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Love, Revelry and Dance In Medieval Music
Millenarium
RICERCAR RIC 328 [7 CDs: 7:56:18]

This boxed set consists of seven CDs recorded by or with Millenarium, a group little known in the UK. Their standard line-up consists of three musicians: Carole Matras, Christophe Deslignes and Thierry Gomar. For several discs however they are joined by others who add colour and continued interest. 

We are taken in this set on a neatly packaged and exciting tour of music in medieval Europe from the 12th to the 14th centuries with a little venture into the early 15th.
 
The thick and beautifully presented booklet, which contains often lengthy and detailed essays and beautiful manuscript reproductions, does not have any texts. I happen to have three discs from their previous incarnations as it were, but even then the original text was supplied translated only into modern French with just a rather brief résumé in English.
 
CD 1 Chansons de Troubadors et dansas d Jongleurs
Thibaut de CHAMPAGNE Amour me fait commencer [3.06];
Bernard de VENTADORN Con vei la lauzeta mover [5.58]; Ben m’an perdut [6.23]
Gaucelm FAIDIT Fort chausa es [10.13]; Jamais uill tems [5.54]; Lo rossinholet selvatge [8.05];
Beranguier de PALOI Tant m’abelis [2.59]
ANON Donanza amorosa [4.19]; Comminciamento di goia [5.18]; La nova estampida real [4.41]; Improvisation on Quis dabit occuli [5.10]
Millenarium
rec. Church of Notre-Dame de Centeilles, November 2000 [63.11]
 
For this first disc just the three core musicians of Millenarium are featured. When it first came out the disc was subtitled ‘Joy’ and consisted of eleven tracks. The group’s raison d’être can probably be summed up through Christophe Deslignes’ booklet comment that “Our affinity with past ages should not prevent us from using modern means to portray a modern and personal vision of these medieval lyrics of courtly love”. That approach certainly applies to this disc but as we work through the seven discs that philosophy is going to play a major part in our criticisms. He also wrote, earlier in the essay, that the players want to “demonstrate our interest in the creative artistry of the troubadours and jongleurs”. Six of the items are sung in shortened versions: with not all of the verses being presented: probably a good thing. The style adopted by Carole Matras is one of a free rubato rhythm in which a melismatic approach is adapted especially to the ligatures. There is little use of the old triple rhythms heard on older recordings.
 
The composers represented come from the area of Southern France in the region of the Langue d’Oc and flourished from mid to late twelfth century - in other words from the so-called ‘second generation’ of musician-poets (‘The Music of the Troubadours’ by Elizabeth Aubrey, Indiana University Press, 1998) of the period which has also been called the twelfth century Renaissance. The most famous is Bernard de Ventadorn who is reported to have had an affair with Eleanor of Aquitaine, later wife to Henry I. Eighteen of his melodies survive. Also famous was Gaucelm Faidit whose Fortz chausa es was written on the death of Richard Coeur de Lion (d.1199) which for some reason is performed here with a lengthy drums solo at the start.
 
Not only are the songs sometimes filled out with solo instrumental sections but also with various dances sometimes based on popular melodies of the time. The last track is an improvisation using the plainchant Quis dabit occuli mei.
 
CD 2 Douce Amie - Trouvères Songs and Minstrel Dances from the 12-13 th Centuries
Thibaut de CHAMPAGNE Dame, ensinc est [9.32]
Chastelain de COUCI Le noviau tanz [3.52]
Moniot D’ARRAS Ce fut en mai [1.26]
Blanche de CASTILLE Amours, ou trop tart me sui pris [7.45]
Gautier d’ÉPINAL Touz esforciez chanté sovent [5.17]
Gace BRULÉ Douce Dame grez et graces vos rent [10.24]
ANON Rose de Rosaces after Cantiga de Santa Maria [2.12]; La tierce Estampie royale [4.49]; Por coi me bait mes maris [3.32]
Improvisation after Lambert Ferri Aymans, fins
Improvisation after Arnautz Daniel Estampida Arnautz [4.03]
Improvisation after Richard Coeur de Lion Estampie Janus Ayamans, fins [6.55]
Millenarium with Dominique Regef (fiddle and rebec); Henri Tournier (flutes)
rec. November 2001, Church of Notre-Dame de Centeilles [63.53]  

This disc explores a very similar repertoire but concentrates on mainly Northern France and the Langue D’Oc, on the Trouvère dances and songs of the 12th and 13th Centuries. The three members of Millenarium are now joined by a fiddle player and a flautist. On the whole this disc is a little more colourful than the first. It should be remembered that the distinction between vocal and instrumental music was not clearly drawn in this epoch even when the words, sacred or secular were well known. Improvisation by the instrumentalist either within the songs or as separate pieces is quite in keeping as is the somewhat oriental style of presentation that is often favoured, as in Por coi me bait. As the booklet says the group tries to “ally themselves with oral traditions and to the heritage of western music”. The returning crusaders were filled with new sounds and melodies heard in far-off lands.
 
