Léonin (1150 – 1201)

Whereas Hildegard composed her own original melodies with traditional texts or those of her own, and embellished Gregorian chant and notated a single melody, Léonin is the first notable composer of organum, which consisted of the melody (usually plainchant) with a second voice (or part) that paralleled the melody at a particular, usually larger interval, such as a fourth (as F and C) or a fifth (as G and C) plus a bass part which was likely not interesting alone, but, if you will, anchored the higher parts, as would a drone.  Little is known of Léonin except through the writing of one of of the later students at the Notre Dame school of polyphony and the ars antiqua style known as Anonymous IV. That student referred to referred to Léonin’s Magnus Liber, or, Great Book, and called Léonin the finest composer of organum.  Although the famous troubadours were active during this time and had their own secular music, accompanied with instruments, organum is strictly sacred liturgical music.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9onin for an excellent article concerning Léonin.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq5B3M4jRtQ&feature=related for a video of Leonin’s Allelujah for two voices in which the second part is limited to a gradually changing series of drones or, or perhaps more accurately, pedal points, or baseline called a bourdon.  To my ear, the bourdon provides a simple foundation, over which the melody meanders without any notion of chordal progression.  That would not appear until Monteverdi developed it at the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Baroque Periods.

See  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=COKDFEXaimg&list=LPo3AypYmE-oI&index=1&feature=plcp, Dulce Lignum, meaning “sweet the wood.”  It is part of the Christian observance of Good Friday and refers to the pain and suffering of Jesus when he was crucified.  For an excellent article on the meaning of that suffering in the Catholic tradition, see http://inumbrissanctipetri.blogspot.com/2008/03/dulce-lignum-dulce-pondus-sustinans.html.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tdgNAoFb-I  for Alleluia Dies Sanctificatus Illuxit Nobis – Magister Leóninus,  performed by male voices as pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral merge from one to another taking us on a visual tour from outside the Cathedral and throughout it as the experience of the music and the environment may have been when Léonin  lived.

See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLyuWGI1sYM&feature=BFa&list=LPo3AypYmE-oI, which is another Allelujah, more lively, with the addition of bells or chimes. it also demonstrates a number of different functions for the additional voice: not only does it begin with the second part supporting the melody with a series of drones, but it also demonstrates the organum at an octave.

The above site also features a number of excellent performances of a variety of Léonin’s  compositions.  Among them, is a fascinating, nuanced set of accordion variations on  a Léonin melody (who would have thought it!!) by V. Nedosekin (bayan)  entitled, “Improvisation on a theme by Léonin” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibCoyzu5UEc&feature=BFa&list=LPo3AypYmE-oI.  This is BRILLIANTLY IMPROVISED AND PERFORMED, first as voices might have sung it at the time that Leonin composed it, and in the manner, so far as can be determined, that he intended it to be performed. Upon the statement of the theme, it is expressed and interpreted through a range of stylistic periods, moods and treatments, including several dissonant effects, some of them startling, even stabbing, but all of them with captivating affect.  For some reason, it reminds me of Charles Ives’ Variations on America, althhave taken the latter to be simple fun indicative of a composer and organist young at heart.  These variations by  Nedosekin cannot be taken lightly, although that may have an appropriate place among them.

Part of what fascinates me about Léonin’s music is his use of dissonance, as when two parts are in unison and one of them moves upward or downward a step or half a step as thas the other part sustains the same, creating a momentary and a gently twisting dissonance  and resolution that is a characteristic that I note in Russian sacred choral music, as well.  Another characteristic of organum form is that it’s beginning and ending is often an Allelujah, in ABA form.

See http://www.classicalarchives.com/work/289882.html  for recordings of Léonin’s works available for purchase at  Classical Archives.

See, also, http://www.classical.net/search/search.pl?Terms=L%E9onin  for another resources regarding  Léonin.

Links to my site:

Introduction https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/introduction/

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