Medieval Music & Songs of the Troubadours
Musica Reservata
Everest 3270


as "French Court Music of the Thirteenth Century":
Delysé 3201
L'Oiseau-Lyre SOL R 332



1. Raimbaut de VAQUEIRAS. Kalenda maya  [2:55]
mezzo-soprano, recorder, tenor rebec, drum, nakers

Adam de la HALLE
2. Taut con je vivrai  [1:45]
3. Amours et ma dame aussi  [0:56]
mezzo-soprano, counter-tenor, tenor, treble rebec, tenor rebec, nakers

4. In seculum viellatoris  [1:06]
treble rebec, tenor rebec, viol, harp

5. La quinte estampie real  [1:03]
recorder, drum

6. Prisoner's song  [5:21]
mezzo-soprano, tenor rebec, harp

7. La quarte estampie royal  [2:37]
tenor rebec, viol, citole, large tabor

8. Adam de la HALLE. Robin m'aime  [0:54]
mezzo-soprano, bagpipe

9. Mout me fu grief ~ Robin m'aime ~ Portare  [1:41]
counter-tenor, mezzo-soprano, tenor rebec, harp

10. Amor potest ~ Ad amorem ~ Tenor  [0:55]
counter-tenor, mezzo-soprano, tenor rebec, harp


1. Pucelete ~ Je langui ~ Domino  [1:06]
counter-tenor, mezzo-soprano, tenor rebec, harp

2. Danse royale  [1:22]
treble rebec, citole

a) Jolietement  [1:03]
baritone, tenor rebec, nakers
b) Au euer ai un mal ~ Ja ne m'en repentirai ~ Jolietement   [0:52]
tenor, tenor, baritone, crumhorn, tenor rebec, nakers

15. J'ai un cuer ~ Docebit  [1:37]
mezzo-soprano, organetto

16. La seconde estampie royal  [2:41]
shawm, drum

17. Flor de lis ~ Je nepu is ~ Douce dame  [1:01]
tenor, tenor, baritone, 3 crumhorns

18. La sexte estampie real  [1:14]
treble rebec, citole

19. Adam de la HALLE. Li dous regars  [1:18]
tenor, tenor, baritone, 3 crumhorns, nakers

20. Dance. Ductia  [2:24]
treble rebec, viol, nakers

21. Gaces BRULLES. De bone amor  [7:14]
tenor, viol

22. On parole ~ A Paris ~ Frese nouvele  [1:26]
tenor, tenor, baritone, shawm, large tabor

Musica Reservata
John Beckett, conductor
John Beckett &  Michael Morrow, musical directors

Jantina Noorman, mezzo-soprano
Grayston Burgess, counter-tenor
Nigel Rogers, tenor
Edgar Fleet, tenor
Geoffrey Shaw, baritone

Ruth David, treble rebec
Daphne Webb, tenor rebec
Desmond Dupré, viol
Michael Morrow, crumhorn & bagpipe
David Munrow, crumhorn & shawm
Tess Miller, crumhorn
John Sothcott, recorder & citole
Brian Wilson, harp
John Beckett, citole, drum & organetto
Jeremy Montagu, nakers & large tabor

produced by Isabella Wallich
production liaison, Francis Grubb
cover design by Edwin Francis

To TALK of a "piece of music", in context of the 13th century, is misleading. The performances on this record are like action photographs—each captures a moment in the evolution of a piece which was constantly changing. The moment has been crystallized by its being written down at a particular place and point in time. The impulse to write it down was usually extra-musical, certainly not because the piece had reached "perfection", and the music itself continued its process of adaptation: a note change here and there, a phrase re-cast or an ornament added, a new text or an extra voice fitted.

Thus Jolietement mi tient li mal [B3] was a solo song (a rondeau) in its own right, but at some stage it acquired two extra voices with quite different words. It was written down thus at least five times, each slightly differently, in France, Italy, Germany and England.

Frese nouvele! ("Fresh strawberries!") and Muere france! ("honest blackberries!") were street-cries of Paris, for they recur almost note-for-note a century later, in a motet picturing a Parisian market-scene. As performed here [B11], they are joined by two upper voices singing the praises of city life and the pleasures of Paris.

Three melodies so combined were often utterly contrasting in character. So Pucelete Bele [B1] has a slow-moving bottom voice (a piece of plainsong, "Benedicamus Domino") plodding in equal notes, a lusty middle voice and a chattering top part (sung here only the second time through). Douce dame cui j'aim tant was evidently a song in its own right before it acquired two upper voices Flor de lis/Je ne puis [B6]; what is more, those two extra voices fit just as well over a completely different melody, Proh dolor, in another manuscript.

