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Forgotten Provence: Music-making in the South of France, 1150-1550
Martin Best Consort
rec. Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation, 6-10 November 1994. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English. Translations, but not original texts, included.
NIMBUS NI5445 [64:19]




Women and Men
Ne l’oserary-je/Voulez-vouz que je vous dise?
[2:39]
Dessus la rive: from Les Airs de Cerveau, carole in ballade form (c.1550) [2:26]
Beatriz de Dia (b. c.1140) A chanter m’er: Canso (c.1200) [4:31]
Vecy le mai: Carole in rondeau form (c.1550) [3:39]
Ma charmante cadet: Traditional pastorela, Limousin [1:56]
Sequence in Free Organum

Alleluia Justus: School of St. Martial, Limoges (12th Century) [2:49]
Troubadours and Dances

A l’entrada del tens clar: dance-song in carole form (12th Century) [2:15]
Li gelos: Anonymous troubadour dance-song [1:19]
Air de Cheval-Jupon: Traditional Languedoc dance (instrumental) [1:34]
Jaufre Rudel de Blaye (d.c.1160) Lancan li jorn: Canso [7:24]
Ara Lauzatz: Anonymous troubadour vers (12th Century) [2:04]
Sequence to St. Peter and St. Paul

Laude Jocunda: School of St. Martial, Limoges (12th Century) [2:09]
Motets at Montpellier

Pucelete - Je languis - Domino (c. 1250) [3:10]
Petrus de Cruce (d.c.1300) Aucun ont trouvé - Lonc tans - Annuntiantes [4:09]
Alle Psallite cum luya (c. 1250) [1:57]
Nightingales

Rossignolet du bois: Carole in Ballade form (1st half of the 16th Century) [3:14]
Rossignolet du bois: Traditional, Bas-Languedoc [2:59]
Lo Sodard: Traditional, Bas-Limousin [4:15]
Sequence for Epiphany

Epiphaniam Domino: School of St. Martial, Limoges (c.1150) [3:53]
Awakening

Guiraut de Bornelh (1165-after 1220) Reis glorios [5:57]

The very welcome resurgence of the Nimbus and Lyrita labels has restored many treasures to the catalogue. This is emphatically one of them – an hour of music from medieval and early-Renaissance Provence on a recording to sit back and enjoy. Technically, this and the other recordings made by the Martin Best Consort and Ensemble are not reissues, since they are again available with their original catalogue numbers and still at full price. Almost five years after Nimbus got back on its feet, it is incredible that their recordings are not featured in the 2008 editions of either the Penguin Guide or the Gramophone Guide. I hope that the current review will partly redress that unfortunate situation.

The recording covers a number of themes, as stated in the sub-titles. The overall tone of the programme is lively, though with some reflective interludes. The texts are in Occitan, the medieval language of Provence, and Latin.

The first section deals with love, not always of the courtly type. In Ne l’oseray-je the woman laments that she is to be married off to an uncouth peasant; the man complains that everything in the home seems to be for his wife’s benefit. In Dessus la rive a sailor tries to have his way with a young girl, who appears to get the better of him.

Track 3 brings us to the theme of fin amors or courtly love, but with the boot on the other foot – the woman’s rather than the man’s. Beatriz, La Comtessa de Dia, or Comtesse de Die, was one of several independent-minded medieval Provençal women who fought their corner in a male-dominated world. In A chanter m’er de so qu’ieu non volria (I must sing of that which I would rather not), the only piece by any of the trobairitz, or female troubadours, to have survived with its melody, she adopts the role usually taken by the male lover, complaining that she is compelled to sing about a love that consumes her for someone who does not value her.

This work is also included on an excellent Hyperion recording, Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman (Stevie Wishart with Sinfonye on the budget-price Helios label, CDH55207 review – a well-deserved Musicweb Bargain of the Month). Sinfonye perform the work unaccompanied and at a slightly more leisurely pace. Both performances work well, capturing a tone of regret, rather than anger, at the indifference of the beloved. If I marginally prefer the Hyperion, it is a very close call – Lilly Crabtree on Nimbus sings excellently. All the versions which I know give the text as chantar, which would seem to be correct Occitan, but Crabtree clearly sings chanter, as per the booklet.

