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Les Menestrels
Hosanna in excelsis
Texts and music from the spiritual world
of the Middle Ages

works by
Gherardello de Florenzia (1310-1370)
Guillaume de Machault (um 1300-1377)
Hermann, Münch von Salzburg (2nd part of 14th century)
Heinrich von Mügeln (14th century)
Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474)
Alfonso el Sabio (1221-1284)
Johannes Bassart (middle of 15th century)
Kolmarer Liederhandschrift (15th century)
Oswald von Wolkenstein (c. 1377-1445)
Nicolaus Apel (c. 1470-1537)
Codex Montpellier (13th century)
Codex Squarcialupi (14th century)
and other

A concert recording from the minster
at abbey Maulbronn, produced by
Josef-Stefan Kindler & Andreas Otto Grimminger

1 CD, DDD, 73 minutes,
KuK 95, ISBN 3-930643-95-2, EAN 42 6000591 034 6
Copyright by K&K Verlagsanstalt anno 2005

Play and pleasure are necessary to the sustenance of human life. However, all services useful to human sustenance must be regarded as permissible. Therefore, the services of menestrels, which are intended to provide cheer, are not a forbidden thing, provided that they are not in a state of sin, and they exercise moderation in their playing - namely that they use no hateful words and do not begin playing during work or at forbidden times. And those who support the menestrels are not committing sin! Rather, they deal justly when they give them for their services that which is their due.

"As stated above..."
from: Summa II, quaestio 168, Article 3
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 - 1274)

Texts and music from the spiritual world of the European Middle Ages form the subject matter of this programme, which the Les Menestrels Ensemble has put together specially for this performance held in the monastery church at Maulbronn. One is astonished by the abundant variety of language and subject matter on offer here. Yet perhaps even more astonishing is the widespread, cross-border dissemination of a body of religious and cultural thought that flourished outside church walls. In today’s monotonous popular culture, shaped as it is by the dogma that what sells is what matters, cultural and human values no longer enjoy pride of place. Linguistic standardisation is pursued aggressively, and dialects, expressions and cultural resonances travel beyond regional borders in only the rarest of cases. In the song as cultivated in the Middle Ages, however, we find a linguistically multifaceted culture; one that is, in this sense, truly more European. Modern media have wrought little improvement. On the contrary, inquisitorial surveillance has found its match in the uniformity-enforcing filter of a profit-oriented business management "culture." The Church may well have imposed strict guidelines, as Klaus Walter describes in the notes below, but at least the themes that were the focus of artistic creation were those by which human beings are moved, and wit and subtlety challenged the human intellect.

Josef-Stefan Kindler

While liturgical music, with its ties to the mass cycle, embodies a more or less uniform spiritual outlook from one stylistic epoch to another, non-liturgical sacred music presents a varied palette of expressive forms shaped by the most varied manifestations of religious thought. We have selected some of the most significant themes and complemented them with texts devoted to similar or related subject matter. Most of these themes speak for themselves. Worship of God, pleas for the forgiveness of sins and for divine benediction, cries for succour in various afflictions, devotion to the Virgin Mary and appeals for intercession: these require no explanation. One group of musical works, whose origins in a specific philosophical approach to religion—scholasticism—are not immediately apparent, may require some explanation.

The intellectual movement known as scholasticism does not present a uniform picture; common to all scholasticists, however, was the conviction that the mysteries of faith could be described or established by intellectual means. They were fascinated not only by logic, but also by arithmetic and geometry. Nikolaus Cusanus, for example, based his description of God on the concept of an unending straight line, and religious speculations brought Ramon Lull to the verge of discovering integral calculus (the "squaring of the circle"). From time immemorial, the principle of "order" has stood for the divine, for heaven; "disorder" is associated with the earthly realm, if not indeed with the infernal. A visual representation of plants with symmetrically arranged blossoms is a depiction of paradise. We know that we are earth-bound when plants grow irregularly. The movements of dancing angels always trace circles or other geometrical figures. Dancing devils move in a chaotic mass. Sinners may even dance upside down (depictions of Salome).

