Triste Plaisir - Guillaume Du Fay and the
Music of Burgundy Guillaume DUFAY (c.1400-1474) Belle,
veullies moy rettenir [4.08]; Pour l’amour de ma doulce amye
[4.18]; Qui latuit in virgine [1.29]; Je me complains piteusement
[2.17]; Quel fronte signorile [2.42]; Resvelons nous [1.32];
Hé, compaignons [5.11]; Je languis en piteux martire [8.09];
J’ai grant doulour [3.51]; Vergine bella [3.54]; Seignor Leon
[2.36] Gilles de BINCHOIS (c.1400-1460) Triste
plaisir [4.40]; Mort en mercy [1.37]; Lune très belle [4.29];
Adieu, adieu mon joieulx souvenir (instrumental version)
[3.47]; vocal version [6.40] Nicolas GRENON (c.1380-1456) La
plus belle et doulce figure [1.43] Jacobus VIDE (c.1386-1433) Et
c’est assez [1.45] ANON La plus
grant chiere [2.18]; Paumgartner [2.40]
Randall Cook (vielle); Susanne Ansong (gamba)
rec. 24-27 September 2002, Kirche zu Polditz/Sachsen RAUM KLANG RK2208 [71.54]
This is a disc
of courtly songs of the first half of the 15th Century,
not all by Dufay as the heading might suggest - the CD writes
it as ‘Du Fay’. Without doubt it the Dufay songs that are the
best known pieces in his output and the most often recorded.
This very generously filled disc also has songs by his contemporaries
added into this fascinating mix.
But first what
was medieval Courtly Culture and how is this reflected in these
songs? The ancient poets tell us that the true meaning of courtly
social life with its material splendour and ceremonial etiquette
lay in its relationship to the idea of chivalry. The fact that
love was the highest social value reveals just how far removed
from reality these poetic visions were. The love of a distant
unobtainable lady was crucial like those heroes in Arthurian
romances. The pain created becomes a ‘Triste Plaisir’ and a ‘douleureuse
joie’ as in the words of the Binchois song which gives the
CD its title. And this idealization had a profound impact and
influenced the real social behaviour of the upper classes of
medieval society, the courtly knight and the courtly lady becoming
the model social figures. This exalted vision of noble life
gives some sort of backcloth and when listening to these songs
and texts this vision provides a way to penetrate their deeper
Despite the CD’s
heading some of the music is by Binchois, Dufay’s greatest
contemporary and quite possibly a close friend. There is an
anonymous manuscript illustration of the two together, often
reproduced, with Dufay standing by a portative organ and Binchois
with a harp. I have often wondered if these instruments are
significant, but no matter. Lena Susanne Norin has recorded
Binchois before, a disc entirely devoted to him in 1998 on
Virgin Veritas 5452852. On this new CD she makes this especially
melancholy composer sound even more so than on the earlier
one. Her voice does indeed sound lighter and younger. Especially
of note is ‘Adieu, adieu mon joieulx souvenir’ which lasts
here well over six minutes, ending the CD. In 1998 she gave
it an airier touch with a length of just over four minutes.
As if to emphasise the point the two string players also play
the piece, at a faster tempo – in fact, in less than four minutes.
It is true that
the musicians have chosen mostly the slower and more thoughtful
songs of the period but where they have selected a more robust
example like ‘He, compaignons’ it still sounds rather reflective.
I much prefer here the version recorded by ‘The Medieval Ensemble
of London’ and the Davies brothers for Decca (L’Oiseau Lyre)
in 1981 (4525572) in their complete Dufay box. Performed
by men it sounds lively and fun, just I assume as Dufay expected.
Oddly enough where a reflective religious light could be cast
by Norin, Cook and Ansong in the famous and beautiful ‘Vergine
Bella’ - words by Petrarch, no less, a rare contemporary setting
- they seem to rush through with less than the usual expressive
zeal. This is I suppose an attempt not to over-sentimentalize
To understand more
clearly what I mean you could do no worse than hear Catherine
Bott on a disc I reviewed in 2006 called ‘Delectatio angel’ (Hyperion
CDA67549 - see review). It is the way she expresses the text
that is especially wonderful, not just a slightly more relaxed
a Naxos disc devoted entirely to Dufay (8.553458) by the Ensemble
Unicorn. This includes some rather eccentric performances.
However that of ‘Vergine Bella’ with the counter-tenor Michael
Posch is quite ravishing and my especial favourite.
and the group become more animated in a lovely performance
of Grenon’s ‘La plus belle et doulce figure’- a picture of
the idealized beloved in formal and yet passionate courtly
language. The only other composer represented is Jacobus Vide
whose ‘Et c’est assez’ is one of the pieces played purely instrumentally.
It is short and also quite lively.
this deliberately chosen programme includes songs by Dufay
not so often recorded. This, in itself is commendable but some
pieces may not actually be by him. Using David Fallows’ book
in ‘The Master Musicians’ series (Dent, London 1982) as my
bible, I looked through his complete listings of Dufay’s songs.
In the 25 years since this publication Fallows may well have
altered his opinion but ‘Qui latuit’ and ‘Je longuis en piteux
martire’ are given as of uncertain authorship. It’s interesting
also that the Davies mentioned above, under Fallows’ general
direction did not record them. ‘J’ai grant douleur’ is not
supplied with a text in any manuscript. It becomes one of the
eight pieces played by only vielle and rebec or fiddle and
When Susanne Norin
recorded the above-mentioned Binchois disc there was a wider
variety of instruments used under Dominique Vellard. That does
encourage one to listen through the disc. The colour of this
new CD is, as it were, generally the same throughout. I found
myself listening to a few tracks at a time and then picking
it up again later in several sittings. Still, that’s no matter
I suppose and it may be what the performers are expecting.
If you can find
some notes in a book or on the net about Dufay whilst listening,
it might be a good idea as, although the texts are clearly
given and nicely translated, the two accompanying essays are
next to useless. Each is about 200 words long: one by Randall
Cook entitled “What’s Goin’ On?” and the other, an anonymous
essay on ‘Dufay and the Burgundian court’.
At the end of all
this I have still found listening to this disc a highly pleasurable,
sophisticated and delightful experience and, despite the various
caveats would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the
period. If you are new to early music however, then perhaps
this may not be the best place to start.
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