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Program: #12-22, Air Date: 05/21/12

The much-awarded medieval ensemble, specializing in the 13th and 14th century repertoires.

NOTE: All of the music on this program is from performances by the Ensemble Syntagma. From Challenge records:

Syntagma gave its first concert in 1995 as part of the Luxemburg European Capital of Culture, with a programme combining arias by G. Frescobaldi and Spanish songs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The critics acclaimed it as “an absolute revelation” and as a “splendid championing of early music”. The ensemble’s repertoire extends from the thirteenth to the twenty-first centuries. This diversity is best explained by the ensemble’s director and founder: "I do not have any specific priorities, as long as the music makes sense".  Personally, in monodies I like what is sophisticated, with rhythmic problems, or rich in melodies, complex, in short, displaying genius… I like every kind of music, as long as it is of the highest quality. I try to gather round me pieces that are still unpublished or rarely performed… There are some contented souls who can play the same music their whole life long… But I need change. I don’t know if this is good or bad, it’s just the way it is. … I think that unfortunately medieval music is in need of a certain rehabilitation: often its profundity is hidden behind its exoticism. I place the emphasis on the former aspects: profundity and seriousness.”

I. Gautier d'Épinal: Remembrance (Challenge Classics CD CC72190).

From MusicWeb International: Outstanding … undogmatic coherence and persuasive sensitivity in rare repertoire.

This is a CD as historically fascinating as it is extraordinarily beautiful and moving.

There has been a good deal of musicological toing-and-froing as to the precise identity of the French poet and composer Gaultier d’Épinal. The traditional view was that he was a chevalier, born between 1205 and 1230, who died in 1272, and who belonged to the ruling family of Épinal, being related to important aristocrats, such as the Counts of Savoy. More recently (in a book published in 2007) Robert Lug has suggested that the artist was actually a cleric, a nephew of the Bishop of Metz, and that he died as early as 1232. The difference of opinion may never be satisfactorily resolved. In one sense, the identity of Gaultier is relatively clear – he is the author/composer of a group of songs which seem to have a coherent personality. In the booklet notes to this CD Emilia Danievski observes that he writes “as if he lived at the end of a civilization rather than at its beginning. His poetry, like his music, is permeated by the nostalgia of a modern man who knows that the Golden Age never existed and never will. All his writings possess a grave tone: even the joy and triumph of love . . . have a character of lamentation on human limitations”. His texts have a dense, syntactically ambiguous character - partly because his French seems influenced by German habits. Naturally enough, his work has general similarities with that of other trouvères, but to read the texts of his poems and to hear them performed by Syntagma is to have the sense that – more than with most of the trouvères – one is actually making contact with the sensibility of an individual. The music is inventive and often unexpected in its rejection of symmetry and repetition and the results are often very beautiful.

While the dominant tone of Gaultier’s songs is one of almost meditative melancholy, there is a good deal of variety on this well planned CD. The emphasis here is on a delicacy that seems well suited to Gautier’s prevailing sentiments. The interleaving of more robust compositions by his contemporaries and the use of a variety of instrumental combinations and vocal resources ensures that the danger of excessive sameness, with its risk of blunting the listener’s sharpness of attention is kept comprehensively at bay. Thus a ravishingly gentle and introspectively thoughtful love song such as ‘Outrecuidiers et ma fole pensee’:

Presumptuousness and my foolish thoughts Cause me to sing, and I do not know why Except that I have looked at her; But does she belong to me, just because I have looked at her? Will I have found my paradise If everything becomes mine as soon as I see it? It is not true, but I am disturbed by a Sweet hope, which I enjoy singing about (beautifully sung by Akira Tachikawa and Annemarie Cantor) is followed by an anonymous Estampie, performed by organetto and percussion. ‘Par son dolz commandement’ is sung very slowly (by the excellent Akira Tachikawa) to a decidedly basic accompaniment of fiddles and creates a mood of seemingly timeless stasis. It is succeeded by the purely instrumental ‘Commencement de douce saison bele’, which broadly sustains the mood and an Estampie by Jehannot de l’Escurel which begins in much the same fashion, before evolving into a rhythmically seductive dance. The sense is of a CD which has a real shape and design of its own.

In an area full of uncertainties, Alexandre Danilevski refuses dogmatism. Unwilling to claim that he knows all the answers, he is happy to demonstrate alternate possibilities. So, for example, we get two versions of ‘Aÿmans fins et verais’, one instrumental and one vocal, the two rhythmically very different from one another.

