A rich and varied assortment of lyric song with Peter Becker, baritone, and Robert Eisenstein, medieval fiddle.
Produced with the anthology Songs of the Troubadours and Trouveres, New York: Garland Publishing, 1997.
A leading early music ensemble, in-residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library for over 30 years, FOLGER CONSORT presents music from the 12th through 21st centuries, with a focus on the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Artistic Directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall are joined by wonderful guest artists, including the world’s leading vocalists and instrumentalists in the field of early music at the Folger and other venues. With twelve recordings commercially available, Folger Consort continues to add to the interest in and knowledge of medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music. Visit www.folger.edu/consort for more on Folger Consort.
Peter Becker is a leading interpreter of medieval song. A frequent guest artist with the Folger Consort, he has appeared with the Newberry Consort, Ensemble for Early Music, Pomerium Musicus, Waverly Consort, Baltimore Consort, Ensemble Project Ars Nova, Ensemble Alcatraz, and at international festivals such as Utrecht, Spoleto, and Aldeburgh. He is a founding member of the male vocal sextet Hudson Shad, which has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Montré.èal Symphony in performances of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, and with Peter Schickele at Carnegie Hall. His recordings include the Medieval Lyric, a project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and Mount Holyoke College.
Robert Eisenstein, medieval fiddle, is a founding member and programming director of the Folger Consort. He is the director of the Five College Early Music Program in Western Massachusetts.
Two linked repertories constitute the vernacular lyric heritage of medieval France: the work of the troubadours and that of the trouvères. These creators had in common above all an idea of lyric that necessarily brought words and melody together in a single vocal construct. For them, the modern notion of lyricism as a type of affective personal expression, probing the inner life and meditating on one’s private response to the world, whose “music” is verbal and whose essence may be experienced as readily in silent reading as in declamation, was probably not conceivable; it is in any case a creative principle that was profoundly foreign to their art. They produced songs, stanzaic compositions set to melodies for solo voice and intended for performance.
The activity of the troubadours and trouvères spanned the 12th and 13th centuries. If the two repertories are alike in their understanding of lyric, they are dissimilar in their geographic provenance and in their language. The troubadours came from what is now southern France; they composed in a language now called Old Occitan. The trouvères, active in northern France, composed in Old French. Arising earlier than the lyric of the trouvères and rapidly establishing itself as a potent cultural phenomenon, Occitan song served for a long while as a model for the north. The first trouvères did not appear until some six or seven decades after the first known troubadour, Guilhem (William) IX, duke of Aquitaine, who flourished at the very beginning of the 12th century.
The art of the troubadours bespoke above all an aristocratic culture with an especial interest in the poetic contemplation, sometimes highly eroticized, of amorous desire. This desire expressed itself in the main lyric genre, the canso, defined by both its form and its exploration of the remarkable conceptual edifice known as fin’amor, “perfect” or “refined” love, which would largely structure the thematics of west European poetry for centuries to come. From the canso emerged at the end of the 12th century the trouvère chanson, sometimes referred to as the grant chant courtois. But all the songs of the troubadours and trouvères were not love songs by any means. There were political songs and pastourelles, debate songs, dance tunes, and death laments, religious pieces, women’s songs: particularly for the trouvères we find an array of types variously identified by poetic or musical structure, or by substance, or by both.
The songs for this recording offer a variety of tone and genre; they are performed in roughly chronological order. The love song — emblematic of the lyric art — is represented by the troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn, “Non es meravelha s’eu chan,” and by the trouvère, the Châtelain de Coucy, “La douce voiz du rosignol sauvage.” Bernart de Ventadorn (c1145-1180) belongs to the second generation of troubadours; little is known about him other than that he was probably from the Limousin (legend more than life has linked him to Eleanor of Aquitaine). His songs were among the best known and most widely circulated of all troubadour cansos in the medieval period. The Châtelain de Coucy is one of the major early trouvères, composing chansons in the troubadour tradition. He was governor of Coucy castle in Picardy from 1186 until his death as a crusader in 1203. He, too, became a legendary figure, mythified in later romance as a great tragic lover.
Two crusade songs are included, one by Marcabru from the time of the second crusade, around 1149, the other attributed to Guiot de Dijon and likely composed around 1218, during the fifth crusade. Marcabru (c1127-1148) was one of the most prolific troubadours. He cultivated a “closed” hermetic style, handling with consummate skill the weapons of the satirist: irony, invective, scathing criticism. He attacked false love, false lovers, and, in the song here performed, “Pax in nomine Domini!,” cowards who refused to join the crusade. The Burgundian trouvère, Guiot de Dijon, was active during the first third of the 13th century. His song, “Chanterai por mon corage,” is a crusade-inspired song of separation, eloquently voicing the sentiments of a woman. It is thus a chanson de femme; and because it has a refrain (which features the crusaders’ cry “Outree!”), it is also a chanson à refrain.