Notes on the music and biographies where possible on the composers are interesting and useful. No texts are given and not even a synopsis of the songs. Like all of the extended essays for each disc some of the songs are explained and their subjects discussed. We can consider four categories of Trouvère song: 1. Love Songs like Li noviau tanz by de Couchi, 2. Crusaders’ Songs like Dame, ensinc by Thibaut de Champagne, 3. Sacred songs like Amours, ou trop tart attributed to Blanche of Castille and 4. Songs for or even by unhappily married women as the anonymous Por coi me bait. The one piece, which is not especially French, is from the Spanish collection the Cantigas de Santa Maria. This is an improvisation around Rose de rosacea. There is also a French Estampie La tierce Estampie royale that has been many times recorded.
 
Its apt that this second CD ends with pieces by the most famous of Trouvères, Richard Coeur de Lion, an improvisation around his only surviving song Ja nus en pris and then the song Douce, Dame grez et graces by Gace Brulé, the musician and friend whom legend claims as rescuer of Richard from his Austrian exile.
 
In all this talk of the superb and imaginative instrumental work on these first two CDs we should not overlook the voice of Carole Matras. I note particularly her rendition of Amours, out trop by Blanche de Castille and Touz esforciez by d’Epinal. Her expressiveness, her use of language and vowels sounds, her use of differing vocal techniques - all these are is remarkable and entirely moving and successful.
 
CD 3 Carmina Burana (12 th -13 th Century)
ANON Tempus transit gelidum [3.51]; Sic mea fata [4.32]; Dananza Gedeonis [5.12]; Clauso chrono [7.26]; Improvisation for percussion [1.36] Veris dulcis in tempore [5.39]; Improvisation for flute [1.03]; Celum non animum [4.43]; Estampie [3.28]; Danza aurea di Phebo [2.45] Nota perdita [4.45]; Improvisation for fiddle [1.37]; Celum non animum [3.26]
Philippe Le CHANCELIER (d.1236) Veritas Veritatem [6.36]
Gautier De CHATILLON (d.1201) Fas et nefas ambulant [2.42];
Millenarium with Sabine Lutzenburger (voice and recorder); Phulippe Gomar (lute); Baptiste Romain (fiddle and bagpipes); Henri Tournier (flutes)
rec. April 2004, Church of Notre-Dame de Centeilles [70.39]
 
This oft-recorded and famous manuscript was compiled in Germany by the Goliards - a group of educated clergy who wrote satiric, Latin poetry. It is also international in concept and influence with its poems encompassing many subjects especially politics and love. In Latin and in the vernacular, each of these elements is heard reflected in the chosen items. Peter Abelard and his one-time pupil of philosophy and later love Heloise and Philippe the Chancellor each fall into this category. They must have known some of these songs.
 
There are no texts offered but an understanding of the songs is crucial. I have been using, where possible, other CDs with texts, which feature recordings of the songs. This I have supplemented with the Penguin Classics edition of ‘Selections from the Carmina Burana’ (1986) as translated by David Parlett.
 
For this disc the group changed a little with the inclusion of Sabine Lutzenburger, a new voice (and recorder player) and one equally expressive and flexible. There is also an extra player for lute, fiddle and bagpipe. The approach is similar however to the first two discs as regards rhythm and improvisation. To give you some idea it’s interesting to compare the Millenarium approach to Clauso Cronos with that of Philip Pickett and the New London Consort in 1989 (L’Oiseau Lyre 425 117-2). Pickett divides the verse between unison women and unison men. It is clearly in compound time and is a dance - possibly a ‘carole’. Millenarium have just the solo voice accompanied by improvising instruments in a free rhythm. This results in a passionate and very expressive reading.
 
Taking Sic mea fata as another example, the Studio de Frühen Musik in their classic recording under Thomas Binkley in 1964 (das Alte Werke 2564 69765-9) have this song performed by a counter-tenor. He is accompanied by an Arabic drum. It sounds quite a cheerful piece but the words speak of ”So do I sing to a comfort to care/sing like a swan seeing death in the air” (Parlett). The poet wishes to sleep with his beloved and to see her naked. Millenarium slow the tempo down and make it expressive and passionate. Lutzenburger’s voice rises to the occasion with fervour.
 
