Welcome to Europe in the fifteenth century. And welcome to a rich musical tradition of courtier and commoner alike. For this recording, Ciaramella chose music composed more than 500 years ago for the Dukes of Burgundy and the nobility of Europe. Yet this performance tradition remains very much alive in contemporary America. Just as ensembles played at festive occasions for the courts and churches of antiquity, Ciaramella performed twice at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles this year, once in the rotunda, and once in the tower. And as if to emphasize the civic importance and enduring legacy of this music, Ciaramella performed at the swearing in ceremony of Jan Perry, elected to her third term on the Los Angeles City Council. So while their forebears performed for Burgundian royalty, Ciaramella now plays for the modern dukes and duchesses of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles sobre el Río Porciúncula, our current City of the Angels in Southern California.And Ciaramella plays as well for those of us lucky enough to hear them in live performance or in their recordings.
Ciaramella offers us Burgundian music both transcendent and baudy. This confluence of spiritual and sexual imagery intrigues the modern listener just as it did fifteenth-century audiences, and informs the rich layers of meaning inherent in the interwoven melodies of the polyphony. It has been a treat to learn about this counterpoint from Adam Gilbert, who includes exploration of these hidden symbolic components as part of his scholarly research. The often ribald nature of the highest art of the glorious fifteenth century helps me understand the same focus in today’s popular culture. More on this in Adam’s notes below.
Thanks to the generosity of Dean Robert Cutietta, we recorded this album in Alfred Newman Hall at the University of Southern California, where Adam and Rotem Gilbert serve on the music faculty, and where Adam runs the Early Music Performance Program. Newman Hall exemplifies the warm and yet transparent and lively sound of the concerts halls that I favor for recordings, and its acoustics adjust easily to provide different lengths of decay. We chose a legendary Austrian AKG C-24 stereo microphone with the original brass surround CK12 tube, made available to us by Gearworks Pro Audio. We used Yarlung-Records-designed stranded silver interconnects five feet in length, customized vacuum tube preamplifiers and no mixer. The signal path was as short as we could make it, with as few electronics between performer and final product as we could manage.
We always try to record this way, but Ciaramella lends itself especially well to this sort of minimalist recording technique. The music on this album was written for magnificent outdoor celebrations full of pomp, but also for intimate interior spaces in court, church, and banquet hall. One well might hear the same work played indoors on recorders, and outdoors on shawms. Our aesthetic differs from that of many early music recordings, which often favor very live spaces and more distant microphone placement.
Ciaramella’s original members met as graduate students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. They first performed together on Christmas Day 2003, where they collaborated with musicologist Gioia Filocamo on music from the manuscript Panciatichi 27 in Spoleto, Italy. They staged a production of the first Hebrew play, A Comedy of Betrothal by Leone de’Sommi (ca.1550) at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Ciaramella recorded a wonderful album for Naxos titled Sacred and Secular Music from Renaissance Germany, released in January, 2006. Ciaramella has since performed in concert halls and in music festivals on three continents, and now makes its home in Los Angeles. For more information on Ciaramella please visit www.yarlungrecords.com and www.ciaramella.org.
All the instruments used in this recording are copied from original instruments still extant, or recreated from paintings, treatises, or in some instances even instrument cases built to protect instruments long missing.
Ciaramella tuned to A=466 Hz for our recording. The pitch varies slightly with temperature and humidity changes in Newman Hall and according to varied temperaments. Ciaramella generally employs just intonation, a tuning system favoring pure thirds and pure fifths.
To the modern concertgoer, shawms remain among the least familiar of early instruments. “Ciaramella” is the Italian word for “shawm”. This name for shawm originated in the Greek and Latin words for “reed” (“kalamos” and “calamus” respectively), which gradually corrupted into names like “celimela,” “schalmei”, “shawm” and “chalumeau.” The modern oboe is a direct descendant of the shawm. Like the oboe, the shawm is a double reed instrument (higher and louder than the modern oboe) with finger holes instead of keys, and a flared trumpet-like bell. I used to wonder why many Renaissance paintings of angels playing trumpets show the angels holding their instruments like a recorder player does. It turns out that many of these paintings depict shawms, although scholars continue to debate which are shawms and which are trumpets.
