Production

The Cypriot 'O' Antiphons

Cypres, situated in the extreme east of the Mediterranean Sea in the crossroad between Europe, Asia and Africa was always the interface between Orient and Occident. During its long and complex history it was influenced as well by the Byzantine, the Occidental and the Arab culture so that Cypres can be regarded as really symbolic for the antipodes Orient – Occident.
 
In the Middle Ages under the reign of the Lusignans Cypres certainly was the outpost of the occidental world. The Lusignans successfully gained power of Cyprus from the Knights Templar. Over the course of their reign the Lusignans built up an impressively cultural Francophile life. Even today signs of their presence are evident in castle ruins or gothic cathedrals dotted around the island.
 
Cypriotic musical culture reached a climax during the reign of King Janus I. of Lusignan (1374-1432), when the music of the island developed a style of its own quite independant from that of the mainland; for though the influence of Ars subtilior cannot be denied, additional elements emphasised in word and tone, the island’s peculiarities and mannerisms.
 
It is to Janus himself that we owe our knowledge of this rich music: Janus’s daughter Anna upon her marriage to Louis, Count of Geneva, took with her a thick manuscript, written between ca. 1413 and ca. 1425, which remains as the solitary, silent witness of the music heard at the court of Nicosia. The periode in which the manuscript was produced does not entirely correspond with the the time at which the works within it were written. Different musical elements clearly allude to the earlier generation around 1390.
 
Shelf-marked “ms.J.II.9”, the Cypriotic manuscript is today in the collection of the National Library of Turin, Italy. It consists of 159 folios containing over two hundred polyphonic compositions both sacred and secular. These pieces of the highest quality display unique polyphonic techniques. Two peculiarities make this manuscript unique: first, not a single composer is mentioned by name; and second, each work is without exeption a unique copy: not one has ever been found in any other manuscript. This, then, is the completely isolated witness to a local art.
 
The repertoire contains all genres of the period: masses, motets, ballads, virelais and rondeaux. The texts used in the compositions reflect at times the island location (Christ represented as a seaman) and there are frequent references to local court life (mottos from coat of arms are used as ballad refrains). The secular texts, apart from occasional local orthographical variants, are typical of courtly lyric poetry in 14th century France.
 
Our programme focusses on the Cypriot ‘O’ antiphons, splendid isorhythmic motets  which represent impressively the sophisticated Cypriot style of medieval music.
 
Line-up: mixed instruments and voices

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Cypriot Advent Antiphons Anonymous ca. 1390 1990 RD77977 


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