Labyrinth leading to the world of medieval music can be found in Russia

Labyrinths are mystical constructions. Going thru the labyrinths is symbol of overcoming, comprehension of the path leading to certain mysterious goals.


Speaking about the ensemble “Labyrinthus” formed in 2010, it is worth mentioning that the medieval vocal polyphony is not sufficiently acknowledged by Russian audience. In relation to this, the ensemble under Danil Ryabchikov presents itself as one of a few Russian music groups dedicated to performance and promotion of such kind of music. 

Apart from performance of medieval music, the members of the ensemble Danil Ryabchikov (cetra,gittern ), Maria Batova (vocal), Anna Vasilieva(medieval harp), Polina Terentieva (vocals, hurdy-gurdy) are engaged in continuous research in the field of early music.

The Ensemble is devoted to Western vocal music (as monody and polyphony) of XII- XIV centuries. Existing ensembles playing medieval music are often focused on the exotic sound of beautiful medieval instruments and, respectively, instrumental music or instrumental and vocal. Vocal polyphony of the Middle Ages is an uncommon case in concert practice. At the same time, as far as we can judge, vocal music prevailed at that period of time. First pieces, which can be called instrumental, were recorded at the end of the XIII century. One of ensemble’s major tasks is to correct this historic injustice and to acquaint the Russian audience with masterpieces of polyphony of XII-XIV centuries.

The name of the ensemble is associated with the tradition of the medieval labyrinth, along which went religious procession accompanied by special paraliturgical music that forms the basis for repertoire. The correspondent of "Music of Russia" spoke with the head of the ensemble Danil Ryabchikov.

- In what way do you understand your mission in Russia and abroad?

-  In Russia, primarily, our mission is to popularize music of XII-XIII centuries, which is very rarely performed in this country. The masterpieces of Romantic and Baroque period can often be heard, at least in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Speaking about the situation concerning the music of older ages, the listener can only dream about listening to the pieces of this kind, especially in historically informed performance. I wish that the music was no longer an exotic with us.

In Western Europe, particularly in France, such promotion is not required. There are concerts, festivals, sophisticated audience, famous ensembles, research conferences, theses, books, and a considerable number of scientists, who devoted themselves to music medieval studies.

And then popularizing our side goes, giving way to research. Each program of the ensemble represents the study of manuscripts or unusual and unique repertoire. In this sense, XII-XIV century is a fruitful period of time. Several thousand of masterpieces, which had never been recorded, come down to us. Hundreds of them had not been performed by anybody. But this is not the question about the quality of the material. Mostly expensive, richly decorated manuscripts are survived, in which we can find the best pieces of that time.

- How close is music performed by the ensemble to modern (and, in particular, Russian) music lovers?

- How close are Bach, Mozart or Shostakovich to the modern listener? Their music represents great cultural achievements, important for whole humanity. They have the answers to life's questions or the questions themselves or the state of the questions or answers. It's the same in the top pages of medieval music. Viderunt Pérotin or unique two-voice conducts by unknown author of Engelberg Code or Solage's Fumeux fume are the same vertices as the "Musical Offering" or Opus 74 by Scriabin.

Another question: What is special about this music? I think, first of all, that its fairly simple language (the musical language by Pérotin or authors of Ars Subtilior quite complex and sophisticated, but pretty deep things). And again, now, in our time, the joy and purity is most commonly associated with the world of childhood, i.e. with something weak, what you need to protect. In medieval music is "intense joy" and "strong purity," and this is probably the most striking and unusual. This is something that I personally lack in modern culture and modern art.

Or another example: the angels. In today's culture an angel is understood as fragile girl or a rosy-cheeked baby. But the angel who said "Do not be afraid" to Virgin Mary seemed rather frightening for the person. This feature maintains in the miniatures of early medieval manuscripts. And this "joy with trembling" is frequently found on pages of music manuscripts of XII-XIII centuries.

Ensemble members never cease to learn, improve their skills. They are engaged in research activities. These are the essential components of the contemporary musicians who have early music.


Danil Ryabchikov studied in master classes of famous Western musicians. Maria Batova studied with Dominique Vellard  in Basel Schola Cantorum, Anna Miklashevich also studies there.

According to Danil perceive, there is a significant gap between academic medievalists and performers (available Russian-language books are 50-150 years behind modern science, even well known western european ensembles based their program sometimes on theories and ideas left behind by the scolars 20 years ago). Therefore, it is necessary to make this up, and each phase of the study program is preceded by the current state of science on a particular repertoire (articles, dissertations, etc.). Thanks to the expansion of the Internet and the increasing amount of digitized manuscripts of the work, this is becoming easier. The study of sources is one of the main activities of the ensemble. There was no special discovery, it is necessary to work with the originals, look for manuscripts in the libraries thanks to digitizing of music manuscripts. The repertoire is so large that it will be enough for musical life of more than a dozen of ensembles. But sometimes we find very interesting compositions, for example, one of forthcoming programs will be devoted to the music by Abelard and Heloise.

The creative plans of the ensemble are the long-awaited release of the CD Latin rondelli and conducti from Swiss manuscripts of XII-XIV cc (with the German label Raumklang) and further concert activity. October 27 in Moscow the Labyrinthus together with the ensemble “Universalia in Re” is to present a new program called "Songs of Death. Reflections on death and lament in the music XII-XIII centuries". The program includes a polyphonic and monophonic roundels, motets and laments Phillip Chancellor (ok.1160-1236), Pérotin (ok.1200), Jean Erart (ok.1200/10-1258/9) as well as other unknown authors XII-XIII centuries.

Gothic as a style was born in the middle of the XII century. Changes in the architecture led to a change in the visual arts and music.

At the end of the XX century, the name stuck for the subcultures, which are the central themes of death and dying, grief and decline. More surprising is to hear our contemporaries' light reflection on the death and these are not depressive laments written in stops, which now could be called major.

What has changed in our perception of death? What was the reason why the songs about death written by XII-XIII century composers did not mean gloom and decline?

Come and walk through the maze of history, going back to the mysterious goal - vocal polyphony of the Middle Ages.

Polina Osipova