James Bennett II is a staff writer for WQXR.
Watch: Young Musician Plays The Oldest (Ever) Written Keyboard Music
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 12:29 PM
Here’s some serious and simple music that sounds like it came straight out of a 1990s Saturday morning Medieval-times cartoon. It’s an estampie from the Robertsbridge Codex — and the oldest known piece of surviving music written specifically for the keyboard.
“Estampie” and “Robertsbridge Codex” aren’t words that we usually throw around in classical conversation, so let’s get into exactly what they are. Basically, the estampie is a dance that totally peaked some time in the Middle Ages, and its music centers around a series of repeating melodies called punctua and fixed musical endings for each phrase. This popular music was sung as well as played on instruments, so we’d like to think that any courtyard party wouldn’t have been complete without one.
The estampie heard in the video below is from the Robertsbridge Codex, a 14th century manuscript that contains, among other things, the written music for a number of motets and dances. Today, you can find the original codex in the British Library.
This performance of history’s favorite keyboard deep-cut is by Sicilian pianist Alberto Chines. He studied at the Piano Academy of Imola, and in 2013 was the only Italian pianist to be named a Young Artist Performer for the Piano Texas International Academy & Festival. Since 2014, he has been performing with the chamber ensemble Trio Casa Bernardini.