Moyen Age - XXe siecle
Pierre Hamon (3-holed flute, bamboo flute, Ganassi recorder, double recorder, cylindrical flute, voice flute, Navajo flute), John Wright (kirghiz guitar - tracks 3 & 10), Habib Yammine (frame drum - track 3, tambourine - tracks 5 & 9), Florence Jacquemart (artistic consultant)
Recording date: April 1995
Although using a very wide variety of "flutes" this program maintains the basic recorder sonority as its one constant. The styles of articulation are richly varied, and these are of course especially highlighted in the two two modern compositions. The liner notes are also interesting for a discussion of the medieval recorder.
========= from the cover ==========
A few remarks on the interpretation of Middle Age recorder music
It was only at the time of the Renaissance that there began to appear the first books of instruction on the performance of instrumental music. The first recorder tutor was published in Venice in 1535 under the title La Fontegara. Its author, Sylvestro Ganassi, was the first to provide us with detailed information on the manner in which the instrument was played: various kinds of articulation, effects to be achieved by a range of dynamics as well as colouring of the sound by means of various trills. Ganassi stresses the instrument's great expressive possibilities; the recorder had reached its apogee.
So far as the preceding centuries are concerned, we have nothing like this at our disposal. Thirteenth-century treatises such as Jerome of Moravia's Tractatus de musica or Jean de Garlande's De musica mensurabili positio describe, at times very clearly and at others rather obscurely, the ornaments used by singers in organum duplum; other manuscripts, including the Buxheimer Orgelbuch and the Codex Faenza, are a mine of information on the way in which organists transposed, decorated and adapted the vocal repertory of the fifteenth century. But so far as the actual technique of recorder-playing is concerned (fingering, breathing and tonguing), we have no specific information on the matter.
An English translation of the Roman de la Rose by Chaucer (fourteenth century) makes mention of a recorder player with a 'wicked tongue' who stood out on account of his undistinguished, poor performances ('in flutes made he discordance'), which rather implies that articulation by means of the tongue was already practised in the fourteenth century.1 But for all that, is it really necessary to articulate each and every note? And how should this be done? How should the tone be coloured? By means of breath or finger vibrato? Although it is true that in Italy in the sixteenth century, articulation by various kinds of tonguing was one of the principal criteria in the assessment of the quality of perormance of recorder players, traditional lute-playing techniques throughout the world amply demonstrate that other means are available: articulation can be achieved not only by the tongue but also by means of fingering, the throat and breathing. In the Middle Ages, a recorder-player, who incidentally would play other wind instruments such as the bagpipes, would certainly not deprive himself of the wealth of articulation available through the use of finger articulation, which is akin in its expressive nature to the throat articulation employed by singers of Gregorian chant and organum (at least if one accepts the kind of sound advanced by a number of performers, especially those who have followed the research carried out in musical paleography by Marie-Noel Colette).
Another factor to take into account was that almost all wind-instrument players in the Middle Ages were of humble origin (educational manuals in the fifteenth century advised respectable families not to indulge in the playing of wind instruments on the grounds that the facial features were made ugly). They did not know how to read music, and practised their skills entirely on the basis of oral tradition; their musical and technical approach was therefore more instinctive in its nature, and less analytical and aware than if it had been based on a written background. Under such conditions, variations in breathing assume just as much importance as the position of a particular note in a mode; fractional alterations in a particular rhythm are more significant than the dynamic effects of the rhythm itself and the rhythmical aspects of breathing are sometimes more important than the melody.
So far as instrument-making is concerned, trying to describe in a few lines the state of our present knowledge would be somewhat simplistic. Extremely simple instruments, at least from the point of view of their construction, have always coexisted alongside elaborate ones, made of the most precious materials. The few instruments that have come down to us (the Dordrecht recorder, for example, or the Wurzburg recorder, which has not survived intact, both dating from roughly the fourteenth century) and those shown in iconographic sources have one thing in common: they are all fairly small. It was only in the Renaissance that there appeared the concept of families of instruments ranging from the descant recorder to the bass; the first traces of families of recorders appear in the account books of the Dukes of Burgundy in the first half of the fifteenth century. The Middle Ages knew nothing of the so-called 'great' recorders. From the point of their construction, they all generally had a cylindrical bore (like the Dordrecht instrument), with or without a bell.
The double flute, frequently featured in iconographic sources - perhaps for allegorical reasons or with reference to the ancient aulos - is also quoted in literature in France from the thirteenth century onwards ('flajos doubliers'). Two such instruments have survived: one is housed in the Landes-museum in Zurich and the other at All Souls College, Oxford. Both instruments date in all probability from the end of the fifteenth century. The one used for this recording was made by Bob Marvin, based on the Oxford instrument; it sounds a fifth lower (F/C instead of C/G).
The combination of one-handed flute and drum is not only found just as often in iconographic and literary sources, but also survives today in its original form; it was one of the most popular associations of instruments in the Middle Ages. It spread far and wide over Europe from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. The symbolism of this combination is very strong: it represents life and death, it is the sex of man and of woman. Pipe and drum were often played by the figure of death in depictions of danses macabres in the fifteenth century. The duality of this combination struck me as particularly well suited to an instrumental performance of the Lai du chevrefeuille ('The Lay of the Honeysuckle'), which is associated with the legend of Tristan, who, as thirteenth-century French sources would have it, 'fluted' it himself:
He took in his handa flute,
most gently piped upon it,
and from within the pipe
did play the Lay of the Honeysuckle,
then set aside the flute;
the kings and the barons heard it
and enjoyed it most wondrously.
Isolde, too, was most glad:
'O, Holy Mary,
I think it is Tristan, my beloved!'
