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The Last of the Troubadours: The Art & Times of Guiraut Riquier
Guiraut Riquier (c.1230-c.1292) The sack of Beziers and the siege of Carcassonne (1209) [1:18]
Bertran de BORN (c.1140-c.1210) Rassa, tan creis [2:02]
Riquier at NARBONNE (1254-1270): Canso 7: No.m say d’amor (1259) [4:16]; La segonda retroencha (1256) [1:28]; Planh (lament) for the Lord of Narbonne, Ples de tristor, marritz e dolorois (1270) [4:04]
Dance: Au temps d’auost (French, 13th century) [1:00]
Anon Cantiga (Spanish, 13th century) [1:40]
Riquier at the Court of Alfonso X, the Wise, King of Castile (1270-1280)
Fid e verays (1275) [4:02]; Maravillosos et piadosos (Cantiga 139 from the Cantigas de Santa Maria attrib. ALFONSO X) [2:06]; La Redonda (1270) [2:53]; Villancico: Mais non faz Santa Maria (Cantiga 3 from the Cantigas de Santa Maria) [2:19]; La Premieyra retroencha (1270) [3:41]
Riquier in Rodez, at the Court of Count Henri II (1280 -92)
Jesu Crist [1:38]; Rossinyol (traditional Catalonian air) [0:38]; Los Esclops (traditional dance from Languedoc) [1:08]; Vers: Ja mais non er (1286) [3:38]; Vers: Be.m clegra (1284) (Melody & English text) [2:11]; From La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise [0:45]
Folquert de MARSELHA (1160-1231), Bishop of Toulouse Melody: Si tot me sui a tart apperceubutz [1:29]
Martin Best Medieval Ensemble (Martin Best (voice, lute, oud, psaltery); Jeremy Barlow (recorders and pipes); David Corkhill (nakers, hammer dulcimer, tabors, drums, bells and timbrel); Alastair McLachlan (rebecs and fidele))
rec. Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, 6-7 January 1981. ADD.
Booklet with translations but no original texts.
NIMBUS NI5261 [42:16]

Experience Classicsonline


This was the first to be produced of a series of recordings of medieval music which Martin Best made for the Nimbus label, now, happily, once again available with the resurgence of that label. I have already reviewed three of these recordings: follow the links for reviews of Forgotten Provence (NI5445) the Cantigas of Alfonso X (NI5081) and Amor de Lonh (NI5544).

If you feel that you want to know more about the troubadour tradition before you buy any of these CDs, the article in the Concise Grove or that in the Oxford Companion to Music would make a good starting point. In brief, they were poet musicians who flourished in the South of France in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries, writing in the Provençal language, sometimes known as occitan, more closely related to Catalan than to the northern dialect which became standard French, from which the region of Languedoc takes its name, oc being the word for ‘yes’ in that language.

The CD is dedicated to the work of one person, Guiraut Riquier, born in Narbonne, c.1230, he died between 1299 and 1300. A Provençal troubadour poet and composer, he is usually considered the last of the troubadours, hence the title of this recording. His 89 extant poems are, in some sources, assigned an exact date ranging from 1254 to 1292, and purport to reveal facts about his life. But be cautious when poets do this – Rousseau, generally regarded as one of the first to give an honest account of himself, rehashes a story about being knocked down by a large animal and concussed, which Montaigne told some 200 years earlier. Dante’s account of his meeting with Beatrice in the Vita Nuova is by no means universally accepted as factual.

At first sight, therefore, this CD completes the whole span of the troubadour tradition, since the Martin Best Ensemble also offers the work of Guillaume or Guilhelm IX of Aquitaine (1071-1127), said to be the first of his kind, on another Nimbus CD, Songs of Chivalry (NI5006) which I intend to review.

But note that the subtitle bills the recording as ‘The Art and Times (my emphasis) of Guiraut, since several of the pieces are by that prolific composer Anon.; track 2 is by Bertran de Born, track 9 comes from the Cantigas of Alfonso the Wise and the final track offers the melody of a piece by Folquert de Marselha, Bishop of Toulouse and former troubadour. The whole effect of the programme, therefore, is to set the context for Guiraut’s life and work.

Bertran de Born and Folquert de Marsalha or Marseille (neither of them listed in the Concise Grove, though the Oxford Companion has an article on Folquert) both flourished around 1180-96. Works by both also feature on yet another Martin Best Nimbus CD, The Dante Troubadours (NI5002) which I also plan to review in the near future. Both were involved in the secular and religious upheavals of the late twelfth century which in turn had their effects on the age of Guiraut Riquier.

