Key Notes: Early European Keyboard Music

Key Notes
Early European Keyboard Music

Corina Marti
Outhere/Ramee RAM 1916. 65’54

Keynotes. Early European Keyboard Music

It is many decades since keyboard music was assumed by many to have started with Bach. This recording offers a chance to explore a little-known repertoire of music for organ and other instruments dating from the medieval period. The recording draws on manuscripts such as the Buxheimer Orgelbuch, Lochamer Liederbuch, Ileborgh Tablature, and the Montpellier, Robertsbridge, Las Huelgas, and Faenza codices. Many of the pieces are arrangements (or intabulations) of pre-existing music by, for example, Pierre des Molins, Giovanni da Firenze, Philippe de Vitry, Francesco Landini and Jacopo da Bologna. The instruments used are a metal-stringed clavisimbalum, a gut-stringed claviciterium, two portative organs and the 1730 organ in Nicolaikirche in Altenbruch in northern Germany which contains pipework from the original 1501 organ.

Some of the pieces included are not recognised as keyboard music, an example being the opening sequence of music from 13th-century Notre-Dame. This is a genre that confuses a lot of people as the pieces are often referred to as organum – a term that does not signify use of the organ. One of the examples of stand-alone organ music that is not based on vocal works (despite the programme note suggestion that is in an intabulation) is the Praeambulum super d a f et g from the 1448 Ileborgh Tablature, a collection of eight pieces by Adam Ileborgh of Stendal. This tiny little piece is played on the early pipework in Altenbruch, its rather anarchic melodic line soaring above a drone.

The different instruments are generally interspersed with each other, rather than in separate groups. This is generally fine, although there are a few slightly awkward moment between tracks. Apart from the church organ, the instruments are close recorded, so the sound of the hand-pumped bellows of the portative organs and the action noise of the clavisimbalum and claviciterium are audible. Corina Marti’s playing is adventurous and imaginative, with an air of improvisation and rhythmic freedom that may, or may not, represent the performing style of the time, of which we know very little.

The opening paragraph of Mikhail Lopatin’s programme notes of this CD states that “The protagonist of this recording – the ‘New Ovid’ and multi-instrumentalist Corina Marti – deserves high praise for the sheer range of genres and styles that she presents instrumentally. This recording is a dizzying journey …”. I do wonder at the wisdom of using programme notes to praise the recording artist (who, presumably, commissioned the writer), rather than letting the listener reach their own conclusion. The rest of the extensive notes, although rather flowery in style, do at least give information about the pieces in the order in which they are played.

More information, and a promotional video, can be found here. The video is particularly confusing as the sound does not represent the instruments being played.