The modern trombone, or “big trumpet” in Italian, descends from two fifteenth-century instruments, the slide trumpet and the sackbut. In the case of the slide trumpet, the whole instrument moves up and down along the mouthpiece tube, thus altering the pitch. The sackbut has a fixed mouthpiece tube, and adjusts its pitch like the modern trombone, with a slide that changes the length of two tubes joined by the slide on the far side of the instrument from the mouthpiece. In fact, the sackbut is an instrument designed more like its modern descendent than many others. Indeed, a modern trombonist can play a sackbut with only moderate adjustments for embouchure and breath support.
The Renaissance recorder has a larger bore than its baroque counterpart (which has remained virtually unchanged since Bach’s day). With its tuning and limited range, it would not function well in the Brandenburg Concerti, but its bore contributes to the distinctive sound of its fat low register and complex overtones throughout its range.
Ciaramella’s drums follow designs gleaned from Thoinot Arbeau’s Orchésographie, a sixteenth-century dance manual offering illustrations of various dances and their associated drum patterns.
Ciaramella’s Flemish bagpipes differ from modern Scottish Highland bagpipes. The chanter, the pipe with the fingering, closely resembles the chanter from Scotland, and both instruments use the same type of reed. But the Flemish bagpipe has only one drone, as you will hear in De nachtigaal die zank een lied, or two drones tuned a fifth apart, as in Romanesca.
Ciaramella commissions instruments from artisans around the world, and must join long waiting-lists for the completion and delivery of a perfect instrument. These modern builders often fabricate their own tools and make these instruments using historical techniques and technology. For this recording, the treble shawms (in the key of D) were made during 2005 and 2006 by Paul Hailperin. Alto shawms (in the key of G) and the tenor shawm in C were created by Bob Cronin in 2003. Bob Marvin crafted the Renaissance recorders between 1996 and 1999. The slide trumpet, built by Geert van der Heide in 2001, copies illustrations from the era and a fifteenth-century natural trumpet (a military trumpet) recently discovered under the ruins of a French castle and held in a secret private collection to avoid confiscation by the French government. Rainer Egger created the tenor sackbuts in 2001 and 2002, after an instrument Sebastian Hainlein made in Nuremburg in 1632. The Sackbut is tuned to the key of A, with a lower range than the slide trumpet. Paul Beekhuizen made Ciaramella’s Flemish bagpipes in 1997, after the Pieter Bruegel engraving The Fat Kitchen. Joel Robinson built the bagpipes in A after Pieter Bruegel’s painting The Peasant Dance. Tom Axworthy created the drums in 1978.
Like the famous Amati and Stradivari studios in Cremona in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, today’s artisans train apprentices and pass their information to future generations in much the same way. And we are grateful to them.
In addition to my thanks to Ciaramella, Dean Robert Cutietta, Jeffrey de Caen, Rick Schmunk and Bruce Teter, I would also like to thank Jon Fisher of Gearworks Pro Audio for our microphone, and Joseph Rauen and Michelle Maestas, our valiant stage crew in Newman Hall, whose friendship and warm hospitality contributed greatly to our enjoyment as we created this album for you.
--Bob Attiyeh, producer
“Ciaramella plays brilliantly on shawms, sackbuts, bagpipes and recorders — this is some of the best Renaissance wind playing in the world. Their new recording of Music from the Court of Burgundy includes old favorites like Josquin’s “La Spagna,” along with some brand new 15th-century style improvisations for wind band by Adam Gilbert. The music is sometimes raucous, sometimes sweet, but always compelling.”
--Maria Coldwell, Early Music America
“From their smooth conjuring of the sound of solemn grandeur to their obvious ease with the most wildly virtuosic compositional and improvisational techniques of the day, the members of Ciaramella are masters of 15th-century Burgundian music, earthly, earthy, and divine.”
--Marsha Genensky, Anonymous 4
Thoughts on the Music
The fifteenth-century Valois Dukes of Burgundy forged and lost a powerful kingdom (in all but name) that included a wealthy duchy famous for its wine, and much of the Low Countries, including modern Belgium, Holland, and parts of Northern France. Although much of the style associated with the realm was international, Burgundy has come to embody a time of ruthless intrigue, lavish wealth, and an uncompromising love of beauty and ornament. Some of its greatest treasures lay in its musicians: its singers, composers and minstrels. From the late fourteenth century, the Burgundian regions fostered generations of makers and players of music who traveled and worked across Europe, profoundly transforming musical culture. Their surviving repertory reveals traditions of borrowing, allusion, and emulation that transcended national borders and influenced European music for centuries.
