Thys Yool. A Medieval Christmas
Martin Best Ensemble
Nimbus Records NI 5137


I. Sing today of Joy

1. Personent Hodie   [2:02]
Melody: 14th century | words from Piae Cantiones, 1582
soprano, alto, tenor, dulcimer, drum, bells, pipe, rebec

II. Winter and Wassail

2. Judas and Wenceslas   [1:31]
Poland, 14th century and Piae Cantiones, 13th century
pipe, rebec, psaltery, drum, bells
The melody of ‘Jezusa Judasz przedał’ (Judas sold Jesus) was originally a dance song adapted for religious purposes. The familiar ‘Good King Wenceslas’ falls into the same category, being originally a 13th century spring dance song (‘Tempus adest floridum’) to which J. M. Neale wrote English words in the late 19th century. The two melodies are here placed together in an attempt to demonstrate their common ancestry.

3. Hyer Matin   [5:07]
Gautier de COINCI born c. 1177, died c. 1236, Soissons, France
voice MB, soprano, alto, tenor, lute, pipe, drum, bells, rebec, dulcimer

4. Miri it is while sumer ilast   [1:52]
? Thorney Abbey, Cambridgeshire c. 1225psaltery, soprano, alto, rebec, pipe

5. Man mai longe lives weene   [5:26]
England, c. 1250voice MB, psaltery

6. Thys Yool   [1:03]
? Winchester, c. 1396voice MB, rebec, pipe

7. Tapster, drynker   [1:15]
England, c. 1450soprano, alto, 2 tenors

8. Ja pour hyver   [4:27]
Gautier de COINCI, Francevoice MB, psaltery, dulcimer

III. A Child is Born

9. Gabriel from Heven-King   [2:26]
England, 13th centuryvoice MB, flute, psaltery, dulcimer

10. Song of the Nuns of Chester   [3:11]   ‘Qui creavit caelum’
The Benedictine nunnery of Chester, c. 1425soprano, alto, psaltery

11. Hail Mary full of grace   [4:11]
Cambridge, 15th century
soprano, alto, tenor MB, lute, recorder, fidele; instruments play for burden only

12. As I lay on Yoolis Night   [3:39]
England, first half of 14th centurysoprano, alto, psaltery, fidele

13. Edi be thu   [2:09]
England, second half of 13th centurytwo tenors, pipe, rebec, lute

14. Peperit Virgo   [2:49]
Richard de Ledrede, c. 1320 | melody: England, 13th century (‘Byrd one breere’)
voice MB, psaltery

IV. Mary Mother, Queen of Heaven

15. O Virgo Splendens   [2:20]
Montserrat, Catalonia, from the Llibre Vermell of the 14th century   LV 1
soprano DD, soprano LS, alto

16. Loor de Santa Maria   [1:56]
Cantigas de Alfonso X el Sabio, Castille, second half of the 13th century   CSM 390
soprano, alto, 2 tenors, lute, pipe, rebec, cymbals

17. Polorum Regina   [2:57]
Montserrat, Catalonia, from the Llibre Vermell of the 14th century   LV 7
soprano, alto, 2 tenors, rebec, pipe, drum, lute

18. Mariam Matrem   [2:02]
Montserrat, Catalonia, from the Llibre Vermell of the 14th century   LV 8
soprano, alto, 2 tenors

V. Mary's Son, Goodwill on Earth

19. I pray you all   [2:09]
England, second half of the 14th centurysoprano, alto, 2 tenors, recorder, fidele

20. Ther is no rose   [4:42]
Cambridge, first half of 15th centurysoprano, alto, tenor MB

21. Caligo Terrae Scinditur   [2:01]
England, early 14th century; Petronian motet

22. Princeps Pacis   [3:13]
England, 15th century, probably the Chapel Royal of St. George at Windsor
soprano, alto, tenor AS, lute, two recorders

VI. Rebirth

23. Mors vitae Propitia   [1:17]
French conductus c. 1200soprano, alto, lute, rebec, pipe, drum

Singer, guitarist, lutenist

Martin Best has been called the 'first great contemporary Troubadour' (International Edison Award, Amsterdam 1983) for his performance of the Minstrel and Troubadour tradition from the Middle Ages to the present day. He has been associated with the Royal Shakespeare Company for over twenty years as a singer and composer of words and music projects and anthology programmes, and for plays both at Stratford and London. In 1985 he arranged the music for the John Barton/RSC production of Strindberg's Dreamplay. Martin Best has a strong affinity with Sweden and performs there regularly as an acknowledged portrayer of the works of the Swedish poet-songwriters.

