Three New Medieval Recordings

Program: #19-45   Air Date: Oct 28, 2019

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Music from the time of St. Francis, songs by Francesco Landini, and sacred works by Johannes de Lymnburgia.

I. Laudario: Musique au temps de St. Francis Assisi (Canticum Novum/Emmanuel Bardon). Ambronay CD AMY052.

Canticum Novum sheds new light on the wonderful medieval repertory of Tuscan laude. Taken from the Laudario di Cortona, these popular sacred songs of praise from the time of St Francis of Assisi, overflowing with poetry and sunshine, are transcended by Emmanuel Bardon and his ensemble. Appropriating another culture and playing it through the prism of one’s own culture, not to imitate it but to resonate with it: this I show the art project Canticum Novum has been defining its deep self for many years now. Working this way, the musicians forming the ensemble constantly question their own musical identity, the way they play their instruments. They often accept to leave their comfort zone and to relearn how to play, adapting to the repertory to be interpreted and their present colleagues. The idea is not to contort oneself in order to play another repertory but to move towards it.
  1. Sia Laudato San Francesco
  2. Stella Nova'n Fra La Gente
  3. Gloria'n Cielo Pace'n Terra
  4. O Divina Virgo Flore
  5. Trotto - Istampitta
  6. Cristo È Nato Et Humanato
  7. Saltarello II - Istampitta
  8. Da Ciel Venne Messo Novello
  9. Amor Dolze Senza Pare
  10. Fami Cantar L'Amor Di La Beata
  11. Chominciamento Di Gioia - Istampitta
  12. Ben E' Crudele E Spietoso
  13. De La Crudel Morte De Cristo
  14. Onne Homo Ad Alta Voce
  15. Lamento Di Tristano/La Rotta - Istampitta
  16. Saltarello III. Altissima Luce
  17. Altissima Luce
  18. Laude Novella Sia Cantata
  19. Venite a Laudare

II. Francesco Landini: L’Occhio del Cor (La Reverdie). Arcana CD A462.

From Music Web International: Francesco Landini was the son of the painter Jacopo del Casentino (fl.1315-1349), who was essentially a follower of Giotto, sufficiently accomplished and respected to become the subject of a short (and somewhat inaccurate) biography by Giorgio Vasari in his highly influential book Le Vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani (The Lives of the most excellent Italian architects, painters and sculptors) (1580 and later editions) and to have been elected, in 1339,  one of the initial councillors of the newly established Florentine Confraternity of Painters, the Compagna di S. Luca. The son of an established artist or craftsman would, in the fourteenth century (the Italian trecento) normally have taken up his father’s profession. Perhaps the young Francesco would, indeed, have become a painter, save for a traumatic episode in his childhood. Around the age of seven he contracted smallpox, and the disease led to the loss of his eyesight. Though this obviously precluded a career in the visual arts it didn’t prevent Landini displaying artistic talents of other kinds. He went on to achieve great fame as a musician, both as a performer – as a singer, a player of several instruments, most notably the organ and the organetto (or portative organ) – and as a composer. He held a number of significant musical posts. By 1361 he was organist at the Benedictine monastery of Santa Trinità in Florence and in 1365 he became choirmaster at the important church of San Lorenzo, retaining this post as long as he lived. He also worked as an organ tuner, builder and repairer, in Florence and elsewhere.

