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8.554257 - Music of the Troubadours (Ensemble Unicorn)
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Music of the Troubadours

The poems and songs of the troubadours provide a repertoire of early European secular song. It is usual to distinguish the poets and musicians of the Occitanian tradition of southern France from those who flourished slightly later in the north, the first as troubadours and the second as trouvères. The troubadours themselves, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, were, in general, not the wandering minstrels of nineteenth-century imagination, but often of high social position, kings, princes and lords, however limited their domains. Among these poets, however, there were individuals of lower social status, sons of shopkeepers and tradesmen. All, though, were influenced by a tradition and by conventions of the court and by courtly notions of idealised love, its joys and sorrows. Other subjects of all kinds occur, political, satirical, apologetic or bawdy. The language of the troubadours, the langue d'oc, is Provençal and closely related variants, to be greatly distorted by the trouvères. The activities of the troubadours extended into Catalonia and into Italy. A large number of troubadour poems survive and a fairly substantial body of monodic music, offering a single melodic line following the rhythm and pattern of the verse set.

The present anthology of troubadour music and verse opens with Tant m'abelis by Berenguier de Palou, who flourished in the early twelfth century. His place of birth seems to have been Palol, near Elne, in the district of Rousillon, at the modern border between France and Spain. The son of an impoverished knight, he is one of the earliest of the Catalan troubadours. Tant m'abelis consists of five seven-line stanzas, each line including ten syllables. These decasyllabic lines rhyme in the pattern ABBACDD, with the same rhymes continued in each stanza. There is a further example of his work in Ai tal domna, a setting of an eight-line stanza of seven-syllable lines, rhyming ABABCCDD. There follows an instrumental version of the anonymous twelfth-century Domna, pos vos ay chausida.

No puesc sofrir is the work of the troubadour Giraut de Bornelh, whose estampie, Reis glorios is also included. The latter is an alba, a composition that marks the parting of a couple at dawn (alba), after a night together, perhaps observed by a third party, a watchman. The music by Giraut is one of only two surviving musical examples, while there are nine surviving examples of the texts. Giraut was born at Excideuilh, near Périgueux in about 1140 and died at the turn of the century. Of relatively humble parentage, he rose to be respected as the master of the troubadours and quotations from his work are included, with those of other troubadour poets, in Dante's De vulgari eloquentia, evidence of his contemporary reputation. Four of his 79 surviving poems are preserved with their music. No puesc sofrir consists of ten eight-syllable lines, rhyming ABABCDDCDD. The contrafactum, an imitation, following current practice, follows the same pattern, using the same rhyme-scheme and same rhyming syllables, in a series of five stanzas (coblas), with a final three-line envoi (tornada). This is by the poet Peire Cardenal, probably born about the year 1180 at Le Puy-en-Velay in the Haute-Loire. Three of his surviving ninety poems are extant with their music and two of these are contrafacta. Peire Cardenal lived a remarkably long life and seems to have died at the age of nearly a hundred at Montpellier, where Jacques I, King of Aragon had his residence until his death in 1276. The verbal intricacies of the poem are of particular interest, with an excursion into alliteration in each line of the final stanza.

A bagpipe improvisation on the medieval bujo is followed by Raimon de Miraval's Bel m'es qu'ieu chant. The Provençal troubadour, whose name leads to possible confusion with his father, making the dating of his birth difficult, flourished between 1180 and 1215. His castle at Miraval, to the north of Carcassonne, held by him together with his three brothers, was seized by the Albigensian crusaders in 1209 or 1211 and in the present poem he looks forward to its recapture. Raimon de Miraval's patrons included Count Raimon VI of Toulouse, defeated by the crusader Simon de Montfort in 1213, and Raimon-Rogier of Béziers, who appear under pseudonyms in his poems, as do other members of the nobility. 48 chansons survive, 22 of them with their music, an unusually large number. The four stanzas of Bel m’es qu'ieu chant consist of nine seven-­syllable lines, with a repeated rhyme scheme for each stanza, ABBACDDCC, reflected in the music.