Numbers offered a means by which to establish order and, in the process, reclaim for oneself a bit of paradise. It is therefore no accident that many scholasticists engaged in study of the Kabala, the doctrine of the significance of number combinations. By imposing order on one’s conduct—or on a composition—one was able to create in miniature an image of heaven. The particular order imposed did not have to be readily discernible. A de facto order sufficed.

In the course of the fourteenth century, such thinking began to be reflected in music as well. It was most readily applicable to the motet, a form that had emerged already in the thirteenth century. The motet owed its very existence to an intellectual principle: An excerpt of Gregorian chant provided the tenor, which functioned as the composition’s foundation. It was identified with the sacred ("auf Gott sollst du bauen" [Thou shalt build upon God]), as it had been in the earlier organum of the Notre Dame school. The texts underlying the upper voices were sung simultaneously, yet differed from one another, sometimes even with respect to the languages they were written in. They were required, however, to hold references to one another and to the text of the tenor, even though the latter was usually suggested by a single word, if indeed the tenor was not simply delegated to an instrument, as was often the case. The upper voices (motetus and duplum) belonged to the worldly domain. In the motet "Aucun – Amor – Kyrie," the motetus conveys in Latin the view that carnal love incurs harm in all circumstances—certainly in this world, to say nothing of eternity. The duplum, however, asserts in the profane language (French) that love is a source of bliss for those who fulfil certain conditions. It is conceded, all the same, that but few human beings are capable of fulfilling these conditions, both voices joining in the tenor’s "Herr, erbarme dich unser" [Lord, have mercy upon us]. With the mystical poem by Mechthild von Magdeburg we have added to these two aspects of love a third.

The double hocket by Guillaume de Machaut is not, strictly speaking, a motet at all, as its upper two voices are textless. All the same, it is best thought of as belonging to this genre or, to be more precise, to that of the isorhythmic motet. The term ‘isorhythmic’ refers to a structural principle whereby rhythmic and melodic patterns are organised on the basis of numerical relationships. In the 14th century, it found its ideal application in the motet. The honour of being organised in this manner naturally fell to the tenor. The upper voices were seldom structured isorhythmically and, if they were, only in part (as in the mass by Guillaume de Machaut).

In this double hocket, the tenor melody is heard three times in the first section. The entire section is made up of eight rhythmically identical segments (each isorhythmic segment thus comprising three eighths of the tenor melody). In the second section, the tenor is assembled from the first four notes of every third isorhythmic segment in the first section, the tenor melody thereby assuming its original shape. The upper two voices are, even without texts, recognisably profane. Their movements, which appear to be without form or pattern, suggest two cogs with irregularly spaced teeth (the title itself refers to this type of motion: hocket < Fr. hoquet = ‘hiccup’). As though miraculously, these teeth nonetheless succeed in engaging one another, thanks to the iron grip of the inscrutable but well-ordered tenor, a simulacrum of the bond between God and the world.

It may be that Kabalistic number symbolism occasionally played a role in the isorhythmic motet, similar to the role it was recently demonstrated to have played in the compositions of J.S. Bach. This method of composition declined in importance towards the end of the 14th century; however, the motet principle, whereby a strictly defined role is assigned to each voice, continued to find expression in the cantus firmus technique, in which form it long retained its influence.

