CANÇONIER Program Notes

Program Notes and Artist Biographies for Cançonièr “The Black Dragon – Music from the Time of Vlad Dracula” 


The fifteenth century was a time of remarkable change in music, as musical conventions and practices evolved from medieval to early Renaissance styles. It also was a time of major transitions in art, religion, politics, and technology. During this century, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, the printing press was invented, the Tudors took the crown of England, the Moors were expelled from southern Spain, Christopher Columbus sailed, Leonardo da Vinci was born and began to work, the Renaissance in Italy bloomed in full, and for a few years, a man who would become infamous ruled a small country called Wallachia in what is now southern Romania.

He was called Vlad Dracula (c.1431 – 1476). His father, Vlad II, adopted the name Dracul (“Dragon”) when he joined the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order dedicated to crusading against the Turks in the Balkans. His son took the name Dracula, or “Son of the Dragon.” Dracula was, of course, partially the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic anti-hero, though he was no vampire. 

Read The Black Dragon: Music from the time of Vlad Dracula in PDF format, or continue on web:   

Rather, Vlad’s primary goal was the resistance of the Ottoman presence in his nation. The Turks generally left conquered countries relatively autonomous, forcing them instead to pay monetary tribute and supply young men for the sultan’s elite Janissary guard. Vlad refused to do this, and became a rallying figure for Balkan resistance. He resorted to acts of remarkable cruelty to achieve his aims, the most famous of which was impalement on wooden stakes (which, ironically, had first been practiced by the Turks), but he used other tortures as well, against those that he believed had collaborated or sold out to the Ottomans, or who violated the moral order he sought to establish in his realm.

Vlad reigned from 1456-62, and was then removed from power by the treachery of his brother, Radu. He spent some years under house arrest in Hungarian territory, before returning to power in Wallachia briefly in 1476, and being killed in a battle against Ottoman forces. Rumors of his deeds began to circulate in central Europe, and it was said that tens of thousands had died horribly under his rule, though he was also lauded in some circles as a Christian champion. For many in Romania today, he is still revered as a national hero.

In 1463, a German poet named Michel Beheim wrote a poem based on information he had collected from monastic sources. Vlad was still alive when it was written. Entitled the “Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia,” it was performed with music for the court of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, which was shocked and titillated by its scenes of graphic horror. This was how the story of Dracula began to circulate farther afield. The poem was reprinted several times, and became a kind of 15th-century bestseller, an early horror novel that ascribed to Vlad all manner of unspeakable acts of torture and mass murder.

Vlad was indeed a brutal man, but it is doubtful if he committed many of the more appalling deeds detailed in Beheim’s narrative. The German nobility and royalty were the mortal enemies of their Hungarian and Romanian counterparts, so it was in their best interests to have their rivals portrayed as negatively as possible, and this work was certainly a piece of political propaganda, the first of many.

It is Beheim’s lurid poem around which we structure our program, offering excerpts from it as book-ends to the concert. We present music of the German composer and soldier Oswald Von Wolkenstein (1376/77 – 1445). Interestingly, he was also a member of the Order of the Dragon. We also perform a piece by his younger contemporary, Conrad Paumann (1410-73), a blind organist who invented lute tablature.

 We offer a variety of traditional Balkan folk songs from Hungary, Transylvania (then a part of Hungary), Moldavia, and Bulgaria, all regions closely connected with Vlad’s time and place. The age of these pieces often cannot be verified with certainty, but many are likely survivals from oral tradition, and their melodic structures contain modal elements reminiscent of medieval songs. If these songs did not exist in the 15th century, ones similar to them likely did.

Medieval music from Eastern Europe does survive in some manuscripts, and we include examples of these from Hungary and Russia. In addition, the Western-leaning cosmopolitan courts of Hungary were appreciative of new art and music, and would have enjoyed fashionable French and Italian dances such as those we perform.

The Byzantine Empire was at the end of its life by the 15th-century, a 1,000-year-old entity (and heir to ancient Rome) that had once ruled the entire eastern Mediterranean. The last holdout was the fortified capital city of Constantinople itself, but it was only a matter of time before it fell to the Ottoman Turks. We present two pieces from its musical legacy, one a religious chant in Greek, of the type still sung in the Eastern Orthodox church today, and the other, secular court music from a manuscript discovered only in the last two decades.

A turning point in the history of the 15th century was the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to Mehmet the Conqueror, Ottoman sultan and enemy of Vlad. Western nations reacted with shock and horror to this event, calling for new crusades (undoubtedly, Vlad was eager to be a part of such a venture). In response, the great Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay wrote a moving vernacular lament for the fall of the city.

