The Ensemble Céladon have chosen nine of the most significant songs from
the period beginning in the early part of the twelfth century into the early
thirteenth. A look at the names of the composers will remind the listener
that they are each not only melody writers but also, more importantly,
This ensemble has recorded just love poems and divided them into three
sections: 1. ‘Before Nightfall’, represented by the first three, 2. ‘During
the Night’, the next two, and 3. ‘After the Night’, the remaining four
Let's take each section and composer in turn.
, who worked for some time in Poitiers for Count
Guilhem VIII is the earliest. He has forty-four poems to his name but just
four with melodies. This song, Lo vers comens
, tells us of the
perfect virtues of his lady.
came from near Toulouse. Thirteen poems
exist and just two with melodies. In his song he tells us how he is looking
forward to seeing his lady who lives behind a castle wall.
Bertran de Born
, a member of the nobility whose
thirty-nine poems often refer to military and political life, but only one
has music. In this song the sight of his mistress’s beauty blinds all men
and can make them jealous.
The second section begins with Beatriz de Dia
who was a
trobaritz and a rather mysterious figure. She was not happily married and so
took a lover as mentioned in her poem, whose name was Raimbaut d’Aurenger.
This is the only poem that has a melody out of five extant pieces. She tells
us that she suffers when she cannot see her lover.
’s family owned a castle near Toulouse,
twenty-four poems exist but only this one has music. The text is divided
between the lovers, who do not (like Romeo and Juliet) want the night to
end. Only the lady speaks however and the watchman who will tell them when
the dawn rises. This is a genre of song called an ‘alba’ or dawn song.
The third section opens with the famous Guiraut de
’s Reis glorios
in which the poet’s companion has
been lost since nightfall and now a “star rises in the east”.
Bernat de Ventadorn
probably the best known of the
composers here was a native of Orange. Thirty-nine poems or ‘cansos’
survive, eighteen with music. In his Can l’erba fresch
we hear how
happy the poet is in the glorious Spring morning, full of beautiful
Raimon de Miravel
came from near Carcassonne. Forty-four
of his poems survive and twenty-two have melodies. His song tells us that
that he hopes to please his lady with his song and then hopes to sleep with
Finally we have the little-known Berenguier de Palazol
(also known as Palol
) was from Catalonia. Twelve ‘cansos’
survive him, eight with melodies. His song tell us of his “joy and love”…
knowing that his “lady holds the key” to his delight.
You will notice that these composers come from Catalonia and Provence,
mainly, the area of the Occitan language - the ‘Langue d’oc’. How much they
were primarily musicians can’t really be established. One Raimon Vidal wrote
a treatise in about 1210 entitled ‘Las Razas de trobar’ in which it is
noticeable that the poems cited are generally those for which a melody
survives. Poetic structure is significant and highlighted in the excellent
booklet essay by the group’s director.
So what is the approach of the Ensemble Céladon? It’s worth reminding
oneself that the manuscripts only supply us with a melody. There are no
indications of possible polyphony — which are often improvised — and none of
rhythm. The whole interpretation is down to the performers.
I must say that I have enjoyed enormously the singing and instrumental
work and the song S’anc fui bela ni prezada
by Cadenet sums up
their method. I was more moved by this performance than ever before even the
recording by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XX on Virgin (now as a box set 50999
648801 2) which is over-elaborate both in the ornamentation of the vocal
part and in the instrumental backing. Ensemble Céladon begins with a chiming
bell (midnight?) and when the watchman sings a fiddle is added. More
instruments are gradually introduced as the verses proceed. Throughout, the
lovely melody is presented simply and beautifully by both singers, and the
words dictate the expressive qualities. In case you think that this sounds
all rather understated then you are probably quite right and that is what I
have especially enjoyed.
Taking another example: the well known ‘alba’ Reis glorios
Bornelh opens with a solo, lonely recorder, then soprano Clara Coutouly
sings the first three verses in the usual (now-a-days) free rubato style.
She is accompanied gently by a drone and lute but after verse three the full
ensemble with percussion begin the melody as a dance in triple time. After a
minute or so three more verses are sung with some ornamentation in triple
rhythm before everything stops. In free rhythm counter-tenor Pauli Bündgen
sings the last verse. This is even more effective as the song appears,
although composed by a man, to be a plea by a lady for her male lover to
wake and depart before dawn. The last verse therefore becomes his response
to her calls. Hence the performance fits the poem perfectly, creating a
definite structure with the simple melody always well defined and the
instrumentation discreet, thought-provoking and effective. As is the case
with the Cadenet, the last word ‘alba’ is suitably sung by both voices.
Similarly in I Rassa tan cries
by de Born the vocal melody is
transformed sometimes into an instrumental interlude with a dance
I very much appreciate the way in which the singers do not scoop around
between the notes for ultra-expressive purposes. An example of this practice
can be found, for instance, in the recordings by Carole Matras of
‘Millenarium’: ‘Douce Amie Trouvère
- Songs and Minstrel dances’
now in a box set (Ricercar RIC 328
). This is done in Matras's efforts
at chromatically altering pitches which is generally considered an authentic
There is evidence to show that the troubadours regarded their songs, text
and melody as a cohesive whole. So what do we do when a melody does not
survive to a poem? Well the answer is, find one from another source which
somehow fits. We have an example in Lo vers comens
by Marcabru, the
melody being a contemporary adaptation from a trope written in manuscript
associated with the St. Martial School of Limoges of the same period.
As you listen through this CD you might wonder if all of the songs will be
slow, expressive and free in rhythm but the charming Can l’herba
by Ventadorn is given a lively compound rhythm. The same
applies to the memorable Cel que no volh auzir chansons
and also Tan m’abelis
which brings the CD to a lively
My only disappointment with the booklet, which anyway comes to forty-two
pages, is that the text is given as a title only in the original language
and is then translated into just French and English. To follow the original
you must go to www.outhere-music.com
Even so this disc is highly attractive and most beautifully recorded.