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The song Mariam matrem virginem, a leaf from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat.

The Llibre Vermell de Montserrat (Catalan for "Red Book of Montserrat") is a collection of late medieval songs. The 14th century manuscript was located at the monastery of Montserrat outside Barcelona in Catalonia.


The manuscript

The manuscript was prepared in approximately 1399. It originally contained 172 double pages, of which 32 have been lost. The title "The Red Book of Montserrat" describes the red binding in which the collection was placed in the nineteenth century. No composer is identified for any of the songs it contains.

The monastery holds the shrine of the Virgin of Montserrat, which was a major site of pilgrimage during the time it was compiled.

The music

As such, the purpose of the compilation is made clear by its anonymous compiler himself:

Quia interdum peregrini quando vigilant in ecclesia Beate Marie de Monte Serrato volunt cantare et trepudiare, et etiam in platea de die, et ibi non debeant nisi honestas ac devotas cantilenas cantare, idcirco superius et inferius alique sunt scripte. Et de hoc uti debent honeste et parce, ne perturbent perseverantes in orationibus et devotis contemplationibus.
"Because the pilgrims wish to sing and dance while they keep their watch at night in the church of the Blessed Mary of Montserrat, and also in the light of day; and in the church no songs should be sung unless they are chaste and pious, for that reason these songs that appear here have been written. And these should be used modestly, and take care that no one who keeps watch in prayer and contemplation is disturbed."

The songs, therefore, were written for the pilgrims to have something appropriately "chaste and pious" to sing. The songs are in Catalan, in Occitan and in Latin. While the collection was written near the end of the fourteenth century, much of the music in the collection appears from its style to originate earlier; the motet Imperayritz de la ciutat joyosa contains two different texts which can be sung simultaneously, a style that would have been old fashioned when the manuscript was compiled.

The songs have many of the characteristics of folk songs as well as hymns. Some are monophonic, while others are set in two to four parts of usually non-imitative polyphony. Some of the monodic songs can be sung as canons. The relative simplicity and strong melodies of the songs has given the music collected in the Red Book a lasting appeal, and these songs are some of the most frequently recorded pieces of early music.

The surviving songs

The ten songs in the collection that survive are:

  1. Song: O Virgo Splendens (fol. 21v-22) ("O Splendid Virgin")
  2. Virelai/danse: Stella Splendens (fol. 22r) ("Splendid Star")
  3. Song: Laudemus Virginem (fol. 23) ("Let us praise the Virgin")
  4. Virelai: Mariam, Matrem Virginem, Attolite (fol. 25r) ("Praise Mary, the virgin mother")
  5. Virelai/danse: Polorum Regina (fol. 24v) ("Queen of the Poles")
  6. Virelai: Cuncti Simus Concanentes (fol. 24) ("Let us sing together")
  7. Song: Splendens Ceptigera (fol. 23) ("Splendid ruler")
  8. Ballad/danse: Los Set Gotxs (fol. 23v) ("The seven joys")
  9. Motet: Imperayritz de la ciutat joyosa / Verges ses par misericordiosa (fol. 25v) ("Empress of the happy city" / "Virgin, out of mercy")
  10. Virelai: Ad Mortem Festinamus (fol. 26v) ("We hasten towards death")

Many performers have performed these songs; some of the more noteworthy performances have been by Jordi Savall, Micrologus, Studio der Frühen Musik, Hesperion XX, and Ensemble Unicorn.


  • The Black Madonna: Pilgrim Songs from the Monastery of Montserrat (1400-1420): Ensemble Unicorn with Michael Posch (Naxos, no. 8.554256, 1998), sound recording and liner notes


  • 1979 - "Llibre Vermell de Montserrat. A fourteenth century pilgrimage". Hespèrion XX, Jordi Savall
  • 1995 - "Llibre Vermell de Montserrat - Cantigas de Santa Maria" Alla Francesca
  • 1996 - "Los set goyts" and "Imperayritz de la ciutat joyosa" recorded by Angelo Branduardi in the album "Futuro antico".
  • 2007 - Llibre Vermell. Choeur de chambre de Namur, Psallentes, Les Pastoureaux, Millenarium, directed by Christophe Deslignes. RIC 260.


See also

External links

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