Musicus Online Museum

Nato canunt

Neumatized sequence: Nato canunt


This Christmas sequence was sung widely throughout medieval Western Europe, and its text speaks of the rejoicing of the angels at Christ’s birth. The melody has a very regular form making it easy to sing and memorize.

Several later medieval sources from northern France refer to the “neumatization” of Nato canunt. The French medieval music theorist Guy de Denis gives an interesting hint about why this particular sequence might have been chosen for neumatization. He cites four sequences (including Nato canunt) where individual verses received wordless repeats (“neumas”). In each case, the text of the verse included the word “neumata.” In fact, a number of the sequences neumatized at this period contain phrases referring to their unique means of construction (words joined with melody), or to the union of heavenly and human song. Nato canunt exemplifies these themes clearly. The sequence’s second verse – expressly cited by Guy de Denis – refers to the joining of “well-proportioned melismas, syllable by syllable.” Furthermore, the entire sequence text is filled with references to angelic song; humankind is exhorted to join this heavenly rejoicing.

The performance here employs selective neumatization, following the suggestion of Guy de Denis. Wordless repeats are cued by specific textual references to angelic (and human) song. Untexted phrases both echo — and foreshadow —  sections of the texted melody.