This disc brings together repertoire of the 14th century from France and Italy. What the pieces on the programme have in common, despite their differences, is a rhythmically complex character. This was made possible by the invention of a new notational system at the end of the 13th century. Before that only the pitch of a note could be indicated, but now it was also possible to mark the length of a note. As a result music not only became more complicated, but also developed increasingly individual traits.
In his programme notes Laurenz Lütteken points out how the character of music in France and Italy reflected the social and political circumstances. France was a centralistic state, whereas in Italy a large number of rival sovereignties and city republics existed, all competing with each other. Every one of them tried to be individualistic, and that was also reflected in music.
On this disc we find some of the forms which developed in the 14th century. The most simple is the ballade which consists of three stanzas, the first two of which are identical. In the second half of the 14th century it was gradually replaced by the more complex rondeau. It opens with a refrain which returns after every stanza. The third form in French music of the 14th century was the virelai, following the pattern ABBA.
This is basically identical with the structure of the Italian ballata. This had replaced the older madrigal with its simpler structure of AAB. Although there are differences between the French and Italian music of the 14th century, which have had musicologists label them as Ars Nova and music of the Trecento respectively, they also have much in common. There were not only political connections between both countries, but also between composers in France and Italy. Whereas in France Guillaume de Machaut was the dominant poet, his contemporary Francesco Petrarca, born in Tuscany, travelled frequently between northern Italy and the French city of Avignon.
Jacopo da Bologna worked at the court in Milan, which around 1400 was still dominated by French music, and in the oeuvre of Matteo da Perugia French forms are in the majority. And some of Guillaume de Machaut's works appear in northern Italian manuscripts. One of the differences between French and Italian music is the stronger connection between text and music in the latter. That is all too evident in the repertoire on this disc. The ballata Fuggite, Gianni, Bacco is a satirical piece about the "wino" Gianni: "Fly, Gianni, you wino, from l'Aquila, thief, worse than a blowfly, that cries: plunder, plunder!" The setting by Andreas Horganista de Florentia, with its vivid rhythms, graphically illustrates the text. In Johannes de Ciconia's ballata La fiamma del to amor the rhythm is reflecting the "flame of love": "The flame of your love, that once grasped me, now drives my soul from death to life". In other pieces, like the rondeau Helas! merci, the music perfectly expresses the deep sadness of the text.
Jill Feldman has a vast experience in the music of the early renaissance. It is difficult to imagine a better performance of this repertoire than she delivers here. She is a very versatile singer, and the slow-moving, sad pieces come off as well as the more vivid compositions. She sings the ballata Fuggite, Gianni, Bacco as if it were a cabaret song. Here she articulates sharply in order to communicate the text; in other pieces her legato is admirable. In addition she colours her voice in accordance with the content of the text. Kees Boeke plays on various flutes and a fiddle, perfectly shaping the often quite virtuosic instrumental lines. It is notable that the vocal compositions recorded here are all written in two parts. That is how they are performed, in contrast to other recordings in which one or two parts are added.
The booklet contains informative programme notes by Laurenz Lütteken. We also get the lyrics with an English, modern French and German translation. It is inconvenient, though, that the original lyrics and the translations have not been printed parallel to each other, but have been split. This way you have to leaf back and forth to read them both.
Johan van Veen
Guillaume DE MACHAUT (c.1300-1377)
Dame, mon cuer emportes, virelai [04:07]
Se je me playng, ballade [06:15]
Dame ne regardés pas, ballade [02:42]
De desconfort, ballade [06:24]
JACOPO DA BOLOGNA (c.1310-1386?)
Quando veggio sott'ombra, madrigal [02:11]
Andreas HORGANISTA DE FLORENTIA (?-1415?)
La divina giustizia, ballata [03:16]
Non isperi mercede, ballata [04:58]
Fuggite, Gianni, Bacco, ballata [01:52]
Gherardello Da FIRENZE (c.1322-1363)
Donna l'altrui mirar (instr) [03:59]
Matteo Da PERUGIA (?-1418)
Helas! merci, rondeau [07:30]
Ne me chaut, virelai [02:25]
Plus lies des lies, rondeau [06:52]
Johannes CICONIA (c.1370-c.1412)
Merçé o morte, ballata [04:48]
La fiamma del to amor, ballata [03:06]
Dolçe Fortuna, ballata [05:00]