For students at the Cathedral School, the David Boys, one of their main task was waiting on the canons (priests – those who stood in the choir) with vocal music at mass and service. These were the two pillars of medieval liturgical life year round.
Amss could change after feasts and ecclesiastical feasts. The Officiet, time pray, was the daily cycle of prayer services at specific times of day, initially a total of eight a day. From the first matins – Lauds – to completorium – which sometimes could be characterized by the night song. This went on around the clock, and imposed a tremendous demands presence on everyone involved.
The system of prayer services was important, also to the daily rhythm of the city. It empowered the community system by which people complied. This gave the church a function that went far beyond it’s spiritual reach.
The first editions of the Nidaros Cathedral Boys Choir
How many participated in the arrangement? After Cardinal Nikolaus Brekspeares stay in Nidaros 1152-1153 and the creation of the archdiocese of Nidaros, the church received a separate “Chapter” with twelve canons or cross brothers as they were called in Norwegian. (a number which was soon increased). Since they each needed an altar to read mass at, this expedited the need for a larger church and a larger choir for the new, large boys choir at the cathedral.
Already at the beginning of the 1200s the choir consisted of at least six cross brothers, six to ten permanent substitute priests around 12 temporary choir substitutes, plus a group of older students from the Cathedral School, in all 30-35 singers. This included what we might call “the first edition” of the Nidaros Cathedral Boys Choir.
We know far less about what they sang. Medieval church song was Gregorian, which according to tradition was arranged and approved for use in the church in Rome by Gregory the Great. In majority this was hymns alternated with antiphons, short prose texts sung as independent, but sometimes very simple compositions. The song was often a form of alternating song, sung by two choirs or two strands arrayed against each other.
Professor Hampus Huldt–Nystrom wrote in an essay collection published by Music Science Department at Dragvoll in 1987:
“This scarce information speaks to the imagination, and gives us a vivid picture of the cathedral the 1200s: the dark Christmas morning with flickering torchlight over the high alter where the altarpiece emerges in its full glory, where incense waves in clouds, where the Cathedral Boys are arrayedin their superpellicia – a garment that first in emerged in the 1000s as part of the liturgical dress, and whose use must have occurred in northern Europe, which sheath should be worn over their fur clothing that was necessary during the winter in the cold and unheated churches. – More or less hidden by the darkness the congregation is waiting for the alternating song begin at the signal of the festively dressed cantors.“
That not all Choir Boys had fur garments, and that they froze bitterly during the winter time, we find numerous examples of. One does not need a great deal of imagination to realize that this was a hard life, having to get up every day the crack of dawn in complete darkness, in order to show up in church to sing the mandatory part of the liturgy. They froze and starved, and they got a beating if they did not fulfill their duties. A common punishment was the slap of a stick across your hands.
As late as 1750 the principal at the cathedral school sets a limit at “no more than eight hand raps“. Three years later, one of the teachers complained about principal Thams. He was also the school organist – ie singing teacher – a position which in the Middle Ages was related to the Chapter, but as of 1667 was created as a separate position at the cathedral school.
The teacher complained that the cantor both on prayer day and shortly before had beaten the boys during the song, once so severely that students “were both yellow and blue in the forehead and around the eye” As cantor he was not allowed to lay hands on the students. To this principle Thams replied during the last day of Repentance at high mass in the cathedrals: “the students sang really well, as near as a few who can not sing, among them Jesper Dreyer, who would not open his mouth. He was therefore to receive a blow over the mouth.”
In 1773 a total of 28 students attend Latin School (or Cathedral School if you prefer).
“This number will probably remain until Easter, but then some will leave to attend university and some will likely be expelled because of slow wits” the principle Søren Peter Kleist writes in a report to Bishop Gunnerus, and continues:
“Among these 28 there are very few good singers. Ole Dahl is the best; he sings a good choral and is a mature, sober man, but apparently his health suffers thereby, and he has regularily been missing from school. Second to him is Michael Rosting, but one as young as he should not be entrusted with conducting the choir of a state capital, unless the utmost necessity implied it. The others do not deserve to be mentioned. They sing badly and would rather evade song duties. I dare to assure you both on my own and on my colleagues’ behalf that it is both a shame and a disgrace to force young people to do what they are incapable of, and that song is not the main reason why they are enrolled in school.
When principal Kleist moved to have Latin School students exused the arduous song duties of the church, he was ahead of his time. It would take more than another generation before students were free of their song obligation.
Over the centuries the cathedral was repeatedly ravaged by big and small fires but was rebuilt again and again. The Cathedral Scoll was originally situated on the west side of the church. The building was destroyed by fire in 1328 the church or 1432. And until 1573 the cathedral school therefore used the chapel in the northern transept for teaching, hence the name lectory. Today this is called the women’s memory chapel.
This was the Cathedral’s own school, and the distance had to be short. When the question of moving school because of street regulation came up after the great fire of 1681, the principle urged that asked that they provided the school with a space not far from the cathedral. The distance must notbecome too long and heavy when students wintertime had to go to church to sing. The school’s current main building was only built at the end of the 1700, situated so that it still faces the Munkegaten and the cathedral.