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Heu, fortuna - Musique au temps de Philippe IV le bel (1268-1314)
Gillebert de BERNEVILLE (fl.1250-1280)
Au noviau temps que yvers se debrise
[5.43]
Philippe de VITRY (1291-1361)
Aman novi/Heu, Fortuna subdola/Heu me [1.47]; Tribum que/Quoniam secta/merito hec patimur (with anonymous intabulation) [3.42]
Blondel de NESLES (fl.1180-1220)
A l’entrant d’esté´ [2.58];
Jehan de LESCUREL (d.1304)
A
vous, douce debonaire [3.13]
Guiot de DIJON (fl.1215-1225)
Chanterai
por mon coraige with Estampie by Tobie Miller [11.51]
Tobie MILLER
EstampieChascuns dir que je foloi[2.47]
ANON
Amis, quelx est li mieuz vaillanz [4.02];
Helas! Tant vi de male (rondeau); Prendés i garde, s’on mi regarde (rondeau) [2.31]; Ne m’oubliez mie/Domino [2:58]; Dieus! Comment porrai/O regina/Nobis concedas [3.08]; Apris ai qu’en chantant plour [4.53]; EstampieRetrové[6.01]; Estampie [7.29]
La Rota: (Sarah Barnes (soprano); Tobie Miller (recorder, hurdy-gurdy); Emilie Brûlé (vielle); Esteban La Rotta (lute, gothic harp, tenor))
rec. 10-12 August 2007
ATMA ACD22561 [71.36]

The first thing to say is that the title is misleading. The music here recorded does not necessarily fall into the life-time of Philip IV and even where it does, it cannot with certainty be associated with him. The second thing to say however is that no disc of secular medieval music has afforded me as much pleasure as this for some considerable time. As I was listening I asked myself why that should be. I think I have a few answers. 

First the vocal work is a delight: unforced and with superb diction from all three singers. The instrumental playing is not virtuosic for its own sake which can often happen on discs of medieval music. A good balance is struck between instrumental and vocal items. All texts are given and translated, sometimes with unidiomatic results, but never mind. The repertoire chosen is fascinating and none of the pieces is weak or rendered in an uninteresting way. In addition I have much enjoyed the clear and expressive voices of Sarah Barnes and Tobie Miller who, in addition to being a composer, has also written the very interesting and erudite notes. The singers make especially subtle use of vibrato and front-of-mouth tone. The delivery is not at all unpleasant and the diction is excellent. 

The fifteen pieces recorded here are nicely balanced between instrumental and vocal. It’s interesting to compare the various styles of music composed at that time. For example there is Philippe de Vitry, the great music theorist who is represented by two polytextual motets in three parts. It’s interesting to hear these with instrumental accompaniment; most groups have simply recorded them a capella. There are other pieces with more than one text: for example the well-known and oft recorded Prendés i garde, s’on mi regarde. We hear each text once over the tenor (the lower part) then we hear all three parts. This is surely what a monk at some point realized as he compiled the now well known Montpellier manuscript which contains many early 13th Century motets. All three together fit miraculously together although each part was first a separate item. 

There are three estampies. No one quite knows if they were danced but the form is clear ABCBDB. The versatile Tobie Miller has composed one Chascuns dir que je foloi based on a song. As this music was almost entirely improvised and few written examples survive it seems good to write these. There is also an Estampie named here ‘Retrové’ normally edited for and played as a rare early 14th Century keyboard piece from the Robertsbridge manuscript. Robertsbridge is an abbey in Sussex, a few fragments of which can still just be seen in a private garden. Retrové is full of curious hocketing, here heard, most interestingly, for recorder, flute and vielle and in a longer than usual version.

The other genre La Rota presents us with is the troubadour song of the 13th century. The best known here is Chanterai por mon coraige by Guiot de Dijon. It falls well before Philippe le Bel’s lifetime. It’s a moving and unusual piece written probably at the time of the fifth crusade by a man. It speaks from the point of view of the lady/wife left at home whilst her husband is on the crusade. His shirt is sent her and at night she clutches it to her naked body in bed - whoever said that the medievals wore night-attire. After the song, Tobie Millar has composed an instrumental Estampie based on its melody. 

Blondel de Nisle (or as spelt here Nesles) also pre-dates Philippe’s time. He is associated, in legend at least, with Richard Coeur de Lion at the end of the 12th Century. It seems possible however that his memory lived on and his song A l’entrant d’esté is more typical of his time being about spring time when the poet, (probably the composer) hears “the little birds singing on the flowers”. These songs are normally presented in the form of an instrumental introduction with the sung verses interspersed with instrumental sections. In this way a two verse song can be interestingly extended to last four or five minutes. The use of string instruments fits in beautifully with many illustrations in manuscripts, such as Books of Hours, which show instruments for domestic, indoor music. 

The recording allows the music the music to speak vividly in a warm acoustic. 

Gary Higginson 

 

 

 

 


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