Medieval Music

Anonymous 4 (1995). Miracles of Sant'Iago: Medieval Chant and Polyphony for St. James from the Codex Calixtinus. Harmonia Mundi USA. HMX 2907156.

This is one of the essential albums of music related to the Camino, for it is the fullest, readily available recording of the music from the Codex Calixtinus. The crystalline tone of the four female voices of the Anonymous 4 is riveting, though originally the music would have more likely been sung by monks rather than nuns. Sadly, the Anonymous 4 has disbanded, although they continue to collaborate from time to time on special projects.

The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos (1994). Chant. Angel. CDC 7243 5 55138 2 3.

This album was briefly a best seller and made chant popular for a while. The monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos is 100 or so km southeast of the Camino as it passes through Burgos, and many present day pilgrims make a side trip in order to hear the chants still sung in its chapel as elements of worship services. The monks are non-professional musicians and were first recorded in the 1970s. They subsequently recorded several other albums of chant. Recently the Benedictine Order at the monastery decided to withdraw from further recording as it was upsetting the monastic routine.

Discantus, Brigitte Lesne direction. Campus Stellae: Sant-Martial de Limoge & Santiago de Compostela. Opus 111 30-102

Consort Fontegara (2000). El Camino de Santiago: 12th/14th-Century Spanish Manuscripts. Dynamica S/a. S 2026.

A compilation of music from the Codex Calixtinus, the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and the Llibre Vermell, this album is an excellent sampler of medieval religious music directly related to the Camino. The Italian group Consort Fontegara has a clear and involving sound, and this rather hard to obtain CD (in the US at least) is worth seeking out.

Discantus, Brigitte Lesne direction (2003). Compostelle, le chant de l'étoile. Jade 301 654 2.

This album of Camino related music is hauntingly sung by a female group from France. Most of the music is religious, with texts from the ordinary of the Mass as well as biblical verses, all sung in Latin and largely based on French melodic sources. The lovely picture of the bridge at Puente la Reina on the cover is itself almost worth the price of this album.

Ensemble Lachrimae Consort et Ensemble Vocale La Trulla de Bozes, Philippe Foulon direction (1999). Roncevaux: "Échos d'une Bataille" (Roncesvalles: Ecos de una Batalla, Evocación Musicale de la Chanson de Roland. Harmonia Mundi-Mandala. MAN 4953.

This CD combines a reading of the French epic poem Chanson de Roland with music related to the poem and to the battle at Ronceveaux-Roncesvalles. The liner notes contain the text of that epic in French, Castillano and English along with some of the history of the battle and of the famed poem it inspired but sadly not much information about the music. The quality of the music performance is high, and the recorded reading of the text gives one a chance to practice French-language listening skills.

Ensemble Organum, Marcel Pérès direction (2005). Compostela ad Vesperas Sancto Iacobi - Codex Calixtinus, 12th century. Ambroisie 9966.

Among cognoscenti, a somewhat controversial interpretation of 12 pieces from the Codex Calixtinus - controversial due to director Marcel Pérès' use of Eastern Orthodox techniques including a drone sung by one of the more extraordinary basses that you will ever hear.

Ensemble Unicorn, Michael Posch direction (2000). The Black Madona: Pilgrim Songs from the Monastery of Montserrat (1400-1420). Naxos of America. 9.554256.

This is a well-produced and inexpensive recording of music from the Cancionero musical of the Llibre Vermell, a key text in the early music movement. Pilgrim songs venerating the Virgin Mary, were the primary part of the Cancionero. Some of these pilgrimage songs were likely known throughout medieval Europe, and one could expect that most early pilgrims to Santiago sang or at least heard some of them. Not a few have walking rhythms, and with closed eyes one can almost see groups of pilgrims on the Camino singing them while walking toward Santiago.

Escolania y Capilla Musical de la Abadía del Valle de los Caídos (1971, reissued CD 1998). El Camino de Santiago: Cantos de Peregrinación. Cuarteto y Grupo de Instrumentos Antiguos Renacimientos. EMI-Odeon, SA. 7243 5 67051 2 8.

Most of the music on this disc is from the medieval and renaissance periods. The schoolboy choir and instrumentalists do not use period performance practices because the original recording was made before use of those practices became widespread.

Hespérion XXI, Jordi Savall direction (2001). España Antigua. EMI Recordings 7243 5 61946 2 1.

There are eight discs in this rather expensive set, but what glorious performances are included! The collection covers all kinds of musical forms in pre 17th century Spain and the final disc includes secular music from the late 17th century. Each of the discs is (or was) also available individually. If one can afford the set, it is a must have for lovers of Spain and of Medieval Music.

Hespérion XXI (with the collaboration of the Capella Real de Cataluña), Jordi Savall direction (1997). Moyen Age and Renaissance. Auvidis. ES9904.

If you can afford only a single album of medieval music, this modestly priced sampler is one to consider, an impressive collection of all kinds of medieval music, sacred and secular, mostly from Spain and Italy.

Huelgas Ensemble. Paul van Nevel direction (1992). Codex las Huelgas: Music from 13th Century Spain. Sony Vivarte 53341.