This is rare repertoire and is played and sung with great persuasiveness. It is a long time since I enjoyed a CD of early medieval secular music quite so much.

-- Glyn Pursglove, MusicWeb International

1  Gautier d'ÉPINAL (1205/30-1272):  Aymans fins et verais
2  EPIANL: Quand je voi l'erbe menue ("When I see the fine grass")
3  Roman de Fauvel: Chanson
4  EPINAL: Desconfortez et de joie parti ("Discouraged, separated from joy")
5  EPINAL: Puis qu'il m'estuet de ma dolour  ("Since it has been granted me to sing my suffering")
6  Colin MUSET (13th cen.): Trop volontiers chanteroie ("I would sing most willingly")
7  EPINAL: Aÿmans fins et verais ("True, perfect lovers!")
8  EPINAL: Outrecuidiers et ma fole pensee ("Presumptuousness and my foolish thoughts cause me to sing")
9  Roman de Fauvel: Estampie
10  Jacques de CYSOING (mid 13th c.): Chanson (instrumental)
11  EPINAL: Par son dolz comandemant ("At her sweet command")
12  EPINAL: Commencement de douce saison bele
13  Jehannot de l'ESCUREL (d.1304): Estampie
14  EPINAL: Amours et bone volontez
15  EPINAL: Quand je voi l'erbe menue
16  Gautier de COINCY (1177-1236): Chanson  

II. Stylems: Italian Music from the Trecento (Challenge Classics CD CC72195).

From Challenge Classics: Styleme, term used by historians of Byzantine painting for borrowed stylistic Elements incorporated in a work of art. The music of the 1300s is attractive for the inventiveness and often exquisite complexity of its melodies. It is a marked departure from the style of the previous 150 years, which were dominated by the French school. One of its remarkable advances was measured notation, a recent invention. To the world of music this was akin to the invention of the wheel: it offers a freedom whose full potential has yet to be exploited. Like the explorers of new worlds, composers embarked on bold adventures. The use of mensuration infinitely enlarges the possible combinations of voices, both vertically and horizontally. The Trecento style is often criticised for being excessively sophisticated, dry and cerebral. And yet, at any rate where its best examples are concerned, it is thoroughly justified for dramatic reasons. Used intelligently and with moderation it creates the very image of objectivity.
As a result of these new perspectives, syllabic word-setting was abandoned: music was no longer there to serve the subtleties of a word or a poetic image, but instead created and pursued its own meaning and nuance.

In spite of often quite banal texts, the new music, by and of itself, brings to light hitherto unsuspected facets and depths of feeling. It is worth noting that in De vulgari eloquentia Dante was at the same time developing the notion that music was better served by poetry that was mediocre.

 1 Anon. (ballata, 14th c.): Che Ti Zovar Nasconder ("Why would you wish to hide your lovely face?")
2  Egidius da FRANCIA (2nd half 14th cen.): Alta Serena Luce ("Lofty, serene light")
3  Anon. (madrigal, 14th c.): Aquila Altera
4  Bartolino da PADOVA (c.1365-1405): Per Un Verde Boschetto ("I follow through a green grove")
5  Donato da FIRENZE (2nd half 14th cen.): Senti Tu D'amor
6  Donato da FIRENZE: Chi De' Se'l Po'
7  Don Paolo da FIRENZE (c.1355-c.1436): Partito Da Te ("Although I am bodily parted from you")
8  Don Paolo da FIRENZE: Tu Solo 'L Sai ("O Love, you only know")
9  Anon. (madrigal, 14th c.): l'Oselli Canta
10  Don Paolo da FIRENZE: L-aggi'i' Fatto ("What is it I have done to this proud lady?")
11  Ghirardello da FIRENZE (before c.1320-1362/63): Bella e La Veççosa Carbiola
12  Anon. (madrigal, 14th c.):  In Aqua Dolce
13  Bartolino da PADOVA:  Qual Lege Move ("Which law moves the turning wheel of fortune?)
14  Egidius da FRANCIA:  Mercede Amor ("A thousand thanks, love")
15  Don Paolo da FIRENZE: Chi Vuol Veder ("Who wants to know what angel beauty is like?")
16  Anon. (madrigal, 14th c.): Crudel Donna
17  Anon. (ballata, 14th c.): Ti Zova Nasconder  

