Ensemble for Medieval Music
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Trouveres / Introduction
Trouvere (from trouver: "find" or "invent") is a general term used to describe northern French poet / musicians of the 12th and 13th centuries whose poetic language was the langue d'oil (today known as Old French) as opposed to the langue doc (Occitan) of their southern counterparts, the troubadours. The musical repertoire of the trouveres is enormous and varied. The manuscript sources, which consist mostly of chansonniers compiled as large retrospective collections, contain thousands of poems, of which at least 1700 have melodies. In addition to this, there is a large corpus of polyphonic secular music: motets in 2, 3 or even 4 parts, many of which have texts in the langue d'oil.
This recording project has its origins in a concert programme entitled "Tradition and Avant-Garde in 13th-century France", which explored musical style within a limited period, beginning with the earliest trouveres of the troubadour tradition (late 12th century) and ending with the Parisian musical scene in ca. 1300. These recordings expand on this theme, yielding a selective look at important aspects of both monophonic and polyphonic secular music. Part of our aim ist to demonstrate the diversity of musical style in this seemingly monolithic repertoire. From a distance of many centuries, and given the scarcity of source material, it is tempting to assume that uniform musical practices (such as "modal rhythm" or "declamatory rhythm", just to name a few of the more controversial ones) were widespread and clearly defined. It is more likely, however, that musical practices were local / regional and diversified, just as the many dialects which made up the poetic langue d'oil were strongly regional and yet of one culture.
The first part does not concentrate on any one composer, but rather covers a wide spectrum of musical activity in the earlier trouvere period. Along with some of the earliest French and Latin motets, clausulae and instrumental music, there are chansons by poets of the minor nobility, as well as anonymous chansons de toile. These "weaving" or "spinning" songs, with their texts expressing the woman's point of view, are complemented by motets which also have texts spoken by women.
The second part is devoted entirely to the lyrical art of a central figure. Adam de la Hale, whose vast output includes almost every poetic form of his day, yet whose monophonic works have been generally overlooked by modern performers in favour of the ingenious 3-part rondeaux, the motets and the Jeu de Robin et de Marion.
The third part contains "new music" from urban centers of the late 13th century. The unfortunate young Parisian cleric Jehannot de Lescurel - hanged for debauchery in 1304 - developed a strikingly new melodic and harmonic style, expressed in a relatively clear rhythmic notation. One of his pieces, A vous douce debonnaire, survives in a monophonic as well as an unique 3-part version, which we have used as a model for understanding Lescurel's individual harmonic language in the rendition of some of his other monophonically-notated works. The motets ascribed to the theoretician and composer Petrus de Cruce, who is thought to have lived in Amiens, display a "new" element in their declamatory upper voices, set above slower-moving structural parts. Petrus is credited with the notational inventions which were necessary to express this declamatory style in writing. Both Lescurel and Petrus de Cruce can be viewed as inheritors of the trouvere tradition, but also as precursors of the ars nova of the 14th century.
Finally, a word about instrumental music. Although we know a fair amount about instrumental performance practice, the structures of the most common forms, and the instruments themselves, very little instrumental music survives in manuscripts of the period. Instrumental music was the province of professional minstrels (jongleurs), whose personal styles and repertoires -expressed within the framework of a given local or regional tradition -probably varied greatly, and whose repertoires were rarely if ever written down. For this recording, we have attempted to recreate an instrumental tradition as it would have existed in northern France in the 13th century. The basic material for these pieces is drawn exclusively from the melodic and gestural vocabularies of the trouveres themselves, and rendered into an instrumental idiom through the use of forms such as the estampie (in which repeated verses or puncta are followed by a refrain which has "open" and "closed" versions, e. g.: a, open refrain, a, closed refr., b, open refr. b, closed refr., etc.). In addition to this, we have taken into account various medieval instrumental practices, such as the idiomatic instrumental rendering of vocal music, the characteristic playing techniques of the instruments themselves, and polyphonic and heterophonic improvisational techniques which would have been known to any professional minstrel.
- Benjamin Bagby, 1984
The Content of the Pieces
The first trouveres, by whom we have here included three pieces (Conon de Bethune, Blondel de Nesle and Gace Brule), were active at a period in the history of lyric poetry (c. 1175-1220) when imitation of the troubadours by the poets writing in the langue d'oil was at its most slavish. We know that this imitation, traces of which are to be found in France from as early as 1160, appeared also in Germany, some twenty years later in the love-poetry of the Minnesdnger - though the precise course of its transmission has yet to be clarified.