Alongside his musical career he also became an assured writer of both Italian and Latin verse. In 1364 (some accounts say 1368) he was awarded, in Venice, a laurel wreath in recognition of his work as a poet - and perhaps for his musical skills too. This was an age very conscious of the close relationship between poetry and music believing, as the Elizabethan poet Richard Barnfield put it, that the two arts were “sister and brother” and that “one god is god of both”.  Landini was active amongst the cultural élite of contemporary Florence, his friends including the humanists Luigi Marsili and Collucio di Piero, the latter an important classical scholar and Chancellor of Florence from 1375-1406, as well as a poets such as Franco Sacchetti (an autograph manuscript of Sachetti’s Libro delle rime includes a poetic correspondence with Landini) , Guido Tommaso del Palagio and  Giovanni da Prato. The latter gives an account in his unfinished verse narrative Il Paradiso degli Alberti, of an occasion in Florence in 1389  when, at a gathering of learned men in the  garden of Antonio degli Alberti’s villa (Alberti was a wealthy poet and politician), the Villa del Paradiso, “…the sun was coming up and beginning to get warm; a thousand birds were singing. Francesco was ordered to play on his organetto to see if the singing of the birds would lessen or increase with his playing. As soon as he began to play, many birds at first became silent, then they redoubled their singing and, strange to say, one nightingale came and perched on a branch over his head” (translated thus by Leonard Ellinwood in the New Oxford History of Music, Vol. III, p.36 (1998). While da Prato was a friend of Landini and therefore not unbiased, and the account is a fanciful use of a common figure, so as to make Landini seem positively Orphic in his powers, the enthusiasm and the affirmation of Landini’s popularity seem to carry a certain truthfulness. It is surely significant that a quarter or more of all the surviving polyphonic music from the Italian trecento is by Landini, especially significant when one considers that he would have been unable to write out his own music.

The popularity is not hard to understand, even now. Much of Landini’s music has a directness and sensuousness, a limpid beauty of melodic line that has an enduring freshness. There have previously been a number of fine recordings of Landini’s music – two that come to mind are by Anonymous 4:  The Second Circle: Love Songs of Francesco Landini (HARMONIA MUNDI 507269) and Gothic Voices:  A Laurel for Landini – 14th Century Italy’s Greatest Composer (AVIE AV2151); but this new recording by the excellent and much-admired Italian ensemble La Reverdie is special for at least two reasons – first, for the intelligent sensitivity with which instruments and voices are blended (it helps, I suspect, that five of the six instrumentalists on the CD are also heard as singers) and secondly because the material performed is presented in terms of a particularly well-conceived programme. The booklet essay by the Italian musicologist Davide Daolmi examines the chosen pieces in relation to Landini’s blindness, exploring the use of eyes as a recurrent motif in the poems set. The love poetry of the dolce stil nuovo, of which Landino was very much an heir (he was born just four years after Dante’s death and the aged Petrarch was a member of the committee which awarded him his laurel wreath) made extensive use of the imagery of the eyes. It was often the initial sight of the beloved’s eyes that stimulated the poet’s love; the ‘science’ of the trecento (with which the learned Landino would certainly have had some acquaintance) was much fascinated by the phenomena of light and seeing. All of this must have had particular and forceful resonances for a blind, but evidently highly intelligent and sensitive, poet and composer.

Of the fifteen tracks on this new CD, two (‘Non arà may pietàquesta mia dona’ and ‘Che pena è questa al cor’) are purely instrumental. Of the other thirteen (mostly ballate, with just one madrigal), the texts of ten are, by my count, concerned with eyes, with ‘seeing’ and ‘not-seeing’ in various senses. Whether any of these ten poems were written by Landini himself we have no way of knowing; but in at least  cases (‘Mostrommi Amor già fra le verdi fronde’, ‘Muort’oramai deh misero dolente’, ‘ Non per fallir di me tuo vista pia’ and – less directly – ‘Che cosa è quest’amor che ’l ciel produce’) might be read as having reference to the events of Landini’s own life, so that we might at least imagine them to be his words. The other six texts were, of course, chosen for setting by Landini, so we are perhaps entitled to assume that he found in them a kind of personal significance or relevance.