Much more space is devoted to the theme of the Virgin Mary as reflected in the musical and literary legacies, where it became virtually a subspecies of the minnesang. It is no accident that the minnesang and the cult of the Virgin Mary both reached their zenith at approximately the same time. Virgin Mary veneration also afforded poets and poet-composers certain advantages, some acknowledged, some no doubt unacknowledged. It allowed one, for example, to compose poems to a beloved lady under the guise of a Marian song. This is believed to have been the background to Petrarch’s "Vergine bella," for example. But the Virgin Mary theme also made it possible to introduce human, and therefore generally understandable, references to the otherwise often very abstract architecture of the religious edifice. The most varied of basic human impulses are addressed, such as the veneration of motherhood, or the pleasure in awe as expressed in tales of miracles performed by the Virgin Mary (Cantigas de Santa Maria). Alfonso el Sabio commanded his entire royal household of scholars, poets and musicians to gather every available report of such miracles, to put them into words and music, and to write them down. That a number of ethnocentric and anti-Semitic ideas also found their way into the results of these efforts did not seem to trouble him, for all that he had brought together at the university he founded in Cordoba—Christian, Jewish, and Arab scholars alike. But Mary is also celebrated in countless songs as a key to the patriarchy’s backdoor. The mother whose son cannot refuse her request, according to established custom, if she shows him her breast, and whose son for his part regains the power to appease the wrath of God the Father ("ladder of salvation"), is invoked as an intercessory. Most importantly, however, we should not overlook the fact that many of the Marian texts and songs count among the most beautiful of all the lyrical productions of the Middle Ages.

Klaus Walter


The Les Menestrels Ensemble was founded in 1963 by Klaus and Michel Walter. Their original involvement with the music of the 20th century eventually led to an interest in the structural polyphony of 14th and 15th-century music, as exemplified by the Ars Nova in particular. The works of this period continue to be the group’s main focus, although their repertoire has expanded to include works written up to about 1600. Their historical instrumentarium has gradually grown to enable as faithful a reproduction as possible of each period’s characteristic sound. Les Menestrels achieved their first major success at the 1965 Wiener Festwochen (Vienna International Festival) with their staged performance of the cantefable "Aucassin und Niclolete," for which H.C. Artmann contributed the translation. To programmes consisting entirely of concert music they subsequently added programmes with a literary thread, or those that included staged performances. The group has not entirely forgotten its origins in the contemporary music field, however. One of their programmes features a comparison of parallel aspects of old and new music. Depending on the programme, four to ten singers and instrumentalists participate in the ensemble’s concerts. They have access to some 70 historical instruments authentic to the period between 1200 and 1600.

Concerts and radio and television recording sessions have taken the ensemble to nearly every European country and to the USA, Canada and Japan. The ensemble has made recordings on the Westminster, Amadeo, Belvedere and Mirror Music labels. Les Menestrels have performed at festivals including the Vienna International Festival (Wiener Festwochen), the Salzburg Festival, the Festivales d‘España, the Festival Estival de Paris, the International Organ Week in Nuremberg, the Passau European Festival (Europäische Wochen Passau), the Lucerne International Music Festival, the Dubrovnik Festival, the Schwetzinger Festival, Music in Old Krakow, Festivals in Osijek, Flanders, Istanbul, Ljubljana, and Ochrid, the Maulbronn "Monastery Concerts," and many others.

Birgit Kurtz ~ soprano, Florian Mayr ~ countertenor, Kurt Kempf ~ tenor, Erich Klug ~ bass
Klaus Walter ~ lute, Michel Walter ~ cornetto, Eva Brunner~ descant strings
Gebhard Chalupsky ~ tubing sheet instruments

The complete libretti and texts of the performance:

~ as website ~
~ as pdf-file for printing ~

The history, the composers and the works

Gregorian chant
Strictly speaking, the term "Gregorian chant" refers to the monophonic liturgical chant of the Roman Catholic Church as it was collected, developed and recorded in neumatic notation by Pope Gregory I (reigned 590–604). By the 9th century, it had culminated in the form preserved in manuscripts of the 10th and subsequent centuries. In its broadest sense, the term also encompasses all of the monophonic chants used in other liturgies, some of them even before the time of Gregory I (e.g., Ambrosian, Mozarabic or Visigothic, Gallican).

