Date et lieu d'enregistrement : 29 Aout au 2 Septembre 2007 Monestir de Santes Creus (Catalogne)
As we stand at the dawn of the 21st century, more than seven hundred years separate us from the age when this fascinating music was created and performed for the first time. Still breathtakingly mysterious and vibrantly beautiful, it is one of the earliest surviving collections of medieval instrumental music, preserved thanks to a written source dating from the period. These pieces still surprise and move us today, thanks to their rhythmic beat and poetic charm which, in spite of the seven centuries of amnesia separating them from us, remain astonishingly clear and captivating. The age of crusading King Louis IX was at an end and Philip IV, called "the Fair", was now King of France (1285-1314); indeed, the very manner of writing and the notation of the manuscript confirm that it was probably at the end of the 13th century, or at the very latest around 1310, when an anonymous musician decided to copy down in this fine "Manuscrit du Roi" (mss. francais 844, Bibliotheque Nationale, also known as "Chansonnier du Roi "), the ESTAMPIES ET DANSES ROYALES, which we have restored and re-interpreted in full in this new recording, using period instruments.
Surprisingly for such a rare and important source, it was not until 1907 that these ESTAMPIES ET DANSES ROYALES were rediscovered for the modern era, thanks to the French musicologist Pierre Aubry's publication of his interesting study subtitled "Les plus anciens textes de musique instrumentale au Moyen Age" ("The earliest surviving texts of medieval instrumental music"), including a facsimile and a complete transcription of the works. Since that time there have been numerous interpretations and performances of these pieces in both concerts and recordings by groups more or less specialising in the medieval repertory, although they have for the most part featured isolated pieces combined with vocal music from the same period.
Our decision to record a complete version is justified not only by the uniqueness and importance of this collection, but above all by the beauty and energy of the music which, although ancient, is nevertheless truly modern in terms both of its improvisational quality and its brilliant structure and conception. Given that our remit lies firmly within the domain of what might be called "historically creative performance", we shall not now go into the various musicological and historical aspects that have been so ably discussed in the interesting article by David Fallows which also accompanies this recording.
Any artistic approach to the performance of a musical source so ancient and, above all, so void of musical indications, since the manuscript bears no objective indication as to tempo, instruments, function, character, ornamentation, etc., (and particularly in the case of the incomplete "La Prime Estampie"), poses considerable difficulties and challenges which force us to make a number of highly personal and therefore necessarily subjective choices. Having said that, the personal and subjective nature of the process is not incompatible with the demands of a thorough and rigorously historical and organological approach to musicological research. On the contrary, without that personal engagement we would have been confined to mere archaeology, unable to grasp the truly original and artistic dimension of works which, although creations of a bygone age, remain vibrant and fascinating even after seven centuries.
Our choice of instrumentation, character, tempo, ornamentation and improvisation was based on a study of the principal historical sources dating from the time of the manuscript: namely, the numerous texts which refer to the estampie and the instruments on which it was played; poetic texts from the period, such as the Leys d'Amors which tell us that "the vielle-player plays chansons and estampies" and the "Minstrel who plays the vielle has a new estampie", and above all the substantial body of theoretical and practical information contained in the principal treatises of the age, such as De Musica, published by the great musical theorist Jean de Grouchy, the Parisian commonly known as Johannes de Grocheo (c. 1255 - c. 1320).
All this must be undertaken with the greatest possible care to render to the full the implicit richness and spontaneity of the music by adopting an approach which aims to rediscover the creative role of the minstrels, whose task is not merely to "interpret", but also to "create" a genuine musical discourse and dialogue through their natural talent for improvisation. It is in this spirit that we have interspersed with these Royal Dances and Estampies four "Estampies Anciennes" based on an extempore instrumental performance of earlier troubadour songs by authors such as Giraut de Borneill (1175-1220), Marcabru (1128-1150) and Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (1150-1207), who (according to a contemporary biographer) composed his song Kalenda maya to "the tune of the estampie that the minstrels played on their fiddles". This allows us to retrace the path, via the chanson, back to the original estampie which served as the model for Raimbaut's chanson.