Another interesting comparison is in Fas et nefas ambulant attributed to Gautier de Chatillon (d.1201) and often translated as the ‘Beggar’s song’. This sets out a moralistic view of the need to give alms. The Boston Camerata under Joel Cohen in 1996 (Warner Apex 2564 62084-2) sing the two-part version and make it dance-like; again a round-dance or carole is implied. Millenarium’s voices take you straight to a rowdy country fair with a sort of sprechgesange practically losing the melody line. Again a new kind of character is found for this song, which is pleasing and witty. These performances often successfully attempt to take a new look at this famous manuscript; one that, as Deslignes says in his notes, is suitable for the 21st century. However the trochaic rhythms used by previous performing generations have not been entirely abandoned. You can hear this with the last track on the disc: a lovely rendition of the exile song Dulce solum and the previous instrumental performance of Nota perdita
 
Of the nine songs here I especially enjoyed Caterine collaudamus, which takes the plainchant melody we know as the Pange Lingua and adds drums and drones very effectively - no random choice of melody this. The next piece in the manuscript is a troped version of the Pange Lingua text (recorded on the Pickett CD). Millenarium fill this disc with improvisations by each of the players. These seem to me a little unstructured and dreary. There is also an Estampie, which uses two of the Carmina Burana melodies falling either side of the philosophical song Celum non animum. The notes explain further that they have presented a “resolutely modern interpretation” by asking “a female improvisatory performer together with five male improvisatory musicians to record this highly elevated poetry”. I should warn you that this can often result in some distinctly modern harmonies.
 
So it’s a fascinating and sideways look at this manuscript - well worth hearing but don’t throw away your older interpretations.
 
CD 4 Carmina Burana Officium Lusorum - The Mass of Fools
Anon Estampida de Rocamadour [8.00]; Introitus: Lugeamus omnes/Oratio: Fraus vobis [4.40]; Kyrie and Gloria cum jubilo [5.08]; Estampida lubrica/Epistola/Graduale/Alleluia/Dansa ad sequentiam/Hac in anni ianua/Fraus vobiscum [24.25]; Credo [4.37]; Offertorium: Loculum humilem/Stola iocundatis[5.44]; Sanctus des enfants/ Oratio/Pater Noster/Et malediction [14.09] Agnus dei[1.06]; Communio:Mirabantur omnes inter se/Procurans odium/Hunc diem leti ducamus/Et amledictio decii/Benedicamus Domino [9.13] [77.02]
Millenarium (The Jugglers); Choeur de Chambre de Namur (The Goliards); Psallentes (The Canons); Choeur des enfants de l’école de musique de Forbach (The Choirboys)
rec. Sept 2005, Church of Saint-Apollinaire de Bolland (live)
 
The Carmina Burana manuscript has been divided up not by the original scribes but by several modern editions into various sections. One includes the liturgical dramas and their associated fragments, Christmas scenes, Easter the Resurrection and so on. From these Millenarium have undertaken to reconstruct the so called Feast or the Mass of Fools, Officium Lusorum literally Gambler’s Mass - a reference to dice throwing on the altar. This took place between 26 December and Twelfth Night. It was a parody of the Mass itself in which the Lord of Misrule reigned and the world was turned upside down. It wasn’t just the creation of boy bishops for a few days which I have seen happen in the UK in modern times just for fun, but a whole period of madness encourage by the Goliards. It was a chance to “let the hair down’ before the New Year began and order was symbolically restored. Not surprisingly after the period of the height of its popularity (the early 13th century) the Feast was gradually eliminated from the calendar.
 
Millenarium have tried to make it understandable to today’s music-lovers. They start with a sort of overture, for instruments and later for voices using some of the Carmina Burana melodies. Then comes a sequence of parodies. This includes various silly voices and general vocal contortions. My heart fell at this point because this is exactly what put me off Philip Pickett’s 1992 Feast of Fools disc (L’Oiseau Lyre 433194-2). There then follows some fine plainchant singing. The notes tell us that the ordinary of the mass, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus have not been parodied out of respect for the text and the music. These chants come from various cathedral sources; Beauvais and Sens for instance. It was in these northern French cathedrals - and others such as Rouen - that these ‘festivities’ were especially popular.
 