III. Rosa e Orticha (Carpe Diem CD CD-16287).

From All The music of Italy in the 14th century, or Trecento, has received much less attention from medieval performers than the French repertoire of the period, which involved more self-consciously complex traditions. When Italian music is heard, it is mostly by Francesco Landini, the composer most influenced by French styles. Landini appears on this release, but it is mostly devoted to other composers appearing in the primary source for this music, the gorgeous Squarcialupi Codex. Primary among them is the little-known Bartolino da Padova. The title of the album, Rosa e Orticha (Rose and Stinging Nettle), comes from da Padova's madrigal I bei sembianti and symbolizes good and evil that are tied together in a single entity. Sample that work (track 6) for a taste of the whole. Director Alexandre Danilevski, leading the multinational Ensemble Syntagma, relies closely on iconography of the time for his instrumentation, which includes recorders, medieval fiddle, harp, lutes, and the more elusive chekker, an early harpsichord. Most of the songs are in two parts, sung straightforwardly by two sopranos and a countertenor. But this is not really an "authentic" performance. Danilevski's overall approach is speculative, tying in with an odd but elegantly thought out booklet essay (entitled "The World as Hypertext"), bristling with footnotes, that suggests the ideas behind both the performance and the repertoire. The line between sacred and secular is erased, and there's a good deal of instrumental improvisation, both introducing pieces and in freestanding interludes. The stated theme of the program is to represent the passage of the day from dawn to twilight, but this is only a rough outline; the images and ideas running through the music are more important. The basic sound of the music is sweet, and when percussion is deployed in dance pieces it's quiet. There's nothing to put off anyone who likes the sound of medieval music here, and there's an X factor working in the album's favor: you get the feeling that the program would have appealed to medieval listeners themselves.

1.  Egidius da FRANCIA (2nd half 14th cen.): Donna s'amor ("Lady, if love invited me")
2. Andreas Horganista de FLORENTINA (14th cen.): Cosa crudel m'ancide (" A cruel thing is killing me")
3 .Bartolino da PADOVA (c.1365-1405): El no me giova ("It is no use or help fleeing, my lady")
4. Francesco LANDINI (1325/35-1397): Somma felicita  
5. Andrea Steffani (c. 1375-c.1460): Con tutta gentilezza ("With great kindness and gentle purity")
6 .Bartolino da PADOVA: I bei sembianti ("There are many who are very proficient in exploiting the fact that the world pays tribute to the fine but ultimately untruthful appearances instead of true wisdom")
7.  Interlude (Improvisation) by Atsushi Moriya
Performer:  Atsushi Moriya (Recorder)
8. Anon.:  Nel mio bel orto  
9. Anon.:   Lauda 
10. Bartolino da PADOVALa douce çere ("The gentle countenance of a wild animal") 
11. Anon. (Codex Faenza): Interlude  
12. Bartolino da PADOVA: Alba colomba ("A white dove nourished in a noble garden") 
13. Anon. (madrigal, 14th c.): Passando in ombra
14. Don Paolo da FIRENZE (c.1355-c.1436):Amor, da po' che tu ti maravigli ("Love, since my grievous sorrow amazes you")
15.  Ghirardello da FIRENZE (before c.1320-1362/63): Donna, l'altrui mirar che fate
16.Egidius da FRANCIA (2nd half 14th cen.): Donna s'amor

Composer Info

Gautier d'ÉPINAL (1205/30-1272), Jacques de CYSOING (mid 13th c.), Colin MUSET (13th cen.), Gautier de COINCY (1177-1236), Egidius da FRANCIA (2nd half 14th cen.), Bartolino da PADOVA (c.1365-1405), Donato da FIRENZE (2nd half 14th cen.), Don Paolo da FIRENZE (c.1355-c.1436), Ghirardello da FIRENZE (before c.1320-1362/63), Egidius da FRANCIA (2nd half 14th cen.), Andreas Horganista de FLORENTINA (14th cen.), .Bartolino da PADOVA (c.1365-1405), Francesco LANDINI (1325/35-1397), Don Paolo da FIRENZE (c.1355-c.1436), Ghirardello da FIRENZE (before c.1320-1362/63), Egidius da FRANCIA (2nd half 14th cen.)

CD Info

Challenge Classics CD CC72190, Challenge Classics CD CC72195, Carpe Diem CD CD-16287