The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Study and Critical Commentary

of Piæ Cantiones

A Sixteenth-Century Song Collection



Eileen Hadidian

June 1978




     Piæ Cantiones is a collection of anonymous school and devotional songs in Latin, in from one to four parts and which, according to the introduction, were much used in Sweden and Finland, The collection was published in 1582, but many of the songs date back as far as the eleventh century. Others stem from German Lutheran collections, while others still, the school songs in particular, are probably part of an oral tradition transmitted in the cathedral schools.1

     As a collection, Piæ Cantiones is a valuable monument in the musical history of Sweden-Finland.2 Knowledge of this country's ancient body of non-liturgical Latin song would be almost non-existent without the publication of this collection in the latter part of the sixteenth century. It is therefore worthy of study from the historical point of view, for the variety of forms represented and for the beauty of its melodies.

     The purpose of this project is a study of Piæ Cantiones as part of the Latin school-song tradition in Scandinavia. Songs from both the 1582 and 1625 editions, numbering some 90, will be discussed in terms of their history and origins, texts and musical settings, with emphasis on the fact that these songs continued to be sung in Scandinavia through the eighteenth century, and that the twentieth century has experienced a revival of Piæ Cantiones, evident in the modern editions, choral arrangements and scholarly works that have appeared since the turn of the century.

     Piæ Cantiones research in the first decades of the twentieth century was pursued with great enthusiasm and considerable thoroughness. Text criticism was the work of Rolf Lagerborg in Sweden3 and Aarno Malin-Maliniemi in Finland.4 Heikki Klemmetti, through his publication of choral arrangements and his many articles, brought the Piae Cantiones songs to public attention.5

     In 1909 appeared in Sweden Tobias Norlind's dissertation on Latin school songs in Sweden and Finland, which is devoted largely to the Piæ Cantiones collection.6 Other scholarly works on the song collection include Ingeborg Lagercrantz' dissertation on Finnish music manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.7

     Of fundamental importance for Piæ Cantiones research is the fifty-five volume series entitled Analecta Hymnica medi aevi, primarily the work of Guido Maria Dreves and Clemens Blume.8 It lists all the Piæ Cantiones texts, with early sources where they have been found.

     Most recent scholarship on Piæ Cantiones has been the work of Timo Mäkinen, In 1964 he published an exhaustive study examining the early Bohemian sources for the Piæ Cantiones melodies9, and in 1968 another study, in Finnish, on the identified Piæ Cantiones melodies whose sources are other than Bohemian.10


1 For a discussion of the curriculum in cathedral schools, see the following chapter.

2 Finland was a part of the Swedish empire in the sixteenth century.

3 Rolf Lagerborg, Om vår äldsta Konstdiktking (Svenska litteratur-sällskapets i Finland Förhandlinger och uppstatses 20, 1906).

4 Aarno Malin-Maliniemi. Opollinen ja kirjkallinen kulttuuri keskialkana (Suomen kultttuurihistoria I).

5 Heikki Klemetti, Piæ Cantiones (Säveletär 1910). and Muutamia päätelmiä Piae Cantiones-sävelmien iästä (Valvoja 1922).

6 Tobias Norlind, Latinska skolsånger i Sverige och Finland (Lund: Hakan Ohlssons Bocktryckeri, 1909).

7 Ingeborg Lagercrantz, Lutherska Kyrkovisor. Finländska, musik-handskrifter från 1500 och 1600-talen I-II, Ph.D. dissertation, Helsingfors 1948.

8 Guido Maria Dreves and Clemens Blume, Analecta Hymnica medi aevi, 55 volumes. Leipzig 1886-1922. Vol. I: Cantiones Bohemicae and Vol. XLVb: Cantiones Svevicae.

9 Timo Mäkinen, Die aus frühen böhmischen Quellen überlieferten Piæ Cantiones-Melodien (Jyväskylä 1964)

10 Idem, Piæ Cantiones, sävelmien lähdetutkimuksia (Helsinki 1968).


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