Auralizing the Medieval Image
The Music of Ste. Foy at Conques

Friday, February 10, 2023
7:30 PM
Bing Concert Hall


Ensemble Organum

Artistic Director: Marcel Pérès


Jean-Christophe Candau, vocals

Jerome Pierre-Toussaint Casalonga, vocals

Jean Etienne Langianni, vocals

Marcel Jean-Marie Dominique Peres, vocals

Antoine Marie Gilles Jacques Sicot, vocals

Frederic Paul Tavernier, vocals


Music from the Liturgy for Ste Foy

Anonymous, mid-eleventh century

From Paris B.N. n.a. lat. 443 and Paris B.N. lat. 1240

Transcription by Laura Steenberge


Vespers Antiphon Haec est virgo prudens meritis


Vespers Responsory:

Respond Emissiones tue, “Your aromas”

Verse Veni sponsa miscui, “Come my bride, mix”

Doxology Gloria patri, “Glory to the Father”

Prosa Candida tu quia, “You are brighter”


Vespers Magnificat Antiphon Veneranda, “The Venerable Festivity”


Processional antiphon: O decus, “O Exceptional Glory”




Seeing through Chant: Sainte-Foy at Conques 

Documentary film, dir. Bissera V. Pentcheva, 17:59 min, 2022 


Versus de Sancto Marcialis Septuaginta Duo, “72 Verses for St. Martial”

Adémar of Chabannes (988/989-1034)

From Paris B.N. lat. 909

Polyphonic verses


Preconia Virginis Laudes 

Anonymous (twelfth century)   

From Paris B.N. lat. 3719   

Transcription by Malcolm Bothwell   

Polyphonic chant  


Alleluia Justus germinabit “The Just Will Sprout” 

From Anonymous (twelfth century)   

From Paris, B.N. lat. 903  

Alleluia and verse 


Alma chorus “Nourishing Choir”

Anonymous (twelfth century)

From Paris B.N. lat. 3719

Transcription by Malcolm Bothwell

Polyphonic sequence


Stirps Jesse “The Shoot of Jesse”

Anonymous (twelfth century)

From Paris B.N. lat. 3549

Transcription by Malcolm Bothwell

Polyphonic Benedicamus trope


This performance is generously supported by the School for Humanities and Sciences.


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PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.

Program Notes 

Monastic music in the eleventh century is a complex entanglement of old and new material. It takes careful study to tease apart the music that was newly composed from music that had been passed down aurally for centuries. In the first quarter of the century, refinements to the Aquitanian notation system made it possible to transmit new melodies through neumes alone. Thanks to these developments we can today decode and present chants that have not been performed publicly in almost one-thousand years.

The Liturgy of Ste. Foy, artfully constructed, demonstrates subtle attention to the intertwinement of melody and text. In the Vespers responsory Emissiones tue, a circular musical form links several passages in a spiraling pattern that reveal connections of scent and spirit. The refrain et cinnamomum cum universis lignis Libani, Alleluia (and cinnamon with the cedars of Lebanon, Alleluia) repeats three times, beginning each time with a twisting melisma that stretches the word “cinnamon” into a swirling shape that evokes the burning of incense during the vespers service. When this refrain recurs after the singing of the Gloria patri doxology, the texts link the Holy Spirit to the phenomenon of scent: “Glory to the father and the son and the holy spirit and cinnamon with cedars of Lebanon. Alleluia.

The singing of the word Alleluia plays an important role in this chant. Its iconic melody leaps up at the end of each refrain, and after the final refrain it is stretched to a great length. This word, Alleluia, sung to this ornate melisma, is a representation of celestial language, of the singing of the angels. In the prosa that follows, Candida tu quia (“You are Brighter”), the same stretched melody is repeated as a syllabic poem, as though the divine speech has been translated for human comprehension. In this chant we receive a cosmic vision of Saint Foy as a star in the heavens, singing with a choir of virgins in her glittering purple dress.

