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Guiraut RIQUIER (1230-1292)
The Last of the Troubadours
Martin Best Medieval Ensemble
rec. 1981, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK
NIMBUS NI5261 [42.16]

Originally an LP, this was the only example of Martin Best devoting a whole disc mostly to one composer, except for a recording made for Hyperion in 1986 of songs by another outstanding figure from the Southern France region, Bernard de Ventadorn, who died in 1195 (The Testament of Tristan). Sadly, it may well be difficult now to buy this on a CD.

We are taken on a musical journey through what we know of Riquier’s career with the help of eight of his 48 surviving songs (cansos), one played instrumentally, various dances and excerpts from the Cantigas de Santa Maria compiled under the direction of King Alfonso X  known as ‘The Wise’ of Aragon whom Riquier visited sometime after 1270, but we begin with the monstrous massacre at Béziers and Carcassonne. This really hit home for me, as I will soon explain.

An event in Béziers which coloured Riquier’s early years is found in the opening track which is a brief narration of the travesty in 1209 of the murder of at least 5,000 townsfolk in the church of the Madeleine which had to be largely rebuilt soon after that occurrence.

A few years ago, while in this area, also much associated with the Albigensian Heresy and the Cathars, my wife and I spent the day in Béziers. As time went on, she felt increasingly uncomfortable in the town and especially on the hill where the beautiful Gothic cathedral stands. I must admit, sadly, that I didn’t feel anything but she was insistent that we left earlier than intended. I thought nothing of it, until a friend told me that he had also felt quite unnerved in the town, as if the spirit of those dreadful times is still to be felt in the very stones and atmosphere. Anyway, Riquier will have known all about these events as he was in Narbonne from 1254 and in 1270 and may have even been born there, he also wrote the Planh’ (Lament) on the death of a Lord of Narbonne - Count Almeric IV - at whose court he spent his early years.

Troubadours were a peripatetic group of diverse men and women and so throughout his life of wondering Riquier searched for a patron and next tried the Spanish King Alfonso the Wise, based in Toledo. The Martin Best ensemble includes some of the famous Cantigas de Santa Maria often attributed to this highly cultured king. However, after nine years the king never fully adopted Riquier, so he set off for Catalonia and eventually to Rondez and the court of Count Henry II (d.1304), a well-known patron of troubadours - the song Jesu Crist was written for him. Here Riquier found support and learned from Bishop Folquet de Marselha of Toulouse, who had been a supporter of Simon de Montfort, a melody which ends the disc. Thus, we end up where we began in the early 13th Century and the bloody Albigensian Crusade, the last three tracks reflecting on the violence of Riquier’s times.

Riquier’s melodies are often complex but mostly memorable. Although ‘Mensural (or measured) Notation’ was becoming more common towards the end of the thirteenth century, you must remember that rhythms were not clearly notated at this time so Best and his group adopt sometimes a free approach, sometimes triple time, sometimes duple time.

The instruments employed to accompany and play the dances are those which “create an authentic 13th Century atmosphere” and are often seen in contemporary manuscripts. The list includes an ‘Oud’ brought back from the Middle East by the Crusaders. To the French it was ‘Le Oud’ or more precisely ‘L’oud’, which of course developed into ‘Lute’. Also audible is the hammer dulcimer and tabor.

The original texts are given and lucidly translated. Martin Best’s essay drawing the treads of the troubadour tradition from the late 11th to the end of the 13th Century is a model of concision and clarity.

This is now the last of the reviews of discs made by the ‘first great contemporary troubadour’ Martin Best and various musicians from early in the 1980’s up to the end of the 90’s. I found myself wondering how I had missed most of them first time round but am delighted to have encountered them during these last weeks and, as you might have gathered if you have read my other reviews, I would recommend each one and indeed the entire set.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: Brian Wilson

The Sack of Beziers (spoken) [1.18]
Bertran de BORN (c.1140-d.1200) Rassa, tan cries [2.02]
RIQUIER: The 7th Canso No.m say d’amor (1259) [4.16]
RIQUIER: La segonda retroencha (1265) [1.28] (Instrumental)
RIQUIER: Planh for the Lord of Narbonne [4.04]
ANON: Au temps d’auost [1.00] (Instrumental)
ANON: Cantiga [1.40] (Instrumental)
RIQUIER: Fid e veroys (1275) [4.02]
ALFONSO EL SABIO (1221-1284) Maraviillosons et Piadosos (Cantiga) [2.06]
RIQUIER: La Redonda (1270) [2.53]
AlFONSO EL SABIO: Mais non faz (Cantiga) [2.19]
RIQUIER: La premieyra retroencha (1270) In praise of Catalans [3.41]
RIQUIER: Jesu Crist (1275) [1.38]
TRAD: Rossinyol (instrumental) [0.38]
TRAD: Los Esclops (instrumental) [1.08]
RIQUIER: Jamais non er (1286) [3.38]
ANON Vers (1284) Spoken over melody
Reading from La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise (1217) [0.45]
FOLQUET de MARSELHA (1160-1231) Si tot me sui a tart (instrumental) [1.29]

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