Chansons de trouveres (XIIe & XIIIe siecles)
This programme presents some of the jewels of the corpus of chansons that reflect courtly love, using interpretation techniques considered close to those of the trouveres themselves: a cappella or accompanied by a single instrument close to the monodic material of the singer's melody, with a flexible enunciation of the words in an attempt to respect as faithfully as possible the versification and pronunciation of the superb langue d'oil, that young, vigorous language which is the forerunner of modern French.
Ensemble Diabolus in Musica
Aino Lund-Lavoipierre, soprano
Raphael Boulay, tenor
Jean-Paul Rigaud, baryton
Antoine Guerber, harpe, percussion & direction
Evelyne Moser, vieles a archet
Enregistre en aout 2004 a Angers
a la Chapelle du Bon Pasteur
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The sweet accord Songs of the trouveres (twelfth and thirteenth centuries)
The songs of the trouveres form an astonishing corpus of poems and melodies, clearly defined and classified, abundantly explored and studied by musicologists for more than a century, but still very little performed1.
The appearance in France at the beginning of the twelfth century of the chanson, that is a stanzaic poem sung as a monody, is a crucial occurrence in our artistic history. The word ('canso' in Occitan) and the concept were invented by troubadours in the south of France, under the influence of liturgical or semi-liturgical genres (trope, sequence, verse, conductus), secular Latin songs (carmina), and probably too of learned Arabic poetry.
In the wake of the first troubadours the trouveres exercised their art from the 1160s. Chretien de Troyes was doubtless the first known trouvere provided, as is probable, that his chansons were youthful compositions. At the end of the thirteenth century the last trouveres were for the most part clerics, writing poems dedicated to the Virgin Mary on melodies already well known (contrafacta), or polyphonic chansons in langue d'oil.
The poets came from a range of regions, in which different dialects of the langue d'oil were spoken, covering an extensive geographical area, which encompassed the whole of northern France and the southern part of modern Belgium. Some provinces played a more important role in the process than others, and their dialectal traits are to be found in chansons emanating from Picardy, Champagne, Lorraine ... The corpus is enormous. Gaston Raynaud drew up a preliminary list of poems in 1884, and this was added to by H. Spanke in the 1950s, but no fresh manuscript has been discovered since. If we add to these lists the odd item not catalogued by these two specialists, the total of this marvellous collection of poems comes to almost 2,200. Among these two-thirds have the melodies attached (1,362, according to Hans Tischler). An important feature is immediately apparent when we study the manuscripts: the multiplicity of variants, both in text and melody, for the same poem. Establishing a standard and uniform version was clearly an unknown concept to medieval scribes! The variations in melody between one source and another may be only slight, but in some cases may provide completely different readings for the same poem. Roughly half of the 1,362 chansons have been preserved in only one manuscript. On the other hand some well-known works by Thibaud de Champagne or Gace Brule, for example, can be found in twelve different manuscripts.
The corpus is contained in twenty-two chansonniers (large collections of chansons), of which 18 have the music either in its entirety or more often partially. Some of these chansonniers are beautiful presentation copies destined for the courts of the high nobility.
One of them, however, is very different: the St-Germain-des-Pres manuscript (BNF fr. 20050) is of small format, shows numerous traces of usage and was written by careless hands. It is clearly a jongleur's or performer's copy, not one prepared for a prince. On the other hand it is the oldest chansonnier we have (written about 1250), most of the others dating from the end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth centuries. It is the only one, too, in which the melodies are written in neumes (the Metz school, in the event), and not in square notation, which becomes classic from the beginning of the thirteenth century.
Alongside these twenty-two prestigious chansonniers there are other sources: some ten manuscripts of clerical or monastic provenance transmit religious contrafacta of trouvere chansons, while numerous literary manuscripts (containing romances, narrative poems, theatrical pieces, etc.) produce fragments or lyric insertions drawn from the same trouvere repertoire. All the sources transmit the melodies clearly, both square and neume notation leaving no room for ambiguity. The range of these melodies is not large, as with the Gregorian repertoire. Moreover, if all the musical modes are present, the trouveres showed a marked preference for modes based on notes D or G. The manuscripts, which give the melodies precisely, are invariably silent about any instrumental accompaniment. Illustrations prove the existence of instrumental accompaniment, but they need to be examined very carefully and critically. The instruments portrayed are always symbolic, and do not necessarily represent reality. Literary texts provide us with more precise information: in thirteenth century romances there are many examples of characters singing a trouvere chanson. Usually the singer sings a cappella. When an instrument accompanies him, he is always on his own, singer and instrumentalist being most often the same person, and the instrument is always a fiddle, or a harp in the typical case of the hero of an Arthurian romance singing a lai.
