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The Marriage of Heaven and Hell - Motets and Songs from 13th Century France
Je ne chant pas / Talens m’est pris / APTATUR / OMNES abde [2:19]
Trois sereurs / Trois sereurs / Trois sereurs / PERLUSTRAVIT bcde [2:11]
BLONDEL DE NESLE (fl.1180-1200) En tous tans que vente bise a [2:50]
Plus bele que flors / Quant revient / L’autrier jouer / FLOS FILIUS EIUS abcd [1:15]
Par un matinet / He, sire! / He, bergier! / EIUS bcde [4:37]
De la virge Katerine / Quant froidure / Agmina milicie / AGMINA abce [2:15]
COLIN MUSET (fl.1200-1250) Trop volentiers chanteroie a [3:44]
Ave parens / Ad gratie / AVE MARIA abd [1:35]
Super te Jerusalem / Sed fulsit virginitas / PRIMUS TENOR / DOMINUS abcd [1:10]
A vous douce debonnaire b [3:08]
Mout souvent / Mout ai este en dolour / MULIERUM bcd [2:50]
BERNART DE VENTADORN (1125-1195) Can vei la lauzeta mover d [3:43]
Quant voi l’aloete / Diex! je ne m’en partire ja / NEUMA bcd [1:52]
En non Dieu / Quant voi la rose / NOBIS bcd [2:41]
GAUTIER DE DARGIES (c.1165-after 1236) Autres que je ne sueill las b [4:01]
Je m’en vois /Tels a mout / OMNES abf [2:40]
Festa januaria bcd [2:18]
Gothic Voices : (Margaret Philpot (alto)a; Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor)b; Rufus Muller (tenor)c; Leigh Nixon (tenor)d; Stephen Charlesworth (baritone)e)/Christopher Page (medieval harp)f
rec. St Cross Hospital Church, Winchester, 21-23 March 1990. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English and French, texts and English translations
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55273 [46:26]



This is the fourth Hyperion reissue of medieval music performed by Gothic Voices which I have reviewed recently. As with The Castle of Fair Welcome (CDH55274), The Spirits of England and France (CDH55281) and The Garden of Zephirus (CDH55289) I was delighted to welcome its return and to urge Hyperion to reissue the remaining discs in the series – if only to give me the chance to replace booklets from the original full-price issues which have become dog-eared with regular use. I particularly await the reissue of The Service of Venus and Mars, for which I have had to print my own replacement booklet.
 
The title of the current CD, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and the cover illustration of a young cleric apparently about to purchase the attentions of a young woman with a tambour, urged on by a lascivious demon on the left and admonished by a Dominican friar on the right, remind us of the concept familiar throughout the Middle Ages of the world as the stage of conflict between good and evil, right and wrong, heaven and hell. We may think the girl with the tambour, apparently about to take part in a carole or ring-dance, innocent enough, but medieval moralists had different ideas about dancing. Robert Manning of Brunne in his long poem Handlyng Synne, relating the story of the Mad Dancers of Colbek, is quite clear that caroles, wrestling, summer games, interludes (short plays – the dialogue between the shepherd and his better in track 5 of the CD is an example), singing, beating a drum or playing a pipe are all forbidden as sacrilege while the priest stands at the altar saying Mass:
 
Karolles, wrastlynges, or somour games,
Whoso ever haunteth any swyche shames
Yn cherche, other yn chercheyerd,
Of sacrylage he may be aferd;
Of entyrludes, or syngynge,
Or tabure bete, or other pypynge –
Alle swyche thing forboden es
Whyle the prest stondeth at messe.
 
Hearing a group of women outside his church at Christmas singing a fairly harmless song about Bevo riding through the leafy wood with his beloved Merswyne, a priest stormed out and cursed them with St Vitus’ Dance for the next year, forgetting that his own daughter was one of them and was thus cursed to dance endlessly till the following Christmas.
 
In Langland’s poem Piers Plowman, the Dreamer, slumbering in a pleasant spot near the Malvern Hills, sees the Tower of Heavenly Truth on a hill above a deep valley, the devil’s dungeon or castle, with the world, a fair field full of folk, poised between them, “working and wandering as the world asketh”:
 
I seigh a tour on a toft trieliche ymaked,
A deep dale bynethe, a dongeon therinne,
With depe diches and derke and dredfulle of sighte.
A fair feeld ful of folk fond I ther bitwene –
Of alle manere of men, the meene and the riche,
Werchyng and wandering as the world asketh. [B Prol. 14-19]
 

