All songs performed from musical facsimiles of the original manuscripts.
Thanks to the Musicological Seminar of the University of Basel (Prof. Wulf Arlt) for generous use of microfilms. Special thanks to Marcel Peres of ARIMM (Atelier de Recherche et d'Interpretation des Musiques Me'die'vales) for inviting Sequentia and Pierre Bec to participate in 2-week residency at the Foundation Royaumont (France) in October 1993, during which the texts and musical realisations of this recording were given final form. Thanks to the Abbaye de Fontevraud, France for their generous hospitality and use of their facilities during the recording of this CD (4-7 December, 1993).
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Dante And The Trobadors
"I Never Had Her, But She Had Me Forever In Her Power... Love" - Arnaut Daniel
The world of the troubadours (Old Occitan: trobadors) is a strange and demanding one, but it feels familiar, nonetheless. There isn't a single vernacular poet since the 12th century who isn't directly indebted to the singer-poets of the Languedoc, a region we now call Southwestern France. Their wit, compositional skill, and use of the spoken language (as opposed to Latin) for the most sophisticated, sublime, or even silly ideas, set the techniques and themes of western poetry for centuries to come. Even in the twentieth century their influence could be felt in the work of Ezra Pound, who exerted himself in praising and exploiting their adventuresome linguistic spirit for his own works. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), the author of the Divina Commedia and also the "inventor" of the modern Italian language, closely studied and imitated the troubadours in style and content. In his treatise on achieving poetic perfection in a vernacular language (but written in Latin), De Vulgari Eloquentia (Of Eloquence in the Vernacular), he paid homage to the original vernacular tradition by expounding upon the qualities and characteristics of individual troubadour poets. These are the troubadours, hand-picked by Dante many generations after they lived and flourished, whom we wish to present here in the sound of their music and poetry.
In recent times, scholarly studies have served to reveal to us something of the original spirit of experimentation, ingenuity, and craftsmanship which infused the troubadour milieu in its day. In the musical realm, it has taken many years of trial and error among scholars and musicians to come to an understanding of how these melodies ought to be regarded, sung and heard. For instance, gone are the days of the "modal theory" of rhythm in troubadour melodies, a rigid doctrine of fixed rhythmic relationships of long and short or heavy and light impulses, inappropriately superimposed upon poetry having an entirely different technical agenda. Many present-day scholars, through analysis, in-depth knowledge of the repertoires and application of theoretical concepts, have concurred upon the idea of troubadour song being a highly (developed art form practiced among groups of literate noble people eager for the entertainments of ingeniously wrought texts and music. The practice of an art form implies seriousness and skill in the arts of singing, speaking, rhetoric, the playing of instruments, and even in the games of memorization, all of which came into play in the creation and appreciation of such works. The performer's task is to find a living expression for this art form which does justice to the poets and their traditions.
The listener should feel him or herself transported into an ambiance of connois-seurship and leisure when listening to these pieces. Imagining a music-making context in which performances might be stretched out over an entire evening (or even several evenings), rather than stuffed into the rigid format of a concert program, might be the first doorway into the new world of feeling that the troubadours present to us. The seven-strophe, expansive structure of a troubadour song is unlike most art songs of the European 19th century, but this is its nature, and brings with it evocations different from those of our "normal" experience. These songs are like paintings, in words and tones, of involuted personal landscapes of a most secret and emotional nature. Within these landscapes, anything can happen, as in one's own dreams: snow can be green; a falcon can be a lady or a literary prize; a strong man impressive in battle can be reduced to a stammering fool because of love; the fool can become a subtle philosopher as a troubadour.
If we use Dante as our master of ceremonies in charge of selecting the composers and songs for this recording, we need to know why he chose these particular troubadours - from among the more than 400 known poets - as his models. The troubadours flourished ca. 50-150 years before Dante lived, and their works have come down to us in over 50 manuscripts, leading us to wonder in what form he knew their art. His treatise on vernacular poetry makes clear that his admiration for the chosen few was based on principles of technique as much as expression.
