Gilles Binchois: L’Argument de Beauté

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Program: #11-16   Air Date: Apr 11, 2011

The brilliant ensemble Discantus directed by Brigitte Lesne celebrates the 15th century Chaplain to the Duke of Burgundy.

NOTE: All of the music on this program comes from the recording L'Argument de Beauté: Gilles Binchois (1400-1460) on the Aeon/Outhere label. For more information on the disc: or

For more on Discantus:

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From James Manheim's review in

The small all-female French choir Discantus, which has mostly specialized in chant repertories, here takes on the polyphony of the High Renaissance, where the English cathedral sound and its relatives have reigned largely unchallenged for decades. The group chose well with Gilles Binchois, who left no full mass cycles that seem to demand uniformity of interpretation; Binchois' three-part textures are also suited to the limpid sound of a women's choir. What Discantus does is break up the continuity of the music. The program consists of a mass Ordinary, assembled from settings of individual sections and then separated again (although all the mass sections are near the beginning of the album), various Proper settings, hymns, carols, and several pieces of plainchant; these are apparently pronounced according to a new theory that is not explained terribly clearly in the booklet (in French and English, with all texts translated into both languages from Latin). The most striking thing is that the a cappella barrier is broken; a few of the pieces are played, by the choir members themselves, on handbells. No argument for authenticity is made for this practice, but as a conceptual evocation of the overall atmosphere in which this music arose, with church bells ringing at various intervals, it's a reasonable decision, and of course a female choir in this music is not making any claims for authenticity anyway. Beyond the bells, there's quite a bit of variety among the individual pieces, and the program seems to move through different territories in a way that even other recordings mixing mass Ordinary music and other pieces have not. Discantus and director Brigitte Lesne push the tempo a bit, both among pieces and within individual pieces; the interpretation is lyrical without being sweet, with a bit of grain in the voices but no attempt to create a particularly warm sound. When the music breaks down into solo passages they allow themselves a bit of vibrato. The overall effect is to move Binchois' sound closer to its English antecedents and away from the more abstract Netherlandish polyphony toward which it's pointed. This is an intimate, elegant way of performing Binchois, yet pungent, with the intervallic structure of the music emerging in total clarity. The "argument of beauty" title derives from the Latin causa pulchritudinis, the justification, according to one theory, that singers might use in applying non-notated accidentals and chromatic tones to the music. The title seems to serve here more as a general description, however. Recommended for those in search of a new take on the early Flemish Renaissance style.

1 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Ave corpus Christi carum, antiphon for 3 voices, K. 31 ("Hail, dear body of Christ"--contrafactum of rondeau "Adieu mes tres belles amours") 

2 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Kyrie "in simplici die," for 3 voices, K. 14 

3 Gregorian Chant: Omnes una Gaudeamus, noël for 2 voices ("Let us all rejoice together")

4 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Gloria, for 3 voices, K. 15
5 Gregorian Chant: Diffusa est gratia, offeratory ("Grace is poured abroad in thy lips")

6 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Sanctus for 3 voices, K. 20 

7 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Agnus Dei, for 4 voices, K. 21 

8 Gregorian Chant: Ecce quod natura, noël for 3 voices 

9 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Salve Sancta parens (i), antiphon for 3 voices, K. 46a ("Hail, holy Parent")

10 Gregorian Chant: Salvator mundi, antiphon in mode 7 (Liber Usualis No. 747) ("Hail, joy of the world")
11 Gregorian Chant: Salve sancta parens, noël for 3 voices
12 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Da pacem Domine, antiphon for 3 voices, K. 34 ("Give peace in our time")
13 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Virgo rosa venustatis, hymn for 3 voices, K. 52 ("The Virgin, rose of beauty"--contrafactum of rondeau "C'est assez") 

14 Gregorian Chant: Misit dominus, gradual ("Before I formed thee")

15 Gregorian Chant: Inter natos mulierum, alleluia ("Among them that are born of woman")
16 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Ut queant laxis, hymn for 3 voices, K. 49 ("That your servants may proclaim")

17 Gregorian Chant: Princeps gloriosissime ("Most serene prince, we praise you in song")
18 Gregorian Chant: Gaude dei genitrix, sequence ("Rejoice, Mother of God")

19 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: A solis ortu cardine, hymn for 3 voices, K. 28 ("From the point where the sun rises")

20 Gilles de Bins dit Binchois: Deo gracias, responsory for 3 voices, K. 35 (Let us bless the Lord")

Composer Info

Gilles Binchois (1400-1460)