There are instrumental improvisations throughout. These are based on medieval melodies. The boys’ voices have a fun time including a jolly Sanctus which works out in canon. It could be by Pierre Corbeil Archbishop of Sens who is often credited with writing Orientes Partibus, a well known hymn tune.
 
There are some distinctly un-medieval moments and some strange harmonies. At the end and clearly enjoyed by the live audience we are treated to an imitation of gospel singers and contemporary American vocal delivery.
 
As a scintillating musical experience this is not likely to be one to which you will return. As a bit of fun ‘on the side’ it’s quite fascinating and brilliantly imaginative.
 
 
CD 5 Dance Music
ANON Totz alters joys [4.53]; A que as cousas contandas [3.02]; Trotto [2.30];
La quarte Estampie royal [2.14]; Nota schissa [2.29] Estampita sirena [2.50]; Principio di virtú [6.47]; La Manfredina e sua rota [2.56]; Salterello IV [2.19];
La septime Estampie real [2.32]; Danse angloise [1.55]; Saltarello VIII [2.20];
Nota manta [8.06]; Lamento di Tristano/La Rotta [5.46]; Da che Deus mamou [1.50]; Salterello “Petits Rien” [1.29]; Amors me’est u cuer entrée [3.35]; Lamento du Valfoumi [4.26]; Ghaetta [6.39]
Christophe Deslignes (organetto); Thierry Gomar (percussion); Philippe Malfeyt (lutes); Baptiste Romain (fiddle, citole); Henri Tournier (flutes); Eva Fogelgesange (harp)
rec. April 2007, Notre-Dame de Centeilles [68.36]  

This consists of purely instrumental pieces. As you will have gathered already, Millenarium believe this was a much more sophisticated and common form of music making than written evidence would suggest.
 
It can be thought that there were two kinds of musician in the middle ages. Firstly there were performers like jongleurs who were able to improvise on as many as ten or more instruments that they had taught themselves. They also danced, sang, did magic and told stories to entertain folk of all classes with their versatility and virtuosity. These skills would have been passed down through a vibrant oral tradition. They almost certainly did not have much if any conception of the written notes. Secondly, there were theorists and intellectuals like Philippe de Vitry and Machaut who ‘composed’ music using the developing notation of the period. They had their ’compositions’ assembled into collections and manuscripts, very likely thinking of future generations.
 
Millenarium have taken seven or so songs of the period from 1200-1400 and added various dances which have survived in varying sources. They have set about improvising around this raw material, ‘orchestrating’ as it were, and re-harmonising them using copies of medieval instruments. This is done in a way that their ten year experience of performing and recording seemed to suggest to them. The main dance form was the Estampie - as in the Ghaetta which ends the disc; there are three others here. There is also a Saltarello and a (rare) Trotto and other oft-recorded pieces such as the Lamento di Tristano with its ensuing La Rotta. Obviously percussion plays a key role and there are some solo passages. The organetto that is going to feature in Disc 7 is included as part of the ensemble as are fiddles and a harp. The effect is exhilarating and colourful. As none of the tracks are too long one never gets bored with a piece which seems to have nothing left to say.
 
It’s worth reading Christopher Page’s book ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ (Dent-London, 1989) for quotes from contemporary minstrel and aristocratic sources about the sort of entertainment seen and heard during the 13th and 14th centuries.
 
CD 6 Le Llibre Vermell (The Red Book)
ANON Procession [1.07]; Cuncti simus concantes [4.41]; Inperairitz/Verges ses per [5.09]; Kyrie Rex Virginum [2.58]; Res est mirabilis (instrumental) [4.51]; Ave Maria [5.05]; Mariam, Matrem [8.39]; Bal redon (instrumental) [1.10]; Los set goyts [6.36]; Advocatem innocemus [4.00]; O Virgo splendens [2.57]; Danza vermeillosa (instrumental) [4.22]; Laudemus virginem [2.07]; Stella Splendens in monte [8.21];Fauvel nous a fait [0.52]; Mater patris et filia [2.47]; Splendens ceptigera [1.00]; Polorum Regina [6.33]; Agnus dei/Ave Maria [2.15]; Ad mortem festinamus [4.01]
Millenarium; Choeur de Chambre de Namur; Psallentes; Les Pastoureaux/Christophe Deslignes
rec. no details supplied [79.32]
 
This famous manuscript originally from Montserrat, the mountain not far from Barcelona, has been recorded many times and I seem to have several versions. At its barest there are just twelve pieces which can be played through in fifteen or twenty minutes. For an hour-long CD additions are needed or the songs need instrumental improvisations to expand or explore the material.
 
