November 9, 2015

101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes 114: The New York Pro Musica ~ The Play Of Daniel (A Twelfth Century Musical Drama)

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I started the Vinyl LP series because I have a collection of over 20,000 vinyl record albums I am selling; each blog entry is about an album from my collection. The 101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes series is an extension of that collection. Inquire for information here.   

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The Play of Daniel was my introduction to the world of medieval music; suddenly, the history of folk music came into view a little clearer. This album marked the dawn of the rebirth of medieval music in the modern age. And the sound of it was a mind-blower!

I was entranced from the opening notes of the horn fanfare followed by the violin, bell and whistle intro and I never looked back.

The lusty male and warm female vocals accompanied by medieval instruments are exquisite (links to music on YouTube below). Russell Oberlin, a countertenor, and Charles Bressler, a tenor who sings the role of Daniel, are a dream to listen to. The size of the cast, performers and musicians, in the performance is amazing.    

New York Pro Musica

Cast: Russell Oberlin (Belshazzar's Prince / An Angel / Herald Angel), Brayton Lewis (Belshazzar), Jerold Sien (First Wise Woman), Alan Baker (Second Wise Woman), Paul Ehr;ich (First Envious Counsellor), Jean Hakes (Second Envious Counsellor), Arthur Squires (Third Envious Counsellor), Alan Baker (Habakkuk), Betty Wilson (Belshazzar's Queen), Charles Bressler (Daniel), Gordon Myers (Darius), Alva Tripp (First Advisor), Jerold Sien (Second Advisor).       

Satraps and Soldiers: William Bohm & Boy choristers of Church of the Transfiguration, New York: (The Little Church Around the Corner): Richard Zahnd, David Kouri, Edmund Cortez, George Ryan, Ronald Frers, Ronald McLaren, Richard Bell   
Stuart Gardner, choirmaster   

Musicians: Robert Montesi (straight trumpet), Paul Ehrlich (rebec), Paul Maynard (portative organ, psaltery), Martha Blackman (bell carillon, minstrel's harp), George Gaber (percussion), Bernard Krainis (recorders), Inez Lynch (vielle), Jean Hakes (minstrel's harp), James Petrie (miniature highland bagpipes).   
Noah Greenberg, director     

The instrumentation included the straight trumpet, rebec, psaltery, harp, drums and portative organ; all of which gave the music its authentic sound.   

reel-to-reel tape box spine
photos by Styrous®

The New York Pro Musica was a vocal and instrumental ensemble that specialized in medieval and Renaissance music. It was co-founded in 1952, under the name Pro Musica Antiqua, by Noah Greenberg, a choral director, and Bernard Krainis, a recorder player who studied with Erich Katz. Other prominent musicians who joined included Russell Oberlin (the first American counter-tenor) and Martha Blackman (the first American gambist) and Frederick Renz, who founded Early Music Foundation after Pro Musica disbanded.    

The ensemble is perhaps best known for reviving the medieval Play of Daniel in the 1950s, which has since become a popular liturgical drama among early music groups. The group gave its first concert at the New School for Social Research in New York City on April 26, 1953. The ensemble performed in 1960 for the Peabody Mason Concert series in Boston. The group continued after Greenberg's death in 1966 and disbanded in 1974. Greenberg's successor, musicologist John Reeves White, took over the direction of the ensemble in 1966; the last director was George Houle, who tried to bring the group more in line with trends in Europe at a time when the United States was not ready for such changes. Houle went on to teach musicology at Stanford University.

open box w/ program notes detail
detail photo by Styrous®

open box w/ program notes detail
detail photo by Styrous®

by Mandy Macdonald from Semibrevity.  

The Play of Daniel, or Ludus Danielis, is a medieval Latin liturgical drama based on the biblical Book of Daniel, one of which is accompanied by monophonic music.   

Two medieval plays of Daniel survive. The first is one of the plays in the Fleury Playbook, a 13th-century manuscript containing ten liturgical dramas; the text is by Hilarius, and no music accompanies it. The play itself dates from c. 1140. The second is a 13th-century drama with monophonic music, written by students at the school of Beauvais Cathedral, located in northern France. Both plays were completed about 1227 to 1234.       
It was devised in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century, possibly under a single overall director, by students and junior clerics of the cathedral school in the French town of Beauvais, and comes down to us in a manuscript of c. 1230 now in the British Library (Egerton MS 2615).  

The play is connected with the liturgy for the Feast of the Circumcision on January 1. It retells the Old Testament story of the prophet Daniel, in two ‘acts’: first, Daniel interprets the mysterious writing on the wall foretelling the collapse of Belshazzar’s kingdom; this is followed by the episode of the lions’ den, rounded off with Daniel’s prophecy of the birth of Christ.    

There’s a huge cast of characters: a narrator, Daniel, the two kings, a queen, wise men, envious counsellors, the prophet Habakkuk, and sundry advisors, satraps, courtiers and angels – even two lions. The manuscript contains only the text, in Latin and medieval French, some stage directions, and a single line of music – a spare but suggestive melodic core around which a great variety of elaborations have been woven, sometimes controversially, into modern performance.    

Program folder

The production was five years in the planning, locating “authentic” instruments, stage and costume design. The Play Of Daniel was filmed for educational TV in the 60's with the original cast at The Cloisters in New York City. The sleeve notes by Paul Henry Lang and Dom Rembert Weakland, O.S.B., who had discovered the text at the British Library.   

    Track list:

    Anon., Egerton MS: The Play of Daniel
  1. Processional
  2. Jubilemus Regi nostro
  3. Vos Danielem quaerite
  4. Solvitur in libro Salomonis
  5. Ecce Rex Darius
  6. Rex, in eternum vive!
  7. Heu, heu, heu!

  8. Anon., gregorian:
  9. Te Deum Laudamus

New York Pro Musica ‎– The Play Of Daniel (A Twelfth Century Musical Drama)
Directed by Noah Greenberg  
Produced by Israel Horowitz 
Label: Decca ‎– ST7 9402
Series: Gold Label Series
Format: reel-to-reel tape  
Country: US
Released: 1958
Genre: Classical
Style: Medieval

The Play of Daniel on the net:        
New Yorker review           
Boston Classical Review     

The New York Pro Musica ~ Play of Daniel on YouTube:            
The Play of Daniel, Pt. 1            
The Play of Daniel, Pt. 2              

The  New York Pro Musica ‎– Play Of Daniel is for sale on eBay                

Even listening to it now, almost 60 years later, it is amazing!

Styrous® ~ Monday, November 9, 2015 

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