Those wishing to know more about the trobairitz should consult Klinck A L and A M Rasmussen (eds.), Medieval Woman’s Song: Cross Cultural Approaches (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002). References to A chanter m’er are on p.8.
Vecy le mai is a carole in rondeau form, one of those countless medieval celebrations of the month of May, "the merry month which stirs our hearts." Ma charmante cadet belongs to the chanson d’aventure type, though it omits the usual prefatory matter in which the man’s riding out is described; it represents a dialogue between a knight and a peasant girl who, as so often in such chansons, is his intellectual superior.

The sequence of free organum which follows allows a temporary respite from secular concerns. The term organum refers not to an organ accompaniment but to an early kind of polyphony in which the voices move at an interval against each other, usually at a fifth; in this case the technique is applied to a sung Alleluia into which the psalm text Justus ut palma has been inserted – "the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree." Those seeking to understand terms such as organum and polyphony will find lucid explanations in the Oxford Companion to Music. In any case, don’t be put off by these technical terms; just enjoy the music.
A l’entrada del tens cler takes us back to familiar troubadour territory, the return of Spring. Li gelos chastises jealous men, while the Air de Cheval gives us a brief instrumental interlude.

Lancan li jorn is one of the most celebrated of troubadour cansos; in Jaufré’s text the lover longs with what the notes aptly describe as Michelangelo’s ‘divine discontent’, for his beloved in a far-off country. This piece is no less effective for its being viewed from the conventional male perspective. The note-writer thinks that Beatriz’s female-orientated version in A chanter m’er is somehow more ‘real’, but long experience has taught me never to be wholly convinced by circumstantial detail in literature – as when Rousseau retells Montaigne’s account of being knocked out by a rampaging animal, as if it were his own experience. Jaufre is just as convincing when his canso is sung as affectively as it is here.

In Ara Lauzata a lascivious monk wishes that the pretty girl he sees could be a beautiful nun encloistered in his house; he is obviously second cousin to some of the worldly clerics in the Carmina Burana, best known in Carl Orff’s arrangement, though the original medieval music has survived. The Sequence to St Peter and St Paul recalls us to the joyful praise which the monk should have been offering to the saints instead of the scurrilous thoughts to which he has given voice.

The Montpellier Motets are not all religious pieces – the term did not have that limited meaning originally. Pucelete/Je languis, Aucun and Lonc tans are all secular motets but Alle Psallite, which closes the sequence, is another eked-out Alleluia in praise of God. If you would like to investigate further the manuscript from which these pieces came, you could do much worse than to try the Anonymous 4 in Love’s Illusion: Music from the Montpellier Codex – a different style from that of Martin Best but equally enjoyable (Harmonia Mundi HMX290 7109, budget price).

Nightingales figured largely in medieval poetry and music. The first of the pieces entitled Rossignolet du bois asks if the nightingale has heard the voice of a village boy who wishes to be married but doesn’t understand how to behave in love. In the second the nightingale announces the arrival of Spring-time and love. In le Sodard, the soldier hears the nightingale sing that his love is dead. The lyrics are worthy of Housman’s Shropshire Lad and the music a rousing martial theme, played here with gusto, which contrasts with the soldier’s loss.
The Epiphany sequence Epiphaniam Domino is one of many such pieces contained in medieval missals, lengthy pieces which replaced the Gradual between Epistle and Gospel, very few of which survived the reforming zeal of the Council of Trent.

The final piece, Reis glorios, is a dawn-song, alba in Occitan, aubade in standard French. The words are spoken as if by the watchman who has been keeping guard over his master as he made love, but they are religious words, in praise of the Glorious King and His Holy Mother. The fine performance of this wonderful alba by Guiraut de Bornelh, named by Dante as the Master of the troubadours, makes an excellent conclusion to a very worthwhile programme, combining the secular and the spiritual, as the medievals did effortlessly.

