In a Medieval Garden: Instrumental and Vocal Music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance
01 Jacob Obrecht (c. 1450-1505)- Ic draghe de mutse clutse (recorders, lute, viol)
02 Anon. (13th C.)- In seculum artifex (krummhorn, lute, viol)
03 Anon. (15th C.)- Auf rief ein hübsches freuelein (tenor, lute, recorder, viol)
04 Anon. (15th C.)- La Spagna (krummhorn, lute, viol)
05 Anon. (13th C.)- Trotto (recorders, krummhorn, viol, lute, viol)
06 Anon. (13th C.)- Ave verum corpus (soprano, tenor, lutes, viols, recorders)
07 Vincenzo Capirola (16th C.)- La Spagna (2) (lute solo)
08 Anon. (14th C.)- En Albion (recorder, lute, viol)
09 Borlet (14th C.)- Ma tredol rosignol (2 recorders, lute, viol)
10 Anon. (13th C.)- In seculum viellatoris (krummhorn, lute, viol)
11 Anon. (15th C.)- Die Katzenpfote (recorder, lute, viol)
12 Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400-1474)- Pour l’amour de ma doulce amye (tenor, lute, recorder, viol)
13 Arr. Pierre Attaingnant (c. 1500-1553)- Basse Dance “Tous mes amys” (lute solo)
14 Anon. (15th C.)-Daie, si le das (lute, viol, recorder, percussion)
15 Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400-1474)- Adieu m’amour, adie ma joie (soprano, tenor, lute, recorder, viol)
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Text from the back of the original LP release by Stanley Buetens:
In spite of intensive research by musicologists, the true nature of Medieval music must remain forever unknown. Although many manuscripts have come down to us in perfect condition, it is ultimately impossible to demonstrate how this music sounded when it was written. The first sad fact of musical scholarship is that the notation of Medieval music was more artful than scientific. Experts trying to transcribe this music into modern notation disagree among themselves on many points, but especially rhythmic intention, since this is where the old ligature system was most ambiguous.
The second reason why this music will remain ultimately unknown is the problem of performance practice. Many questions must be asked, such as: What instruments were used and when? Were voices doubled by instruments always, sometimes, never? What music was meant for instruments alone? Did they alternate parts with voices? What were the tempi? How about phrasing, repeats, dynamics? These questions may seem unimportant in the shadow of the fact that even the arrangement of the notes themselves is open to question—but musicians do not consider them so. There are almost no theoretical works to lean on, and it is consequently necessary to use indirect methods and to consult other contemporary arts for clues. Both the written and graphic arts have supplied us with considerable information but they can scarcely be called scientifically obtained facts.
From poetry we learn something about the great variety of Medieval instruments. Guillaume de Machaut, in his poem Remede de Fortune, gives an impressive list of the instruments of his time:
Viële, rubebe. guiterne,
Leu, morache. michanon.
Citole et la psalterion,
Harpe, tabour, trompes, naquaires,
Orgues, cornes, plus de di paires,
Cornemuses, flajos, chevrettes,
Tymbre, la flaüste brehaingne.
Et le grant cornet d’Alemaingne.
Flajos de saus, fistule, pipe,
Muse d’Aussay, trompe petite
Buisines, eles, monocorde
Ou il n’a c’une seule corde,
Et muse de blef tout ensemble.
Instruments were often portrayed in a highly allegorical manner, and to separate fact from artistic fancy requires looking at large numbers of paintings, carvings, and sculptures. Where certain points keep recurring it can then be assumed that the instrument had that feature. The body of instruments most subject to fantasy are the bowed families of vielles, rebecs, and viols. The playing positions of some of these bowed instruments as often portrayed in old paintings are startling and indicate either highly imaginative artists or an uncanny ability of the old musicians. No modern musician dares imitate exactly some of these old playing positions. The lute seems to be less subject to artistic freedom. The Medieval lute was small and had only four or five pairs of strings. The instrument was played with a quill, from which we can assume that it played a single line of music or very rudimentary counterpoint since the thumb was still available, not being used to hold the plectrum. When the fingers replaced the plectrum in the last years of the fifteenth century, the lute commenced its startling rise to become the leading instrument of the Renaissance.
