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The Garden of Zephirus - Courtly songs of the early fifteenth century
Guillaume DUFAY (c.1400-1474)
J’atendray tant qu’i1 vous playra rondeau b,c,e [2:22]
N’a pas long temps que trouvay Zephirus
chanson c,g [1:52]
Anthonello Da CASERTA
Amour m’a le cuer mis en tel martire ballade stanza b,c,f [3:44]
Ma seul amour et ma belle maistresse rondeau b,d [3:28]
Francesco LANDINI
Nessun ponga sperança ballata c,d,f [4:05]
Guillaume DUFAY
Mon cuer me fait tous dis penser rondeau a,b,c,e [6:05]
Va t’en, mon cuer, avent mes yeux rondeau a,c,d [3:28]
Fortune, faulce, parverse rondeau a,b,c,d [4:23]
Francus De INSULA
Amours n’ont cure de tristresse rondeau b,c,f [5:35]
(Bartholomeus?) BROLLO
Qui le sien vuelt bien maintenir ballade b,c,f [3 :28]
Francesco LANDINI
Giunta vaga biltà ballata b,g [3:21]
Je la remire, la belle rondeau b,c,f [2:35]
Guillaume DUFAY
Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys: rondeau b,c,f [3:57]
Gothic Voices (Gill Ross (soprano) a; Margaret Philpot (contralto) b; Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor) c; Andrew King (tenor) d; John Mark Ainsley (tenor) e; Leigh Nixon (tenor) f with Imogen Barford (medieval harp) g/Christopher Page (director)
rec. St Jude-on-the Hill, Hampstead, London, 28-29 June 1984, DDD.


Hyperion are gradually reissuing the series of very fine recordings made for them by Gothic Voices in the 1980s. This latest reissue is subtitled ‘Courtly songs of the early fifteenth century’, covering the period from 1400 to 1440. A further CD, The Castle of Fair Welcome (CDH55274) covers the courtly songs of the later fifteenth century. Both discs containing works by Dufay. It takes loosely as its theme the West wind, Zephirus, the harbinger of spring who breathes on the tender shoots and causes the birds to sing of love:-

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes …             
[And] smale foweles maken melodye.
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages)

[Chaucer: Canterbury Tales – Prologue]

Since he caused the flowers to grow, it was logical that Zephirus should be thought of as co-owner of Flora’s garden:

For both Flora and Zephirus,
They two that make floures growe,
Had mad her dwelling ther, I trowe … 

[Chaucer: Book of the Duchess] 

The only item on the CD which directly names Zephirus, the anonymous chanson N’a pas longtemps que trouvay Zephirus / En son gardin regardent ses flourettes, places him “in his garden, looking at his flowers.” At the same time the poet hints at the name of his beloved: “one pleasing flower in which my heart delights … the most pleasing and beautiful Marguerite.” The courtly code forbade the lover’s naming his beloved, but the French and English courts played a game to which Chaucer refers in The Legend of Good Women, the cult of the daisy or marguerite. The singer is teasing us: we cannot be sure whether he has a flower or a lady in mind. Dufay’s J’atendray tant qu’il vous playra plays the courtly game more strictly in declaring that he will “wait as long as you wish” before he even declares his love for his lady. Chaucer’s Troilus played this game, too, and it led to tragedy. 

The downside of love is evident in many of these pieces: in one piece love has set the lover’s heart “in such torment/that many times a day I tremble”; in another the lover bemoans “the harsh sorrow/which I endure so long, night and day/for love of you”; in yet another “False, perverse fortune” has thrown the lover “into great torment”, presumably because his beloved is obdurate. Elsewhere love brings out the best: the lady’s beauty makes “all vice dissolve from my heart/and virtue awaken there”; in another piece the lady’s “worth can only be enhanced/when true Love inclines you to this.” The Zephirus theme is merely a peg on which to hang some wonderful music but the prevailing mood of all this music, as Christopher Page stresses in his excellent notes, is youth – the joys, hopes, despair and pains of youth and the lessons that it needs, and fails, to learn. The final piece, Dufay’s Adieu ces bons vins ends the CD on an appropriately valedictory note: “farewell to her I loved so much, / farewell to all joy and pleasure.” 

It would be fatally easy to use this CD as background music – indeed, that is just what I am doing as I write this review – but every piece on it deserves to be listened to with care: not just the pieces by the better-known Dufay and Landini. To our modern ears there may not seem to be much variety in the programme, though, as Christopher Page notes, the counterpoint of many of these pieces “is instantly familiar to the modern Western ear in a way that French counterpoint of the fourteenth century rarely is”. That may be a slightly optimistic view of the matter, but the alternation of almost unknown composers with Dufay and Landini makes for variety, as does the alternation of rondeaux and other forms – chanson and ballade. Some of the composers are shadowy figures indeed – Briquet’s first name appears to be lost, as is most of his music, Ma seul amour, recorded here, being the sum total of his known opus. Similarly, Brollo’s first name has to be accompanied by a question-mark, but his Qui le sien vuelt bien maintenir, like the Briquet, is well worth detailed listening.

Having been a fan of Gothic Voices since I first heard their award-winning recording of Hildegard of Bingen, A Feather on the Breath of God, (CDA66039 – perhaps Hyperion will be generous enough to reissue this, too, on Helios) I unhesitatingly purchased this CD as soon as it appeared, since it was the only Gothic Voices CD that I had not bought first time round. I can offer no stronger recommendation. Fifty minutes may seem short value, even for a disc which first appeared on LP, but at the Helios price it is a real bargain. Go out and buy this CD – and Hyperion’s other Helios reissues of Gothic voices, too, on CDH55274 (The Castle of Fair Welcome), CDH 55273 (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell) and CDH55281 (The Spirits of England and France). Doubtless other Gothic Voices reissues will appear in due course – I certainly hope so.

Brian Wilson


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