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