Ars elaboratio
The work of musicologists and performers during the last few decades has significantly advanced the field of medieval music. There remains however a great deal to discover, and the question of authenticity continues to be a concern. Ensemble Scholastica seeks a new approach to these issues by exploring the medieval art of elaboration.

Today, a musical work is considered a complete composition, the intellectual property of its composer. The concept of ownership with regard to a musical (or any other) idea was however utterly foreign to medieval people. Music and text were adapted to the needs of the moment and performer. While you were not allowed to tamper with the existing liturgy, between the 10th and 12th centuries it became common practice to add to it, musically and/or textually. The development of polyphonic composition, at least until the 13th century, is also a product of this trajectory. Plainchant could now include elaborated passages of 2, 3 or even 4-voice polyphony. Still, not all compositions were notated, some were even improvised, and virtually none of these pre-14th century composers supplied their names for posterity in part because none could claim to have composed the final version of a piece. Of course polyphonic composition was not meant to be done any which way, but was subject to constantly evolving rules. The medieval student of music likely internalized these rules thoroughly and practiced them often. Few if any musicians today however have learned them to the point of being able to practice them in the same manner. In fact, most modern performances of medieval music are of known pieces in their surviving versions. It could be argued however that, rather than limiting ourselves to the extant repertoire, it is equally authentic to learn and apply the medieval art of elaboration.

Ensemble Scholastica first began its experiments with the art of elaboration while preparing its "Birth of Polyphony" program in 2013. For a portion of this program (which we presented to an enthusiastic sold-out audience at the Festival Montréal Baroque/Médiéval), we followed the medieval rules of polyphony and composed several of our own polyphonic versions of surviving monophonic pieces. Since then, we've continued to learn other medieval elaboration techniques, and the result is an entire program of newly composed monophonic and polyphonic elaborations on medieval liturgical songs. Ultimately, our goal is to provide more insight into the world of medieval music by shaking up the normal rules of current historically-informed medieval music performance practice. On a more philosophical level, this project is also designed to invoke reflection with regard to our attitudes towards authorship, intellectual property, the space between performer and composer, and the relationship between historical and modern performance.

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, which last year invested $153 million to bring the arts to Canadians throughout the country.

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