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Pérotin: Viderunt omnes [with score - original manuscript]

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Uploaded on Sep 3, 2010

Pérotin's Viderunt Omnes (1198), performed by the Hilliard Ensemble.

The foundation of Viderunt omnes is a plainchant that likely served the Parisian liturgy for Christmas Day. The text comes from verses of Psalm 98 in the Vulgate's Latin (Ps. 98:3b-4a, 2), jubilantly singing of the moment when God's salvation is made known to all the Earth. (Incidentally, the text naturally seems to call for such a concord of many voices!) Following the responsory form of plainchant, Viderunt omnes consists of a solo incipit, a chanted conclusion, a short verset (also perhaps for solo), and a repeat of the opening section. Pérotin's setting preserves the form and retains the liturgically correct chant melody, but embellishes it by two "discant clausulae," sections of composed polyphony that substitute for the solo chants. For each clausula, the choir sings the notes of the chant melody, but each note is greatly extended. Above this abstracted chant is woven a web of three solo voices dancing about one another in long, metrical melismas on the chant syllables. The most astounding innovation of Notre Dame polyphony was the addition of rhythm to such ornamental voices: the upper voices sing dozens of notes above each step of the chant, regulated by the six modal rhythms. The rhythmic patterns possible (which may shift in each voice phrase to phrase) are each related to a poetic foot: long/short (trochaic), short/long (iambic), long/short/short (dactylic), short/short/long (anapestic), long/long (spondeic), and short/short (pyrrhic). Within the limitations of these rhythms, the voices move freely as if by elaborate improvisation. Often sequential melodic motifs are expounded, and in this piece Pérotin even uses canonic relationships between voices. But the power of the piece doesn't come from this intricacy, but rather from the deep sense of harmony. Each phrase begins with a "perfect" harmony of fifths and octaves; the music then progresses in a compelling filigree upon the chant tone, a lengthy marginal gloss. But each phrase returns irrevocably from dissonance to perfection of harmony.

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