Retracing the “alta capella”
“The shawm players play on instruments of various sizes, some high for the upper voices, some low for the middle and bottom voices. Sometimes they are joined by brass players who play on a kind of trumpet (…). When all these instruments play together it is called the alta.”
This is how Johannes Tinctoris (1435-1511) describes the first wind ensembles in an essay written in 1487, and how they were also pictured in innumerable paintings of the 15th and 16th century. The “alta capella” must have been a very loud ensemble – and was certainly the most popular one of its day. It had a representative function on all ceremonial occasions and at court and served as a manifestation of power in politics and as secular praise of God. Even members of the Renaissance nobility enjoyed these noisy orchestras which entertained them during banquets or accompanied their dance. During the 14th century, similar ensembles known as “Stadtpfeifer” or “pifferi” not only played at court, but also became an essential part of mediaeval urban life, playing at both official occasions and for amusement. The musicians became gradually more professional and a new repertoire developed. Innovations in instrument making, the invention of an autonomous musical notation system and last, but not least, the emergence over centuries of a strong polyphonic and contrapuntal tradition in Europe enabled the composers of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period to compose ever more complex works.
The festive brass serenade performed as part of the Frundsbergfest revives this unique virtuosity and richness of sound. The musical world of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance period is recreated by small groups of musicians and large ensembles performing not only the music of the European courts of the day, but also the pieces once played on our town streets.
Courtly musicians, a quartet of busines, street musicians or "Spielleute" and large ensembles of players, all from the Stadtkapelle Mindelheim.
Conductor and musical director: Johannes M. Steber and Robert Hartmann