The singing and instrumental playing throughout are excellent, in both the lively music – the courtly and the not so courtly – and the more reflective pieces. I leave aside the thorny issue of the extent to which such music should be accompanied. Regular readers will know that I have consistently given the highest praise to Hyperion’s budget-price Helios reissues of the recordings of Gothic Voices, who very rarely include an instrumental accompaniment. I trust that I shall not seem illogical in praising the Martin Best Consort, who do regularly employ such an accompaniment, in equal measure. There is certainly room for both approaches when such fine performers are involved; in any case, the accompaniments here are not overdone. Apart from the fact that the Gothic Voices reissues are at budget price, comparisons are odious – and there is no overlap, as far as I am aware, between this Nimbus recording and anything that Gothic Voices recorded: they concentrated on a mainly Northern French repertoire.

The recording is good – a little close, but that is not inappropriate in such music. The notes are informative, offering a general overview and individual notes on the separate tracks.
Nimbus offer translations of all the works, but not the original texts. If only one could be included, I suppose that is the right way round, but I still think it a pity – medieval Provençal is not exactly a common enough skill for the listener to pick it up from hearing the CD. Hyperion are more generous in this matter: they always offer texts, albeit in minuscule form, including that of A chantar m’er in the booklet accompanying Sinfonye’s recording of Bella Domna. For convenience of those who buy the recording – many of you, I hope – I have included such original texts as I have access to, in an Appendix to this review.

Until recently, this CD was available with other Martin Best medieval recordings in a bargain collection. If you hurry, you may find that some dealers are still offering that set – a wonderful bargain. It was the original intention that I should review the collection but, although it is deleted in that form, Nimbus have kindly sent me the individual CDs to review. Watch out for reviews of the remaining volumes in due course.

Brian Wilson

Appendix:
The text of Chanter m’er is available at Songs-Lyrics.net:


A chantar m’er de so qu’eu no volria,
tant me rancur de lui cui sui amia;
car eu l’am mais que nuilla ren que sia:
vas lui no.m val merces ni cortezia
ni ma beltatz ni mos pretz ni mos sens;
c’atressi.m sui enganad’ e trahia
Com degr’ esser, s’eu fos dezavinens.

D’aisso.m conort, car anc non fi faillensa,
Amics, vas vos per nuilla captenenssa;
ans vo am mais non fetz Seguis Valensa,
e platz mi mout quez eu d’amar vos vensa,
lo meus amics, car etz lo plus valens;
mi faitz orgoil en digz et en parvensa,
et si etz francs vas totas autras gens.

Meraveill me cum vostre cors s’orgoilla,
amics, vas me, per qui’ai razon queu.m doilla;
non es ges dreitz c’autr’ amors vos mi toilla,
per nuilla ren que.us diga ni acoilla.
E membre vos cals fo.l comensamens
de nostr’amor! Ja Dompnedeus non voilla
qu’en ma colpa sia.l departimens.

Valer mi deu mos pretz e mos paratges
e ma beutatz e plus mos fins coratges;
per qu’eu vos man lai on es vostr’ estatges
esta chanson, que me sia messatges:
e voill saber, lo meus bels amics gens,
per que vos m’etz tant fers ni tant salvatges;
no sai si s’es orgoills o mal talens.

Mais aitan plus voill li digas, messatges,
qu’en trop d’orgoill an gran dan maintas gens.

Texts of all Jaufre Rudel’s works are available online at trobar.org, including that of Lancan li jorn:
Lanquan li jorn son lonc e may
M’es belhs dous chans d’auzelhs de lonh,
E quan mi suy partitz de lay,
Remembra’m d’un’ amor de lonh.
Vau de talan embroncx e clis
Si que chans ni flors d’albespis
No-m valon plus que l’yverns gelatz.
Be tenc lo Senhor per veray
Per que formet sest’ amor de lonh,
Mas per un ben que m’en eschay
N’ai dos mals, quar tant suy de lonh.
A! quar no fuy lai pelegris,
Si que mos fustz e mos tapis
Fos pels sieus belhs huelhs remiratz!
Be’m parra joys quan li querray,
Per amor Dieu, l’ostal de lonh,
E, s’a lieys platz, alberguarai
Pres de lieys, si be’m suy de lonh,
Qu’aissi es lo parlamens fis
Quan drutz lonhdas et tan vezis
Qu’ab cortes ginh jauzis solatz.
Iratz e dolens m’en partray,
S’ieu no vey sest’ amor de lonh.
No’m sai quora mais la veyrai,
que tan son nostras terras lonh.
Assatz hi a pas e camis,
e per aisso no’n suy devis.
Mas tot sia cum a lieys platz.
Jamai d’amor no’m jauziray
Si no’m jau d’est’ amor de lonh,
que mielher ni gensor no’n sai
ves nulha part, ni pres ni lonh.
Tant es sos pretz ricx e sobris
Que lai el reng dels Sarrasis
fos hieu per lieys chaitius clamatz.
Dieus que fetz tot quant ve ni vay
E formet sest’amor de lonh
Mi don poder, que cor be n’ai,
Qu’ieu veya sest’amor de lonh,
Verayamen en luec aizis,
Si que las cambras e’l jardis
Mi resemblo novels palatz.
Ver ditz qui m’apella lechay
e deziros d’amor de lonh,
que nulhs autres joys tan no’m play
Cum jauzimen d’amor de lonh.
Mas so qu’ieu vuelh m’es tant ahis,
Qu’enaissi’m fadet mos pairis
Qu’ieu ames e nos fos amatz.

