Ole Edvard Antonsen

Sequentiarum Nidrosiensis

Wolfgang Plagge (b. 1960)

Sequentiarum Nidrosiensis was written for Solveig Kringelborn and Ole Edvard Antonsen in the autumn of 2001.

During the Middle Ages the Archbishopric of Nidarós with its impressive cathedral was Norway's main ecclesiastic centre. Christianity had once come to Norway from England and Ireland. The Irish influence on the young Norwegian church was especially strong - the first Norwegian saint was an Irish princess, Sunniva, who died on Norwegian soil in the 10th century A.D.

The Russian Orthodox Church was also to have a lasting influence: King Olaf I Tryggvason was raised in Russia and baptized in England in the year 995, the same year as he was created king of Middle Norway - Saint Olaf II Haraldsson stayed in Russia from 1029 to 1030 before going back to Norway and earning sainthood in the Battle of Stiklestad.

Throughout the 11th century there was a lively contact between Norway, Iceland, Ireland and the Hebrides; contact with Rome was surprisingly scarce. It was not until the middle of the 12th century that the Pope finally decided that time had come to send a legate to Norway, and in the year 1153 the Archbishopric of Nidarós was finally established. But the close connections with the Churches of the British Isles were still maintained for several centuries to come.

Therefore, it is not surprising that cultural and religious impulses became very heterogeneous, and the musical tradition that developed inside Norway bears potent traces of this. A great many manuscripts were produced, text documents as well as music. Sequences and Antiphonals were being imported and copied from various European sources, and it did not last long before the first original songs in Gregorian style came about.

In the year 1519 Archbishop Erik Valkendorf of Nidarós initiated the printing of the first missal and the first book of prayers to be used in the Norwegian Church Province. These two books, Missale Nidrosiense and Brevarium Nidrosiense were actually the first books to be printed on Norwegian initiative, as no master printer was to be found in Norway until 1643. The Missal contains the liturgical texts for the Christian year and was intended to replace the handwritten documents in use at that time. Unfortunately no printed versions of the handwritten music books were ever published, so when the reformation came, all these manuscripts were annihilated at the attempt to purge the country of everything Catholic belief stood for. Enormous loads of documents were burned to ashes, and the few specimens that could be hidden away, were found and cut to pieces in order to be used as backings in the tax collectors' notebooks! The practice of destroying valuable manuscripts this way went on for more than 100 years - until the middle of the 17th century.

The restoration work to separate the vellum fragments from the tax lists did not start until late 1880's and by the year 1906 one had collected 2300 fragments of manuscripts. Most fragments were pitifully small, but some were more or less unharmed. Still new fragments are being found, so the total number is steadily growing. From these fragments I have borrowed the material for my work Liber Sequentiarum Nidrosiensis, The Nidarós Book of Sequences, op. 114.

A sequence is a part of a Roman Catholic Mass, and is sung after the "Gradual". In old days it was custom to tie a Hallelujah verse at the end of the Gradual, and the last vowel a in the word "alleluia" was generally sung on a long train - "sequential" - of tones. Words were later composed to the tones, and out of these tones and words the sequence emerged. The words of a sequence normally form a song of praise to God, the Virgin Mary, or universal, national, or local Saints. At a certain time the number of sequences world wide amounted to more than 4500 before the Pope in 1570 prohibited the use of more than 5, which he made obligatory.

The buoyant, smooth, and clear texture of the Gregorian songs from Niarós has always fascinated me and triggered my imagination. I have chosen to let the Liber Sequentiarum songs stand as a vignette for this entire CD production, in order to display the connection between old and new in my work.

The three songs all contain authentic material, both text and melody. The trumpet part however acts as a historic link - the vocal part is largely original. The two first songs are among the few that are still to be found in authentic manuscripts, the last one had to be reconstructed with the help of other sources.

Naturally, the tonal expression of the piece is to a certain extent dictated by the modal nature of the originals (Mixolydian in nos. I & III; Dorian in no. II), but they also contain bi-tonal and chromatic elements. In some ways the compositional concept may resemble the method employed by Geir Tveitt, Igor Stravinsky, and Béla Bartók in their works based on folk music traditions, but the distance in time between medieval and contemporary music required the utmost care not to destroy the fragile original material. Therefore, the songs are largely in unison; trumpet and voice either operate one at a time with the trumpet making commentary statements, or they perform together - with the trumpet as a rhythmical bourdon. The work seeks to demonstrate the enormous significance medieval music has had for the development of a specific Norwegian musical idiom in general, and for me in special.

The first song is an All Saints' sequence; the second is a tribute to the holy Icelandic bishop St. Thorlak (+1193) and the last one is in honor of Epiphany.