He has made over 150 television appearances and recordings worldwide and is a regular performer and programme-deviser for BBC Radio 3 and 4. Special radio programmes have included a programme of words and music with Peggy Ashcrof (Sense and Nonsense) and he is currently creating a series of programmes for Radio 3 based on Dante and the Troubadours. He has made over 20 records and has received the Gramophone magazine Critics Award and an International Edison Award in 1983 for the best recording in the Medieval/Renaissance category. Martin Best has been appointed as Visiting Lecturer and Artist-in-Residence to several major American universities, and in 1984 he founded Musica Humana; an inter-arts programme based on Medieval and Renaissance culture for graduates and undergraduates.

'...early music offers unparalleled glimpses into the culture of its era—glimpses every bit as vivid as manuscript illuminations or 'The Decameron'. For the best early-music performances re-create the whole panoply of Medieval life, from sacred to profane, right before our ears. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Martin Best Ensemble's recording of the 'Cantigas of Santa Maria', N15081.'The New York Times

The Martin Best Mediaeval Ensemble
Martin Best

Martin Best:
voice — #3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 14  |  tenor — #7, 11, 13, 16-21  |  lute — #3, 11, 13, 16, 17, 22, 23  |  psaltery — #2, 4, 5, 8-10, 12, 14
Lucie Skeaping:
soprano — #15  |  rebec — #1-4, 6, 13, 16, 17, 23  |  fidele — #11, 12, 19
David Corkhill:
dulcimer — #1, 3, 8, 9  |  drum — #1-3, 17, 23  |  bells — #1-3  |  cymbals — #16
Jeremy Barlow:
pipe — #1-4, 13, 16, 17, 23  |  recorder — #11, 19, 22  |  transverse flute — #9

Donna Deam, soprano — #1, 3, 4, 7, 10-12, 15-23
Kristine Szulik, alto — #1, 3, 4, 7, 10-12, 15-23
Angus Smith, tenor — #1, 3, 7, 13, 16-19, 22

Recorded at Wyastone Leys, 4 & 5 May 1988 · A Digital Recording

Recorded, Mastered and Manufactured in England by Nimbus Records Limited
Cover picture: The Census at Bethlehem, by Bruegel
(Pieter Bruegel de Oude, De volkstelling te Bethlehem, 1566)

℗ © 1988 Nimbus Records Limited

Thys Yool

'THYS YOOL' is a four-part programme of medieval music in which four images central to the Christmas story are brought together. Beginning with a sometimes melancholy picture of earth-bound humanity (Winter and Wassail), the record moves through Nativity songs (A Child is Born) towards the point at which Christian and pagan traditions come together in an adoration of the Virgin which is often expressed in the passionate language of the courtly lover. A sense of human perceptions being profoundly altered by the events of Christmas is evoked in Mary's Son, Goodwill on Earth, and a French 12th century conductus touches on the theme of Rebirth.

Such an approach arises from a variety of and in the material. Included on this record are seven English songs without refrain (nos. 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 13 and 14). Two of these (9, 13) are in an a a b form related to the French ballade, while another (no. 6) is a secular merry-making song in which a distinct Courtly Love reference appears. Such are the effects of travel, rapid invention, and bi-, if not tri-, lingualism.

Seven Carols are performed (nos. 1, 10, 11, 12, 19, 20 and 22). The Carol originated as a secular form, usually a round-dance to verses sung by a 'leader' and preceded and followed by a communal refrain. In its religious form, as here, we can perceive an educated use of an ancient popular genre, in which pagan flower-imagery (particularly of the Rose) is common. Mary triumphs not only as Queen of Heaven, but also as the Virgin Goddess Diana.

In no. 3 the Carol form argues against the temptations of Courtly Love in a totally sophisticated diatribe; and in no. 8 the language of the trouvère lover adores Mary almost hot-bloodedly. One Ale-Feast song (no. 7) appears as an example of a Version of a pagan genre specially composed for a probably noble household.

The section Mary Mother, Queen of Heaven contains music entirely from Spain, yet includes a motet in virelai form (no. 18), a Cantiga — also in virelai form (no. 16), a pilgrim song in the form of a round dance (no. 1) and a caça, or canon, (no. 15).

This variety of material is matched by an historical breadth: the record spans a period of some 350 years. If in doing so, however, it confines itself to forms which were already established in Europe by the 13th century, its intent is also to give some sense of that rich variety which, at the beginning of the 15th century, in fact existed in the life of European people.

© Martin Best, 1988