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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Saint Louis: Chroniques et musiques du XIII siècle
Ensemble Vocal Notre-Dame de Paris
Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris
Instrumental ensemble/Sylvain Dieudonné
rec. live, 27 April 2014, Collegiate church of Poissy (Yvelines), France

A good way of getting to know the legacy of St. Louis is to visit his chapel in Paris, full as it is of stained glass of the 13th century. On a bright day as we experienced two years ago, Saint Chapelle is glorious and one is reminded, as in the Chronicles of the Crusades by de Joinville that he was a truly loved and devout man who has become a saint. His feast day is on 25 August, the very day by chance, we visited the chapel which acts as his shrine. The glass glorifies the Crown of Thorns and the True Cross which St. Louis had purchased — although the chronicles indicate that the King of Constantinople gave them — from the Holy Land and which were placed in a reliquary. On this disc the sequence Regis et Pontificis (tr. 22) celebrates the event.

As Louis IX he reigned from 1234 and brought these and other relics to his newly built chapel in 1239 and 1241 to what music one can only imagine. He had the chapel finished by 1248 and soon after departed for the Holy Land - although he never managed to enter it - on what was the seventh Crusade. He died in 1270, aged 56.

This CD traces his life through music and the musical developments of the period. Various brief readings from writers like Jean de Joinville and Guillaume de Nangis are given in French at the start of each section and often before a chant or chanson. They and indeed all of the texts have been well translated and are read with clarity. The recording came out of a programme premiered on 27 April 2014 at the wonderful Romanesque collegiate church of Poissy on the occasion of the 800th Anniversary of the King’s birth.

The main musical forms of the 13th century are employed in this collection. I have annotated the sections below, which divide up the disc's thirty-two tracks. There is plainchant appropriate to the Saint and that which is heard at Mass which Louis attended daily. The conductus is not based on chant and which tends to alternate syllabic and melismatic ideas within its regular metrical pulse as in Gaude felix Francia (tr. 10) written for the young king’s coronation. There is the motet, a polyphonic composition which gradually reached some kind of status during the so-called Ars Antiqua period. An example is El mois d’Avril/O quam sancta/Et gaudebit which opens the CD and as can be seen combines Latin and French texts which both extol the courtly lady and the Virgin Mary. The most dominant secular form was the Chanson promulgated by the last generation of troubadours and trovères. One such is Gaucelm Faidit (d. c.1205) his Jamais nul temps (tr. 13) is used to illustrate the love between Louis and his chosen wife Marguerite de Provence. They were married in Sens Cathedral which by 1234 was practically completed as you see it today.

In this section is also represented the paternal grandmother of Louis, Garsenda, Countess of Provence (d.1242) who was a trobaritz. Se is represented by Vos que’m semblatz modelled on Gaucelm’s song (tr. 12). We are also treated to a popular dance form of the time the Estampie (tr. 15) and even a musical colloquy between two courtiers who compare the values of bravery versus generosity as in Bernart, a vous vuiel demander (tr. 18). It's the sort of debate that may well have gripped court life.

After Louis's death his relics became a symbol of strong Christian witness and the last section of the CD allows us a chance to hear the response Felix Regnum, ‘Happy is the Kingdom whose king is provident, pacific, pious and chaste …’.

The musicians involved under the unobtrusive direction of Sylvain Dieudonné are the Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris which consists of seven women and nine men and the Ensemble Vocal de Notre-Dame de Paris which has nine singers in all. Four instrumentalists play percussion, flutes and cornetto, harp and vielle. The performances are unproblematic in so far as the singers are communicative, clear and honour conventional vocal styles. The plainchant is sung expressively with a suitably French inflection added to the text. The conductus are performed in triple time in the melismatic sections on a single vowel and freely in the delivery of the text in accordance no doubt with the coloration indicated in the manuscript. The instrumental items are well blended within the ensemble and consistently delightful.

All texts are enclosed inside the cardboard casing and there are black and white photos of the performers. The essay by the director Sylvain Dieudonné is very interesting and relevant to the project.

Gary Higginson


1 Motet: Et gaudebit/O quam sancta/El mois d’Avril
2-4 Saint Louis, His birth and baptism
5-6 St. Louis, His Education
7-10 The Coronation of Saint Louis
11-13 His Marriage
14-18 His life at court
19 His devotion to the Virgin
20-22 The Cult of Relics
23-29 The Crusade in Egypt
28-29 The death of St. Louis
30-32 Memories and Cult of Saint Louis



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