Piae Cantiones Latin song in ancient Finland
 by Markus Tapio

One early but ill fated attempt for a state union was made in 1397 when all Nordic countries were brought under Danish rule. This Kalmar Union finally fell apart in 1523 through Swedish rebellion. It was preceded by the famous Stockholm Bloodbath where 82 independence minded noblemen and clergy were executed by the Danes.

The leader of the successful Swedish uprise was Gustav Vasa who then became the king of Sweden and its eastern duchy, Finland. However, the war was not won solely on bravery and national fervour. Mercenary troops were expensive and warfare in the 16th century typically included a provider of capital with commercial interests; in this case the Hanseatic merchants of Lübeck. Hence, the war left Gustav Vasa seriously indebted. This has often been considered as one reason why Sweden-Finland so swiftly adapted the new protestant religious doctrine. According to it, the head of the state was also the head of the national church. This, in turn, translated into the right to confiscate the riches of the church to the crown.

In Sweden the whole reformation was accomplished without much adversity or bloodshed; even more so in Finland which with its own diocese in Turku (Lat. Aboa) had enjoyed a rather large religious independence since the 14th century. The first Finnish hymnal, published in 1583 by Jaakko Finno, the headmaster of the Turku cathedral school, is notably lacking the militant “combat songs” so typical to many other contemporary hymnals.

Along with Theodoricus Petri, a Finnish student at the University of Rostock, Jaakko Finno is also the main editor of a curious collection of pious Latin songs for “...schola Aboensi in Finlandia”, published in Greifswald in 1582. This book, titled “Piae Cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum episcoporum” contains music of an extensive chronological and geographical scope. Stylistically the content is clearly older than the publishing date might suggest. Some compositions can be traced back to the turn of the millennium. However, the main body of compositions can be placed into the realm of the 15th century Germanic-Bohemian Cantio-tradition.

The question arises why would a book like Piae Cantiones be produced in protestant Finland by a clergyman who in another occasion had called the use of Latin language in liturgy a “devil's invention”? Why was it published in continental Europe and not for instance in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden-Finland? It seems that an impulse for this book came directly from King Johan III of Sweden who had strong Catholic sympathies and, as a onetime governor and Duke of Finland, was well acquainted with its cultural heritage. As the title of the book suggests, it seems that Piae Cantiones, rather than being a coherent musical entity, is an attempt to salvage a centuries old local musical tradition doomed into obsolescence. This “documentative” character is apparent from the lack of any contemporary musical material and the manner of compositions presentation that suggests a strong oral element in their transmission. The place of publication can probably be explained by the continuing presence of Finnish students at the catholic universities of Central Europe and the stronger anti-catholic sentiment of mainland Sweden.

Piae Cantiones did not completely escape the theological controversy. Some of its texts were “corrected” by the aforementioned Jaakko Finno. This was executed rather superficially, generally by simply replacing words such as “Maria” and “Virgo” by words “Christus”, “Puer” etc. Naturally, this often resulted in violation of the poetic structure and, in a couple of cases, to complete nonsense: for instance when “Christus” was assigned the virginal attribute “porta clausa nec pervia”.

The second edition of Piae Cantiones was published in 1625 in Rostock and it is connected with many liaisons to the other main mediaeval centre of Finland, Viborg. This time a renowned German church musician Daniel Friderici was used as an “Art Director”. Sensing the historical and cultural value of the collection, he preserved all the monophonic songs of the first edition. Many of the three part polyphonic compositions, however, he replaced by music reflecting the contemporary taste. In this respect, the second edition has more the character of a practical song book.

Retrover in Sornetan (CH) Few 16th century musical collections anywhere in Europe enjoy such an established position in today's musical life as Piae Cantiones does in Finland. In the wake of early 20th century national romanticism a whole mixed choir tradition has evolved around these melodies, some of which are also represented in the church hymnal. As a result, one concept hardly ever applied to this repertory in Finland is “historical performance practice”. Similarly, the emphasis on elements of national origin (which there are many) has largely hindered the public in seeing this collection in its proper context: a large coherent body of strophic Latin non-liturgical song ranging from the Mediterranean to the Baltic.

In this program our intention has been to explore links that connect Finland to the common European musical heritage. Therefore, some compositions are taken from sources other than Piae Cantiones itself. A remarkable part of the Piae Cantiones songs are not found in other sources and their origins are subject to speculation. Many of them are likely to be Finnish, such as Ramus virens olivarum; a hymn devoted to St Henry, an English bishop who was axed to death by a non cooperative native on the ice of the lake Köyliö in 1155 (as a compensation he later became the patron saint of Finland). Another curious composition is Aetas carmen melodiae which is in the 1625 edition replaced by a song of Daniel Friderici himself. Despite its archaic beauty, the counterpoint of the original three-voice version is downright bizarre and it could well be a local product of a less than pedantic composer.

Of the compositions which have known Central European concordances, the main share is of German or Bohemian origin, or at least transmitted through that area. A good example of this is Dies est laetitiae which appears in 15th and 16th century sources in countless variations and later as a Lutheran choral with the text “Der tag der ist so freudenreich”. The melody of Parvulus nobis nascitur is of German popular origin and preserved for instance in the Glogauer Liederbuch with a vernacular text. The polyphonic version in this program is thought to be by the Flemish master Jacob Obrecht and is taken from the first printed polyphonic music book: Ottaviano Petrucci's Odhecaton (Venice 1501).

Many of the older Piae Cantiones songs have their origins further south. For instance, the earliest known concordance for Verbum caro factum est is in a French manuscript dating before year 1100. This song which might have travelled to Finland with the Finnish students at the Paris University can also be found in some Italian and Spanish sources. In the same 12th century Spanish manuscript there is also a version of Omnis mundus jucundetur. In this recording this composition will appear twice, first as the monophonic Piae Cantiones version and then as a double texted motet from the Czech Speciálníc manuscript. Puer natus in Bethlehem, well known in the Germanic part of Europe, has its earliest known source from the monastery of Bobbio in Italy.

Our knowledge of musical performance practice in mediaeval Finland is virtually nonexistent. Since the main cultural exchange between Finland and other countries took place through active trade with other Baltic states and the Hanseatic League, we have looked at the German instrumental practice of the 15th century for inspiration. The use of Kantele in some compositions has allowed us to explore hypothetical links between the scholarly musical world and folk tradition.