ave spes et salus), whereas others feature a predominance of long, “rhapsodic” phrases, which elaborate in a very free manner the traditional choral melodics. Worth noting is a group of chants which has been associated with the name of a Záviš, and which can be found in source materials beginning from the second half of the 14th century. Notwithstanding the existence of various hypotheses, the author’s identity has so far not been conclusively determined. Musically, this group of chants is characterized by specific “Phrygian” melodics in a mode beginning on E, in combination with dominant chord progressions. Falling within this category are for instance the introductory lai here, Ach homo fragilis, or the Marian chant, Angelus ad virginem subintrans.

Apart from pleas addressed to God for salvation and forgiveness, another crucial category of supplications turn to the Virgin Mary whose cult was very much alive during the late medieval era. This constellation also determined the programmatic structure of the present CD: the introductory part (Oh, fragile man), devoted to repentance, is followed by a series of chants devoted to the Virgin Mary as the principal intercessor in behalf of the sinful humankind. The return to penitence in the third part (…for man falls into sin ever again) does not convey a pessimistic message; rather, it intends to raise the awareness of the human life as a process that involves continuous grappling with one’s own fragility. The finale, formed by the three-voice Kyrie Fons bonitatis, brings a message of hope, emphasizing that man does not remain alone with his imperfection that the way of repentance opens up the gate of spiritual growth.