Chemin Neuf O ignee Spiritus
Chemin Neuf's debut EP draws from the repertoire of European church music from the early Middle Ages to the late 19th century, with the focus on Gregorian chant. The recording features two compositions by Hildegard von Bingen, two pieces by Liszt, and two Gregorian chants.
Gábor Gadó – guitar
Judit Rajk – voice
Ditta Rohmann – cello, voice
Tamás Zétényi – cello
About the album
Compositions: Hildegard von Bingen (1, 2); Ferenc Liszt (4, 5); gregorian chant (3, 6)
Recorded at BMC Studio, Budapest on 24 August, 2023
Sound engineer: Zsolt Kiss
Mixed and mastered by Viktor Szabó
Artwork: Anna Natter / Cinniature
Producer: László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Olasz Sándor - riff.hu (hu)
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Chemin Neuf: O ignee Spiritus
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Anyone who has followed Gábor Gadó’s oeuvre for some time (he has released over 20 discs on the BMC Records label) won’t be surprised to see how, little by little, he has relinquished the forms, formulations, and mores of mainstream jazz. Many have set out on this path, yet Gadó is not heading toward free jazz, where most musicians seem to end up.
For Gadó, the first of the main steps in this process began with the dismantling of the rhythm section. The drums and bass give the foundation without which the so-called groove, that characteristic drive, is not constantly on the surface. The result is closer to the motions of classical music, where it is not the conforming to or straying from a regular lattice that gives meaning, but the delicate motion of the raster itself articulates the music. The lack of drums and bass also resolves the opposition of solo and accompaniment, so the relationship of the musicians is comparable to the chamber music tradition.
Another important step was to abandon the forms of traditional jazz. There are no ‘changes ’ (the chord sequence over which the solo is played), yet Gadó is not moving towards free improvisation. There are ‘solos’ and ‘themes’, but what shapes the basis of the form is not the alternation between these; rather, there is an opportunity for less predictable types of movement than song forms, and these are able to convey a complex dramaturgy.
The third step was to rethink vertical harmony. There is no trace of ‘jazzy’ chords (the seventh, ninth, tenth, and their inversions), yet this path leads not to atonality, but to a more puritan sound, where musical ideas are based more on intervals than on triads and four-note chords.
Gadó basic musical attitude is thus in many respects akin to the great European musical tradition, in other words, classical music, and within that to certain trends in contemporary music. In addition, he opens up to Early Music (Western art music of the Baroque and earlier), primarily to Gregorian chant, monody, and medieval harmonization.
Given this, it is easier to understand how Gadó chose his fellow musicians for this album. Monodic singing, sacred music, and contemporary music are at the forefront of singer Judit Rajk’s interests. The use of two cellos gives a special sound to the ensemble: a multifaceted instrument, the cello can function as a bass in this group, as well as filling out a sound with chords, or playing a melody. Ditta Rohmann is one of the outstanding cellists of today, with a repertoire encompassing music from Bach to contemporary, and moreover, she is no stranger to improvisatory genres. On this CD, she also capitalizes on her skills in singing, which contrasts well with Judit Rajk’s alto range. Tamás Zétényi is a sought-after cellist in chamber and contemporary music, and he has often played early and contemporary music as a member of the Trio Passacaglia.
From all this, it follows that they can no longer use jazz standards as a starting point. The works on this CD take as their foundation the repertoire of European sacred music, from the Middle Ages to Franz Liszt’s music composed in the spirit of Cecilianism, the nineteenth-century movement that reformed sacred music. The centre of gravity of the music heard is Gregorian chant. A characteristic of this genre is that it is both fixed and free, for the melody is notated, but there is no fixed rhythm or fixed tempo. However, since the notes form a scale, the related improvisations result in a kind of guided extemporization.
On the movements:
1.) Hildegard von Bingen: O frondens virga – Psalm antiphon for the Virgin Mary
O blooming branch,
you stand upright in your nobility,
as breaks the dawn on high:
Rejoice now and be glad,
and deign to free us, frail and weakened,
from the wicked habits of our age;
stretch forth your hand
to lift us up aright.
(Translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell)
2.) Hildegard von Bingen: O ignee Spiritus – Hymn to the Holy Spirit
O fiery Spirit, praise to you,
who on the tympana and lyre
work and play!
By you the human mind is set ablaze,
the tabernacle of its soul
contains its strength.