The Saint Foy music concludes with, O decus (“O Exceptional Glory”), a processional antiphon filled with stunning melismas. The final phrase of this verse becomes a direct appeal to the saint to “attend mercifully to the pleas of your servants,” which is articulated in the music by a lengthy melisma that reaches the apex (highest note) of the chant on the word adesto (“now”), a word which indicates the arrival of the saint herself. Through the height of this melody the human voice reaches up to the saint in heaven and beseeches her to descend to bless her followers. Circular in form, the chant then concludes with a repetition of another highly melismatic melody: the last line of the first passage, tecum eternam adipisci gloriam, “receive eternal glory.”

The second half of the concert presents the Seventy-Two Verses for St. Martial, composed in 1028-29 by Adémar of Chabannes to celebrate the patron saint of the abbey at Limoges. Adémar, active in the generation prior to the anonymous composer of the Liturgy of Saint Foy, is one of the first composers we know by name. He is also understood to be one of the innovators of music notation techniques that render this music still legible today. The scholarship that has been done by James Grier and others on the music of this abbey and this prolific composer has been an invaluable asset to the EnChanted Images project. Like the Liturgy of Ste. Foy, the Seventy-Verses have received little attention in the past millennium. In 1997 musicologist Manuel Pedro Ferreira presented an interpretation of the first half of the composition at the Sagres fortress in Portugal, but aside from that event these verses may not have been performed since 1029.

Adémar of Chabannes is not only famous for his contributions as a music scribe, he is also infamous for his obsession with promoting a false narrative that St. Martial was not merely the first bishop of Limoges in the third century, but was in fact an apostle who was alive during the time of Christ and a companion of St. Peter. Adémar composed and revised a large body of work to promote this lie, and in turn to promote the abbey of Limoges. By looking across the music of Limoges and Conques, the nature and function of the music becomes clearer. We can see Conques within a regional culture in which abbeys strove to elevate their status and popularity through the creation of newly composed, uniquely ornate spectacle of music.

Most cryptic among these compositions is the Seventy-Two Verses for St. Martial, striking in the manuscript for its two sets of notation, one written in red ink and the other in black, a rarity for the time. Both are composed from the same nine melodies that are arranged according to two different patterns. For the past many decades, a question has remained unanswered: are the red and black notations meant to be performed together, as a polyphonic composition, or, are they two variations of the same monophonic chant, meant to be performed separately? Laura Steenberge’s study of the music and text as part of the EnChanted Images project reveals this composition as a work of astonishing complexity that intertwines music, iconography, poetry and numerology. Analysis at these intersections reveals secret visual structures and poetic wordplay.

The most visible wordplay is an acrostic that runs through the work, formed from the first letter of each of the 24 tercets: MARCIALIS APOSTOLVS XRISTI (Martial, apostle of Christ). The melodic pattern of the red notation corresponds to this acrostic, articulating each letter as the music shifts from one melody to the next. Following this lead, a deeper look into the black notation indicates that it, too, is connected to a secret, second acrostic: the word missus (messenger) is contained within the words MARCIALIS APOSTOLUS, which suggests that the red and black notations were indeed conceived together as one composition. Fittingly, missus is a synonym of apostolus, being the Latin equivalent of the Greek term “apostle.”

To fill out the program, the Seventy-Two Verses is juxtaposed with two later examples of Aquitanian polyphony, Alma chorus and Stirps Iesse. The approach to polyphony in these chants, notated in twelfth-century manuscripts, emerged organically from improvisational practices, in contrast to the structural approach in the 72 verses that is more like an experiment composed on paper. When Ensemble Organum was founded 40 years ago, their first recorded release was a collection of Aquitanian polyphony, and so these works exemplify both the skill and knowledge the ensemble has cultivated over the decades. 

Amid these polyphonic explorations, one additional chant, Alleluia Iustus germinabit, a hauntingly beautiful chant to bring the ears back to the monophonic core. Through Alleluia justus germinabit the image of the lily returns, complementing the prosa Candida tu quia from the first half of the concert, “You are brighter than the lily.” The lily represents purity and rebirth, and also in medieval iconography patterns of lilies are placed into the sky to represent the stars. By placing the flowers into the sky, heaven and earth are brought together. The righteous shall bloom forever like the lily, and shine forever like the stars in the sky. The imagery of blooming flowers is continued in Stirps Jesse, which likens the blooming of flowers on a branch to the prosperity of the lineage from King David to Christ.

