Italian and Croatian Medieval Sacred Music
This programme, dedicated to Italian and Croatian cultures, could be labelled at first sight as a musical « diptych ». Yet, under a closer look, it appears to be a vast mosaic. Both countries offer still largely untapped resources to new discoveries: Italy, with its many liturgical traditions, and Croatia, torn between its own Slavic roots and Germanic and Italian influences.
The root of this programme is the meeting of traditions from both shores of the Adriatic, in Latin and vernacular tongues, reflecting both the learned and more popular traditions.
Terra Adriatica highlights liturgical pieces in latin, from plainsong in various local “dialects” to a whole range of polyphonies. The musical language of these polyphonies is sometimes primitive, stemming from folk music traditions, sometimes more elaborate, in the style of the Notre Dame School.
The other aspect of liturgical music from these areas underlined here is the sheer fervour of the popular devotion, shown through the pieces in the vernacular tongue. We hear songs from the Glagolitic liturgical repertory of the Croatian coast. This repertory had its origins in Roman Catholic rite, but during the Middle Ages, it was sung in the vernacular, and was preserved in writing, often without any musical notation, using the Glagolitic alphabet specific to medieval Croatia. On the other side of the Adriatic, Italian confraternities were singing laude spirituali. One of the first written testimonies to this practice is a manuscript stemming from the late 13th century, the Laudario di Cortona. The imagery of these chants always centres on a few “leitmotivs”: the Virgin of the laudes seems closer in spirit to the peasant women who have lost their sons at sea than to the pale and fragile young ladies holding the infant Jesus on the frescoes of the trecento.
The musical expression of popular faith is not so different in present-day Italy and Croatia. Contemporary processional songs heard during Holy Week bear testimony to the power of oral transmission, thus bridging the gap between our modern practice and that of our medieval forbears.