We also present an example of music from the Ottoman court, which had developed a sophisticated and cultured outlook of its own, even more so after the taking of Constantinople 

Vlad’s world was one of remarkable change and historic events which have echoed down the centuries. For a brief time, he stood up to the Ottoman juggernaut with remarkable tenacity, and succeeded in slowing its advance. Praised by many in the Hungarian court, and even by the Pope in Rome for his efforts, his darker and crueler deeds have overshadowed the heroism attributed to him in his own day.

It is our hope that this program will convey some of the essence of that time and region, overshadowed always by a man whose very name has become a synonym for horror.

– program notes by Tim Rayborn





The Black Dragon – Music from the Time of Vlad Dracula 

Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei

(“Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia”),

Michel Beheim (1416 – 1479), 1463; contrafact by Tim

from Wol auf, wir wellen salfen, by Oswald Von Wolkenstein


Mit ganzem Willen, Conrad Paumann (c. 1410-73)

Wol auf wir wellen slafen, Oswald Von Wolkenstein (1376/7 – 1445)


A?t gondoltam, esö esik, Hungarian/Transylvanian folk song

Bucar? – te, soacr? mare, traditional Romanian dance


Volek sirolmtudotlon, 13thc. Hungarian Marian lament, contrafact from

 Planctus ante nescia, by Godefroy of St. Victor (ca. 1125 – ca. 1194)


Dragaicuta, traditional Transylvanian

Estéli imádság, late medieval Moldavian lament

Ugr?inska Ruchenitsa, traditional Bulgarian dance




Lamentio Sanctae Matris Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae,

Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)


La danse du cleves, 15thc. French dance

Amoroso, 15thc. Italian dance


Voulgarikon, Ioannis Koukouzelis (late 14th c.),

Byzantine kratima (secular court music)


Kyrie echechraxa, Byzantine sticheron chant for Vespers


Taksim, Ottoman Turkish


Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei,

Michel Beheim



Phoebe Jevtovic: voice, bells

Shira Kammen: vielle, harp, voice

Tim Rayborn: voice, psaltery, percussion, ‘ud

Tom Zajac: recorder, voice, sackbut, percussion

The Black Dragon – Music from the Time of Vlad Dracula:





Their work described as “mesmerizing” (Fanfare) and “exquisite” (Early Music America), Cançonièr is a Bay Area-based early music group devoted to medieval repertoire from the 12th to the 15th centuries, and some traditional music from related regions (Scandinavia, the Balkans, and the Middle East).

Created by acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Tim Rayborn and recorder virtuoso Annette Bauer in the summer of 2008, the group has quickly gained the attention of the early music community, and received acclaim for its musicianship, unusual and exciting concert programs, and its two recordings. Utilizing voices and instruments, Cançonièr brings to life the vibrant musical cultures of medieval Europe, through a combination of scholarly research, improvisational techniques, and impeccable musicianship.

Cançonièr is an Occitan word (medieval southern French), meaning “songbook.” Its equivalent in northern France was the chansonnier. These books were medieval collections of songs, with both secular and sacred works being included. Cançonièr seeks to inform as well as entertain, and the group’s concerts are spiced with fascinating historical anecdotes, and their signature humor!

The ensemble’s recording, The Black Dragon – Music from the Time of Vlad Dracula, is described as “beautifully performed” by Harmonia National Radio, and “highly recommended” by Fanfare magazine.

Future concerts include World Arts West, MusicSources, Early Music Hawaii, the Academy of Early Music, and Columbus Early Music.

Cançonièr is the Ensemble-in-Residence at MusicSources, Center for Historically Informed Performances, Inc. Based in Berkeley, CA, this organization is a non-profit institution and an educational resource. Its annual concert series features distinguished local and international artists.


With a voice reviewed as “arresting, haunting, expressive, clear-toned, and sweet,” soprano Phoebe Jevtovic performs chamber music, early opera, and experimental music in the United States and abroad. She has appeared as a soloist with the Waverly Consort, American Bach Soloists, Musica Angelica, Magnificat, and North Holland Opera. Roles performed include Despina in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Amphitrite in Locke’s Tempest, Cupid in Purcell’s Timon of Athens, and the title role in Rossi’s Orfeo.