To return to one of the pieces which may have been written – words and music – by Landini, ‘Non per fallir di me tuo vista pia’ begins thus (quoting the booklet’s English translation by Kate Singleton) “Through no fault of mine, I can no longer / Enjoy the lovely sight / You once made possible: / But I shall never leave you” and ends as follows, “Have mercy, O Lady and Lord, let me feel / The joy and delight / I once had on seeing you, / And that you now wrongly deny me”. The language is very much that of the love poetry of the dolce stil nuovo (many analogous phrases might be cited from, for example. Petrarch’s Rime Sparse, but if one understand the ‘you’ of this poem as being the “Lady and Lord” (the Virgin Mary and Christ?) of its closing lines, it becomes clear that the conventions of contemporary love poetry have been turned to a kind of religious use in which the poet (Landini?) envisages the restoration of his sight in the afterlife. The CD’s title, with its reference to the ‘eyes of the heart’ alludes to Ephesians I:18, the eyes of the heart being able to ‘see’ truths inaccessible to the physical eyes, a matter of ‘enlightenment’ rather than mere ‘light’. A very similar sense is found in ‘Mostrommi Amor già fra le verdi fronde’; the text (in English) reads thus “Love showed me among the leafy branches / A peregrine falcon in the shadows / That wanted to be free. // Fortune kept its eyes closed / And it struggled in every manner / To achieve its goal // And I realized that nature intended / it should fly aloft”. The central image of the hooded falcon – robbed of its sharp eyesight not by ‘Fortune’ but by the falconer – serves both as an expression of Landini’s struggle to achieve so much despite his blindness and (perhaps less obviously to the modern reader/ audience) of his hope for light and sight after death. Beryl Rowlands’ book on the ‘language’ of birds in the middle ages (Birds with Human Souls: a Guide to Bird Symbolism, 1978) tells us (pp.62-63) that “the hooded falcon was a symbol of hope, illustrating the phrase post tenebris spero lucem (I hope for light after darkness”. Landini’s texts, in short, are important. It is easy to be seduced by the sheer beauty of his music and consequently pay little real attention to the words being sung, but one needs to realize that words and music here exist in a complete and powerful synergy, and therefore pay careful heed to the sung texts. This is made easier by the clarity of diction in these performances. These are singers thoroughly at home with medieval Italian.

The members of La Reverdie, Claudia Caffagni (who also plays the lute), Livia Caffagni (recorders and vielle), Elisabetta De Mircovich (rebec and vielle), Teodora Tommasi (harp and recorders) and Matteo Zenatti (harp and tamburello) all sing quite beautifully, at all times emotionally expressive (without ever being sentimentally indulgent) and persuasively idiomatic. The integration of their voices is perfect and when they stop singing and play their instruments one hears the instrumental lines in much the same way as one listens to the vocal lines.

The ravishing beauty of the music (and words) contains a great poignancy when one relates it to the life-circumstances of Landini. It is clear that both as a poet and a musician he is a distinguished member of two special traditions. He earns, very readily, an honoured place in the roll-call of blind poets, which begins, according to legend, with Homer and includes such later poets as the great Persian poet (and musician) Rudaki (c.859-941) as well as such later figures as the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) and John Heath-Stubbs (1918-2006) – whom I was lucky enough to know in his later years. As far as I know (I would welcome correction), Landini was the earliest in the line of blind organists of distinction, which includes (amongst others) Konrad Paumann (1410-75), Antonio de Cabézon (1510-66), John Stanley (1712-86), Jean Langlais (1907-91) and Helmut Walcha (1907-71).

I have lost count of the number of times I have already listened to this CD. The performances by La Reverdie (joined by Christophe Deslignes playing the organetto – the instrument his contemporaries most associated with Landini – the Wikipedia entry on Landini reproduces a miniature of Landini at his portable organ, from the Squarcialupi Codex, compiled in Florence c. 1412) are superb and, for me at least, make the nature and greatness of Landini’s genius clearer than any other recordings I have heard.

