Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Program Archive

Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper

Agnethe Christensen voice
Eric Mentzel voice
Benjamin Bagby voice, lyre, harp
Norbert Rodenkirchen flute, lyre


What did secular European song sound like one thousand years ago? Who were its singers and what instruments did they play? Where, and under what circumstances, have their songs survived? Can we ever hope to reconstruct music from such a distant age? These are the questions which led to my initial search for the lost songs of a performing musician whose name remains unknown to us, a search which now culminates - or at least pauses for reflection - in this program: Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper.

Almost one thousand years ago a collection Latin and German song was copied into a manuscript by Anglo-Saxon monks in the Abbey of St. Augustine in Canterbury. The original source - or sources - has long since disappeared, but the manuscript copy has survived to this day, and is now found in the library of Cambridge University. Although we will never know what its exact origin was, one thing is clear: many of the songs copied by the monks come from the milieu of learned, aristocratic churchmen in the Rhineland, where cities such as Cologne, Mainz, Worms and Speyer were centers of culture and power in Germany at the turn of the first millennium. In addition, it is striking that many of the song texts from this collection display an intimate working knowledge of music, the voice, and instruments, especially the harp (cithara, lira) and even the flute (tibia). When considering possible sources of the Canterbury collection, the evidence points strongly to the performance repertoire of a learned "citharista", a bi-lingual harper/singer from the Rhineland, whose songs delighted not only aristocratic bishops and their courts, but also powerful abbots, secular nobility (inlcuding the Kaiser’s court), and the young clerical intelligentsia of those bustling river towns with their imposing cathedrals. Here we have the songs of a professional entertainer whose audience was expected to pay for his services (and he might easily have been joined on occasion by another minstrel from the ranks of the itinerant players, or even a poetically-inclined clerical cantor). Our program combines some of the earliest-known musical manuscripts of European song with reconstructions from the Canterbury manuscript, to give a glimpse into the deliciously subtle, long-lost world of an unknown Rhineland harper and his sophisticated audience.

Benjamin Bagby


I. An Ode to Cosmic Harmony

Quod mundus stabili fide, Rhineland, early 11c

II. The Image of Dawn

Cigni; Frankish, 10c
Foebus abierat; Northern Italy, late 10c
Clangam, filii; Winchester, 10c
Phebi claro; Provence, late 10c
Aurea personet lira; Rhineland, early 11c

III. Songs of the Harp

Caute cane, cantor care; Rheinland, early 11c
Magnus Cesar Otto; Rhineland, ca. 996-1002
Rota modos arte; Rhineland, early 11c
David Reges inclita proles; Rhineland, early 11c

IV. The Harper in the Underworld

Felix qui potuit boni; Rhineland, early 11c

V. The Harper in the Snakepit

Atli sendi ar til Gunnars; Iceland, 10c

VI. Desire and Seduction

Iam, dulcis amica, venito; Aquitaine, late 10c
Advertite, omnes populi; Rhineland, 11c
O admirabile Veneris idolum; Northern Italy, 10c
Puella turbata; Frankish, 10c
Suavissima nunna; Rhineland, 11c
Veni, dilectissime; Rhineland, 11c

Upcoming Concerts

30 September 2018
New York City (Music Before 1800)

17 October 2018
London (British Library)

7 December 2018
Amherst, MA / Amherst College
Monks singing pagans

14 December 2018
Gdansk, Poland / Actus Humanus Nativitas
Monks singing pagans

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's teaching activities in 2018

In addition to his teaching position at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he has taught since 2005 in the professional masters program, Benjamin Bagby travels widely in 2018 to teach other practical workshops for young professionals:

Milano, Scuola Civica di Musica (Milano, Italy) 29-31 January
The troubadours of the Milano manuscript R71 sup. (late 13th century)

Folkwang Universität der Künste (Essen-Werden, Germany) April-June
Benjamin will join the faculty of this renowned masters program for liturgical chant performance and medieval music, specializing this year in music from Notre Dame of Paris. The dates of his courses: 13-14 April, 18-20 May, 28-30 May and 15-17 June. More information

Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (Basel, Switzerland) 25-26 May

7th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Besalú, Spain) .
Music relating to the idea of the Crusades, especially in the 12th and early 13th centuries.

Amherst Early Music Festival (Connecticut College, New London CT) 15-21 July
An intensive course on the Roman de Fauvel (14th century)
July 21, 2018, 1 pm "Roman de Fauvel project" (student performance)

Burg Fürsteneck, Germany (31 August to 02 September
Fortbildung zur Musik des Mittelalters / Roman de Fauvel (guest instructor)

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