We learn in De Vulgari Eloquentia that Dante cherished ideals of language, genre, and meaning and saw all of them fulfilled in the troubadour canso (his term was canzone: a poem "suitable for music", the most worthy poetic form). Canso-canzone implies both the singing of a song and the composing, or inventing of a song. Strictly speaking within this tradition, one would have to say the "inventing" is not of the song itself, but of a scheme for memory and imagination which leads to a song [invenire [Latin] = invent; trobar [Occitan] - find; trobador = inventor, finder). Of the scheme, or route, invented and taken by the trobador to his song, the voice is the medium and the message appealing to the inner and outer ears of its recipient. All of the rational and sensual elements of language and music are put into play through singing in order that a living poetic experience might occur - impossible without the intelligible structures of numbers (syllables, lines, strophes, and their proportionate relationships); impossible without the free-roaming imaginings which are herded together through the disciplines of grammar, rhetoric and discourse. A troubadour's poetic scheme completely expresses his individuality, for each song is expected to be an entirely new formal composition, and obeys no norms for pre-arranqed length (aside from the classic seven strophes) or alternations; it serves as a severe master to all the unruliness of thought, sense, and emotion which provide the impetus to create, and brings them all into proportionate and orderly flux through elements of composition such as the lightness or heaviness of line (number of syllables), the quality of sound choices (assonance, dissonance, word-types), and the mix of ridiculous and sublime, overt and obscure significances.
Dante speaks of the genres of an elevated vernacular art in terms of a threefold human path (animal, vegetable and rational) which gives rise to poetries of Love, Arms and Rectitude. The animal seeks the pleasurable; it will instinctively seek out warmth when cold, and so the animal in man craves the fire of love. Love (Amor) is therefore the foremost topic for the composition of canso; it is the troubadour's obsession. As inherited in both humorous and serious treatments from Antiquity (esp. from Sappho and Ovid), the love ethic (topic of countless modern books and theories) was given a new coat of many colors in the guise of this vital vernacular, commonly referred to as Old
Occitan. Despite its unorthodox and markedly contemporary spirit, certain explicit and implicit philosophies which linked it to inquiries into virtue, and to the longings aroused in the soul in the presence of beauty, continued to be exemplified and respected. In addition to criteria related to artistic traditions, innovations, and technical merits, Dante tells us in another work, La Vita Nuova, that judging a poet must be based on what he calls his "true testimony". ("It would be a disgrace", he says, "if someone composing a rhyme introduced a figure of speech or rhetorical ornament and then, on being asked, could not divest his words of such covering as to reveal true meaning").
Bearing in mind these high standards, let us see whom Dante chose as embodiments of excellence in vernacular eloquence.
En amour trob alques en que'm refraing - Aimeric de Peguilhan (ca. 1175-1230)
This troubadour wrote love songs in an illustrious style praised by Dante. We can perhaps assume that he was particularly well known in Italy, for he spent the better part of his career in Ferrara in the years of the troubadour diaspora after the disastrous Albigensian "Crusade" in Languedoc. As a late and expatriate troubadour he helped keep the tradition alive by transplanting it to the new and fertile environment of Italy. Aimeric was, above all, a professional minstrel (joglar). His songs abound in references to his itinerant life, his various patrons, and his search for material stability. In this song, his preoccupation with poetical devices (the word Amor is heard in every line of the first strophe) and word play (his B-section rhymes are all repetitions of the A-section rhymes with the addition of the syllable -a at the end) perhaps even overshadows his poem's "true testimony". Yet the high style, range and flexibility of the melody make a pleasant game of the complexities in an atmosphere of warmth and humor. The use of instruments and the slightly formal set-piece interlude point to a performance mode which would have been that of a festive, courtly entertainment.
Lo term voter qu'el cor m'intra - Arnaut Daniel (ca. 1180-1200)
Dante's troubadour poet of love par excellence was Arnaut Daniel, whom he named in the Divine Comedy as "the best craftsman in the maternal tongue, surpassing in verses of love". He placed Arnaut in Purgatory, however, among the sensuous and lustful. This song, commonly called the sestina after its form, probably helped him to earn his place there. Dante paid it the compliment of copying its clever formal innovation, beginning a tradition of sestina composition which continues today. A sestina uses the same set of six words to end each of the six lines of each of the six strophes of the song, thereby forcing new arrangements of words around the same ideas and sounds. The choice of words is designed in this case to be suggestive and humorous in certain orders: (verga, cambra, intra meaning rod, chamber, enter, for instance). The force of this poem is such that the single male voice can penetrate all its subtleties and "enter" its meanings into the "chamber" of the listeners' ears most effectively.
Rassa, tan creis e monta e poia - Bertran de Born (ca. 1140-1215)
The second aspect of man's three-fold nature is vegetal, and it seeks the "useful". As a plant will instinctively orient its growth towards sunlight and moisture, : so man in his vegetal nature seeks his physical security, maintaining the integrity of his territory against incursion, ultimately to enjoy the triumph of his own species after conflict with others. The poet of arms who epitomized the love of war, strife, and chivalric ideals was Bertran de Born, Chatellan de Hautefort; he would be someone who had taken Mars in the place of Venus for his muse (Dante places Bertran in the Inferno, where he must carry his own severed head as punishment for his divisive, warlike ways). The exuberance of strife is made evident in the realization of this sirventes as the two fiddlers (Joglar friends of Bertran?) strike and stroke their instruments while the warrior-singer breaks headlong into a melody which moves in levels of excited recitation, praising, condemning, and moralizing.