In some of the corpus the notes are arranged rhythmically, since square notation, that great invention of the early thirteenth century, allows for noting in triple time. The question has exercised musicologists for more than a century, since interpretation may have been different at the time of composing the chansons from when the manuscripts were written, sometimes more than a hundred and fifty years later. Roger Dragonetti, in an authoritative work which appeared in 19792, uncovers the rhythmic nature of the langue d'oil and insists on the importance accorded by the trouveres themselves to the logic of the language. He states that only ten per cent of the corpus can be interpreted rhythmically without compromising the versification of the texts (which does not imply that this part of the corpus was sung rhythmically). We agree with him when he advocates a flexible manner of declaiming, which respects the rhythm of the langue d'oil and the versification, to which it is often impossible to apply a regular rhythm without severely damaging the inherent rules of accentuation. This flexible manner allows the performer to adapt to the structure of each poem, with its pauses, accents, and caesuras intended by the poet. The music could in no way compromise the accentuation of the texts: the trouveres were both the poets and the composers of the melodies.
There are some two hundred and fifty trouveres in all, but half of them are known to us by only one or two chansons. On the other hand, some were very productive: Thibaud de Champagne, Gace Brule, Adam de la Halle, and Jehan Bretel wrote more than sixty chansons each. They came from all social classes, but most of them were nobles, either princes (Thibaud de Champagne, Charles d'Anjou) or simply knights (Gautier d'Epinal, Gace Brule). There are also some clerics (Gautier de Coincy, Guillaume le Vinier), simple jongleurs (Colin Muset, Carasaus), or rich bourgeois (Jehan Bretel) ... and only eight women. The trouvere chansons were written principally by men, for men and, as we shall see, treat particularly male desire.
The poets expressed their talents in a wide range of poetic forms, either imitating those used by the troubadours, or inventing new ones. Musicologists thus distinguish, according to subject-matter, chansons d'amour, de croisade [crusade], de femmes, de toile [spinning and weaving], d'aube [dawn parting], sottes-chansons [parodic], jeux-partis [debate], reverdies [Spring and love], pastourelles [shepherdess encounters], sirventois [satirical, moral or religious] or chansons pieuses [religious] ...or according to the musico-literary form of strophic chansons, lais, rondeaux, chansons with refrain...
The trouvere chanson is the archetypal artistic expression of that special period of history that we call feudalism. Courtly love is its principal subject. In the twelfth century favourable economic, social and climatic conditions give rise to a new way of life with marked aspirations towards love. Feudal society was strictly hierarchical, with the nobility drawing immense riches to itself. The estates owned by noble families were formed and became firmly established. The question simply of the transmission of this inheritance becomes fundamental, and the utmost importance is given to family alliances and marriages, and consequently to the surveillance of women, while the numerous younger male offspring of these families are left with no inheritance, unless they can arrange for themselves a rich marriage. Courtly love therefore becomes a kind of social game, limited of course in the first instance to the aristocracy. The courtly game keeps a certain social hold on the bubbling emotions of the young nobles, since the lady of the courtly lover is inaccessible, being of a higher social rank.
Troubadour and trouvere songs echo these amorous tensions, which are sublimated by lyric poetry. Of course, in the 'Male Middle Ages' the romantic image of the knight suffused with love at the feet of his lady, and ready to endure the most testing trials in order to gain a favourable glance from his beloved, is mere artistic invention. Historical reality is much harsher, and the condition of women in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is scarcely to be envied. Some women from the higher aristocracy nevertheless encouraged and even participated in the very male game of courtly love.
Trouvere poetry and music cannot be appreciated following modern criteria, which are not relevant to a period of time so distant from us. The medieval artist follows above all traditions based on the Ancients. Originality and the expression of the artistic self are not his concern, which is doubtless hard for us to grasp, aware as we are of all subsequent forms of artistic expression. His tradition is essentially formal, made up of conventions which may easily make the situations and feelings appear stereotypes to a twenty-first-century listener. However, that is precisely what the medieval public appreciated. All the cliches and set situations are sources of emotion, reference and evocation that we have for the most part lost. The medieval public is extremely sensitive to ingenuity and the virtuosity of a poet who can create and invent within the rigid, formal framework governed by convention that Dante calls 'appropriateness'. As Dante himself emphasizes, respect for the conventions in no way hampers the genius of the greatest trouveres, at the head of whom he puts Thibaut de Champagne, thereby agreeing with the general opinion at the time, an opinion with which we can only agree.
Our programme presents some of the jewels of the corpus of chansons that reflect courtly love, using interpretation techniques that we consider to be close to those of the trouveres themselves: a cappella or accompanied by a single instrument close to the monodic material of the singer's melody, with a flexible enunciation of the words in an attempt to respect as faithfully as possible the versification and pronunciation of the superb langue do'il, that young, vigorous language which is the forerunner of modern French.