The great sixth-century Irish saint, Columba, is perhaps best known today for his leading part in the spread of Christianity from Ireland to Scotland, where he founded the monastery at Iona. He was a scholar as well as a missionary, having studied at the major theological centre at Clonard Abbey, though no surviving texts can be ascribed to him with any certainty. His reputation in Scotland grew over the centuries, and the earliest surviving music that makes mention of him is found in the Inchcolm Antiphoner, a fourteenth-century manuscript now in Edinburgh University Library; this comes from Inchcolm Abbey, sometimes called the Iona of the East, situated in the Firth of Forth. But the influence of Irish monks like Columba extended not just to Scotland but also to mainland Europe, where monasteries were founded by them as far south as Switzerland and northern Italy. In Praise of Saint Columba explores the sound-world both of Columba’s time and of the period of his far-reaching influence over subsequent centuries, most of which predates what we would recognise as modern musical notation on staff lines. Within this broad period, the program focuses on three distinct imagined sound- worlds: seventh-century hymns from Iona, tenth-century chants from Irish foundations in Switzerland, and fourteenth-century antiphons from Inchcolm in honour of St. Columba. The performances explore these three areas in experimental ways inspired by oral traditions and early music notation, and are the result of a collaboration between Barnaby Brown and the Choir of Gonville & Caius College which began in 2004 in Sardinia. Very little about the final manner of performance was anticipated in advance. The freedom of experience that this approach fostered was both testing and liberating for all concerned, and although the final result shave no claim to being anything other than imaginative speculations, based as much on intuition as on reason, an overriding aim was to counter the modern conception of plainsong as being ‘plain’: a single melodic line sung unornamented and unaccompanied by large groups in generous Gothic acoustics. Instead, the project’s ethos was to respond in a practical way to historical information, exploring styles of singing and accompaniment unfamiliar to us but perhaps more consistent with the evidence. This includes the persistent condemnation of piping within Christian ritual by church leaders between the second and eighth centuries AD, and the physical context of ecclesiastical buildings, smaller and less resonant than their later medieval counterparts. In this spirit of investigation, this record present an array of possible approaches, while acknowledging that many performance questions are insoluble and that early medieval practice was more diverse than in later periods.
• 1 Os mutorum, lux cecorum – Office of St Columba , Inchcolm Antiphoner, c.1340 2 Loquebar de testimoniis tuis – Mode 5 Introit, Einsiedeln MS 121, c.965 3 River Erne horn duet – Improvisation by Malachy Frame & Simon O’Dwyer 4 Adiutor laborantium – Alphabetic hymn, text by St Columba(?) (d. 597) melody from Lausanne, 13th c. 5 Sanctorum piissime Columba – Office of St Columba, Inchcolm Antiphoner, c.1340 6 Lauda anima mea Dominum – Mode 8 Alleluia, Einsiedeln MS 121, c.965 7 Noli Pater – Prayer for protection, text attributed to a 7th-c. Iona author 8 Carne solutus pater Columba – Psalm 100, Inchcolm Antiphoner, c.1340 9 Amen dico vobis – Mode 1, Einsiedeln MS 121, c.965 10 Liberasti nos Domine – Mode 7, St Gallen MS 359, c.924 11 Cantemus in omni die – Hymn, text by Cú Chuimne of Iona, c.700 melody from Santiago di Compostela, c.1280s 12 Altus prosator – Alphabetic hymn, text attributed to a 7th-c. Iona author 13 Volens Ihesus linire – Office of St Columba, Inchcolm Antiphoner, c.1340 14 Laudate Dominum – Psalm 150, music by Barnaby Brown after the Gaelic psalm-singing of Murdina and Effie MacDonald, Isle of Harris 15 The Desperate Battle of the Birds • Choir of GonvIlle & CaIus College cambridge Geoffrey Webber: director Barnaby Brown: triplepipes & lyre Simon O’Dwyer: medieval Irish horn & bodhrán Malachy Frame: medieval Irish horn lIam Crangle: bell & crotals • Triplepipes by Luciano Montisci & Barnaby Brown after Sardinian tradition. Horns by Simon O’Dwyer after an 8th-c. original found in the River Erne. Ireland Lyre after 7th-c. fragments from Sutton Hoo England. Strung in solid gold, silver, brass and iron. Bodhrán by Charlie Byrne after Irish tradition. Crotal by Simon O’Dwyer after a Bronze Age original found near Birr in Co. Offaly, Ireland.