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The Study of Love: French songs and motets of the 14th century
Anonymous
Pour vous servir [3:27]; Puis que l’aloe ne fine */**/*** [1:51]; Jour a jour la vie [3:35]
Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377)
Dame, je sui cilz / Fins cuers doulz / Fins cuers doulz [2:21]
Anonymous
Combien que j’aye */**/*** [1:46]; Marticius qui fu [3:50]; Renouveler me feïst [2:42]
Guillaume de Machaut
Trop plus / Biauté paree / Je ne suis [1:25]
Anonymous
Fist on, dame [2:07]; Il me convient guerpir [1:54]
Guillaume de Machaut
Tres bonne et belle [2:22]
Anonymous
Le ior ‘Faenza codex’** [3:22]; En la maison Dedalus [3:03]; Combien que j’aye ** [1:40]; La grant biauté [2:10]
Pycard (fl c.1410)
Gloria [4:02]

Guillaume de Machaut
Se mesdisans [4:37]
Anonymous
En esperant [3:28]; Ay las! quant je pans [3:42]

Guillaume de Machaut
Dame, je vueil endurer ^ [2:28]
Solage (fl 1370-1390)
Le basile [2:17]
^ Margaret Philpot (alto); * Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor); **Andrew Lawrence-King (medieval harp)
Gothic Voices/Christopher Page (*** lute)
rec. May 1992, Boxgrove Priory, Chichester, UK. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English, French and German; texts and English translations.
Formerly released at full price as Hyperion CDA66619.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55295
[60:09] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


This reissue is effectively the third part of a triptych, of which The Medieval Romantics (CDH55293) and Lancaster and Valois (CDH55294) are the first and second parts. The music of Guillaume de Machaut is the chief element which binds them, though there are secondary links: CDH55294 and CDH55295 offer two different instrumental pieces entitled le ior; Pycard’s mass movements feature on two CDs and the music of Solage on all three CDs.
 

Pycard and Solage are such shadowy figures that we don’t know even their first names; Pycard doesn’t even earn a mention in the Oxford Companion to Music, though both feature in the Concise Grove. Pycard, presumably a native of Picardy, appears to have been associated with John of Gaunt’s chapel in the 1390s and his surviving music, in the Old Hall manuscript, consists entirely of mass movements in four or five parts. It might have been more appropriate to have presented these isolated movements – Credo on CDH55294 and Gloria on CDH55295 – in the company of Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, the first known setting of the complete ordinary of the mass. Pycard’s music on these two CDs is of high quality, making it worthy to be heard alongside Machaut. 

Very little of Solage’s music survives; he was probably connected with the French court in the 1380s and his chansons bear a similarity to those of Machaut. The rest of the music is by that prolific composer Anon., much of it realised for the first time in the modern era. 

The various Gothic Voices recordings hold a place of special honour in my collection: purchased either in their original full-price format or in their recent Helios reincarnations, they now fill quite a long section of shelf. I’ve consistently recommended those that have come my way for review and the three most recent reissues are no exception – I bought The Medieval Romantics and Lancaster and Valois and was ready to buy The Study of Love had it not come my way, so I’m putting my money where my mouth is – but I don’t think I’d begin here if I were starting to collect their recordings. 

Much as I love Machaut’s music and poetry – he was a major influence on Chaucer, an influence which would be especially important to Christopher Page, director of Gothic Voices, who is also an English don – I know that many coming to pre-Renaissance music find even Machaut’s masterpiece, la Messe de Nostre Dame alien. If you haven’t yet encountered that work, that’s the Machaut work with which to begin – then move on to The Study of Love and its companions. 

Despite the illustration of St Jerome on the cover, most of the music on this CD is secular. If we are to accept the thesis of the seminal work on the late 14th and 15th centuries, Huizinga’s Waning of the Middle Ages – the ‘famous book’ which Christopher Page disparages without naming in his notes to The Medieval Romantics – the themes of medieval literature, particularly fin amour or courtly love, were spent forces. Machaut’s poetry and music, and most of the other music on this recording, would serve to refute that thesis; Charles Duke of Orléans’ English and French poetry of the 15th century still employs the theme of courtly love in a fresh manner and even as late as Malory’s retelling of the Arthurian cycle late in the 15th century, fin amour still had plenty going for it. Malory may misunderstand some aspects of the game* – it never was as serious a business with rigid rules, as C.S. Lewis made it in his wonderful groundbreaking book on courtly love – but his account of the illicit love of Lancelot and Guinevere still strikes a chord with modern readers. There’s an excellent Norton edition of his Morte d’Arthur, with helpful notes, if you wish to try it; alternatively the Oxford World’s Classics slightly abridged and lightly modernised version. 

As well as fin amour, the works on this recording remind us that knowledge of the classics did not languish until restored at the Renaissance, as is often supposed, though the classics were filtered through an extra medieval layer – the friendship of the Romans Marticius and Fabricius becomes the pattern of courtly love in Marticius qui fu (track 6). The labyrinth which Dædalus fashioned becomes the symbol of the indirect route to the heart of the beloved in En la maison Dedalus (tr. 13). Medieval writers were less concerned with the wings which he fashioned for himself and Icarus, which would later become a renaissance image of the high flyer. 