Even the idea of a single piece evolving is a vast oversimplification: 13th-century music is a complex network of intersecting lines. A snatch of plainsong might be used over and over again, combined with other melodies. This was true of the phrase "portare" (Alleluia: dulce lignum) by the end of the century. Meanwhile, Adam de la Halle (c. 1237-86), who had left his home town of Arras in 1283 for Naples, wrote there his celebrated pastoral play Le jeu de Robin et de Marion, whose opening song is Robin m'aime. Yet a third tune, Mout me fu grief, appeared many times over in manuscripts. But at one point in their development these three tunes were combined together to make a motet [A9]. (Compare the different ornaments of A8 and A9.) At times, the elements of this music have a mobile-like existence in which every "piece" is a quodlibet.

The remainder of the music here performed consists of secular songs and instrumental pieces. Four of the songs are solo: one, an estampida, from the troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (1155-1207) [A1], one from the trouvère Gaces Brulles [B 10], one bilingual (the same text in French and English) [A6], and the rondeau of Adam de la Halle [A8], who is also represented by some 3-part songs [A2, A3, B8]. Of the instrumental piece's, five are solo tunes from a collection of "danses royales" [A5,7; B2,5,7] and one is a 2-part dance with the tune underneath [B9].

The estampie was regarded as a "difficult" type of melody, and "because of its difficulty it takes command of the heart of performer and listener alike, and diverts the minds of the rich from depravity".

This is a record which explains those packed houses on the South Bank for mediaeval music concerts. It would be thin blood indeed which did not warm to the vitality of the very first piece Kalenda maya, played and sung with such spirit, and more likely than not you may find yourself whistling snatches of a Royal Estampie before long. But first a word of warning for for those who do not know the Musica Reservata style. The sounds they make are very different from those we are accustomed to. Not that the instrumental timbres will cause much difficulty. Rebecs are merely stringed instruments which make a thinner, un-vibratoed sound than modern violins; shawms and crumhorns are not all that different from modern double reed instruments. The real shock comes with the voices. The theory is that modern vocal technique is quite unsuitable for this kind of music, and Thurston Dart essayed the idea years ago that if we look at paintings of singing angels in mediaeval times, the strained expression on their faces is totally unlike that of today's singers. Add on the references to singing such as Chaucer's Prioress who, it seems, sang through her nose, and some experiments in producing nasal tone seemed valid.

The results can be heard in Jantina Noorman's singing on this record. The tone quality is not unlike that of rustic itinerants in Italy to this day, and reactions to its appearance in serious music vary from amusement to outrage. Heard on this record, which gives you time to get accusttomed to it, it becomes quite acceptable, at least for some pieces. Its cutting edge suits Kalenda maya extremely-well, and all other works where virility is the essence of the music. I find it slightly less convincing in the more sentimental music, such as I imagine the Prisoner's song might be, and also in vocal ensembles where it tends to obliterate other voices (in the multi-text Pucelete—Je langui—Domino, for example, the uppermost voice of the countertenor is obscured). But it is always exciting, as is the rest of the singing on the disc.

The playing on the whole is also good. The trouble with rebecs is that they are often made to produce squeals and bumps which no one can like. If there is the odd squeal on this record, nearly all of the sound is entirely acceptable. The crumhorns are also made to produce a more musical tone than the bee-like buzzing of the early days of their revival, and David Munrow's playing in the Seconde estampie royal on the shawm is most attractive.

Music of this period is so sketchily notated that it cannot be separated from its modern arrangements. In the troubadour songs, for example, the only music surviving is a series of notes without indication of rhythm (though that can be deduced with some detective work) or what played with the voice, if anything (and for this, detection mainly means guesswork). The modern dressing up of the pieces by, presumably, Messrs Morrow and Beckett, has an authentic ring about it. Perhaps the harp in the Prisoner's song has a faintly Ravelian flavour, and the percussion is sometimes a trifle overused. Otherwise it sounds entirely possible.

One small grumble; no texts or translations seem to be provided, and unless your mediaeval French is in good shape, you will have no idea what the words are about (tracking down even some of the pieces in a modern edition is a specialist's job). All the same, try out this record, even if you do not know anything about this kind of music. It is most exhilarating. — D.A.,