Among Phoebe’s varied collaborations are the baroque ensemble La Monica; art song with celebrated pianist Robert Thies; and early music and dance with Italy’s visionary Art Monastery Project. She has also toured the US and Indonesia with Gamelan X (Balinese-inspired hybrid world music ensemble); and sung Balkan folk music with Kitka and VOCO. Phoebe has recorded for Dorian, Nonesuch, and Sony Records. Phoebe completed her Master of Arts degree in Early Music Performance at the University of Southern California, and has edited a book of 17th-century solo songs by Tarquinio Merula that has been published by A&R Editions.

Shira Kammen has spent well over half her life exploring the worlds of early, traditional, and many other styles of music. A member for many years of Ensembles Alcatraz, Project Ars Nova, and Medieval Strings, she has also worked with Sequentia, Hesperion XX, the Boston Camerata, the Folger and Newberry Consorts, The King’s Noyse, Piffaro, Tapestry, the Balkan group Kitka, and is the founder of Class V Music, an ensemble dedicated to performance on river rafting trips.

She has performed and taught in the US, Canada, Mexico, Europe, Israel, Morocco, Latvia, Russia, and Japan, and on the Colorado and Rogue Rivers. Shira happily collaborated with singer/storyteller John Fleagle for fifteen years, and performs now with several groups: the medieval ensembles, Fortune’s Wheel and Cançonier; a contemporary music group, Ephemeros; an eclectic ethnic band, Panacea; as well as collaborations with performers such as storyteller Patrick Ball, medieval music expert Margriet Tindemans, and in many theater productions. Some of her original music can be heard in a documentary film about the fans of J.R.R. Tolkien. She has played on a number of movie and television soundtracks, when weird medieval instruments are needed.

Tim Rayborn, an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, plays dozens of musical instruments from medieval Europe, the Middle East, and the Balkans, including: lutes, plucked strings, flutes, and percussion. He has recorded to date on more than 35 CDs for a number of labels, including Gaudeamus, Wild Boar, EMP, Magnatune, and Harmonia Mundi.

Tim lived in the UK for seven years, taking his Ph.D. in medieval studies at the University of Leeds, and working as a musician. He has toured the U.S. and Europe extensively (from Ireland to Turkey), performing concerts at both the York and Beverley Early Music Festivals, Alden Biesen Castle in Belgium, Bunyloa in Majorca, and the Spitalfields Festival in London. He has given a number of performances for BBC in the UK and Channel Islands, toured in Canada and Australia, and worked with folk musicians in Marrakech and Istanbul. He has taught at the SFEMS Medieval/Renaissance summer workshop and Pinewoods Early Music Week in MA, and has appeared with many early music performers, including Ensemble Alcatraz, Anne Azema, Mary Springfels, Susan Rode Morris, Sinfonye, and members of the Harp Consort. In addition to his solo programs, he currently co-directs Cançonièr with Annette Bauer, performs with Patrick Ball, and collaborates regularly with Shira Kammen. His music has been heard on BBC, NPR, and radio stations around the world. His new book, The Violent Pilgrimage, on the early crusades and related topics, is now available from McFarland Publishers.


Multi-instrumentalist Tom Zajac is a member of the well-known Renaissance wind band Piffaro and is a frequent guest with the Folger Consort, Newberry Consort, Hesperus, Boston Camerata, and others. He has toured extensively, having appeared in concert series and festivals in Hong Kong, Guam, Australia, Israel, Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, and throughout Europe and the United States. He can be heard on over 40 recordings of everything from medieval dances to 21st-century chamber music. With his group Ex Umbris, he performed 14th-century music at the 5th Millennium Council event in the East Room of the Clinton White House and 18th-century music for the score of the Ric Burn’s documentary on the history of New York. He has played hurdy gurdy for the American Ballet Theater, bagpipe for an internationally broadcast Gatorade commercial, and serpent in a PDQ Bach piece live on Prairie Home Companion. He also performs on santur and zurna with the Boston-based Turkish ensemble, Dünya. In August 2011, he was invited by the Polish government to take part in a research visit to hear and meet Polish early music ensembles. Tom teaches at recorder and early music workshops throughout the US, and directs the Medieval & Renaissance week of the SFEMS workshops, as well as the early music ensembles at Wellesley College near his home in Boston.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Black Dragon: Music from the time of Vlad Dracula
7:30PM, Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church
6221 Main Street

A pre-concert talk with ensemble members will begin at 6:45 p.m.

The San Francisco-based ensemble’s program features 15th-century music from the time of the infamous Vlad the Impaler, whose tyrannical rule shocked Europe. Ensemble member Shira Kammen is known by many in the area from her early-music performances in Houston. The program features the Lamentation for the Fall of Constantinople by Dufay, French and Italian dance music, German songs, Balkan folk songs, and more.