For despite its seemingly esoteric nature, the themes of Burgundian poetry and music live on today: love, death, and desire, simultaneously sacred and erotic. No one would have been surprised at the link between a humble shepherdess named Marion—as an object of lust—and her sacred counterpart, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Echoes of this trope live on in children’s songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and in the modern duality of the name “Madonna” in modern culture. In this mindset, a song about a sorrowful woman recalls a mother weeping underneath the Cross, just as a chanson expressing the desire to see one’s naked lover easily becomes associated with the sacred eroticism of the Annunciation, in which the Holy Spirit is revealed to Mary.
The feature that first drew me to this music remains its most compelling aspect: rich melodic motives woven into the intricate tapestries of polyphonic counterpoint. Like fifteenth-century poets—once unjustly criticized for their use of formulaic phrases—composers explored a limited vocabulary of motives in countless permutations. They crafted their melodies through imitation, augmentation, diminution, retrograde and inversion, and—and this is key—by eliding the end of one phrase to the beginning of the next. Like falling musical leaves, endlessly lifted upon the air at the last moment before touching the earth, this style has erroneously yet enduringly come to be known as the “Burgundian lilt.”
Like the great singer-composers of the day, members of the alta capella (players of shawms and trumpets) earned fame and honor for their unmatched skills in performing polyphony and improvising counterpoint. Whether these alta ensembles performed written polyphony as early as the fourteenth century is open to speculation, but it is tempting to search for their sound in the works of composers active at the papal court of Avignon, a hotbed of political and religious intrigue. Avignon served as a vital meeting place for composers and musicians like the composer Grimace, whose A l’arme a l’arme/Tru tru captures the calls of trumpets in echo. The composer Pykini, only remembered through his Plasanche or tost, may actually be Nicholas Piquigny (fl. ca. 1364-1369), who was born in Brussels. Both composers adopt the style of the chace, or musical hunt, through the technique of fuga, in which two voices chase each other in constant imitation.
One of the earliest northern composers to achieve fame working in Italy, Johannes Ciconia of Liège, adopted a variety of styles during his career. His Una panthera typifies the late fourteenth-century ars subitilior, with three independent voices exploring intricate rhythms and proportional changes. Its text refers to Ciconia’s employer Giangaleazzo Visconti of Pavia as the protector of the city of Lucca. Ciconia composed at a time when the interval of a third could be played as a dissonance, longing to lead upward to a pure fifth, or as a lower pure third, creating a sense of repose. Because he didn’t indicate which ones should be played which way, we are left to ponder choices that might have been obvious to his contemporaries. Ciconia’s O rosa bella, which sets a text by the great Venetian poet Leonardo Giustiniani, presents a simpler polyphonic style, albeit with a cantus voice noted for its florid ornaments. The motet Doctorum primcipem employs imitation between the two upper voices in double-discantus style, exemplified by two equal treble voices and the sound of doubled fifths and octaves at cadences.
The Flemish composer Johannes Pullois, born near Antwerp, employs the same technique in his canonic Gloria, which mimics the antiphonal singing of the Angels in the Annunciation to the Shepherds. Pullois long drew unwarranted criticism by historians as a second rate composer writing in an archaic style, an assessment originating partly because of his failure to pass a singing audition for the Burgundian chapel choir. In fact, he earned immense respect as a papal singer and composer, and his works inspired imitation by a generation of composers.
After the Western Schism, Pope Eugenius IV regained control in Rome, but spent several years in Florence under the protection of the Medici family. In 1437, Eugenius presided over the dedication of Brunelleschi’s Dome in Florence. Guillame Dufay’s motet Nuper rosarum symbolically linked this church with the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Perhaps Dufay also sang his Urbs beata Jerusalem, a hymn for the dedication of a church. The three settings of this work trace changes in Renaissance sonority, from the parallel harmonies of fauxbourdon to the four-voice style of the late fifteenth-century.
The anonymous A cheval toute homme a cheval captures a Petrarchan paradox within its first two phrases, in which trumpet fanfares call gentle companions to war. Our version adds two si placet voices to the original three-voice song, by following a contemporary practice of adding voices and positing how later performers might have transformed this mid-century chanson across the second half of the century.