The very name of the ensemble heard here seems completely appropriate – the name comes, of course, from the poetic term ‘reverdie’ – a dance song which celebrates the arrival of spring; the word might literally be translated as ‘re-greening’. I suggest that the name of this ensemble is ‘appropriate’ to the music of Landini, since Landini and the Florentines with whom he was associated did much to prepare the ground for that great cultural ‘re-greening’ which we call the Renaissance.

Glyn Pursglove

1. Poiché partir convienmi, donna cara [4:14]
2. Tante belleçe in questa donna stanno [3:10]
3. Che cosa è quest’amor che ’l ciel produce [4:45]
4. Nella tuo luce tien la vita mia [4:19]
5. Non arà may pietà questa mia dona [2:52]
6. L’alma mie piang’e mai non può aver pace [4:30]
7. Gramˑpiant’agli ochi, greve doglia al core [5:41]
8. Per un amante rio tal pena sento [3:58]
9. Divennon gli ochi mien el partir duro [4:54]
10. Ochi dolente mie che pur piangete [3:49]
11. Mostrommi Amor già fra le verdi fronde [3:31]
12. Che pena è questa al cor [3:25]
13. Non per fallir di me tuo vista pia [6:09]
14. Muort’oramai deh misero dolente [4:59]
15. Guard’una volta inciàverso ’l tuo servo [4:38]


III. Johannes de Lymburgia: Gaude Felix Padua (Le Miroir de Musique/Baptiste Romain). Ricercar CD RIC 402.

Born around 1380 in the Duchy of Limburg, possibly in the little town of the same name, Johannes de Limburgia was active for a long time in Liège, then in Italy. We have evidence of his presence in Vicenza between 1431 and 1436, and several of his works refer explicitly to Vicenza, as well as to Venice and Padua, demonstrating a strong connection with northern Italy, where his music was compiled. His output – more than 45 works – is contained in three large manuscripts from the first half of the fifteenth century, alongside music by other composers from north of the Alps, such as Johannes Ciconia and Guillaume Dufay. Though only sacred music by Limburgia has survived, it is richly varied, reflecting both the consistency of the Franco-Flemish style and the composer’s own inventive taste for harmonic and melodic experimentation.
From Gramophone: Johannes de Lymburgia was active in the Veneto around 1430, though presumably born in the Low Countries. His music is known almost exclusively from a single manuscript now in Bologna (the famous Q15), which contains no fewer than 46 works credited to him, making him the second most represented composer in the manuscript (the first being the great Dufay). Despite that, he is almost totally ignored. As far as I can see only about three of his works are available on record. So this CD devoted entirely to his music is more than to be welcomed: it is a major breakthrough in the availability of early 15th-century music in the catalogue. music is all in devotional Latin and presumably all liturgical, and it must be said that it hardly makes for the most enthralling listening: he was by no means Dufay. But Baptiste Romain and Le Miroir de Musique make the best possible case of the music, with flawless performances throughout, most particularly introducing a new name to the catalogue of medieval music, that of the soprano Jessica Jans, who carries much of the main melodic material with magical clarity and expressive singing.

On the other hand, one could have questions about the ensemble choices here. Even if we accept the historically unlikely mixing of male and female voices in liturgical polyphony, we may have a harder time accepting vielles taking part in such music much before 1470, as already pointed out by Peter Holman more than 30 years ago. That may not matter, except that the constant instrumental participation can result in somewhat breathless tempos. But, as I said, we should be massively grateful that this CD exists at all. 

  • Tota pulchra es, amica mea
  • Gaude Felix Padua
  • Recordare Virgo mater
  • Descendi in ortum meum
  • Magne dies leticie
  • Recordare frater pie
  • Virginis proles
  • Kyrie Qui de stirpe regia
  • Kyrie
  • Sanctus Admirabilis splendor
  • Agnus Dei
  • Christe redemptor omnium
  • Magnificat octavi toni
  • Salve virgo Regia

Composer Info

Francesco Landini, Johannes de Lymburgia

CD Info

CD AMY052, Arcana CD A462, CD RIC 402