The same website also offers Guiraut de Bornelh’s Reis glorios, verais lums e clartatz:
Reis glorios, verais lums e clartatz,
Deus poderos, Senher, si a vos platz,
Al meu companh siatz fizels aiuda!
Qu’eu no lo vi, pos la nochs fo venguda,
Et ades sera l’alba

Bel companho, si dormetz o velhatz,
No dormatz plus, suau vos ressidatz!
Qu’en orien vei l’estela creguda
C’amena.l jorn, qu’eu l’ai be conoguda,
Et ades sera l’alba

Bel companho, en chantan vos apel!
No dormatz plus, qu’eu auch chantar l’auzel
Que vai queren lo jorn per lo boschatge
Et ai paor que.l gilos vos assatge
Et ades sera l’alba

Bel companho, issetz al fenestrel
E regardatz las estelas del cel
Conoisseretz si.us sui fizels messatge!
Si non o faitz, vostres n’er lo damnatge
Et ades sera l’alba

Bel companho, pos me parti de vos,
Eu no.m dormi ni.m moc de genolhos,
Ans preiei Deu, lo filh Santa Maria,
Que.us me rendes per leial companhia,
Et ades sera l’alba

Bel companho, la foras als peiros
Me preiavatz qu’eu no fos dormilhos,
Enans velhes tota noch tro al dia.
Era no.us platz mos chans ni ma paria
Et ades sera l’alba

Bel dous companh, tan sui en ric sojorn
Qu’eu no volgra mais fos l’alba ni jorn,
Car la gensor que anc nasques de maire
Tenc et abras, per qu’eu non prezi gaire
Lo fol gilos ni l’alba.

The (slightly abbreviated) text of Epiphaniam domino, as sung on the CD is:
Epiphaniam domino canamus gloriosam,
qua prolem Dei vere magi adorant.
Immensam Chaldaei cuius Persaeque
venerantur potentiam,
Quem cuncti prophetae venturum
cecinere gentes ad salvandas.
Cuius maiestas ita est inclinata,
ut assumeret servi formam
Ante saecula qui Deus et tempora,
homo factus est in Maria.
Deum et hominem mira potentia.
Balaam de quo vaticinans,
exibit ex Iacob rutilans,
inquit, stella.
Et confringet ducum agmina
regionis Moab maxima potentia.
Huic magi munera deferunt praeclara:
aurum simul thus et myrram.
Thure Deum praedicant
auro regem magnum,
hominem mortalem myrra.
In somnis hos monet angelus,
ne redeant ad regem commotum propter regna.
Pavebat etenim nimium regem natum,
verens amittere regni iura.
Magi stella sibi micante prae via,
pergunt alacres itinera,
patriam quae eos ducebat ad propriam,
linquentes Herodis mandata.
Qui percussus corda nimium prae ira,
ex templo mandat eludia magica
non linqui taliter impunita,
sed mox privari eos vita.
Omnis nunc caterva tinnulum iungat
laudibus organi neuma.
Mistice offerens regi regum
Christo munera pretiosa.
Poscens ut per orbem
regna omnia protegat
in saecula sempiterna. Amen.


 


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