And indeed, in the case of our three trouveres poetic inspiration, formal features and even the details of the poetic expression have been borrowed directly from the Provencal troubadours. To start with, we have here three songs (cansos) composed in accordance with the strictest technical rules of the troubadours: stanzaic pieces, with double stanzas (coblas doblas - Conon de Bethune, Blondel de Nesle), and repetition of rhyme (rimas cap-caudadas - Conon de Bethune). However, the absence of an envoi (tornado) is noteworthy.
As far as the content of the songs is concerned, that too, is in direct imitation of the troubadours. Our three poets all sing of fin 'amor (true love, courtly love, the Minne of the Minnesdnger) in its most complex and intricate ramifications: they display a taste for antithesis (love / hate), a fear of betrayal (trair, dechevoir, fousser) which gives rise to a pain (peine, endurer, ire) which they delight to dwell on; a hopeful expectation of merci (pity) from the lady - merci expressed here in the form of a ring (the ring seals the contract of love, just as it would a vassal's homage) - an almost morbid fear of the lausengiers, those perfidious slanderers, fauls, perjures, desloiauls, who cause harm to true lovers, and who diminish la bone amour; they also have a fondness for death, which can result as much from excess of love as from the hard-heartedness of the lady (Et quant ma dame ocis m'avra); give a stereotyped portrait of the lady and her charms (cler vis, riant); suffer the anguish of absence and distance (il Ions delais d'a li parler); and, paradoxically, a timorous feeling of inhibition when the true lover is at last in the presence of his lady (Quant g'i sui ne Vos esquarder). And to the rhetoric of the eyes and the magic of sight, which can kindle love, is added the rhetoric of the heart, which can free itself from the body to dwell with the loved one and which can at one and the same time, in a single movement of exaltation, destroy and cure the lover-poet. The list could be continued.
At the same period (although probably of much earlier origin), but in quite a different register (more popular), there appear the chansons de toile (sewing songs). These belong to a lyrical-narrative genre which is particularly characteristic of medieval French poetry, since it seems to have no known equivalent either in the Germanic or in the other Romance literatures. The chanson de toile or "story song" (chanson d'histoire) is a quite short piece (c. fifty lines), usually anonymous, in simple, assonating or rhymed stanzas, telling a short love-story, most often a tragic one. The style is very bald and completely without rhetoric. This genre is thus different in several respects from the courtly song, of which it is really the antithesis, and can be put into the more general category of chansons defemme (songs of women). In fact these poems most often begin with the mention of a female name preceded by the adjective Belle (Bele Doete, Bele Yolanz, Bele Isabel, Bele Amelot, etc.).
In the motets, the first of which are attested at the end of the twelfth century and the textual structure of which we shall examine later, a fairly varied set of themes is to be found: sometimes popular (theme of the three sisters by the waterside, theme of the unhappy wife, motifs of the pastourelle, misogyny); sometimes aristocratic and to a greater or lesser extent derived from the grand chant courtois imitated from the troubadours; finally, sometimes religious (songs to the Virgin Mary), but clearly distinguished in this case from the profane love-poetry. This multiplicity of themes and registers will be taken up again, as we shall see, in the motets of Adam de la Hale.
Adam de la Hale
Adam de la Hale or Adam le Bossu (le Bossu - "the hunchback" - was presumably his family name), is one of the most original and fertile poets and musicians of the thirteenth century. He was born the son of a well-to-do burgher of Arras in about 1235, and died between 1285 and 1288. He has left us a varied corpus of works: plays (Jeu de Robin et de Marion, Jeu de la Feuillee. Jeu du Pelerin), the embryonic epic La Chanson du Roi de Sicile (of which he only wrote the first nineteen laisses) and finally lyric poetry, which makes use of various registers: on the one hand the popular (rondets de carole - a sort of round-dance - and similar pieces, and certain thematically very simple motets), on the other the aristocratic, deriving from the grand chant courtois (cansos in the manner of the troubadours and jeux-partis - dialogue songs - on problems of the casuistry of love).
The jeu-parti, borrowed from the occitan troubadours, is a variant of the tenson or debate. This is a genre in the form of a dialogue between two or more trouveres who respectively uphold opposing views on the same theme. There are instances of this type of dialogue being distributed over two separate compositions, but generally the positions put forth in the argument are exchanged in alternating couplets (called coblas). Coblas, consisting of identical strophe forms, give each participant in the discussion a strict equality of opportunity to present his case. Debate may be upon all varieties of subject (religion, politics, literature, personal conflicts, etc.), but for the most part, they treat the problems of the casuistry of love, as in the poems here. While in the tenson debate develops freely, in the jeu-parti the questioner offers a choice of two hypotheses to his partner, himself automatically defending whatever is to become the contrary point of view.