Ensemble Organum:​

For more than 40 years, Ensemble Organum has been both one of the most celebrated and most iconoclastic vocal ensembles interpreting ancient chant. By enacting this music and its practices, Ensemble Organum, directed by Marcel Pérès, is building a true history of sacred song, undertaking most of the repertories of the Latin West that have marked the evolution of music since the sixth century. In the past forty years, the ensemble has given more than one-thousand concerts in Europe, the US, and in the Middle East, and recorded more than forty discs which have received the numerous awards including the Diapason d’or, Classical Awards, Choc de l’année du Monde de la Musique. Through their active performance and recording schedule along with frequent performances on television and radio, the ensemble has played a decisive role in the revival of early music.

Since its inception, Ensemble Organum has taken residence in unique architectural spaces, first at the Abbey of Sénanque in 1982 and then housed in the Royaumont Foundation from 1984 to 2000, where Marcel Pérès established CERIMM (the European Centre for Research In Medieval Music). Since 2001 they have been in residence in the former medieval Abbey of Moissac, operating under a new research structure: CIRMA (the Centre for Itinerant Research into Early Music). Here, the medieval imagination is made visible in the relief sculpture and Romanesque architecture. Singing in this medieval interior restores the reverberant sound of medieval chant. Beyond a historical and technical approach to the music of the past, the practice of reanimating forgotten repertoires reveals the metaphysical function of music. Ensemble Organum invites its audience to experience the connection of ancient music to the spiritual and social currents of the contemporary world. Their goal as artists and performers is to explore the driving forces of our cultural heritage.

The Ensemble Organum and CIRMA are supported by the French Ministry of Culture, the Occitania Council, the Tarn and Garonne General Council, the City of Moissac, and the Société Générale.

EnChanted Images:​

The Stanford “EnChanted Images” Project, directed by Professor Bissera V. Pentcheva, explores the synergy of art, architecture, and music in the public worship of Sainte Foy, the patron saint of the abbey at Conques, situated in the present-day Occitania region of Southern France. Sainte-Foy, translated as Holy Faith, is a late third-century saint, martyred at the time when Christianity was a persecuted religion the Roman empire. In the late ninth century, her relics were stolen from Agen, her hometown, and brought by enterprising monks to Conques, where they were deposited in a gold statue. This effigy is the earliest surviving free-standing sculpture in the Latin West.

The monastery reached its zenith in the eleventh century, a time in which all manner of arts flourished, yielding new works including the building of a new abbey, the creation of exquisite relief sculpture, and the composition of both a book of miracles, and a new liturgy for the patron’s feastday. What is unique about Conques is that all this artistic production has survived. And while the art and architecture has been conscientiously studied by art historians, the music has languished in oblivion. The “EnChanted Images” Project is the first to bring attention to the music and recognize the aesthetics of audiovision in medieval artistic production. In modern museums and scholarship, medieval art and architecture is treated as though it is silent, but in their day these images and spaces were meant to be experienced amid the continuous flow of liturgical chant and prayer. The “EnChanted Images” re-inscribes music back into the analytical and experiential understanding of medieval art.

Bissera V. Pentcheva, professor, Art History Stanford University

Principal investigator


Laura Steenberge, DMA 2016, Stanford University

Transcription of the Liturgy of Ste. Foy


Miguel Novelo, MFA 2022, Stanford University

Computer modeling and film sequencing of the gold statue of Sainte-Foy


Michael Ramsaur, emeritus professor, TAPS (Theatre and Performing Arts), Stanford University

Lighting design and scrim projection


Jonathan Abel, consulting professor, CCRMA (Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics), Stanford University

Virtual Acoustics Modeling of the Abbey of Sainte-Foy at Conques



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