Anon: Estampie, ‘Retrové’  [3’25”]

Kalevi Kiviniemi, organ

02 Robertsbridge Codex

The oldest keyboard music in world


We are whisked back – music is nothing if not  a time machine – to the very beginning of that tradition with this piece from the earliest surviving source of music written down specifically for a keyboard to play.  That would be the Robertsbridge Codex, nowadays believed to have originated in England in 1360 and so appropriately (for once) housed in the British Museum.  You used to hear it referred to as the Robertsbridge Fragment, the music consisting of just six pieces on two double-sided hand-drawn sheets, printed music being still a century in the future.

Played on organ (by the fearless Finn Kalevi Kiviniemi), as it was probably intended to be, what we have here is one of three anonymous estampie, a common dance form of the period whose name may or nor may not bespeak a connection with the notion of stamping.  Despite such origins this music, far from being unsophisticated, is melodically and rhythmically subtle, unfolding in two lively, highly ornamented voices over several sections showing a high degree of thematic unity.  The echo effect associated with the recurring cadential figure heard first at 0′30″ is not spelled out in the manuscript (in those days nothing was) but is surely implicit, Kiviniemi convinces us.

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