Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Sequentia celebrates its 40th anniversary in March 2017




Katja Zimmermann

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Monks Singing Pagans
New program for 2016–2017 directed by Benjamin Bagby

Benjamin Bagby voice, harp
Norbert Rodenkirchen flutes
Hanna Marti voice, harp


When we think of medieval monks and their musical lives, the first thing to come to mind is Gregorian chant, the solemn and ritual song which accompanied the monk's liturgical day, week, season and year. But a closer look at medieval monastic manuscripts from the 9th to 12th centuries shows that many monks were singing other songs as well, with texts which were sometimes anything but Christian. The medieval monastic and cathedral schools of medieval Europe were great centers of learning and focal points of intellectual life. For all monks and clerics, who were native speakers of European vernacular languages, it was essential to become bilingual, to speak, think, perhaps even to read and write in Latin, the language of their faith, the liturgy, the sciences, philosophy and literature. And this crucial link to Latin could best be enhanced by studying 'ancient' texts which had survived: Roman authors, poets, dramatists, teachers, philosophers and historians were studied and memorized, and many of these were also sung. The survival of these songs, sometimes very fragmentary, provide us with a rich treasure-house of European vocal art, and witnesses to a vibrant culture where the Christian monk gave voice to his pagan ancestors, passing on stories and ideas which resonate to this day.

For this new program in The Lost Songs Project, Sequentia's director Benjamin Bagby collaborates with noted scholar Sam Barrett (Cambridge University) to reconstruct classical texts which were sung in European monastic centers and cathedral schools between the 9th and 12th centuries. This Boethian project, which fits perfectly into the larger performance focus of Sequentia, The Lost Songs Project, has been widened to include other musically notated classical texts from the 9th-12th centuries, as well as pagan texts in Old High German and Old English, and forms the basis for the new program, Monks Singing Pagans.

There are songs about Fortuna, Dido and Cleopatra, Hercules and the old gods, as they would have been enjoyed by monastic intellectuals around the turn of the first millennium. Charms and incantations by unknown pagan authors are also performed. The deeply moving poems from Boethius's 'Consolation of Philosophy' (early 6th century, set to music in the 11th century) will be featured, in reconstructions by Benjamin Bagby and Hanna Marti, made together with Sam Barrett.

This new program is performed by the Sequentia trio pictured above: Norbert Rodenkirchen (flutes), Hanna Marti (voice, harp) and Benjamin Bagby (voice, harps).

Background information on the preparation of this program

In 2014, the distinguished musicologist Dr. Sam Barrett (Cambridge University) proposed that Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia collaborate with him on a new scholarly and performance-based project involving one of his special areas of expertise: the notated poems (metra) found in medieval manuscripts of the medieval classic, the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius. The work was based on Barrett's two-volume study and transcription of the Boethian metra published in 2013. A first working meeting took place at Harvard University in November 2014, followed by a residency and symposium at Ohio State University in Columbus in late April 2015. Vocalist/harpist Hanna Marti joined the project for another working session at Cambridge in September 2015. The final working sessions, with the Sequentia trio in residence, took place at Cambridge University in April 2016, including workshops, teaching, and the first public performances of the Boethian songs. Following this, the program Monks Singing Pagans had its world premiere at Dartmouth College on 28 April 2016.

Full information here

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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