Dejosta'ls breus jorns els loncs sers - Peire d'Alvernhe (ca. 1150-1180)
Of the Occitan vernacular Dante wrote, "The hngue d'oc argues for itself, for the speakers of the vernacular first used it for poetry, because it was the sweeter and more highly developed language (than Old French), whose masters were Peire d'Alvernhe and others". Peire emerges in his works as a true master, both in his ambitious and risky hermetic poems (trobar clus) and in the one melody attributed to him which has come down to us. As a perfect foil to his surprising poetry, now dark and inward-looking, now soaring with hope, it occupies a modally ambiguous terrain and alternates between figures which reach to the depths and those which seem to cry out with passion. The mode of performance here, a single unaccompanied voice, is most ideally. suited to a high-style canso of such intricacy.
Non pose sofrir q'a la dolor - Guiraut de Bornelh (ca. 1138-1215)
Guiraut was held to be the master of the troubadours by his contemporaries. Dante sustained this high esteem by citing him often as the model of "illustrious style" ("savoury, graceful and exalted"), and as the poet whose work embodied the third and highest of man's three natures: the rational. The rational is supposed to enable man to seek out what is right and virtuous. The righteous poet is not only animated and exalted by love, but seeks in his poetry the testimonies of right and wrong behind love itself - not always an easy task, and one which often lends itself to humourous treatment. This song shows signs of Guiraut's formidable mastery in the way he gives it personality and strangeness. In it he recounts a dream, and manages to immediately involve us in an altered reality in which hopes and disappointments are more vivid than in daily life. We are then constantly thrown back and forth between his extravagant expectations and his all-too-human normalcies, completely within the intense discipline of the formal structure of his scheme. The syllable count of every line of the poem is utterly uniform throughout the seven strophes, and the music reflects this ongoing, featureless quality by providing no resting points whatsoever, as if to embody frustration and fulfillment all at once. The medieval fiddle, with its body carved from a single piece of wood, its gut strings and light bow, provides an evocative sound which both guides the singer along and leads him gently astray with little day-dreams of its own.
Chanson do'ill mot son plan e prim - Arnaut Daniel
We are fortunate to have this wonderful melody by Arnaut Daniel - it certainly brings one to disfavor the idea that the troubadour was a sincerely tormented lover, spilling over with spontaneous sentiment. As controlled and meticulously constructed is its poem (for example, in its rhyme scheme), so is the melody of the song characterized by an unwillingness to unfold on the horizontal level, and seems more to be an enchanting collection of tone-cells which can be contemplated in any order Our instrumental interludes absorb the material of the song and arrange them in a similiar, non-developmental fashion, providing moments of reflection to each strophe.
Tant m'abellis Vamoros pessamens - Folquet de Marseilla (ca. 1155-1231)
Dante reserves special praise - and a place in Paradise for all eternity in The Divine Comedy - for Folquet de Marseilla. His career could be likened to the later figure of St. Francis, who also in mid-life turned his back on former affluence and courtly pursuits (such as writing love songs) in order to embrace a strictly spiritual life as a cleric. (That Folquet, as a bishop, was to betray his Occitan homeland as partisan of the Northern French in the Albigensian conflict did not seem to concern Dante). In Dante's Paradise Folquet is placed among the "loving spirits" who have known "true" (spiritual) love on earth. This canso is written in a stately eleven-syllable line and is carried on the wings of one of the most classicly beautiful troubadour melodies in existence. The singer accompanies himself on a small romanesque harp, whose 14 gut strings provide not only a modal framework, but also serve as a sounding-board for the unspoken subtexts and meditations of the poem.
(Instrumental piece based on melodies of Folquet de Marseilla)
The procession of Dante's song stylists ends with an instrumental piece by fiddler Elizabeth Gaver whose melodic material (taken from the songs of Folquet de Marseilla) is brought into structural forms according to the principles set out by another of our present troubadours, Arnaut Daniel, and translated into the particular idiom of the medieval fiddle. The first section reflects, the poetic scheme of Chanson do'ill mot; the second section moves into realms of improvised introspection based on that material, and the third uses the technique (seen in Lo ferm uoler) in which the ending of each phrase becomes the beginning of the one following.
- Barbara Thornton and Benjamin Bagby