Bertran was involved in the conflict between the French and English kings and their offspring which affected the whole of Aquitaine. The one person to emerge with honour from the conflict was William Marshall, First Earl of Pembroke, whose deeds are recounted in the Histoire de Guillaume le Marechal. (See Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel, The Greatest Knight, Time Warner, 2006.) Some of Bertran’s works were dedicated to Matilda, daughter of Henry II.

Folquert was influential throughout France, his works being translated into the language of the North. After an intense religious conversion he threw himself wholeheartedly into the crusade against the Albigensian Cathars which ultimately destroyed the Provençal culture of the troubadours. His diocese of Toulouse appears to have been founded specifically to combat the Cathars – see Malcolm Lambert’s The Cathars (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998, p.48). Though he died in the putative year of Guiraut’s birth, his campaign on behalf of the Inquisition thus had a direct effect on Guiraut’s becoming the last of the line.

The opening pieces on this CD, therefore, the first describing the attacks on Beziers and Carcassonne in 1209, as part of the so-called Albigensian campaign and the second the melody of Bertran’s poem in which he refers to the changes of allegiance, aptly set the scene for Riquier’s own works. Neither the text nor translation of Bertran’s Rassa, tan creis is given, since the tune alone is featured on the CD, but the words are relevant to the changing and troubled times which preceded the birth of Guiraut : E nos avem chamjat senhor/Bo guerrier per tornejador. [We’ve changed our lord, too, a good warrior for a tournament champion.]

The main forms of Riquier’s music are the cansos (courtly-love songs, tracks 3, 8 and 10) and 20 vers (track 16). All of it is attractive, as offered here in persuasive performances. If you have read my other reviews – better still, if you have bought one of the earlier recordings – you will know what to expect from Martin Best. First and foremost, he has a fine singing voice. Of course, we do not know exactly how this music sounded when sung in the thirteenth century, but it probably didn’t sound as polished as it does here. This is medieval music for a modern audience, despite claims to the contrary in the booklet that "the attempt is made to create an authentic 13th century atmosphere." The amplification that "the hope is that the attempt is authentic for today" is closer to the truth - if I understand this awkward phrase correctly, a compromise has been struck.

The account of the events at Beziers and Carcassonne (track 1) is offered in English from the translation in A.J. Munthe’s book A Note That Breaks the Silence. The words are declaimed – appropriately, Martin Best has associations with the Royal Shakespeare Company – and punctuated dramatically with drumbeats. Be.m clegra (tr.17) is also spoken in English, though less dramatically, with the melody on pipe, psaltery and rebec quietly playing in the background.

Martin Best’s notes are very helpful in setting the stormy themes of Guiraut’s poetry in context, though he over-simplifies the issue when he describes the Cathars are returning to "a simple black-and-white emulation of early Christianity". There is much more to it than that, including the influence of the dualistic sect the Manichees, to whom St Augustine once belonged, and a belief that the world was the province not of God but of Satan. There is plenty of information online about the Cathars – not all of it, unfortunately, reliable – if you want to find out about them. The most recent book which I know is Malcolm D Lambert’s The Cathars to which I have already referred. Beware of popular theories which link them to the Holy Grail and the so-called da Vinci Code.

Some of the details in the head-note – for example, the numbers of the two Cantigas de Santa Maria – have had to be expanded from what is offered in the booklet. I have retained Nimbus’s spelling Au temps d’auost, though the more correct spelling would be auoust.

Translations only of the sung texts are given in the booklet but there is an excellent website for the original texts of the troubadours, in some cases with English translations and midi-file music examples.

The short playing time may be excusable in the light of the first appearance of this recording in the dying days of LP but, in fact, those final-generation LPs were capable of well over 60 minutes. Except that I seem to recall that this was originally a 12" 45 r.p.m LP. All these Martin Best recordings are rather short but 42:16 now seems particularly mean.

Small reservations apart, therefore, this CD may be recommended alongside the others in the series which I have reviewed, though the recent Naxos compilation Time of the Templars, which I have recently recommended – see my review and that of GH – might make a better introduction to the music of the period, especially as those three CDs are offered for not much more than this one Nimbus disc.

Brian Wilson


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