Adam de la Hale, however, is above all the author of courtly cansos, championing a pure troubadour tradition in a much later time. The first poem, for example, is a (late) canso in the purest troubadour style (i. e. a poem in verse with a single rhyme [rims unisonanz] and an envoy [tornanda], treating the usual themes of a fin'amor, which produces both joy and suffering). The second poem is even more interesting in that it has verses in a mono-rhymed sequence with a shorter refrain line, recalling the structure of the rotruenge. The contents are equally original since we are dealing here with a chanson de femme or chanson d'ami (composed, however, by a man). This type of song is of the popular register, and, when courtly rhetoric appears, it consciously departs from the usual erotic discourse.
As for the ronde de carole (sometimes simply referred to as the rondel or the rondeau), it is probably the most elementary form of dance song. With a textual and musical structure quite simple and easy to memorize, it was probably one of the forms most suited to outdoor improvised dance. Despite an occasional courtly veneer, the character of these pieces is obviously very popular, as revealed by a comparison of its form with those of certain traditional songs (rounds with integrated refrains, for example.) Structurally, the rondet is built around a refrain of two lines; this becomes the basic element of the piece, and is either integrated into the whole, or used as its beginning. The refrain is preceded by a verse of three lines in which the first line of the refrain has been inserted between the first and second lines of the poem. The song begins either directly with the verse (rondet with six lines), or with the refrain itself (rondet with eight lines.) Thus, we have the following diagram:
Text: A B a A a b A B
Music: a1 b1 a1 a1 a1 b1 a1 b1
This two-fold construction (refrain (chorus) / verse (soloist)) has been confirmed by the theoretician Jean de Grouchy, who specifies that the verses (addimenta) added to the refrain (responsorium) conform to it; the result is that the metre and the melody of the refrain determine the whole rondet.
With the motet, here illustrated by Adam de la Hale, and later Pierre de la Croix, we are dealing with a genre of poetry whose internal structures (taken from the musical structures) are strongly contrasted, reminiscent of the descort (though in other respects, the two forms are quite different.) The three or four structural voices, when performed simultaneously, are textually distinct from one another, achieved by poetic techniques which offer contrasts of various kinds: 1) linguistic (French and Latin, Occitan and French, for example); 2) Prosodic (metres and rhymes differ from voice to voice); 3) Semantic: movement within one piece from one genre to another (i. e. pastourelle / reverdie / rondet) or from one register to another (i. e. courtly love / "the good life" / songs of the Virgin / satire / obscene, etc.... or lyrical / narrative). The motet can also be more monolithic in nature, as in the works of Pierre de la Croix, whose texts gravitate towards themes of troubadour-love, and could just as well be viewed as juxtaposed fragments of trouvere love-lyrics.
Jehannot de Lescurel and Pierre de la Croix
With Jehannot de Lescurel and Pierre de la Croix, we are dealing with two trouveurs who are better known to us today as musicians than as poets (historians of medieval literature almost never even mention them). Jehannot de Lescurel, who lived in the second half of the thirteenth century and was perhaps hung (for debauchery) in 1304, has left us with 34 chansons, ballettes and rondets, one rondet surviving in a three-voice version, all other compositions in monophony. The two last pages of manuscript containing his works are the "chansons avec refrains", comprising 52 notated refrains. Pierre de la Croix (Petrus de Cruce), a contemporary of Lescurel's, and a native of Amiens, is renowned principally as a composer and music theorist (author of Tractatus de toni, late 13th century). The three-voiced motet, "Aucun ont trouve", performed here, is cited by a number of contemporary writers.
With Jehannot de Lescurel, we return to purely lyrical works which treat the courtly love theme, but with less strictness and elaboration than do the troubadours. These poems, virelais and ballettes with integrated refrains, are light-hearted and graceful. Even when expressing the sentiments of courtly love, they have a popular feeling. This is seen in the piece, Gracieusette, for example, where the courtly poet charms his loved one through the sheer playful joy of embellished diminutives.
The pronunciation of Old French chosen for use on the records is obviously not a strictly "scientific" reconstruction, taking account, with a meticulousness as painstaking as it would be questionable, of all the phonetic changes (not to mention the dialect differences) which in all probability occured in the period of about 80 years in which the trouveres presented here were active. Thus we have chosen a standardised pronunciation for all the texts, as it were, a middle-of-the-road form, corresponding roughly to the phonetic system which can be supposed for the Ile-de-France in the thirteenth century; giving priority, of course, to what was most directly relevant to the requirements of poetry and music (respect for rhyme, prosody, alliteration and other acoustic effects, the links between text and music, etc.), in preference to any hairsplitting archaeology. In a word, a pronunciation whose final aim should above all be, as in the Middle Ages themselves, to add in the fullest possible measure to the more immediately perceptible music of the melody, the music of the language and the text in their most direct form of expression.
- Pierre Bee, 1984