Let us leave the last word to the greatest musical commentator of the age, to Jean de Grouchy himself, who describes the nature, the possible uses and even the potentially beneficial social effects of performing the "estampie": "The estampie is a musical composition without words which has a complex melodic progression (habens difficiles concordantiarum discretionem) and which is divided into points (puncti). Because of its difficulty, it totally absorbs both the performer and the listener, and often distracts the minds of the rich from wicked thoughts" - an echo of the profound and abiding conviction of those early minstrels and poet-musicians, who even then were aware of the powerful influence that music can have in the education of human beings.
Paris, January 2008 (translated by Jacqueline Minett)
Dance music from the medieval era is hardly thick on the ground; a complete accounting of such works only adds up to about 70 to 80 pieces, most crammed into the odd margins of manuscript sources otherwise devoted to sacred or court music. One medieval source that forms an exception to the rule is Le Manuscrit du Roi, shelfmark fonds francais 844 in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and also known as the Chansonnier du Roi. On folios 103-104 are found eight "Estampie Real" (i.e., royal); another estampie and two additional dances are located elsewhere in the volume. At one time, it was believed this manuscript volume belonged to Charles of Anjou, however its name probably stems from the fact that it contains a large concentration of chansons composed by King Thibault IV. The section containing the estampie is later than the rest of the volume, dating from around 1300, therefore well after Charles of Anjou perished during his final campaign in Sicily in 1285. It is not known which royal house once owned this volume, although it was certainly made for use in court, given its handsome miniatures and neat, easily legible layout.
Although the Estampie in the Chansonnier du Roi have been recorded many times under separate cover, recordings of all eight together are relatively uncommon, and they require a great deal of fleshing out. All are very short pieces made up of repetitive phrases, meant to follow the steps in dances about which we know nothing. Scholars are likewise divided on the meaning of the word estampie; at one time universally taken to mean stomp, some sources suggest the estampie was more stately than rustic, and yet others seem to suggest that the estampie might have been more of a meditative piece. In Alia Vox's Estampies & Danses Royales, Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI utilize the dances in the Chansonnier du Roi as the basis of an entire program, adding four pieces from vocal works identified as related to this genre and instrumentally performing the latter.
Curiously for Savall, these interpretations are rather safe and take a middle-ground approach. While informed by traditional Arabic music, in keeping with Savall and Hesperion XXI's usual tactic in medieval literature, and utilizing tasteful percussion some scholars insist did not exist in medieval Europe, the dances are played at an even-keel tempo, and some pieces are played in a meditative, not dance-like vein. Although the brief melodies in the Chansonnier du Roi are the only part of the recipe we know for the royal estampie, their shape seems to lend itself to a lively and earthy treatment. While some pieces here rise to an exhilarating level of grandeur and dignity, none approaches the feverish pitch of performances of the same pieces, for example, by Frederick Renz and New York's Ensemble for Early Music or the Dufay Collective. While we do not know what kind of intonation was common in medieval times, the equal temperament utilized throughout this disc results in a bright sound that seems somewhat incongruous with the material.
Most fans of Hesperion XXI will probably not see anything wrong with Estampies & Danses Royales and conversely will find it in keeping with Savall's other offerings. While it can hardly be described as a foot-stompin' good time, Savall's take on the estampie is certainly well worth experiencing and adds a distinctive perspective to the dialogue on what medieval dance music was all about.
Jordi Savall, vielle & lire d'archet. Pierre Hamon, flutes.
Alfredo Bernardini, chalemie. Beatrice Delpierre, chalemie.
Rene Zosso, vielle a roue. Christophe Tellart, cornemuse & vielle a roue.
Michael Grebil, luth medieval & ceterina d'amore. Bego?a Olavide, psalterium.
Dimitris Psonis, dulcimer. Montserrat Figueras, cytara.
David Mayoral, Pere Oliver, Pedro Estevan, percussions.