Gherardello de Florenzia (1310–1370)
Little is known about the life of this figure. He is one of the most important representatives of the Italian Ars Nova. Most of his surviving works are preserved in the Codex Squarcialupi.

Guillaume de Machault (c. 1300–1377)
Presumably born in Machault, de Machault began his career as a magister and scribe. In 1323, he became secretary to King John of Bohemia, whom he accompanied on journeys and campaigns throughout Europe (Prague, Luxemburg, Lithuania, Paris, Silesia, Germany, Thorn, Königsberg, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Austria, and Flanders). From 1337 on, he possessed a prebend at the cathedral in Rheims, where he served as a canon in the Marian chapel, remaining there until his death. Between 1361 and 1369 he may, as a result of his connections to Pierre de Lusignan, have travelled also to Cyprus and Alexandria. Nearly all of his works date to the time of his canonry. His works include purely literary efforts in addition to his musical compositions. Today he is recognised as the greatest master of the French Ars Nova, one who was preeminent in his ability to avoid the appearance of artificiality in complex musical and literary forms and to allow these forms to develop logically from their contents.

Hermann, Monk of Salzburg (second half of the 14th century)
The true identity of this figure has remained a mystery to this day. He appears to have lived in the second half of the 14th century at the St. Peter monastery in Salzburg. Most of his numerous sacred and secular songs are monophonic, though a few are written for two or three voices. These are regarded as the oldest sources for polyphonic writing in German-speaking lands. His songs may be found in over 100 different manuscripts, the most important of which include the Mondsee-Wiener Handschrift (HS 2856) and a manuscript from the Lambach monastery (HS 4696), both preserved in the Austrian National Library in Vienna.

Heinrich von Mügeln (14th century)
There are no known dates for this figure. His praise of King John of Bohemia implies that he was already writing before 1346. His translation of Valerius Maximus is dated 1369. He was on good terms with the emperor Charles IV and the archduke Rudolf IV of Austria. His poetry continued in the tradition of Frauenlob, for which he was much esteemed, particularly in Bohemia. He employed well-known minnesang "tones" as formal models, though some of the "tones" he used were also original. They have been preserved in the Kolmarer Liederhandschrift and the Mondsee-Wiener Liederhandschrift.

Guillaume Dufay (1400–1474)
Educated in Cambrai, Dufay was ordained a priest in Bologna in 1428. He then served as a singer in the papal choir, following which he was active for seven years at the Savoy court, eventually becoming chaplain to the Duke of Burgundy. From around 1445 on he lived as a canon in Cambrai. Dufay is considered to be the creator of the new style that developed in the 15th century, a style that brought together Italian, French and English influences. He was highly esteemed by his contemporaries, a fact that accounts for the wide dissemination of his approximately 200 works, which became standard repertoire in the musical households of European courts.

Alfonso el Sabio (1221–1284, reigned from 1252)
Alfonso el Sabio’s importance to music history rests upon the extensive work he commissioned, the Cantigas de Santa Maria. This collection was the collaborative work of scholars, artists, poets and musicians who, at Alfonso’s suggestion, collected and recorded familiar melodies and underlay them with Marian texts. The recent appearance of the new edition prepared by Higino Angles has largely, though not completely, resolved the manuscript’s notational problems. Iberian, Old French, Byzantine, in some cases even Moorish origins may be detected among the melodies contained in the collection, making them a virtually inexhaustible body of research material for ethno- and comparative musicologists. The Cantigas de Santa Maria have been preserved in four manuscripts, three of which are kept in the National Library in Madrid, the fourth and most important in the Escorial Monastery.

Johannes Bassart (mid-15th century)
Originally from the environs of Lüttich (Tongres), Bassart is first mentioned in 1422 as a singer in Lüttich. In 1431, we find him in the papal choir. There were repeated stays in Lüttich and Tongres from 1434 on, and he became director of music at the court of the emperor Frederick III in Graz and Wiener Neustadt.

