Organum quadruplum: Sederunt
, Gradual for St. Stephen's Day
Perotin (fl. 1180-1238)
In modern performance practice, this clearly would be an instrumental piece. Although the musical lines never leap or attempt showy arpeggios, there are many instrumental characteristics. For example, the enormously long pedal tones (as they could be called) may have not been a strain to Perotin's singers but would not be happily approached by most choirs today. Also, the manner in which the three voices are intertwined creates a great deal of voice crossing that may not tax an instrumentalist as much as a singer. Untypical of choral tunes, the piece is generally rhythmic and unrelated to the text.
An aspect of this piece that we are missing on this recording is the room in which it was intended to be performed. Those large, stone structures with high ceilings would be a kind environment to this quartet. The dark open fifths, long sustained pitches, the relentless rhythm, and heavy lines in this work sound like a contemplation of the crown of thorns.
What I like about this work is the form. There is no narrative. Using the word Sederunt
we listen to three of the voice exchange parts while the forth sustains a syllable. When the fourth reaches the last syllable we know that we are almost done. This plan allows us, the listener, to experience a largely repetitious piece of music without feeling lost or disconnected from the performers.