Gautier de Coincy [1177? - 1236]
Emmanuel Bonnardot (voice, fiddle, rebec, jingles), Pierre Hamon (flute, bagpipes, double pipe, bamboo flute, three-holed flute, six-holed flute, frame drum, voice), Brigitte Lesne (voice, harp, hurdy-gurdy, small cymbals, frame drum), Catherine Sergent (voice)
Recording date: April 1995
The program forms a cycle of compositions by Gautier de Coincy (1177/78-1236), part of a larger literary work designed to chronical the miracles of the Virgin. This was one of the more celebrated works of the period, suriving on more than 80 manuscripts, and apparently forming part of the inspiration for the presently more famous Cantigas from Spain. Some songs use melodies derived from other sources, while others are apparently original. Gautier became a monk as a teen, and was abbot in Soissons by 1233.
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Gautier was in all probability born in about 1177 in the town of Coincy, now in the Aisne departement. In 1214, he was appointed prior at Vicq-sur-Aisne. On 19 June 1233, he became the Grand Prior of Saint-Medard in Soissons. He remained in this post until his death three years later on 25 September 1236. Although Gautier led a discreet and quiet existence, there can be no doubt about his gifts for poetry and music and there is much more to him than a humble prior occasionally indulging in a taste for writing. It was understandable that he should write out of love for the Virgin, surrounded as he was in the region of Soissons by relics, holy objects and miraculous events. But the real reason for his output surely lay in the fact that he was endowed with a remarkable appetite for the art of writing. Nothing daunted him! Associations, rhymes and sheer word play carried him off in 'surrealistic' whirlwinds. His writing is full of vociferation and spoonerisms and he constantly juggled with letters, syllables and words. Described by some as a sickly little fellow and a naive individual with a thoroughly simple soul, he was in reality a full-blooded, thunderous writer of leonine power, sometimes even with a touch of double entendre!
Gautier's 'miracles' enjoyed great success; very nearly eighty manuscripts are known to us. Apart from the Life of Saint Christine, his output consists of two books of the Miracles de Nostre Dame, written between 1214 and 1236, and amounting to some forty thousand lines. The first book is made up of two prologues, thirty-five miracles and ten songs to the Virgin; the second contains a prologue, twenty-three miracles and eight songs, as well as prayers and salutations to Our Lady. As a writer, Gautier was a virtuoso, past master of the most complex rhyme-schemes (as, for example, in the extraordinary Mere Dieu, Virge Senee); he was especially fond of leonine rhymes, i.e. those with two or more rhyming syllables, and so-called 'equivocal rhymes' - for example, cria meaning both cria (shouted) and crea (created), or amer meaning either amer (bitter) or aimer (love). His style is close to that of the great rhetorical writers of Burgundy such as Jean Molinet, Jean Meschinot and Guillaume Cretin and it enjoys kinship with that of writers of our own epoch, men like Queneau, Perec and even Boby Lapointe.
But Gautier was not merely playing around with words. He was driven along by the intuition that in the very substance of each word there is a hidden meaning to be revealed. To his thinking, there were good letters, such as the O in Leocade, the virgin of Toledo, whose relics were under his protection at Vicq-sur-Aisne. There were other good letters, including M, A, R and I, with which the word Maria is constructed, a word which melts like honey in one's mouth. There were bad letters too: the S of the serpent and the F of fu, the wood of the Cross. Gautier's was 'concrete' writing.
Gautier was also a musician. Before entering the monastery of Saint-Medard in Soissons in 1193 during the time of Abbot Bertran, he must have been a pupil in the monastery school, one which enjoyed a good reputation according to Poquet (who published Gautier's works in the nineteenth century) but which, according Koenig, his modern publisher, was rather bad. Koenig has surmised that Gautier, after entering holy orders, spent some time as a theological student at the university of Paris. Clearly, he made a careful study of music - and why not in Laon, a town which is close to Soissons and an important centre of musical composition in the Middle Ages ? There is also the possibility that he met one of the numerous trouveres who plied their art in the region of Soissons, somebody like his contemporary, Richard de Fournival. Even though he may not have been a 'composer' in the modern sense of the word, even if he borrowed the melodies of his songs from others, even if he had no scruples about exploiting contrafactum and the chanson farcie, he was nonetheless a truly talented 'arranger', as he would have been described today. Indeed, he was far more than a mere arranger - many people look upon his songs as masterpieces. One has only to listen to the sublime piece Royne Celestre for this conclusion to be borne out.
He was thoroughly familiar with organum, triple and descant and was expert at caricaturing the way some of his contemporaries used to sing, 'screaming and shouting at the tops of their voices'. He had set ideas on music:
We priests, we singers, we clerics and we monks must sing night and day to Our Lady who, soujourning in Paradise, takes to her all those that serve her well. But I see a great many who are very idle! They continually bray, shout and stretch their voices, but they do not tune their lyre at all: their singing is lamentable! Their mouths lie to God and are discordant if to him their hearts are not in concordance. God and his mother derive no more pleasure from such mouths which sing in descant, sing organum and in fifths than they would from the laughter of a donkey.
I know of quite a few whose voices sooner or later go wrong if they are not thoroughly steeped in strong wine! They only manage to sing if they are warmed up with wine. But when the wine has done its work of healing, they then can sing organum, have a high old time and move the entire monastery.
I know of others whose voices are weak and broken, but if they are fortified with good wine, they can sing out as loudly as the rest of them. So they bray and bawl and run along to pray to Saint Twist, son of the bent woman, he who makes you walk crooked.
God does not listen to a voice if there is no devotion in the heart. From the heart must flow forth the spring which causes the voice to be pleasing to God. A loud and clear voice is not necessarily pleasing either to God or his mother. Somebody singing quietly and without great skill may well be more readily listened to by God than somebody else who sings organum loudly and sings a fifth above the rest. God gives not a fig for beautiful, clear and pleasant voices, for the sound of the harp or the viol, the psalterion or the organ if a devotional heart is not involved. God listens to the intention, not to the voice or the instrument.
In Gautier's view, music had a functional role. Outside that, music was but a mockery. If it is for the Mother of God that you sing your chants, by this very act you will become enchanted: happy the man who chants in such fashion. And happy, too, are those who listen...
- Claude-Henry Joubert (translation: John Sidgwick)