The turning of a love song toward irony and even whimsy can be seen in the canso by Peire Vidal, “Anc no mori per amor ni per al”; political intent is clear in the canso by Raimon de Miraval, “Bel m’es q’ieu chant e coindei.” Peire Vidal (fl 1175-1205) was probably the son of a furrier from Toulouse. After beginning his career in Toulouse, he traveled widely, from Spain to Hungary. His songs are highly original in their juxtapositions of tone and theme. Raimon de Miraval (fl 1185-1213) was a poor knight from the region around Carcassonne. Just before the disaster of Muret in 1213, Miraval wrote this eloquent plea to Peter of Aragon, calling on him for help against Simon of Montfort, leader of the northern forces against the Cathars during the Albigensian crusade. Raimon was sure Peter could destroy the enemy; but history decreed otherwise and Peter was killed, a terrible loss for all of Occitania. This song expresses a hope that is the more poignant because it will not be fulfilled.
From the last of the great troubadours, Guiraut Riquier, we have a retroencha, “Pus astres no m’es donatz,” the first known Occitan example of a genre that is considered to be of French origin. The distinguishing feature of the genre is the refrain, here of two lines. In this song, Guiraut, whose songs, composed between 1254 and 1292, are the only troubadour songs to be dated in the manuscripts, laments the decline of love and song in Occitania during the Albigensian crusade and expresses the desire to turn elsewhere to seek the inspiration he no longer finds at home.
The debate song, or jeu-parti (divided game), is represented by “Sire, ne me celez mie.” Guillaume le Vinier takes as his partner in debate the celebrated trouvère Thibaut de Champagne. Guillaume (fl 1220-1245) pursued his career in the city of Arras, an important musical and poetic center where the jeu-parti was particularly in favor. Thibaut de Champagne himself is represented by a pastourelle, “J’aloie l’autrier errant.” Thibaut (1201-1253), count of Champagne and king of Navarre, was the grandson of Marie de Champagne and a direct descendant of the first known troubadour, William IX of Aquitaine. He was one of the greatest trouvères, and he became a legendary figure because of the persistent rumor that he had loved Blanche de Castille (mother of Louis IX, king of France). The pastourelle is in many ways the opposite of the chanson in that it tells a tale of a knight bent on seduction. Thibaut treats the subject with a typical self-confident lightness of tone.
The final song is a serventois, “Nus chanters mais le mien cuer ne leeche,” specifically a plainte, by Jean Erart, who flourished in the literary milieu of Arras around the mid point of the 13th century. This is the only trouvère plainte funèbre that does not concern the death of a belovèd; it mourns the passing of Jean’s protector, named Gherart, and concludes with an appeal for new support elsewhere.
In addition to the ascribed songs of troubadours and trouvères, the program includes an anonymous dance-song, anonymous motets, and instrumental estampies. Motets form a class apart from the general body of Old French lyric because their most distinguishing characteristic is that they are polyphonic. Of Latin and liturgical origin, the motet began as a piece with a new part and new words set against a metrically organized plainsong tenor. Rather early in the 13th century, the motet came to be fitted with French words as well: it became polytextual. The two motets recorded here are of the simplest kind, carrying the germ of what would become, across the 13th century, the main polyphonic genre, but not demonstrating its full flowering. The tenors of the motets are performed instrumentally. “A l’entrade del tens clar,” here performed instrumentally, is an Old Occitan dance-song bearing a resemblance to the ballada. The two estampies, performed on the medieval fiddle, are taken from the only manuscript (also containing songs) which preserves French monophonic instrumental music of the 13th century. These estampies all follow the same form.
A series of short melodic segments (puncti) share identical first (ouvert) and second (clos) endings. This construction lends a pleasing unity to the dance, and suggests the possibility of a performance adjustable in length. If a fiddler wished, he might simply leave a few puncti out, or make up more on the spot. A word about the fiddle and its role in some of the songs seems in order. There is a substantial amount of scholarship based on the extremely limited evidence we have regarding instrumental participation in performances of troubadour and trouvère songs. It is doubtful whether the songs were normally accompanied, or whether they ever were. We do not profess to know the answer to this question. What is clear is that the fiddle is the instrument most often mentioned in conjunction with the songs and their authors. If the songs ever were accompanied, it is likely that the task was accomplished by the five-stringed fiddle known variously as viella or vielle. We have chosen a few possible strategies for devising an instrumental accompaniment to this repertoire, and applied them to about half the songs on the recording.
Robert Eisenstein, Samuel N. Rosenberg, and Margaret Switten
Recorded in May, 1995, in the Abbey Chapel of Mount Holyoke College by Dr. Frederick J. Bashour, Dufay Digital Music, Leverett, Massachusetts.
Samuel N. Rosenberg and Margaret Switten served as philological and artistic consultants.
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Michael Witmore, Director, Folger Shakespeare Library
Janet Griffin, Executive Producer, Folger Consort
Donnajean Ward, Manager, Folger Consort
Curt Wittig, Recording and editing engineer
Jeanne Krohn, Graphic Design
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