Skip to main content

Ludus Danielis: Music and Tales from the Play of Daniel

A close-up image of highly decorative detailing from a medieval manuscript.Performed by Trouvère Medieval Minstrels

When: Tuesday 04 July, 20.30-22.00
Where: Stage@leeds: Stage 1
Price: £16.00

The Ludus Danielis was composed at the Abbey of Beauvais in Northern France in the 12th century and is a musical play telling two of the stories of the Old Testament prophet Daniel. As it says in its opening lines, it was created by the ‘iuventus’ – the young men of the choir, and they did this under the guidance of their choirmaster, Ralph the Englishman. It was a work of devotion in Christ’s honour, and was performed in the Christmas season - it after all ends with the news of the birth of Christ. But it was clearly also enormous fun - the original manuscript makes clear that it was an acted play, not a static oratorio: costumes were involved, as were instruments. It is thought that it was perhaps a sanctioned enjoyable entertainment in a season that could otherwise be marked by license; it was an aspect of the Feast of Fools.

In creating the music for their play, Ralph and the choir made use of a paraliturgical repertory that was a common currency among music-makers of the 12th century, and it seems more than likely that music otherwise secular in nature was incorporated into the Ludus. This play can thus be shown to share melodic elements known as far afield as Bavaria, Aquitaine, and Norman Sicily, woven together with great imagination and creativity. In the Ludus Danielis we get a glimpse of an intellectual and creative community that existed beyond political and ethnic boundaries, and which similarly could stride across more spiritual boundaries as well in its artistic freedoms.

The Ludus is packed with gorgeous melodies as well as being a great bit of storytelling, with its two tales of Daniel and the Writing on the Wall, and Daniel in the Lions’ Den. It is punctuated with the cry of ‘King, May You Live Forever!’, taken from the address to the Persian King Darius in the Book of Daniel. This is surely ironic, and also celebratory – for this play is in honour of a different king who indeed lives forever.

Trouvère are one of the longest-established medieval music ensembles in the UK. The group was formed by Paul Leigh in 1998. Paul had come across medieval music in the course of studying for his music degree, had fallen for the modal sound, and has never really looked back. Gill Page joined the group in 2000, originally as a storyteller, but eventually taking up the medieval harp and later the symphony (the precursor of the hurdy gurdy). Gill is a historian of medieval Greece: her book, Being Byzantine, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2008. Together, Paul and Gill have been researching, recreating and recording medieval music together for two decades. They bring complementary skills to the interpretation of the medieval sources, with Paul focusing on the music and Gill on the words in Latin, medieval French, Galician-Portugese, Occitan, and, of course, Middle English. As well as a range of recordings, Trouvère have also produced a growing set of books of medieval music in modern notation. Trouvère perform regularly at medieval events and in concert, and are also the team behind Medieval Music in the Dales - the UK’s only festival of medieval music, taking place at Bolton Castle in Wensleydale every September. The festival is now in its 7th year and brings together musicians from all around the world for a wonderful weekend of concerts, workshops, and informal playing. Richard de Winter was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral, and a choral scholar at Durham Cathedral before going on to study Musical Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music. He now works as a singer, actor, and musician, with a particular focus on early music. He has sung with Trouvère since 2015 and is also the regular singer for the Elizabethan group Passamezzo.