Maiestas Dei

SGP - Maiestas Dei

Medieval Polyphony in the Work of Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz
Supraphon, SU 3807-2, © 2005
Total time 71:25
Complete texts and commentary in Czech, English, French and German.
Choc du Monde de la Musique (September 2005)

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

Divine Majesty
1 P. W. de Grudencz: Moteto Veni vere — Pneuma eucaristiarum — Paraclito tripudia — Dator eya graciarum 3:05
2 P. W. de Grudencz: Kyrie Fons bonitatis 2:53
3 Gloria in excelsis Deo 3:18
4 P. W. de Grudencz: O felicem genitricem / Bohu svému králi nebeskému 2:42
5 Sanctus 1:42
6 P. W. de Grudencz: Phebus ecclipsi tumuli 2:45
7 Introitus Puer natus est 1:59
8 Anonym (před / before 1500): Cantio Nobis est natus hodie 1:39
9 P. W. de Grudencz: Moteto Pán Ježíš narozený — Tři králové — Zdávna prorokové 2:10
10 Lectio evangelii Factum est cum baptizaretur 4:39
11 P. W. de Grudencz: Moteto Preconia etroclyta 1:57
Mary, Queen and Coadjutrix
12 Antiphona Nigra sum 2:38
13 P. W. de Grudencz: Presidiorum erogatrix 2:59
14 Tractus Laus tibi Christe 3:08
15 P. W. de Grudencz: Plaude euge Theotocos 1:39
16 P. W. de Grudencz: Prelustri elucencia 2:38
17 Antiphona Ex te virgo 3:42
18 P. W. de Grudencz: Probleumata enigmatum 2:39
Saints before the Divine Majesty
19 P. W. de Grudencz: Moteto Iacob scalam — Pax eterna — Terribilis est locus 2:26
20 Guillaume Dufay: Hymnus Urbs beata Jerusalem 4:51
  Svatý Martin  
21 Sequentia Sacerdotem Christi Martinum 2:43
22 P. W. de Grudencz: Moteto Presulis eminenciam 1:25
23 P. W. de Grudencz: Rotulum Presulem ephebeatum 3:12
  Svatá Dorota  
24 Antiphona Nil territa supplicio 2:17
25 P. W. de Grudencz: Moteto Prefulcitam expolitam 2:10
26 P. W. de Grudencz: Rotulum Promitat eterno trono 2:18

The history of medieval sacred music is not marked by names of specific composers, as are the annals of music in more recent times. Of course, this does not mean that the Middle Ages did not actually produce any such prominent figures. Rather, during that era music was created first and foremost with a view to rendering active service to God and the liturgy. That is also why songs of the Gregorian chant are but for a few exceptions anonymous: the faces of their composers are by design hidden under the hoods of monks’ cowls. The individuality of the composer came to the fore only later, with the development of polyphony. There, the names of the likes of Perotinus, Landini, Machaut emerged suddenly from the mists of anonymousness, as new landmarks of music’s history.

Here in Central Europe, first records relating to individual composers did not appear until the late Middle Ages. And yet, there are only few parallels of attribution quite as unequivocal as in the case of the output of Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz. For indeed, this exceptional musician of the era straddling the borderline between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, used an original way of attaching to his compositions his signature: namely, the device of acrostic, where the initial letters of words in a text add up to the name, Petrus; in one of his motets, moreover, he made sure thus to encode his full name.

This kind of signature alone, though, did not yet guarantee the lasting survival of Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz’s name in the history of music. Unlike his work, which continued to be performed, at least in the church choirs of Bohemia and Silesia, still in the early 17th century, the name of its composer gradually fell into oblivion. A long time had to pass, until the 1970s in fact, when musicologist Jaromír Černý managed to unriddle Petrus’ signature encoded in his compositions. That point marked the beginning of a remarkable detective story which has unfurled since then, and in which have been revealed, step by step, the life and work of one of the 15th century’s pre-eminent composers.

