The intitial aim of this composition was to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Paroisse Notre-Dame de la Chapelle, one of the most important Gothic churches in Brussels. From the earliest stages, it seemed essential to recall, musically, the 13th century and to confront it with our own contemporary musical practice. This is why, along with the Psallentes Ensemble, we researched Gregorian chant manuscripts, the liturgical music which may have been sung at the beginning of the 13th century in this precise location, the Église Notre-Dame de la Chapelle. As the church was associated with the diocese of Cambrai, our research led us to Cambrai’s municipal library. We chose the First Vespers of the Assumption, as they appear in the Antiphonarium ad usum Cameracensis ecclesiae (1235-1245).
The title, Tota pulchra es, amica mea, is drawn from the first antiphon of this office; the text is a fragment of the Song of Songs (4:7). The manuscript also includes the full series of antiphons and hymns associated with this office. Further, it indicates specific references to the Psalms associated with these antiphons. All of the plainsongs are used in this particular version of the original document. Together, they constitute the first part of the concert. But this musical material could not be used without finding a way to integrate the plainsongs into the overall form.
To meet this need, we carried out two operations. The first was to add a second voice to the Psalms and their responses, in the style of ‘historical’ polyphonies (as in the organa and the déchant practices). But above all, it is the electronic music, based on the sound of the main bell of the Église de la Chapelle, which create a noticeable link throughout the work. The electronic preludes begin with a naturalistic call, which transitions to the first organum. The preludes evolve based on a spectral development of the main bell’s sound, and introduce or comment on the sung texts.
The confrontation alluded to above becomes explicit in the Magnificat, the second part of this imaginary celebration. The first verse begins with a polyphonic work for six voices. The organ, cornet and singers are all soloists in a fusion of the Gregorian mode from the Magnificat with the spectrum of sounds derived from the bell. This anchor point ensures continuity throughout the “composition”, an appropriate word given its etymology. The successive verses, generally introduced by electronic or instrumental interludes, are composed in a contrasting compositional style, meant to serve the meaning of the text.