There is no exact information about the music being performed on the panels of the Ghent Altarpiece. It might be music that we have never heard, such as angels singing, celestial sounds or mystical music.
The two panels show figures that are both seraphic and human. On the panel to the left, between Adam and Mary, some singers stand by a lectern with a manuscript. On the panel to the right, between Eve and John the Baptist, somebody is playing a small organ. Two other people, with a harp and medieval fiddle, stand by and watch.
Angels singing and playing music ascend above the earthly, everyday music. They sing and play music that is not audible to human ears and more beautiful than anything that could be created on earth. It is celestial music that humans simply cannot imagine.
However, because the angels are depicted in a very human manner, they help to bridge the gap between this inaccessible celestial liturgy and the liturgy that can be heard here on earth.
Vocal music in the Christian church has embraced polyphony. Plainchant formed the basis of the daily liturgy, but part-singing could never be too rich for celebratory occasions.
The singers from the fifteenth century, including those who focused on polyphony, were first and foremost steeped in Latin and Gregorian liturgy. The singing angels depicted by the Van Eycks were undoubtedly this type of singer: they sang both plainchant and polyphony. They were also very familiar with the repertoire of the worldly song, accompanied by the harp and medieval fiddle.
Mystical Music explores the musical world of these famous panels. Do the angels sing plainchant or in polyphony? Is the organ player on the right accompanying the music being performed on the left? Will the angels later play a song on the harp and medieval fiddle?
How do we look at fifteenth century music nowadays? Is the organ player accompanying them and will the angels provide more support on the harp and medieval fiddle? How can musical representations from over five hundred years old inspire musicians nowadays? And how can an instrument maker gain a better understanding of how the organ was played in the late Middle Ages?
We search eloquent answers to these interesting questions throughout the work of instrument maker Andrzej Perz (University College Ghent) and of Hendrik Vanden Abeele (Alamire Foundation and Ensemble Psallentes)