Let’s present here and now just a brief survey of key biographical data. Petrus Wilhelmi was born at Grudziąc (near the Polish city of Toruń), in 1392, and studied at the university in Cracow, where he obtained a master’s degree in 1430. In the 1440s he entered into the service of the Emperor Frederick III. In surviving documents from the imperial court, he is referred to as Friderici imperatoris cappellanus, or chaplain to the Emperor Frederick, a post which may have entailed duties in the field of music. Documentary evidence attests to his stay in Rome in the year 1452, where he had arrived most likely again as a member of the Emperor’s retinue. Thereafter, traces of Petrus disappear from archival materials of the time.

Two of his compositions may serve as an interesting supplement to his biography. First, the text of the chant, Pontifices ecclesiarum (which has regrettably survived without notation), which calls for the endorsement of the Council of Basle (1431–1449). It was in all likelihood commissioned by one of the Council’s protagonists. It cannot be ruled out that Petrus himself was actually present at or around that important church meeting whose concomitant liturgical services featured performances of more than a few new works of the contemporary polyphonic production.

The second of the above-mentioned clues to the localization of his activity during the final stage of his life is arguably the motet, Probitate — Ploditando. Its text derides a certain Andreas Ritter, the ill-reputed son of the head of a school in the Polish city of Zielona Góra (1460s–‘70s). Supposing that Petrus had known Ritter’s roguish conduct from personal experience, one would have to conclude that at an advanced age he had returned to the country of his birth.

What still remains something of a mystery is Petrus Wilhelmi’s relation to the Bohemian lands. Although no historical evidence has survived documenting Petrus’ stay in Bohemia, in fact more than two-thirds of his output occur in sources of Bohemian provenance. Presumably, during his many travels across Central Europe Petrus would have found his way to these parts, and left a remarkable imprint on the local musical repertoire.

How best to characterize the work of Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz? Beyond any doubt, he was a composer straddling the borderline of two major epochs: in a bit of an overstatement, one might say that while “his feet are still set on the medieval ground, he already holds his head higher up, in the Renaissance era”. The starting point of his compositional approach was constituted by the Central European polyphonic style, which was in Petrus’ case embued with an individual idiom entirely of his own, apart from being innovated by elements drawn from the contemporary trends in polyphony. By their mellifluous tunefulness, a good many of his compositions are reminiscent of the early output of Guillaume Dufay. Every now and then in one work or another, Petrus catches the listener’s ear with an unexpected joke — as for instance in the song on Saint Martin, Presulis eminenciam, where onomatopoeic “honking” evokes the feast’s traditional dish, goose. Likewise related to St Martin’s day goose are the puns contained in the rotulum, Presulem ephebeatum. Here, the upper voices “shout” at each other in Latin, dire negans — mire negans, in which German-speaking listeners easily deciphered the traditional carollers’ wish of dir eine Gans — mir eine Gans (“a goose for you — a goose for me”).

Petrus’ compositions were with the passage of time subjected to various modifications and adaptations. An example of this is offered by the motet, Pan Jezis narozeny — Tri kralove — Zdavna prorokove, which represents a three-voice Czech-language version of the originally four-voice motet, Pomi morsum — Hominem quem — Sed paratus — Paraneuma eructemus.

In terms of form, Petrus Wilhelmi’s work comprises predominantly polyphonic chants and medieval motets, with each voice being assigned a separate text of its own. A category in its own right is constituted by the rotulum (Presulem ephebeatum, Promitat eterno trono), usually notated as a single continual melody and sung in the manner of a polyphonic canon.

Naturally enough, Petrus’ compositions did not exist in isolation, but were organically integrated into the repertoire of their time. This general framework was also duly taken into consideration in the making of the present album which sets Petrus Wilhelmi’s works alongside late medieval choral chants, and a piece by his contemporary, Guillaume Dufay.

Although Petrus Wilhelmi spent many years of his life in the shadow of Frederick III’s imperial majesty, he also never ceased to belong to the clergy. Consequently, his output points unequivocally towards the ultimately supreme values enshrined in the majesty of God.