Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Leiden Choirbooks

The Dutch city of Leiden has a unique treasure which is preserved in the medieval Pieterskerk (St Peter's Church). It is a set of books called the 'Leiden Choirbooks'. These contain music to be sung during the many daily liturgical events. Originally there were eight books, but two have been lost. The remaining six books are building Europe's largest collection of liturgical music linked together.

So far this collection has been ignored almost completely, even though some of the main composers of the renaissance are represented, like Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Thomas Crequillon and Josquin Desprez, and also a composer like Jean Richafort who today isn't very well known, but whose music was widely disseminated throughout the 16th century. The choirbooks also contain a number of pieces which are not known from any other source, by Gombert and Mouton but also by little-known masters.

The Leiden Choirbooks are the subject of a voluminous project of the Dutch Egidius Kwartet, a vocal quartet which sings repertoire from all periods in music history, but especially from the renaissance. This project includes the publication of a modern edition, a series of concerts and a recording of a large selection from the choirbooks. The quartet will be extended by additional singers for the concerts and recordings.

Over the next six years every year a series with concerts will take place with music from one of the six books. Simultaneously a larger selection from that book will be recorded on two discs, to be released on Et'cetera. So at the end of the project a large part of the choirbooks will be available on 12 discs in total.

In addition the ensemble makes itself available for presentations, workshops etc which should make this important source of liturgical music from the renaissance more widely known.

A special site is devoted to this important project. The index contains two videos, one with fragments from a rehearsal of the ensemble, and one in which its artistic director, Peter de Groot, tells about the choirbooks and the project (Dutch with English subtitles). If you click on 'The Leiden Choir Books The Project' at the top of the page you will be lead to more pages with information in English.

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