Perotin: Viderunt

The Viderunt Chant in an early manuscript from Laon

Anonymous IV may not be the most reliable source, his treatise dates from at least fifty years after the death of the men mentioned within; Perotin, himself, may never have existed: Anonymous IV is the only mention of the composer. Nonetheless because of their stylistic similrities we accept the works attributed to "Perotin" as coming from the hand of a single composer. In his account, Anonymous IV mentions that Perotin composed two four-voice organa: Viderunt and Sederunt.
Viderunt is an gradual chant for the mass of Christmas Day (at Notre Dame, however, it was reserved for the Mass on January 1). Sederunt is from the gradual chant for St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day: December 26). Graduals were sung after the epistle (the New Testament reading) and before the Alleluia, basically right before the reading from the Gospel - in this case, the traditional account of the birth of Jesus. Like Alleluias, Graduals were among the most florid and melismatic chants. We can date Perotin's setting based on an edict written by Bishop Odo of Sully - the man in charge of Notre Dame. In the edict, Bishop Odo seeks to put an end to the Feast of Fools, a yearly celebration when the church's rules were stood on their head: asses were led into the pulpit and sausages were consumed on the altar, aong other pernicious acts. In place of the Feast of Fools, the church created the Feast of the Circumcision for January 1. Bishop Odo writes:
"The Gradual [Viderunt omnes] and Alleluia will be sung in two-voice, three-voice, or four-voice organum in silk copes."
Thus it seems likely that Perotin's Viderunt was written for the Feast of the Circumcision in 1198 and his Sederunt in 1199. This luxuriant music would have filled the cathedral during the holiday season.

Things to Note
Perotin build his added voices on the foundation of the chant Viderunt, (score),(mp3). To coordinate the voices, they were rhythmicized, as can be heard in the "ba-ba-dum-da-dum-dum" rhythms throughout. Unity is provided by a series of repetitive figures that move through the added voice parts, woven together like a rope. The balancing of the parts is almost geometric and interlock like the stones in a Gothic cathedral. Perotin's music can be said to be the first "composed" music of which we have record.
At the beginning of the work Perotin provides the celestial perfect Pythagorean consonance, derived - though he would not know it at the time - from the natural acoustics of a vibrating string. The octaveis subdivided both harmonically - the interval of the fifth between the lowest two voices, and arithmetically - the fourth between the middle voice and the highest voice. Throughout the composition Perotin's counterpoint will move toward and away from this, and other, perfect (i.e. complete) sonorities.

The opening measures of Perotin's setting

A modern transcription of the opening

Listening Chart

Perotin: Viderunt (1198)

Vi- 0:00 Group of soloists establish mode and consonant intervals. Central pitch, then octave, then fifth.
i - 0:13 Soloists begin 4-voice organum. First note of chant held as a long drone.
de - 0:59 Second note of chant is elaborated, organum continues.

-runt 1:29 Third note of chant is elaborated.
Om- 2:31 The fourth note of the chant is elaborated.
-nes 3:42 Cadence

finis terrae
salutare Dei nostri
Jubilate Deo omnes terra.
3:47 Chant is sung monophonically
No- 4:55 Return to polyphony.
-tum 5:54 a new held note.
fe- 6:18 The next note in the chant.
-cit 7:10 Cadence with extension continuing as before.
Dom- 7:43 More active with motion of the held voice as well.
-i - nus sal- 8:13 quick through "i" a sort-of closure and continuation at a higher pitch for "sal" - the first "ah" in the composition.
lu-ta 8:40 Ecstatic return to "ah."
-re su 9:08 Closure and continuation on "su"
um: an- 9:28 Long closure again return to "ah"
-te consectum gentium 10:00 quick closure and then faster movement through next few notes of chant.
re-ve-la-vit 10:45 Faster harmonic motion.
justitiam suam. 11:08 Return to monophony: unison chant.

Viderunt omnes fines terrae
salutare Dei nostri:
Jubilate Deo omnes terra.

Notum fecit dominus salutare suum:
ante consectum gentium
revelavit justitiam suam.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God:
Sing joyfully to God, all the earth.

The Lord has made known his salvation.
In the sight of the nations
He has revealed His righteousness.

All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.