The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Study and Critical Commentary

of PiŠ Cantiones

A Sixteenth-Century Song Collection



Eileen Hadidian

June 1978





     At its zenith in the tenth century, the Scandinavian empire stretched from Greenland to the heart of European Russia. This vast expansion of the then pagan North was in itself a means of bringing Scandinavia within the realm of Christian influence. In the early eleventh century, Olav II of Sweden spread Christianity, and before long the parent stock of Latin chant and hymnody put out fresh roots, and native poets and musicians produced compositions on the model of the hymns and sequences current in the great musical centers of the church, such as St. Gall, Paris and Cambrai.1 Men were sent from the Scandinavian lands to study in these centers, while experts were imported to train native singers for the new cathedral schools and collegiate churches.2

     By the beginning of the Renaissance the cathedral churches had large and efficient choirs, judging from the material imported for their use from Flanders and other musically advanced places. An ordinance of Christian III of Denmark provided for the maintenance of choral services in all cathedrals, and for school masters to rehearse their choristers so that they could sing high mass at all festivals.

     The spread of the Lutheran reformed church to Scandinavia during the early decades of the sixteenth century helped to strengthen cultural and political ties with northern Germany.

     After his election as king of Sweden in 1523, Gustav Vasa made Stockholm the royal capital instead of Uppsala, expelled the catholic archbishop, and gave the heads of the Lutheran church, Olaus Petri and his brother Laurentius, important offices of state. The new government imposed protective tariffs and confiscated church property. The Bible was made available in 1541 in the Swedish language. Olaus Petri made translations and paraphrases of Latin and German hymns that still form the backbone of the Swedish chorale book.3

     The king himself was opposed, however, to a complete abandonment of the Catholic liturgy, and the Articuli Ordinantae of 1540 permitted an elaborate ritual in the large churches on high festival days, including the use of organ and polyphonic choral settings. Latin continued to be used in the Swedish mass well into the sixteenth century.

     Gustav's successors to the Swedish throne showed even stronger musical interests, particularly Johann III (1568-1592) who instituted elaborate services in the royal chapel and collected material for the choir from the works of such composers as Lassus, Hassler, Isaac and Senfl. The royal choir was by no means the only one in Sweden-Finland that would perform difficult polyphonic music; from the contents of choir-school libraries it is clear that large and ambitious choirs existed at this time in other centers, such as Enk÷ping, Kalmar and Vńxi÷. These choir-schools had been established by Laurentius Petri to take the place of the old monastic schools.

     One of the choir-schools, at ┼bo in Finland4, deserves special mention as the place where Theodoric Petri of Nyland began to compile his famous collection of songs known as PiŠ Cantiones.


1. For a details study of medieval Swedish hymns and sequences, see Carl Allan Moburg, Uber die schwedischen Sequenzen (Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksel, 1927). Return

2. John Horton, Scandinavian music: a short history (London: Faber & Faber, 1963), p. 24. Return

3. Ibid., p. 34. Return

4. Finland became a Swedish grand duchy in 1582. Return


Continue to Chapter II. The Latin Song Tradition in Swedish and Finnish Schools

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