So mounts the will
and grants the soul to taste—
desire is its lamp.
In sweetest sound the intellect upon you calls,
a dwelling-place prepares for you,
with reason sweating in the golden labor.
(Translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell)
This compilation contains two works by Hildegard von Bingen, the abbess-scholar who lived from 1098 to 1179, a psalm antiphon (from the Dendermonde Codex, c. 1176), and one of her last Pentecost hymns, which gives the title for the CD. These works, whose melodies and mystical texts were written by the nun (later beatified as a saint) portray femininity, fertility, the power of the spirit with metaphors of earthly elements and natural phenomena, coupled with the wordpainting and melodic contours especially associated with the early Middle Ages. The most beautiful metaphor occurs in Hymn to the Holy Spirit in the collective title of the works (Symphonia harmoniae caelestium revelationum): it portrays God’s creative power as a heavenly symphony, as harmonious music, which is sounded, or played, by the Holy Spirit.
3.) Ave Maris Stella – Hymn to the Blessed Virgin
Hail, o Star of the ocean,
God's own Mother blest,
ever sinless Virgin,
gate of heav'nly rest.
Virgin all excelling,
mildest of the mild,
free from guilt preserve us
meek and undefiled.
Praise to God the Father,
honor to the Son,
in the Holy Spirit,
be the glory one. Amen.
One of the best known melodies of the early Middle Ages is the hymn for the Vespers for the Virgin Mary. The authorship of the work is subject to debate: many attribute it to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1091–1153), others to Venantius Fortunatus, the author of the hymn Vexilla…, also on this CD. The melody was disseminated throughout Europe, and several variants are known. This poem, which is rich in metaphors, is familiar to the Hungarian faithful in the translation they sing by poet Mihály Babits.
4.) Ferenc Liszt – Géza Gémesi: Pater Noster
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Liszt served as kapellmeister in the Weimar court from 1842. It was during this period that he became interested in choral works. He set the Pater noster… (Our Father…) twice for male choir and organ, first in 1846, then in 1852. This was his first liturgical work for male choir, and it was followed by a series of sacred works. On this CD the Pater noster is heard in a transcription by Géza Gémesi.
5.) Ferenc Liszt: Via Crucis – Vexilla regis – Gregorian hymn
Abroad the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross's mystery:
upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.
That which the prophet-king of old
hath in mysterious verse foretold,
is now accomplished, whilst we see
God ruling the nations from a Tree.
Hail Cross, of hopes the most sublime!
Now, in the mournful Passion time; *
grant to the just increase of grace,
and every sinner's crimes efface.
This is the first movement of Liszt’s cantata Via Crucis. The text was written by Bishop Venantius Fortunatus (530–609), originally with seven strophes in Ambrosian verse, and in his work, Liszt used strophes 1, 3, and 6. The sixth-century Abbot wrote the hymn of praise to the Cross of Christ at the request of Radegund of Thüring, wife of the Frankish king Chlothar I (even the date it was performed is known: 19 November 569), when the queen placed a relic of the Holy Cross in a monastery that she founded next to Poitiers. This hymn was a particularly favoured chant in the Middle Ages, and may be used as a hymn for vespers in the two weeks before Easter, or the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, and the Feast of the Veneration of the Holy Cross.
6.) Vigilate ergo... – Gregorian antiphon
So, keep vigil, for you do not know when the time shall come!
Keep vigil, for you do not know when the Lord shall come,
whether in the evening or in the middle of the night, when the cocks crow or in the morning:
lest he should find you asleep when he comes.
This ornamented melody is known as a the Istanbul Antiphonal, and derives from a codex in Hungary from c. 1360, the most precious source of medieval Hungarian music. In 1526 it was taken from Buda to Istanbul as part of the booty of war with the volumes of the Corvina library, and since then has been held in the library of the Topkapı Seray. The antiphon beginning Vigilate ergo… is the framing movement for the canticle Nunc dimittis, sung in the completorium that concludes the day during Lent. The melody very probably originated in Hungary.
The text of the movements give the outline of the story of Christ, from conception to death on the cross. If we grasp all these threads, it will be apparent why ‘O ignee Spiritus’ was chosen as the title piece for the CD. The relinquishing of elements of traditional jazz, the repertoire of classical music, and religious texts are merely tools; the aim is to channel the great (European) metaphysical tradition.
Judit Rajk and Tamás Zétényi
Translated by Richard Robinson