Plainchant appears in many guises. The oldest repertoire is preserved in manuscripts located in what are now Switzerland, Germany and France. The hundreds of sources that bear witness to the long history of plainchant in our region are far less well known and studied. Plainchant from the Low Countries has its own characteristics and repertoire, and it requires thorough research to understand it better and situate it within plainchant repertoire as a whole.
These characteristics are reflected in the polyphony that is derived from plainchant. In fact, polyphony cannot be understood independently of the Gregorian chant it is based on: if we want to understand fifteenth and sixteenth century polyphony fully, a good understanding of plainchant from the Low Countries is indispensable.
The Franco-Flemish polyphonic repertoire from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is a high point in the music history of the Low Countries: almost all the important composers and musical personalities in the whole of Europe came from our region. However, that does not mean that we have already found out everything there is to find out about it. Very many aspects are still unexplored, from biographical details and archive documents to analyses of the sources.
What is more, new technologies often make research from innovative perspectives possible, such as acoustic analyses of the music and of the historical acoustics in which the music was heard – even if the places in question have long since disappeared. An increasing number of sources of polyphony are also becoming available in digital form, which contributes both to the detailed study of the sources themselves and to their protection and conservation.
Music is not created in a vacuum; countless factors play a role in its creation. Not least of these are the ‘soundscapes’ of medieval and Renaissance cities, the institutions where music was taught and practiced, such as abbeys, collegiate churches and cathedrals, the organizations that promoted it, including guilds and confraternities, and the music collections where it has been – and still is – preserved. It is only by charting these and many other elements that we can reveal how thoroughly music is intertwined with its surrounding world.
Cracking the codes of musical notation and converting them from image to sound is a complex process. Flemish polyphony is all too often unknown because the gulf between the source materials in which the compositions are stored and the musicians who are expected to transfer the music to their audiences is too wide.
Experience has shown that it is extremely difficult to fill this gap by solely applying traditional research and valorization methods. Conceived out of a fundamental concern for the preservation, accessibility, study, and valorization of our musical heritage, and to raise awareness of it in the fields of research, performance practice, education, and culture, the projects of the Alamire Foundation therefore deliberately and systematically include the development and use of high-technology.