The Ovidian juxtaposition of love and war permeates songs from a century known for fading feudalism and devastating wars. The chanson J’ay pris amours a ma devise (“I’ll take love as my device”) plays on the double meaning of the word “device” as a rhetorical turn of phrase and armorial emblem. This chanson inspired numerous florid arrangements and reworked versions. Surely, its composer would appreciate Nino Rota’s coincidental adoption of the famous opening four pitches in his theme to Zefirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Possible candidates for the authorship of the original J’ay pris amours include Jean d’Ockeghem, Antoine Busnois, and my favorite candidate, Firminus Caron. The anonymous Je suis d’Alemagne spoofs a Northern European mercenary who has lost his entire family, whose mournful words conceal the menace of potential violation. Behind the comic text lies a grim story of internecine war and invasion that plagued Europe throughout the century.
Renaissance composers might have scratched their heads at our modern idea of intellectual property. Indeed, modern copyright laws would make no sense to them. The art of composition (“putting together”) implied using existing material. Altering an existing song was not only a sign of homage, it served as means for symbolism, and composers constantly relied on similitude between love songs and a religious subject. Gilles Binchois’ Comme femme desconfortee, about the most sorrowful woman in the world, became a favorite basis for motets in honor of the Virgin Mary. Binchois hailed from near the town of Binche, whose carnival parade still coincidentally climaxes with the arrival of a clown called Gille de Binche. As a youth of Ghent, Alexander Agricola must have known and loved the songs of his older countryman. He composed several settings based on the Tenor from Binchois’ song, including a duo reminiscent of contemporary improvisational practice, and a four-voice version with three new voices made of short, intensely florid motives. Agricola ended his long career working for the Hapsburg Emperor Philip the Fair in Spain. Sadly, both Agricola and his patron died of Typhoid fever in 1506.
The social ritual of dance played an especially important role in noble society. The basse danse earned its name from its low gliding step that cultivated a sense of effortless aristocracy. The Brussels basse danse manuscript of Marguerite of Austria, copied on black parchment with gold staves and silver notes, attests to the importance of these dances. The shawm player Conrado Piffaro d’Alemania earned top wages for his ability to improvise counterpoint over these monophonic melodies. Composers also set tunes like the famous La spagna in polyphony, perhaps in imitation of extemporized counterpoint. Josquin des Prez’ version outdoes all the others in texture and sheer virtuosity. Our improvised version of La spagna imitates surviving examples from the second half of the century. Another famous basse danse Tenor, Cançon de’ pifari dicta El ferrarese, only survives as a monophonic melody. The two composed polyphonic versions presented here follow contemporary improvisational styles.
Although the music of La franchoise nouvelle and Roti boully ioyeulx is simpler and more accessible, their choreographies are complex in comparison to the stately basse danse. Also known by its Italian title, Rostibolli gioioso (“roasted and boiled joyously”), this tune outlines the same basic descending melodic progression that would become so closely associated with the ground bass progression of La romanesca, itself the basis for the famous Greensleeves. Our version blends the folk ensemble of bagpipe and shawm with a special kind of close imitation popular with composers around 1500. The melody of De nachtigaal die zank een lied reminds us that many composers working in a French cultural milieu grew up speaking Dutch, a situation that continues to provoke tension at the borders of modern-day Flanders and Wallonia.
One of the most famous chansons of the period, Antoine Busnois’ Fortuna desperata, inspired a wealth of florid re-workings and Masses. Composers delighted in depicting Fortune’s wheel through a variety of devices. Johannes de Pinarol, for example, places the soprano voice in the bass, a musical world turned upside-down. The Virgin Mary in turn was seen as the Christian Fortuna: The pagan goddess spins a wheel and steers a rudderless ship, while the Virgin stands at the center of the universal wheel as the rudder, or Stella maris, of the ecclesiastic ship. Isaac’s Fortuna desperata/Sancte petre/Ora pro nobis combines the secular melody with the Litany of the Saints. Alexander Agricola’s version adds three voices to the original song to create a rich six-voice texture. Anyone who doubts the persistent mythic power of the goddess Fortune, need only watch Vanna White on television, take a trip to Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, or listen to Frank Sinatra sing “Luck Be a Lady Tonight.”
--Adam Knight Gilbert
“Ciaramella have a fresh, contemporary sound, joyful energy and virtuosity to burn.”
“It’s easy to love them, and the medieval and Renaissance music they’ve revived.”
--Susan Hellauer, Anonymous 4