The first piece, Pour vous servir, immediately introduces us to the theme of the lover in thrall to his lady’s commands. The forthright performance (Margaret Philpott, alto and two tenors, Andrew Tusa and Leigh Nixon) which it receives is very attractive and sets the tone for the whole CD. I’ve seen Gothic Voices’ singing described as ‘extrovert dynamism’, which exactly fits this track and most of the CD. 

The second piece, Puis que l’aloe ne fine, adds that other great theme of courtly love – the delight in the Spring when the lark sings without cease and love is reawakened. Jour a jour la vie (track 3) returns to the eternal service which the lover has sworn. Though involving four singers (alto and three tenors, as for track 1 plus Rogers Covey-Crump) only one actually sings the words. 

Musicologists are still not unanimous as to how the music of this period should be performed. The notes in the booklet which accompanies this recording are shorter than usual from Hyperion – just one page – so the reader is left without Christopher Page’s justification for staying with solo performance of some of these pieces, with the other voices effectively humming. This performance technique is described in the notes to The Medieval Romantics, so you will need to refer to that booklet to obtain the full picture (see below on downloading the booklet).

Whatever the musicological case, the performances here amply justify the practice. Just occasionally Page also admits the unobtrusive employment of medieval harp (Andrew King) or lute (Page himself) – both employed very effectively in Puis que l’aloe ne fine (track 2). I still enjoy David Munrow’s more forthright employment of instruments in this music, but Page’s approach is not just more academically sound in the light of recent research, it’s also enjoyable. I’m amazed to discover that David Munrow’s Early Music Consort recordings of The Art of Courtly Love (Machaut, Binchois, Dufay and contemporaries, last seen on Virgin Veritas 2 CDs, 5 61284 2) and The Art of the Netherlands (formerly two EMI CDs, 7 64215 2, or Virgin 5 61334 2) appear to have been deleted; they must surely reappear soon as super-budget Virgin twofers. 

Machaut makes his first appearance on the Helios recording with track 4, Dame, je suis cilz, which introduces the additional ingredient of the lady’s intention to desert her devoted lover, the theme so effectively worked in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. If the first three tracks have shown us the skill of many of his unknown contemporaries, the extra quality of Machaut’s composition is evident here. 

The voices of Margaret Philpot, Rogers Cover-Crump and Leigh Nixon weave in and out of each other in this intricate work but the solo voice of Rogers Cover-Crump is equally effective on track 17, Machaut’s Se mesdisans, in which the singer steels himself against slander. Track 20, another Machaut piece, Dame je vueil endurer, in which the lover speaks of the torment which he willingly endures for his beloved, also receives an excellent performance from Margaret Philpot. 

Hyperion themselves, in advertising this CD on their website, single out the performances of Margaret Philpot and Rogers Covey-Crump. Not wishing to slight any one of these excellent performers, let me say that Andrew Tusa, Stephen Charleworth and Donald Greig join Cover-Crump in an equally excellent performance of Pycard’s Gloria (tr. 16), bringing out the quality of this remarkable piece. I haven’t yet named Julian Podger or Donald Greig, but their performances are well up to the high overall standard. 

As always with Helios reissues, the booklet is fully the equal of the full-price original and Christopher Page’s (brief) notes both readable and informative. I am pleased to see Hyperion following Chandos’s example in making their booklets available to all online, which means that you can read the notes, as well as listening to extracts from the music, before deciding whether to purchase. This is a particularly valuable service for those who have downloaded the music; The Study of Love is not available as a download, but Lancaster & Valois is still on offer in its original format for £7.99 from iTunes. Several Gothic Voices Helios reissues are offered at the same price – a good deal more expensive than Helios reissues usually sell for in CD format, so downloading is definitely not recommendable in this case. Full price Hyperion recordings, where offered at £7.99 in ‘plus’ format are a different matter. 

I suppose it is inevitable that Page takes for granted, here and in the other booklets, that the reader understands some of the technical terms which he employs, such as ‘polymetric’ and ‘double rondeau’ and leaves unexplained why some pieces have two or even three sets of words. A good reference work is essential – I recommend either the Oxford Companion to Music or the Concise Grove Dictionary of Music – to explain, for example, why one of the parts in Dame, je suis cilz is labelled triplum: see the Oxford Companion under Part or Concise Grove under duplum and triplum. 

I wholeheartedly recommend this CD to those familiar with the late-medieval idiom. For those who have yet to master the medium, I offer the rather unhelpful advice of the idiot in the joke: if I were going there, I wouldn’t start from here. Some of the other Gothic Voices reissues are easier going for the beginner. Perhaps their Garden of Zephirus (CDH55289 – see review) would be a better place to start – I made that CD Recording of the Month a year ago, partly because it is more approachable for beginners. If David Munrow’s Art of Courtly Love reappears, as surely it must, that would make an even better springboard for beginners. 

Brian Wilson

* In Chrestien de Troyes’ Le Chevalier de la Charette, in which the story of Lancelot’s rescue of Guinevere first appears, she chides him for having hesitated to mount a common cart in order to rescue her; Malory makes her criticise him for having come to her rescue in something as common as a cart.


 


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