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Cambrai Motets - Music from Northern France: The Cambrai Manuscript
Villard de Honnecourt, Métier, memories and travels of a 13th Century cathedral builder
Graindelavoix/Björn Schmelzer
(for track-listing see below)
rec. Saint-Yved, Braine, France, July-August 2010
GLOSSA GCDP32109 [44.44]

This is the third volume in a series recorded by Graindelavoix. It began with a disc of pieces associated with the Flemish composer Alexander Agricola. I enjoyed the first disc - entitled ‘Cecus Colours, Blindness and Memorial’ - very much. This new CD is based around the work of Villard de Honnecourt.

I used to think of Honnecourt as exclusively an architect, or a designer of churches and various decorative features which might appear in them. These include the faces found on carvings of corbels or figurines around doorways or of floral capitol patterning or even stained glass design. I was wrong, he was also a travelling artist and drew what he saw or what his remarkably inventive imagination ‘cooked’ up. Several of his delicate and beautiful sketches are scattered around the excellent and detailed CD booklet. It's clear that in some cases these acted as ‘aide-mémoires’ to be included in larger designs. This was the custom of stone-masons at the time throughout this period. They often 'graffitied the stones around the walls and floors nearby. What, I hear you shout, does he have to do with the complex and still misunderstood world of 13th and 14th century motets?

Let me quote the reverse of the cardboard CD casing. We are taken on a journey “in the company of the master craftsman Villard de Honnecourt” who died, by the way, sometime around 1250. Another reason for the connection with the music is mentioned in the fourth booklet essay: namely that the Cambrai manuscript belonged to one Jacob de Vitriaco, priest of Waziers, which is about twenty miles from Cambrai “very near to Villard’s habitat and work place”. So there we have it; a little tenuous? Perhaps but it makes for an interesting side-glance at this oft-recorded repertoire.

Yes, like the first CD in this series, there are four fascinating essays in the booklet by Björn Schmelzer in conversation with Mark Wiggins. They are all very well translated. The question of what Christopher Page calls ‘Cathedralism’ emerges. This was developed into a lengthy book by Page called ‘Discarding Images’ (Oxford, 1993) and is cited in the CD's bibliography. The point of mentioning it here is that Page demonstrates that music in the 13th century was not really constructed in a way analogous to Gothic architecture as many writers have alleged. Yet the way that a motet was thought to be constructed is significant in so far as it is relevant to the way in which Graindelavoix presents and performs these pieces.

Page writes in the above book about the construction of motets, that they have been considered to be “ perhaps the quintessential example of musical architecture in the medieval repertoire, for the treatises consistently refer to the creation of motets voice by voice and the role of the tenor as the ‘foundation’.” So that is what happens regularly in this recording. The tenor is sung alone, then the duplum and then the triplum is added. Sometimes they are presented in a different order.

Page does go on to add, as far as it's possible to know, that “ it can be established that some pieces can only have been put together in a synthetic or holistic manner, the composer-poet progressing through the work in all parts … maintaining a vigilance on many fronts … for textual echoes, or occasionally, for times contrast of meaning.” (the italics are mine).

It is important, as I have come to realise whilst listening to this disc, that the timbre of the voices if not the octave in which they sing, should be well contrasted. Page uses the phrase “a multi-coloured individuation of lines” (page 41). As good as the women of Anonymous 4 are and even the performances by Page’s own ‘Gothic Voices’, the sound of each singer is too homogeneous. Indeed it is beautifully blended, in a cathedralic’ sort of way. Compare this new version of the four part motet Plus belle que flor/Quant revient/Lautrier joer/Flos Filius Eius with that by Gothic Voices on their ‘Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ CD on Hyperion CDA 66423 and you will hear a completely different vocal presentation. It has been traditional and accepted that that is how vocal groups should operate.

Graindelevox sing with excellent intonation and are perfectly as one with their voices often deliberately contrasted and with a singer producing a different timbre which can be very expressive and almost folksy at times, in one motet compared with another. I find this incredibly interesting and helpful in the appreciation of a deeper meaning in this music. They are helped by a recording which creates space between the three parts across the spectrum. Each singer is, as it were, allocated a space so that each line, which is not only different rhythmically but also has a different text, is much more clear than in performances by other groups. The large Gothic church in Braine used for the sessions and pictured within makes an excellent and helpful acoustic.

So, to sum up: Graindelevoix often take a motet apart then offer, possibly at first, the brief plainchant phrase then add the other two, possibly one by one. As for where these pieces were first performed and how they were listened to, that is a very open question. All I can say is that this recording offers you a real chance to get inside these motets almost more than any other I have come across. The short playing time however is something of a disappointment.

Gary Higginson
1. Anon: Aucuns vont souvent / Amor qui cor vulnerat / Kyrie Elesion [4.19]
2. Gobins de Rains (13th century) Pour le tens qui verdoie (instrumental) [2.41]
3. Anon: J'ai mis toute ma penseelonc tens / Je n’en puis masi / Puerorum [2.12]
4. Anon: Par une matinee / Mellis stilla / Domino [3.08]
5. Eustace le Peintre de Rains (13th century); Nient plus que droiz [3.30] (instrumental)
6. Anon: O virgo pia / Lis ne glay / Amat [1.50]
7. Anon: Dieus ou porrai je trouver merci / Che sont amouretes / Omnes [2.18]
8. Anon: Descendendo Dominus / Ascendendo Dominus / Domino [2.42]
9. Anon: O Maria Virgo Daviditica / O Maria maris Stella / Veritatem [4.39]
10. Anon: J’ai mis toute ma pensee lonc tens / Je n’en puis mais / Puerorum [3.01]
11. Anon: Ave lux luminum / Salve virgo rubens ros / Neuma [6.17]
12. Eustace le Peintre de Rains Cil qui chantant de fleur
13. Anon: Plus bele que flor / Quant revient et fuelle et flor / L’autrer joer m’en alai / Flos Filius Eius [4.35]
14. Anon: Chorus innocentium / In Bethleem / In Bethleem [2.51]



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