The Codex las Huelgas, housed at the famed monastery adjacent to the Camino Frances as it departs Burgos, along with the Codex Calixtinus arguably constitute the two most important archives of music associated with the Camino. Taking its name from the Codex las Huelgas, this group based in the Netherlands was one of the first of the early music groups adhering strictly to period performance practices, authentic musical instruments, and careful study of the documents where the music was first recorded.

Martin Best Medieval Consort (1999). Cantigas of Santa Maria. Nimbus Records. Available as a disc in a 6 disc set A Musical Banquet: Music from the Age of Chivalry, NI1753 or as a single disc NI5081.

An English group, the Martin Best Ensemble was an early proponent of period performance techniques and deep musicological research into the source materials to educate that performance. This is a clear and moving rendition of about 20 of the Cantigas de Santa María, presented in such a manner that by listening one can almost picture pilgrims walking or gathered together in the evening for a meal, singing while they await the repast.

Micrologus (1998). Madre de Deus: Cantigas de Santa María. Opus 111. OPS 30-225.

In this additional recording of selections from the Cantigas de Santa María, the Italian group Micrologus includes a slightly different selection of music from the manuscript and uses a somewhat larger entourage in this pleasant performance.

The Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner, direction ( 2005). Pilgrimage to Santiago. Soli Deo Gloria, SDG 701.

In 2004, its fortieth anniversary year, the Monteverdi Choir under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner undertook a pilgrimage in song through France and Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, performing in the great abbeys and cathedrals along the way. The choir's pilgrimage programs focused on the sacred polyphony of the Iberian peninsula during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these works being set in a broader European context through the inclusion of pieces by composers who worked outside Spain and Portugal, but whose music was probably known there. This recording, the second of two made on the choir's return to London, offers a chance to share their experience of living inside the music along El camino de Santiago. Music from the twelfth-century Codex Calixtinus, music from the Llibre Vermell, Tomás Luis de Victoria, Jacobus Clemens non Papa, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Guillaume Dufay, Cristobal Morales, Orlando de Lassus and Jean Mouton.

There is a wonderful interview with director John Eliot Gardiner talking about the performances along the Camino and the subsequent recording of the CD.

Música Antigua, Eduardo Paniagua director (2005). El Camino de Santiago - Alfonso X El Sabio. Pneuma Classics (Spain) PNA 680.

Eduardo Paniagua continues his survey of the complete Cantigas of Alfonso X El Sabio with 'El Camino de Santiago', the story of the socio-spiritual event of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

New London Consort, Philip Pickett direction (1989). The Pilgrimage to Santiago. L'Oiseau Lyre 433 148 (2 CD set).

Although probably out of print, this two CD set was probably the first, and possibly the only, collection of music from the Spanish regions the Camino passes through: the first disc is music from Castilla y León and the second from Galicia. If it can be found, the collection is an essential addition to a Camino music library. Perhaps used copies can be located, and if not it can be borrowed from good music libraries, via interlibrary loan if necessary.

The Rose Ensemble (2002). The Road to Compostela: Vocal Music for the Pilgrimage to the Ancient City of Santiago de Compostela.

This is a marvelously recorded CD by the group, The Rose Ensemble, based in St. Paul, MN. The 20 tracks include 12 from the Codex Calixtinus and five by the contemporary Minnesota composers Victor Zupanc and J. David Moore. The intermixing of medieval and contemporary music on this recording is unusual and very successful.

Sarband (2000). Llibre Vermell. Dorian Group, Ltd. DOR-93202.

This is an additional album of selections from the Llibre Vermell.

The Toronto Consort. David Fallis direction (2000). The Way of the Pilgrim: Medieval Songs of Travel. Dorian Group Ltd. DOR-93214.

This is a selection of pilgrim and traveling music from France and Germany, music mostly sung, the program notes suggest, by wandering scholars and by crusaders going to Palestine. Some of the music is quite likely to have been sung by pilgrims en route to Santiago as well. A Canadian group The Toronto Consort is making quite an impression on the early music movement, and this is a good sample of their high-quality work.

Various artists and groups (1992). España: Anthology of Spanish Music. Astree-Auvidis. E8500.

Cellist and conductor Jordi Savall, his wife soprano Montserrat Figueras, and the various groups they are associated with are well represented on this album that includes music from the middle ages through the 20th century. Being a general anthology of Spanish music, the recording includes many pieces not related to the pilgrimage or its motivations, but this is a good and inexpensive introduction to the breadth and wonder of Spanish music.


The Waverly Consort. Spanish Music of Travel and Discovery. 2-CD set: Music from the Age of Discovery and Traveler: Medieval Journies through Time. Virgin 61815.

About three-quarters of this collection is relevant to the Camino, but it is the most readily available source of the music of Martin Codax, 13th century secular music from Galicia. The first half of the recording is devoted to renditions of music from the Llibre Vermell, while the final quarter is a selection of Sefardic ballads. Pilgrims to Santiago were quite unlikely to have heard those ballads unless they came from or via Islamic Spain prior to 1492.