Cantaben els ocells is the work of Ramon Llull (Raymond Lull), distinguished as a Catalan philosopher, theologian, poet and mystic. Born about the year 1232, he died in 1315. A prolific writer, he left some 243 works, in Latin and in Catalan, to the second of which he gave scholarly respectability. His passing and varied references to music have a distinct bearing on contemporary practice. From a land-owning Barcelona family, he was born in Palma de Mallorca, possibly in 1235, but at the age of thirty turned away from secular poetry to a life religious activity urging the foundation of colleges to study other religions. A figure of the greatest importance in Catholic Europe, Ramon Llull devoted much of his life to missionary activity, the cause of his death in 1315. His short poem is recited to a characteristic musical accompaniment.

Ara lausatz, lausat, lausat is an anonymous work of bawdy suggestion from the Monastery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses in Catalonia, its collegiate church founded in 887 by Count Wilfred the Hairy (el Velloso), whose daughter was the first of the abbesses.

A native of Narbonne, where he was born about the year 1230, Guiraut Riquier is regarded as the last of the troubadours. His 89 surviving poems can be dated through frequent topical references and fall between the years 1254 and 1292. He was in the service of Amalrich IV, Viscount of Narbonne, and then of Alfonso X of Castile. In 1279 he entered the service of Henry II, Count of Rodez, and died at the turn of the century. 48 of the poems survive with their music, an unusually large number. Humils, forfaitz, repres e penedens consists of two eight-line stanzas with a final three-line envoi. The rhyme-scheme is ABBACCD, with the final three rhymes echoed in the envoi, matched by the repeated melodic formula, with its ornamentation.

Bernart de Ventadorn was born in the castle of Ventadorn, in Limousin, between about 1130 and 1140 and was influenced by the example of Eble II and his successor, both Viscounts of Ventadorn and proponents of the traditional courtly traditions of troubadour poetry. It appears, from various allusions elsewhere and from the usual surviving vida, the customary and sometimes imaginative biographical notice of the lives of troubadours, that he was the son of a baker or a foot-soldier. Whatever his origins, he left Ventadorn to enter the service of Eleanor of Aquitaine, who married the future Henry II of England. He was later in the service of Raimon V, Count of Toulouse, and after the latter's death in 1194 is said to have entered a monastery in the Dordogne, where he died in the last decade of the century. 45 poems survive, with music to eighteen of them. Quan vei la lauzeta mover is not only the most famous of Bernart de Ventadorn's songs, but among the most widely known in troubadour repertoire, variously imitated and a possible influence on the northern French trouvère repertoire, deriving from the troubadours. The poem consists of seven eight-syllable eight-line stanzas, with a rhyming scheme ABABCDCD. The final four lines form an envoi.

Jaufre Rudel, who flourished in the mid-twelfth century, is known in particular for his poems to his distant love. He took part in the second crusade in 1147 and it has been suggested that the distant love was the Countess of Tripoli or even, metaphorically, Jerusalem itself. The derivative and imaginative vida repeats the story of Rudel, described as prince of Blaye, and his infatuation with the Countess, seemingly known only by repute. As a pilgrim, he set out to see her but was taken ill on the ship, to die in the arms of the Countess, once he had reached Tripoli. At his death she took the veil. Of seven poems attributed to Rudel, four survive with their music. Lanquan li jorn has a particular interest in that it was imitated by the German Minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide in his Palästinalied (Naxos 8.553442). The poem itself consists of seven eight-syllable seven-line stanzas, followed by a three-line envoi. The rhyme-scheme is ABABCCD, with the word loing (distant) ending the second and fourth lines of each stanza.

The Interpretation

The music and language of the troubadours, together with their content have, over the centuries, in no way lost their importance. Still in our own time, particularly in the field of folk-music, their effects can be observed in the musical and poetic culture of Southern France and Catalonia. In our search for a person who would be for us an ideal interpreter, with a true understanding of this repertoire, we settled on Maria Lafitte. She is one of the most important singers of Cansó Catalana and combines with long experience in early music ensembles the experience of intensive research in the field of medieval romance languages and a deep engagement with the interpretation of related methods of poetic expression. From the conviction that this music is part of a living tradition has come a confluence, in interpretation, of elements from the field of early music with the continuing traditions of Mediterranean music. The collaboration of the Ensemble Unicorn with the Oni Wytars Ensemble as representatives of these two stylistic trends has proved very effective, as in the release On the Way to Bethlehem (Naxos 8.553132). Well founded historical research and general freedom for improvisation, with the use of a varied group of instruments and strictly text-related arrangements, offer, in this recording, a refreshing wealth of colour, together with poetic profundity.

Michael Posch and Marco Ambrosini


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