Among the most developed and beautiful musics in the history
of the world was the French motet. During the high medieval period
composers such as Guillaume
de Machaut wrote complex, intertwined, ethereal melodies with rhythmic intricacies
that rival anything ever created. Simultaneously these works were focused on
a melodic and lyrical timelessness that has stood the test of the centuries.
The sacred motets were written to invoke the glory of God and the secular ones
were created to glorify in sound the courtly ladies that were the poet's inspiration.
So successful were the composers that, even for those who don't understand medieval
French, the simple sound of the words evokes the expressed moods of love.
The songs selected here are brilliant gemstones of the genre. The majority of
them are a capella
duets and trios. Where we know who the composers are
they are among the giants of medieval music. Indeed, Guillaume de Machaut is
considered by many to be the single most important composer of the 14th
Most of the songs included here have several musical lines swirling around each
other. The remainder are either instrumental or use a vocal continuo to form
harmonies while one or two other vocalists sing above the lower, more static
harmonies. Unlike baroque music these pieces do not feel highly constructed.
Rather they feel as if they are organically composed, with the various parts
simply being brought together because they would be incomplete if they stood
apart. This is, obviously, the goal of a master composer, and here the music
lives on long after the musicians have crumbled to dust.
Such an appraisal would be an impossibility without exquisite performance. Simply
spoken, Gothic Voices are among the best at bringing these sounds back to life.
The seven vocalists sing beautifully together, playing off each other and flawlessly
locking into the interwoven sonic tapestry. The lute and medieval harp, when
played well, are exquisite to listen to. Gothic Voices managed to find two modern
masters of these instruments.
Even the packaging is well done, thoughtfully prepared, and helpful for the listener.
The director writes briefly about the selections and about the period they represent.
The original texts and translations are provided side by side in the booklet
and the performances are notated so that one can easily reference which performers
sing or play in each work.
This is simply a masterpiece. In particular Pycard's “Gloria”, Machaut's “Dame,
je suis cilz/Fins cuers”, and “Jour a jour la vie” are gorgeous
and also stand out as fabulous performances. Every piece is in fact well done
and has been selected for its musical worth. The collection was lovingly created
and masterfully performed. This will suit any lover of medieval music, or indeed
most lovers of music in general, very well indeed.
see also review by Brian Wilson