Was delighted to discover yesterday three albums' worth of recordings of conductus, I suppose one writes conducti, recorded on Hyperion by Messrs John Potter, Christopher O'Gorman (that link goes to a LinkedIn page and I guess I'm signed in, to be able to see it; but I figure if I can access that site so can anyone who might possibly read this), and Rogers Covey-Crump between 2011 and 2016. These 13th century works exist on the boundary of the ars antiqua (represented by the 12th century Magnus Liber Organi) and the flowering of the polyphony, the ars nova, of the 14th century-- I think I have that right. Anyway, I am enthused.
The historian and musicologist Mark Everist wrote the liner-notes for the Potter et alii albums; just downloaded his Discovering Medieval Song: Latin Poetry and Music in the Conductus. It will certainly keep me happily busy for some time.
This is an excerpt from Dr Everist's notes to the first Conductus album, that I steal from Hyperion, tsk. My ordinary rationale for doing this sort of thing is primo nobody will read this who doesn't already at least occasionally use Hyperion's resources (and probably enough nobody will read it period, ahem) and secondo it is a very short passage from the total of his note-making on those three CDs.
The conductus has always seemed like the poor relation in the history of music between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries. Unlike its well-known siblings, the flamboyant organum and occasionally smutty motets, the conductus has remained in the shadows for much longer than its musical and poetic ambitions deserve...
Even in terms of simple numbers, the conductus occupies an important place on the medieval musical landscape: there are slightly over 800 Latin poems with music copied between around 1230 and 1320, preserving a repertory composed between the 1180s and 1230s. Of these poems, 675 are set to music, and of these 377 are monophonic; 184 are in two parts; 111 in three parts; 3 in four parts. Three works have a doubtful generic profile, and 122 survive as texts or incipits alone. This is an immense repertory, and one that was spread far and wide. Manuscripts preserving the repertory are found from Scotland to the southern Rhineland, and from Spain to southern Poland.
... Certainly there are difficulties with the rhythm of parts of the conductus that have led to a position where until relatively recently there has been no consensus as to how they would have been performed (more below), and even the function of the conductus--what it’s for-- has been the subject of debate. Some have taken the term conductus to indicate some sort of processional context for the genre, and while it is just about conceivable that when the medieval procession stopped and made a station, singers might have sung a conductus, the more common idea that the works were sung while processing fits ill with the complexity of both their words and music. Others, for example, have taken the term conductus to have a meaning associated with ‘conduct’, and this fits well with the homiletic and moralizing tone of some of the poems...
The poems that form the basis of the conductus repertory are little known and even less well understood. Unlike classical quantitative verse, there is not necessarily control over the foot, and the poetry is organized according to number of syllables in a line, rhyme and end accent (either paroxytonic or proparoxytonic). There are only a tiny handful of settings of quantitative texts in the entire repertory... There is a good case to be made that the type of poetry that appears in the conductus repertory—called rithmus by those who wrote about it—may well have been written especially with song in mind, and this quality may at least in part have conditioned its structure.
The poetry of the conductus reflects a kaleidoscope of preoccupations that range from sacred texts that come close to the liturgical, and in some cases are settings of texts from the liturgy, to exhortations to rulers via condemnations of harlots. Qui servare puberem is a sustained attack on the oldest profession which comes close-- if the last four lines of the third stanza have been interpreted correctly-- to claiming that succumbing to the lures of prostitution is tantamount to a funeral preceding death itself. The corruption of the Church is a popular theme, represented here by Heu quo progreditur, while Artium dignitas laments the decay of learning. Only slightly less abstract is the poetry of Quo vadis, quo progrederis?, which embodies a dialogue between the body and the soul....
This dialogue between soul and body I find quite interesting; there is, on the second album, a dialogue of sorts between the veritas Domini and caritas-- my mind goes to the development of the oratorio some three hundred years later.
Well, now to see if any parts of these albums are at YouTube.