In this version Millenarium are joined not only by a Chamber Choir but also by the children’s voices of Psallentes. There’s also another instrumental ensemble, Les Pastoureaux, which is heard especially in the non-vocal music or accompanying rather quaintly. They fill out the disc with improvisations, plainchants and dances. Using the boy’s voices of Psallentes both together and as soloists seems so right because at Montserrat Cathedral, even now, there is still a male voice choir and the boys their have a distinct sound of their own. This reminds me of the first recording (on LP and never transferred) of the manuscript I ever heard. This dates from about 1969 and was on the old Erato label with Escolonia de Santa Cruz del Ville. 
These songs were performed by the Pilgrims to the shrine of the Black Madonna. You can still queue, as I did, to touch her on Sundays under the guidance of the priests. The music is often taken at a lively speed emphasizing the ‘jazzy’ rhythms. Note especially the wonderfully uplifting Inperairitz, here ‘orchestrated’ as it were with all voice types and instruments. Talking of which Stella Splendens and Ad mortem Festinmaus come out as quite thrillingly wild and rustic. They’re almost comic but just the sort of sound which we might have encountered - it’s joyous and quite mad. The (originally) three part virelai Mariam Matrem is given the full Hollywood experience complete with descants, new harmonies and even touches of percussion. This I find a bit much as I do with Polorum regina which comes out as a bit of a dirge. The rest of the CD is less offensive. 
 
The instrumental pieces are based around popular French and Spanish melodies of the 13th/14th centuries mixed in with an occasional non-related motet as well as plainsong. It makes the whole experience of the music contextual, varied and fascinating. I listened right through without a break - twice.
 
 
CD 7 The Masters of the Florentine Organetto (14 th Century Italy)
Lorenzo MASINI Non vedi tu, amor [2.47]
Francesco LANDINI (1325-1397) Giovine vaghe [4.10]; Donna, perchè mi spregi [1.57]; Amor cal tuo sogetto ognor mi trovo [4.24]; After Landini Intermezzo [1.47]
ANON Che tic ova nascondondere [4.27]; Lucente Stella [5.20] Istampita Isabella [6.29]; Kyrie cunctipotens [2.28]; Estampita ‘In pro’ [13.00]; Estampida de Rocamadour [2.37]
Improvisation after Gherardello da Firenze - Ive bene [2.12]
Millenarium (Christophe Deslignes (organetto); Thierry Gomar (percussion))
rec. February 1998, Church of Saint-John the Evangelist/Beaufays [54.45]  

This is a surprising and experimental recital of mainly trecento music centring on Francesco Landini. It is played without voices in the belief, as elsewhere, that instrumental music was much more common in the secular world than many text books used to have us believe. Improvisation then was the stock-in-trade of all musicians in the medieval and renaissance periods. This is an idea that cannot be argued against. Just because dances and general instrumental pieces were rarely copied it doesn’t mean that they never existed.
 
So, just three musicians are employed for this disc. The organetto features in several guises. The booklet notes tell us a great deal about the instrument which is often seen in manuscripts being played alone or with others. The famous miniature from the Codex Squarcialupi,in which can be found some of the pieces here recorded, is of the blind Landini playing or composing at the instrument. This is beautifully illustrated in the booklet. It is quite legitimate that virtuosity is enjoyed as variants of the popular tunes of the time. These tunes are played with as just they chose by the musicians.
 
The portative organ was amazingly useful at its height from c.1200-1500 or so. Clearly it could be played anywhere, including outside for dancing and could create its own drones. Some players even danced as they played. It could work as a solo instrument (tr. 2), accompanied just by a drum and other exotic percussion as in the Istampita Isabella and in the longer and more complex Istampita In Pro or used within a larger ensemble. It might also play plainsong lines which it sustains as in motets of the 13th century and even in Perotin. It could also play what were later called divisions of plainchant or popular melodies. The instrument used on this disc is fully chromatic as was common in Landini’s time.
 
Oddly enough the first track uses the tune Kalenda Maya by Raimbaut de Vaqueras (fl. c.1180-1205) but it was used as an Estampie, a form still popular two hundred years later as in the Istampita Isabella mentioned above. After that we settle into Landini and his contemporaries.
 
 
Overall then this is a good value and extraordinary box set. It’s well worth investing in. You must however take it warts and all, admiring the musicianship and scholarship but also being frustrated by the liberties taken and sometimes the rather crass lengths to which ideas are carried out. It is a monument to over a decade of empirical study music-making in a lost era, which no matter what we do, can never be recaptured.
 
Gary Higginson 

 

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