Petrus Alamire – Polyphony in the Picture


The splendidly illuminated music manuscripts that calligrapher Petrus Alamire crafted in his workshop in Mechelen 500 years ago constitute the point of departure of a unique project. A collection of 51 manuscripts, dispersed all over Europe today and collected in 15,500 images by the Alamire Digital Lab, holds a treasure of music from that period, called polyphony.

The magnificent miniatures illustrate a political or religious theme, or refer to the sovereign as the mighty patron or recipient of the manuscript. In quite a few choirbooks - mostly meant to be sung from in the choir of a church - the opening pages are richly decorated with margins replete with flowers and animals. Even more numerous are the graceful calligraphic initials which mark the beginning of a piece of music or indicate where a voice (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) has to start.

However, they are outnumbered by the music notes that, when sung, open up a universe of sound that can move many hearts. These polyphonic (or part-sung) compositions, originating from the Low Countries, conquered the whole of Europe in those days and were very highly regarded.

This rich musical heritage, for which our region was so famous 500 years ago, will be put into the context of a threefold project.