Troparium de Catania

Feasts and songs in Norman Sicily

 Promo Music PM CD 003 - Distr. Egea


Fabio Accurso

ud, lute, daf, azzarinu (triangle), voice

Roberto Bolelli

voice, scattagnetti (castanets), traccola (rattle)

Igor Niego

daf, nay

Donato Sansone

friscalettu (flute), synphonia, daf, bifira (shawm), voice

Sebastiano Scollo

voice, harp

Fabio Tricomi

harp, ciaramedda (bagpipe), zarb, lira, kemanche, tammureddu (tambourine), marranzanu (jew’s harp), traccola (rattle), voice


Marcello Corvino

Recording, editing, mix and mastering
Carlo Cantini – Digitube Studio, Mantova

2006 Promo Music – Machiavelli Music Publishing

Orientis partibus / Ballettu
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid* / Trad. Sicilia

Crucifixum in carne
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Popule me
Sicilia (Licodia Eubea)

Anni novi circulus
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Dei patris unice
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Natus est
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Laudes regiae
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Novus annus
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Nuvena / Laudes deo devotas / Ballettu
Trad. Sicilia / XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid* / Trad. Sicilia

Ave Virgo singularis
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Virgo dei genitrix
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Omnis mundus iocundetur
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Stabat mater
Trad. Sicilia (Licodia Eubea)

Dicimus ecclesiam
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Benedicamus domino
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Eia fratres personemus
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*

Vitti passari na cavallaria
Trad. Sicilia (Licodia Eubea)

Affirmavit eius
XII sec., Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid*


* mss 288-289-19421


The Norman-Sicilian tropers are three fascinating music manuscripts written in Sicily about 1100-1160. Now they are preserved in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, taken there in the early 18th century. Of the little group of books which have survived from this period with music for the Latin liturgy in Sicily, these three are the most important. This is because they contain not the traditional chants for Mass  – usually called “Gregorian chant” – but a large number of special chants for important feast days in the church year. Such books are often referred to as “tropers”. Two of the Norman-Sicilian tropers were probably compiled for use by the ducal/royal chapel. The earliest one, Madrid 288, written about 1100, could have been used in the chapel of Roger the “Great Count”. It contains among other things the cycle of chants for singing on St Julian’s Day (at Vespers, Matins and Lauds); the famous Cappella Palatina in Palermo possessed relics of St Julian and one can see there a mosaic depicting the saint. The musical notation in Madrid 288 consists of neumes without staff-lines. The chants have to be deciphered with the aid of later manuscripts with staff-notation (principally Madrid 289). Madrid 289, written about 1140, could have been used in the chapel of King Roger. The third troper, Madrid 19421 was written about twenty years later for the cathedral in Catania; it contains a sequence for St Agatha, patron of Catania.

All three manuscripts contain chants with tropes, verses which complement an already existing chant. In the case of the Norman-Sicilian manuscripts it is the chants for the Ordinary of Mass – Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei –  which are troped. Madrid 19421 has the largest collection of Gloria tropes of any known manuscript. Another special category of chant in the three manuscripts is the sequence, sung after the alleluia on important feast days. (Sequences gradually fell out of use in the 16th century, and a decree of the Council of Trent restricted their singing drastically.) Madrid 19421 has 90 of them, including two on this recording: Eia fratres for St Agatha and Laudes Deo devotas for Pentecost.

Among many other unusual chants in the three tropers we find liturgical dramas and the great chant known as the "Laudes regiae", a type of litany, which was traditionally sung when the king or emperor wore his crown at mass on Christmas Day, Easter Day or Whitsunday (Pentecost). Towards the end of Madrid 19421 there are even four examples of two-voice polyphony, in which an ornate upper voice is added to a simpler lower part. Ave virgo singularis is a song to the Blessed Virgin Mary, perhaps sung at the end of Vespers or Compline or in a special evening ceremony performed in front of an image of the Virgin. It is basically quite simple in structure, with three pairs of double-strophes. But the ornate upper voice covers the simple structure with its melismatic arabesques. Benedicamus Domino is a versicle sung at the end of Vespers and other services. Crucifixum in carne is the second section (verse) of a chant sung in a solemn procession before Mass on Easter Day. It was traditional for solo singers to perform this verse, and in some leading musical establishments (such as Notre Dame in Paris, Chartres, and Winchester) the soloists sang in polyphony. The function of Affirmavit eius is unknown, and it may be an incomplete piece. It is performed here so that the complete stock of polyphony in Madrid 19421 is recorded. This Catania manuscript therefore takes an honourable place alongside the more famous sources of 12th-century polyphony from Aquitaine and Santiago da Compostela.

However, the most interesting feature of the tropers is their collections of Latin songs, many of them connected with the Christmas season. Such songs were introduced into the liturgy in the 12th century, especially on New Year's Day, the Feast of the Circumcision, also known as the "Feast of Fools", because of the antics of the subdeacons who had charge of the services for that day. Orientis partibus, the best known of these songs, was sung as an ass was led into church. Many of these pieces display great poetic and technical skill, with audacious rhyming and metrical patterns in the texts, and a strong tonal sense in the music, all very different from traditional "Gregorian chant". Anni novi circulus is relatively simple, like a hymn, Dicimus ecclesiam is also simple but with strophes double the length of a normal hymn. Dei patris unice, Novus annus dies magnus and Omnis mundus iocundetur have a lengthy refrain at the end of each strophe. But in Virgo dei genitrix a short refrain phrase "Eia obsecra!" is interjected after every verse. Natus est, natus est is a lively succession of short repeated verses; when the chain of couplets has been sing once, the music is repeated with a new text.

This music can resonate as strongly today as it did nearly nine hundred years ago. We should imagine it ringing out in services where most of the chant was in the traditional Gregorian style, more meditative and restrained. The contrast with the new songs must have been very striking, the singing of polyphony even more so. But, just as medieval churches were often rebuilt, resulting in a mixture of architectural styles, so also the music of the medieval liturgy was made up of many different historical layers. The Norman-Sicilian tropers capture one of the most modern layers from the period when Norman power was at its height.

David Hiley


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