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Sequentia: Dante and the Troubadours
Almeric de PEGUILHAN (ca. 1175-1230) En amor trob alques en que’m refraing [11:08]
Arnault DANIEL (ca. 1180-1200) Lo ferm voler qu’el cor m’intra [4:04]
Bertran de BORN (ca. 1140-1215) Rassa, tan cries e monta e poia [9:21]
Peire D’ALVERNHE (ca. 1150-1215) Dejosta’ls breus jorns e’ls loncs sers [12:14]
Guiraut de BRONHELH (ca. 1138-1215) Non posc sofrir c’a la dolor [9:04]
Arnault DANIEL (ca. 1180-1200) Chanson do’ill mot son plan e prim [9:18]
Folquet de MARSEILLA (ca. 1155-1231) Tant m’abellis l’amoros pesamens [12:08]
Instrumentsalstük – Instrumental piece [8:47]
Barbara Thornton – voice
Benjamin Bagbe – voice, harp
Elizabeth Gaver – fiddle
Elisabetta de Mircovich – fiddle
Benjamin Bagby and Barbara Thornton – Direction
Recorded at Abbaye de Fontevraud, France, 4-7 December, 1993 DDD
BMG DHM 82876 601632 [76:47]

At first it may seem odd that Dante’s name is associated with a musical recording; he was after all a great poet not a composer of music. However there is indeed a reason that Sequentia selected his name to associate this collection of medieval songs, written in Old Occitan (one of the languages of Medieval France) 50-150 years before he was even born. Dante selected these men, and indeed these particular works, as outstanding examples of non-Latin poetry in his own work De Vulgari Eloquentia, and it is largely through his work that these pieces have survived.

The music is thus performed in what is considered today to be the style of the originals. As we have no sound recordings or extant period instruments, and even have difficulty attaching rhythm to the notated music, this is obviously a best-guess based on what is known from art and textual descriptions. Therefore the musical interpretation, in comparison to the original, is obviously somewhat approximate. This has the advantage of allowing the performers to satisfy their own ears and make truly beautiful music without fear of having historians or those more interested in authenticity than music try to "correct" them. That is not to say that there are not experts in the reinvigoration of these ancient melodies, among which Sequentia ranks alongside groups such as the Chieftains. Their result on this album is an unqualified success. This is an album filled with very pretty melodies hearkening to a long past era quite unlike most music one would hear today, yet familiar enough to draw the listener into the musical experience.

Many of the works are a cappella, performed by a single soloist and accentuated only by the acoustic reverb of the Medieval Abbey which housed these recordings. There is one instrumental piece, apparently improvised around the melodies of Folquet de Marseilla (ca. 1155-1231) by the three instrumentalists. The remaining pieces are accompanied by one or two "fiddles" and/or harp. The song form employed is timeless, and although these songs were composed 800 years ago, they will seem familiar to a modern ear. The rhythms may well remind one of Irish folk music, perhaps with a more intricate, layered metric form.

There are times when the composer may have become a bit long-winded, as many of these songs do stretch beyond ten minutes in length. Although the poetic form employed allows for a substantive variety intrinsic to a single verse, actively listening to each individual song does occasionally become difficult. On the other hand, it is evident that the original composers of these pieces did intend for these works to go on at length, as they tell stories of courtly love, angst, and the beauty of life itself. Editing of these texts would have been difficult to justify, and on the whole the length does not produce tedium, but merely induces a more passive, relaxed enjoyment of the music.

It would be difficult not to consider this to be a very good album of very early music, as it has much to recommend it highly. It should appeal broadly as incidental background music when one wants something not distracting, yet distinctive. Its other audience will be fans of Renaissance or Medieval music or those who enjoy traditional folk material.

Patrick Gary

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