Kolmarer Liederhandschrift (15th century)
This manuscript is assumed to have originated in Mainz in the 1470s, though it contains poems from the 13th to 15th century. Like the Jenaer Liederhandschrift, it primarily contains lyrical works not written in the poetic tradition of the minnesingers, and was not restricted to poets from feudal circles.

Oswald von Wolkenstein (circa 1377 in Schöneck/Alto Adige–1445 in Neustift/Brixen)
Von Wolkenstein practiced the arts of singing and oratory in many countries before audiences of princes, bishops, and even guests in taverns and dance halls. He sang his songs in the tenor range and was able to "fiddle, trumpet, drum and pipe." With his extensive work, which comprises both monophonic and polyphonic songs and is preserved in three manuscripts prepared under his supervision, he single-handedly enriched the social music of the court and originated the more intimate, artistically elaborate song intended for domestic use. Musicologists have doubted whether Wolkenstein was capable of polyphonic composition. A few Italian and French compositions were discovered, with which Wolkenstein had, with slight alteration, provided new texts, and from this it was concluded that all of Wolkenstein’s polyphonic settings were produced in the same manner. We do not share this view, however. It is these very pieces, in which Wolkenstein has borrowed one or two voices from an already familiar composition (a common practice in his time), that give proof of his ability to change altogether the character of a piece by adding a voice, something that only a composer well-versed in polyphonic writing would be able to accomplish. Although he acquired much in the way of compositional technique from his Italian contemporaries and countrymen, Wolkenstein’s works also demonstrate that he nevertheless succeeded in creating a style unmistakably his own.

The Mensural Codex of Nicolaus Apel
Nicolaus Apel (c. 1470–1537) was professor of philosophy at the university in Leipzig. The codex he compiled is one of the first manuscripts to bring together nearly a century’s worth of compositions intended for domestic use. Among countless anonymous composers, one also encounters such well-known names as Adam von Fulda or Heinrich Fink. Most of the compositions are sacred "social songs" of the same genre as the German tenorlied (‘tenor song’). The German tenorlied differs from the Burgundian solo song in that, in the former, the sung melody (or sometimes two or three different melodies, usually familiar songs or excerpts of chant) is embedded, unfigured, in the diminutions of the instrumental parts. Some (primarily older) compositions reflect the influence of the Burgundian song by placing the tenor in the upper voice. Most of the compositions in this codex have been preserved without texts.

Cancionero Musical del Palacio and Cancionero Musical de la casa de Medinaceli
These are the two most important sources of polyphonic Spanish music of the 15th and 16th centuries. They contain both sacred and secular compositions in three and four voices. The compositions gathered into these codices over the course of the 15th and 16th centuries are the result of a blending of an Iberian idiom with imported Netherlandish compositional techniques. For the most part they retain, particularly in their rhythmic peculiarities, typically Spanish elements.

Montpellier Codex
A manuscript in the possession of the medical faculty of the University of Montpellier (med. H 196), it contains two- and three-voice (and a few four-voice) sacred and secular chanson motets and conductus in Latin and French. It reflects the French motet repertoire of the 13th century.

Squarcialupi Codex (Florence, Medicea Laurenziana pal. 87)
This codex was created in the 14th century by the Florentine cathedral organist Squarcialupi (the predecessor of Heinrich Isaac). It is a sumptuous manuscript that contains the most important secular compositions of the Italian Ars Nova and in which the most relevant Italian composers of the time are represented.

