Think Subtilior: Songs and Sounds
Santenay (Julia von Landsberg (voice, organetto), Elodie Wiemer (recorder),
Szilard Chereji (viella), Ori Harmelin (lute))
rec. Kunigundenkirche, Borna, Germany, 2014
RICERCAR RIC386 [51.13]
You have probably seen those arresting signs by the roadside ‘Think Bike’ or even ‘Think Child’; well perhaps this title catches your attention also.
The group Santanay, consisting of one singer, Julla Von Landsberg and three instrumentalists playing recorder, vielle and lute with the organetto, have been working with this repertoire for several years and have now reached the point, as have others specialising in the early medieval period, where they are no longer searching or interested in an ‘authentic’ approach to medieval music but want to embrace it to spark their own creative impulses.
The period in question, which has been called ‘subtilior’ (or which David Munrow called that of the ‘Medieval Avant-garde’) is a short one from about 1380 (Machaut had died in 1377) up to 1410 and the composers, found largely in the huge Chantilly Manuscript, are generally from Northern Italy and Southern France, with a special base around Avignon at the time of the dual papacy. Of all of the highly rhythmically complex and strange music emanating from figures like Mateo da Perugia, Johannes Hasprois and Anthonella da Caserta, none is stranger than Solage and of those strange pieces none weirder both in the text and music than the intensely chromatic Fumeux fume par fume. It is this song, which is main focus of this CD and, indeed, an exploration of the environment, which produced it, as seen from the track listing below.
This extraordinary piece was recorded by Munrow’s Early Music consort back in 1973 and later by many others in many differing ways, but what makes this disc so different is the curious way in which some songs have been prefaced by brief improvisations, these are named in a way which relates to smoke, odour and secrecy. Apparently the ‘fumeurs’ were surrounded by a haze and an ‘effulgence’ of mist and mystery although what exactly they smoked isn’t known. It is speculated that both Solage and Hasprois were in the ‘alliance’ as it were, of ‘fumeux’.
But reading the fascinating booklet notes, explaining their ‘project’ it seems that musically Ciconia’s Le ray au soleyl also strongly informs the plan and development of the CD. This is a rare secular piece by Ciconia and his shortest in terms of length. Bits of it are played with during these brief improvisations, which tease the ear into the song which follows.
The performances are either instrumental or voice with instruments. The vocal line is often doubled by the vielle. The reason for this is not really because of its complexity but because the performers believe that when no words are offered for the vocal line in the manuscript then the melisma is not meant to be sung but played instrumentally. This philosophy would not be shared by many groups, several in the UK, who go for the ‘a capella’ option and seems to me also to be incorrect but as its impossible to know how these songs were originally presented then we must let it pass.
The recording venue is a remote early medieval church in a quiet part of Saxony and has an ideal acoustic and feel. The booklet comes with all texts translated and clearly set out and a handy essay by performer Elodie Weimer. It’s a pity, however, that the disc’s length weighs in at less than an hour with such interesting repertoire yet to explore.
ANON: Onques ne fu si dure pertie [7.20]
Fumeux fume par fume (intabulation after Solage) [2.10]
Johannes Symonis HASPROIS (d.1428) Puisque je sui fumeux, plains de fume
SOLAGE (d. after 1403) La basile de sa proper nature [10.12]
Pres du soloil deduissant s’esbanoye (diminution after Matteo de Perugia)
SOLAGE : Fumeux fume par fume
Baude CORDIER (c.1380-c.1440) Tout par compass
Johannes CICONIA (c.1370-1412) Le ray au solely qui dret som karmeyne [2.32]