For Langland, just as for the priest of Kolbek, only serious physical or spiritual work can bring the people on this field to the Tower of Truth. Even among the religious there is a sharp distinction between those destined for heaven and hell: only those who fast and pray for heaven’s sake – if they are anchorites or hermits they must stay in their cells – will be saved; those who neglect their duties to gad about in “lecherous life-style to please their bodies” will fail:
 
In preieres and penaunce putten hem manye,
Al for love of Oure Lord lyveden ful streyte
In hope to have hevenriche blisse –
As ancres and heremites that holden hem in hire selles,
Coveiten nought in contree to cairen aboute
For no likerous liflode hire likame to plese. [B. Prol. 25-30]
 
Because of this close connection between the heavenly, worldly and hellish, it is sometimes not possible for the modern reader or listener to distinguish the purpose of medieval poems and music: a poem or song which sounds as if it is written in praise of an earthly woman may well be in praise of the Virgin Mary. To illustrate this diversity of themes, Christopher Page has chosen a number of motets from 13th-century France, sacred and secular, most of them with two or more texts sung simultaneously. The modern ear finds it difficult to distinguish between the religious and worldly in these pieces and, for once, this is not due to the distance of time: the same was probably true for the original audience.
 
Sometimes two or more texts combine religious and courtly-love themes. Track 6 offers a French text extolling Saint Catherine, a French text on the singer’s longing for his beloved, which the Spring and the singing of the birds awaken, and finally a Latin text by Philippe the Chancellor also in praise of St Catherine. In the Latin text, Catherine is not named: the listener is expected to deduce that it is she from the references to her overcoming the arguments of the Greek sophists who tried to persuade her to marry. (Medieval poetry and music are often allusive in this manner: the Catherine legend was so well-known in France and England that it was thought unnecessary to name the saint.) This track is one of the most complicated on the disc; it is almost impossible to follow the separate texts even with the booklet in hand. Hyperion have chosen it to illustrate the CD on their website; prospective purchasers will obtain a fair idea from it of the music on offer on this CD.
 
Track 7, Colin Muset’s Trop volontiers, track 10, A vous douce debonnaire, and Festa januaria, a rousing piece which rounds off the disc, are the only pieces here with just one text and, as such, probably the most amenable to the modern listener.
 
There are no well-known names here, no Perotins or Machauts; indeed, most of the pieces are by that prolific author Anon. Of the named composers Blondel de Nesle is perhaps the most famous, since he was the minstrel who was instrumental in freeing Richard the Lion-heart from captivity. More music by Blondel – actually 12th- rather than 13th-century despite the sub-title of the disc – is included on another Gothic Voices compilation, Music for the Lion-hearted King, which must be due for an imminent reincarnation on Helios.
 
Bernart de Ventadorn was one of the prime movers of the early development of fin amors or courtly-love poetry in the South of France, surely deserving of more than one reference, and that a footnote, in C S Lewis’s classic The Allegory of Love. He is strictly not French but Occitan or Provençal, not a trouvère but a troubadour; his canson, Can vei la lauzeta mover, on this disc, is one of the most best-known items in the Occitan repertoire. Bernart’s inclusion extends the range of this CD but adds to the linguistic complications. The booklet offers English translations of all the words but seems to assume that French readers – there are French notes, but no translations – will be able to cope with 13th-century French and Provençal.
 
If Christopher Page’s enthusiastic campaign for medieval music has a fault it is that he tends to assume too much in his listeners, in this and other Hyperion booklets of notes. Here the booklet does its best to inform the listener of the principle behind these multi-layered motets but, though it does so effectively within its own limits, the advice to read further on page 14 is timely. The item on the motet in the New Grove and an article by Christopher Page are recommended there. The Concise Grove version of the article can be obtained. Type ‘motet’ into the Grove box half-way down the page, then click on the word ‘motet’ from the choices offered. Then type ‘ars antiqua’ into the same Grove box.
 
Of the many CDs of medieval music already reissued or due to be reissued on Hyperion’s Helios label, this is not the place to begin. Listen to the sample track to which I have referred; if you do not like what you hear, this disc is probably not for you: though I do not wish to put anyone off, you may be better to try one of the other CDs which I have named at the start of this review. If, like me, you find this music entrancing, the singing of the Gothic Voices is of the usually high standard and the recording, in the appropriately medieval setting of the Holy Cross Hospital at Winchester, where travellers used to be able to demand a free dole of food and water, is up to Hyperion’s usually high standards. As with other reissued Gothic Voices recordings, the short playing time is made up for by the reasonable price of the disc.
 
Brian Wilson
 

 


 


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