A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court: Christmas, 1400 London

This is a Christmas release like no other. And it’s one of those albums that you can listen to any time of the year.
In 1397, Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos hit the road. Constantinople had been under siege by the Ottoman Empire for six years. The King of Hungary’s attempt to break the siege had failed, and Byzantia needed help.

Manuel II went east, seeking aid from his fellow Christian monarchs. He made his case in Venice, Padua, Milan, the Vatican, and France. It was the French king who recommended he also visit Henry IV of England.

He did, arriving in 1400. The two monarchs celebrated the Christmas season together at Eltham Palace. They did many things together. But they worshipped separately, each to their own traditions.

And that’s what this album attempts to recreate. The Cappella Romana performs the Byzantine chants Manuel II heard in worship. And they reconstruct the polyphonic hymns Henry IV may have heard in his services.

It’s an album of contrasts, and fascinating ones at that — Latin vs. Greek; polyphony vs. monody. The Cappella Romana does both equally well. And do so in the appropriate style for each tradition.

When singing Henry’s music, the ensemble has a clear, bell-like sound. For Magnus’s music, they sound darker and a little gravelly. It’s very well done. The differences between Eastern and Western liturgical music are clear.

This is an album of great beauty and great serenity. Those are two qualities both the Latin and Eastern Orthodox hymns have in common.


A Byzantine Emperor at King Henry’s Court
Christmas 1400, London
Capella Romana; Alexander Lingas, director
Cappella Records

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