In addition to the combination of pipe and drum featured on this recording, there is also the partnership of flute and Jew's harp. This is not a mere piece of gratuitous whimsy, even though at first sight it may appear surprising. The Jew's harp was already in existence in the Gallo-Roman period (five bronze jew's harps were found in the foundations of a house in Rouen alongside other objects dating from this time), and a large number of medieval instruments have come down to us. The jew's harp is still played in many parts of Europe (Scandinavia, Austria, Calabria, Sicily, Sardinia, the Austurias and Ireland, to mention just a few). There are philological difficulties in identifying the jew's harp in the literature of the Middle Ages; the instrument occasionally appears, however, in iconographic sources, notably and most clearly in a fifteenth-century miniature (illustrating Virgil's 5th Eclogue in the Holkham manuscript, MS 307) where two musicians are shown playing together, one on a jew's harp and the other on a transverse flute. This partnership of flute and jew's harp, which works particularly well, is also much appreciated in the traditional music of many countries from Ireland to Rajasthan. Two fourteenth-century Italian istanpitte, festive music par excellence, lend themselves to this experiment in sound; may they go some little way to echoing the famous lines from Guillaume de Machaut's 'Prologue':
And music is a science
which would have us laugh and sing and dance.
She shuns all melancholy. [...]
Wherever she is, she brings joy;
she comforts the disconsolate,
and she has merely to be heard
for everyone to rejoice.
- Pierre Hamon (translation: John Sidgwick)
It seems to me that I shall always be at ease in places where I do not happen to be, and this matter of change of abode is one that I constantly discuss within my soul.
The musical tapestry on this disc, woven with air and a great variety of recorders, presents compositions derived from widely differing civilizations and modes of thought, much as though it had sprung from Baudelaire's musing. This rich contrast between the Middle Ages and the present time brings to light a veritable archaeology of sound atmospheres in which new perspectives are revealed to our hearing, ranging from medieval modes to the atonality of our own century. Entire stories lie concealed behind the melodies of some of the pieces. Their diversity extends from a simple rondeau (Mes cuers est imprisones en trop cruel prison) which has come down to us via the pages of the famous Chansonnier de Noailles, to the lyrical lay of Tristan. The latter, the Lai du Chevrefeuille, is taken from the same songbook, which contains the largest known collection of thirteenth-century lays. The roots of this poem spring directly from an omnipresent medieval tale, the legend of Tristan and Isolde wherein the lover makes the following vow to his lady:
Never shall my heart take leave of you
so long as I shall live,
and were it to leave you, where would it go?
Know, then, my dear love,
that if it should take such leave, it will depart;
of that have no doubt.
Shame on him that would leave
such sweet company!
The fourteenth century brought about considerable changes in musical language, but the general background of poetic themes retained all the aesthetics and imagery established by the literary conventions of courtly love in the preceding centuries. It was in a similar spirit that Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377) wrote his long narrative poem Remede de Fortune, in which man is everlastingly pitched against fate, 'sa dure voisine' (his stern neighbour), because of whom 'Tels rit au main qui au soir pleure... Car Fortune tout ce deveure' (those who laugh at morn weep at eventide... for fate devours all). This composer, whose poetry is the work of a genius and whose language is of infinite variety, brought everything he tackled to sheer perfection; moreover, he put the finishing touches to the compositional techniques of the Ars Nova and conferred new stylistic devices on the most ancient forms associated with the complainte. At the same time, in Italy, between Dante's dolce stilo nuovo and 'quel ben nat'awenturoso giorno' heralded by Petrarque's poetry, there devoloped a whole new imaginary world in which the word amore meant at one and the same time a state of blessedness, cruelty, wounds and inevitability. Two ballate- Lucente Stella che'l mio cor desfair and Non perch'i' speri, dona, oma' in te ver me trovar mercede - belong to this musical and poetic universe, which is pardy preserved in a precious source, the Codex Squarcialupi. This manuscript, which was copied out in Florence around 1420, restores to us the repertory of the Tuscan Trecento.
But the other side to this Apollinian world reveals a Dyonisiac exuberance in which instrumental virtuosity takes delight in dance. Johannes de Grocheio, a thirteenth century theoretician, was one of the rare musicians to identify the musical forms of contemporary dances and to write about them in some degree of detail. He makes distinctions between estampies, ductiae and notae, all three of which are made up of puncta (melodic sections arranged in pairs, with alternately 'open' and 'closed' endings) and refrains. It can be somewhat difficult to make out this theoretical schema in the dances that have come down to us via the manuscript sources. The Nota on this disc is a case in point; in this piece, the puncta are interchanged between the two voices, and there is no refrain. The three Italian istanpitte from the fourteenth century, Chominciamento di Gioia, Belicha and In Pro, all from the same sources, display the main characteristics of this musical form which was very popular in the Middle Ages. These Italian dances represent an evolved state of the estampie (but were they meant to be danced to or merely to be listened to?). They contain a great many puncta, the melodies are highly varied and the alternation of puncta and refrains is treated with a greater degree of complexity than in any of the French estampies from the thirteenth century.
The other extremity of the programme is set poles apart in entirely different universes: a traditional North American Indian song (the Butterfly Song of the Laguna pueblo, New Mexico) and Japanese compositions from our own century. Fragmente by Makoto Shinohara is dedicated to Frans Bruggen and was first performed in 1968. Black Intention (1975) by Maki Ishii is likewise dedicated to Frans Bruggen; it is a dramatic staging of a conflict/fusion of western and Japanese techniques in which the instrumentalist comes close to being a No theatre actor obsessed with his own shadow in sound.
Katarina Livljanic (translation: John Sidgwick)