1. Concert start

2. Psalm 115: "Nicht uns, o Herr, nicht uns..."
Kodex Nikolaus Apel (um 1470 - 1537)

3. Benedicamus Domino
Gregorianischer Choralabschnitt

4. Groß bist du, Herr...
aus: Confessiones, erstes Buch, Kapitel 1
Aurelius Augustinus (345 - 430)

5. Benedicamus Domino
St. Martial, Organum
anonymus (12. Jh.)

6. Ich liebe dich, Herr...
aus: Confessiones, zehntes Buch, Kapitel 6
Aurelius Augustinus (345 - 430)

7. Benedicamus Domino
Motettischer Satz
Ghirardellus de Florenzia (14. Jh.)

8. Wenn ich scheine mußt Du leuchten...
Mechthild von Magdeburg (1210 - 1283)

9. Aucun - Amor - Kyrie
Kodex Montpellier, Motette
anonymus (13. Jh.)

10. "A" setzen wir, das ist unser Herr und Gott...
aus: "Ars maior" (1273), Über die Figur "A"
Ramon Lull

11. Tribulatio proxima est
Doppelhoquetus über dem Tenor "David"
Guillaume de Machault (um 1300 - 1377)

12. Oh Himmel-König...
Der Kanzler (um 1300)

13. Christe - Veni creator - Tribulatio
Geistliche Motette
Guillaume de Machault (um 1300 - 1377)

14. O Mensch, bezeichnet und geziert mit Gottes Ebenbild...
Meditation über die menschliche Natur
zugeschrieben: Bernhard von Clairvaux (1091 - 1153)

15. Nova laude, terra, plaude...
Benedicamustropus, Benedictinerinnenkloster, Konstanz
anonymus (um 1300)

16. Omnis mundus - Omnes nunc
anonymus (14. Jh.)

17. Wie uns die Heiligen helfen
St. Paulis Regeln für die Pauren
Aus dem Liederbuch der Clara Hätzlerin (1471)

18. Arcangel San Miguel...
Dreistimmiger Satz über ein Volkslied
aus: Cancionero musical del Palacio
Lope de Baena (um 1500)

19. Der heilige Erzengel Michael
aus dem Handbuch der Heiligen

20. St. Martein, lieber Herre...
Hermann, Münch von Salzburg (2. Hälfte 14. Jh.)

21. Quem terra, pontus, aethera...
Ambrosianischer Marienhymnus
Zisterzienser-Stift Heiligenkreuz (um 1300)

22. Durch die Frau kam das Übel - durch die Frau kam das Gute...
Ambrosius von Mailand (gest. 397)
Predigt XLV

23. Ad laudes marie cantemus hodie...
Benedictinerinnenkloster, Konstanz
Gregorianischer Conductus (12. Jh.)

24. Einen gekrönten reien...
Kolmarer Liederhandschrift
Heinrich von Mügeln (um 1350)

25. Sancho Pansa: "Und hätte ich auch nichts anderes..."
aus Don Quijote
Miguel Cervantes (1547 - 1616)

26. Praeludio: "Santa Maria amar..."
aus: "Cantigas de Santa Maria"
Alfonso el Sabio (reg. 1252 - 1284)

27. Gran dereit...
aus: "Cantigas de Santa Maria"
Alfonso el Sabio (reg. 1252 - 1284)

28. Nachdem der Heide alle Darlegungen angehört hatte...
aus: Das Buch vom Heiden und den drei Weisen (1275)
Ramon Lull

29. O flos flagrans...
Codex Aosta (Geistliches Chanson)
Jean Brassart (15. Jh.)

30. Vergine bella...
Trienter Kodices (Chanson), Text Petrarca
Guillaume Dufay (1400 - 1474)

31. Ave mater o maria...
Wiener und Innsbrucker Wolkensteinhandschrift
Oswald von Wolkenstein (um 1377 - 1445)

32. Predigt: "Der Tanz ist ein Ring oder Zirkel, des Mittel der Teufel ist..."
"corea est circulus cuius centrum est diabolus..."
Deutsche Übertragung aus einer Wiener Handschrift des 15. Jahrhunderts
Hieronymus von Prag (1416 in Konstanz verbrannt)

33. Chaldivaldi
Tanz aus einer Vysehrader Handschrift (14. Jh.)

"Wie schon oben gesagt..."
aus: Summa II, quaestio 168, Artikel 3
Thomas von Aquin (um 1225 - 1274)