A Minnesinger and his 'Vale of Tears': Songs and Interludes NEIDHART(c.1185-c.1240)
Cantilena 'Der han' [2:33] +
'Mir ist ummaten leyde' [5:28] *
'Summer unde winder' [7:46] *
Clausula (with material from 13th century English monodies) [3:53]
'Sinc eyn gulden hoen' - +Stantipes 'Der munich' [7:40] *
'Willekome eyn sommerweter suze' [5:54] *
'Ich claghe de blomen' [9:28] *
Allez daz den sumer' [7:04] * Walther VON DER VOGELWEIDE(c.1170-c.1230)
Vil wol gelopter got (completed by Marc Lewon) [3:10] * Adam DE LA HALLE(c.1237-c.1288)
Je muir, je muir [1:35] * Anonymous
'Guoten wib wol uch der eren' (from Jena Liederhandschrift, 14th
century) [5:47] *
Muteta 'Non veul mari' (from a 13th century motet) [1:48] +
Stantipes 'Der hedamerschol' (from a 13th century motet) [2:31]+ Ensemble Leones (Marc Lewon (voice, lute, gittern, vielle, director,
*arranger); Els Janssens-Vanmunster (voice); Baptiste Romain (vielle,
bagpipes, voice, +arranger (instrumental piece))
rec. Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche, Binningen, Switzerland, 6-9 April 2010.
NAXOS 8.572449 [64:39]
This superb CD proves that time travel is possible. To
listen to these outstanding performances by Ensemble Leones
of Neidhart's beautiful music and witty, sophisticated, sometimes
outrageous poetry is to be transported back eight hundred years
to an incredible period in the history of music and civilisation
in general. Everyone who cares about that heritage should hear
All the Neidhart songs in Leones' recital, both music and texts,
are taken from the so-called Frankfurt Neidhart Fragment, dated
to around 1300 and housed at Frankfurt-am-Main University. The
eight surviving pages of a larger manuscript reveal - at least
to the patient and trained eye of a scholar like Lewon - six
songs by Neidhart, five with more or less complete melodies.
This is the first complete recording and performance,
made possible by Lewon's painstaking reconstruction of the surviving
material, necessitating in one case the borrowing of appropriate
melodies from elsewhere. The results may or may not be entirely
authentic, but the songs are compellingly evocative and utterly
convincing. The instruments employed by Leones are recent reproductions
but they sound terrific, especially when played with the delicacy
and intuition of Lewon and Romain.
Thanks to Lewon and his ensemble - whose ranks swell or shrink
according to the current project, incidentally - 21st century
audiences can enjoy Neidhart's peerless musicianship, specifically
his maverick take on the generally more deferent Minnesang tradition.
His Dörperlieder ('bumpkin songs') take the themes
of the usual hohe Minne ('high love') - the courtly ideals
of love from afar and chivalry - and transfer them to rough
rustic settings. The real joke is on the gentry who laugh at
the buffoonery and coarseness of the peasants in his songs -
they are the implied object of Neidhart's insinuations and sarcasm.
It was a bold decision by Leones to perform the nearly ten-minute
long song 'Ich claghe de blomen' without instrumental support
- over 100 lines in nine stanzas - but such is the power of
Neidhart's music and poetry that time flies past. In any case,
the alternation of male and female voice, as well as the interpolation
of purely instrumental items, makes listening to this recital
as varied an experience as it is aesthetic.
The CD ends with a rather out-of-place song by Adam de la Halle,
billed as a 'bonus track' and certainly sounding like an afterthought.
The preceding song by the great Walther von der Vogelweide is
at least no anachronism, but its inclusion is not really explained
in the booklet.
As the notes explain, the German of Neidhart is not strictly
Middle High German (MHG) but a Low version of the same, reflecting
where the texts were written, and explaining why some of the
sounds are reminiscent of modern Dutch. At any rate, Neidhart's
language should prove at least as intelligible to modern Low
German speakers as Geoffrey Chaucer's is to those familiar with
On the subject of pronunciation, both Marc Lowen and Els Janssens-Vanmunster
sound entirely authentic, and their excellent diction only heightens
the listener's joy. Their singing style is folk-like but not
'rustic', emotional without affectation, plaintive or humorous
as appropriate without recourse to melodrama. Practically impeccable,
in other words.
In his interesting notes Neidhart expert Marc Lewon points out
that the 'von Reuental' still frequently attached to his name
is erroneous, founded on "a nineteenth-century misapprehension".
Curiously he, and Naxos in their title, set about perpetuating
another of those with a mistranslation of 'Reuental' - 'riuwental'
in MHG - as "vale of tears". In MHG tears is 'trene', 'Tränen'
in modern German, whereas 'riuwe' equates with modern German
'Jammer' or 'Schmerz' - the minnesinger's 'lament' or 'pain'.
The Nithart of these poems is a knight, not a cry-baby!
In his acknowledgements Lewon also thanks the proof-reader for
checking his translations from German into English, but some
of the phraseology is decidedly shaky for all that. For example,
"in his Bavarian sphere" for "in seiner bairischen Heimat" ('in
his Bavarian homeland'); "but from which the German Minnesang
of Neidhart’s time was yet but far"; or "Neidhart only
played the fool" for "Neidhart [...] spielte nur vordergründig
den Narren" ('Neidhart only played the fool ostensibly'). Sometimes
the language is so inapt as to misrepresent the original: "They
show the distinctive trademarks of Neidhart’s oeuvre and
touch on many aspects of his lyrical portfolio, featuring content,
form, and musical modes typical to his work" is only tangentially
equivalent to the German, quite apart from the linguistic horror
that is "lyrical portfolio". Punctuation is also inconsistent
and sometimes appears almost randomly applied.
Full sung texts, with translations into modern German and English,
are downloadable for free from the Naxos website here.
The German translations are good, the English somewhat clumsier,
with numerous misjudgements of term and register, as well as
a few, sometimes meaning-changing typos - but perfectly serviceable
This CD was briefly reviewed here
last year, when Naxos released it as a download only. Pace
that review, no harp is used in this recording.
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