What we do know for sure is that Medieval music is often very complex, to say the least. Modern music may be more complicated in form and harmony but Medieval music is often more complicated rhythmically. Some characteristics of this music are: 1. Long syncopated passages. This happens so naturally for such long extended passages that “syncopation” may be the wrong word for it. Phase shift may be more accurate. 2. Rapid alteration of irregular groups such as 3/8, 5/8, 1/8, etc. which is also a trait of modern music. 3. Sounding notes in the “wrong” place, slightly ahead or behind of where they are expected. 4. Various parts playing in different meters. All this has led Willi Apel to remark (a bit unfairly, I think) that “it is not without interest to give thought to the question whether the penchant for extreme complexity... had its roots in musical practice or in notational speculation.”
Jacob Obrecht, a Netherlander, was one of the celebrated composers from the North who found welcome in Italy. Born ca. 1450, he died of the plague in 1505 in Ferrara—even then a great music center. His work stands unfortunately in the shadow of his great contemporary and countryman Ockeghem who, rightly or wrongly, is thought to be a greater composer. Obrecht has a wonderful and, in his day, progressive feeling for tonality, a gift for melody, the ability to use free forms, and a great talent for counterpoint, imitation, and overall design. The piece Ic draghe de mutse elutse (“I wear my cap awry”) is a good example of his light, cheery side and contains, besides some excellent contrapuntal sections, several abrupt changes in rhythm.
The two 13th-century motets, In seculum artifex and In seculum viellatoris, are written in an isorhythmic style. The tenor (the part that holds the melody or cantus firmus) carries the well-known In seculum melody (a part of the Gregorian chant Haec dies) which was used as the foundation for many motets of the period. The tenor is broken up into short fragments, each containing the same rhythmic pattern and continuing in this manner throughout the piece. Above this are composed free counterpoints, called from bottom to top motetus and triplum. Each voice had its own text, often quite different from the others. The motet’s title was generally taken from the text of the triplum. The instrumental motet In seculum viellatoris (“In seculum of the viol player”) has in its title perhaps the earliest reference to an instrument for which a piece was composed. The piece is obviously not suited to voices and lies well for the viol.
The Glogauer Liederbuch is a huge collection of German and foreign songs set polyphonically for mostly three parts. The manuscript was probably written between 1475 and 1488 but represents a style much older than this. Many of the songs are written with a cantus firmus in the middle voice which was sung, and around which the instruments weave complex polyphony. Some of the pieces represent a more advanced style that eliminates the cantua firmus technique and uses the upper part as the basis for polyphony and imitation. Those of the latter type were designed mainly for instruments. Auf rief ein hübsches freuelein exemplifies the cantus-firmus technique and Die Katzenpfote utilizes the second method.
The popular melody La Spagna or Il Re di Spagna was the favorite tune employed as a cantus firmus in polyphonic basse-dance settings. The tune was stretched out and played in even values, usually in the lowest part (where it can be heard in the version presented here from a Leipzig manuscript). The upper parts play close, stretto-like imitations with each other, ignoring the long slow cantus firmus below; but by some miracle, it fits in beautifully with what is going on above. The other setting of La Spagna on this record is the second of three pieces in the lute manuscript by Vincenzo Capirola built on this cantus firmus. The setting is called by the editor of the modern edition a “basse dance,” but it hardly resembles a dance since its long intricate variations for lute obscure any feeling of dance rhythm. Only the first few notes of the tune are used in the bass and are even then barely distinguishable. The Capirola manuscript is one of the earliest, most important, and most beautiful of all lute manuscripts, of which there are hundreds. Dating from the early years of the sixteenth century, it is decorated throughout in the elaborate Venetian style of the time. Its compiler, a pupil perhaps of Capirola, named Vitale, says in his introduction that his intent in ornamenting the manuscript is so that it will be preserved for the artwork if not for its musical value—since people are not too bright musically. He was, of course, right; fortunately for us, the music is also beautiful.
The Trotto played here is one of a series of lively Italian dances preserved in a manuscript in the British Museum. The other dances in the collection are estampies and saltarelli which are well known from other sources. Little is known about the Trotto and there are few references to it elsewhere. It is obvious from the music, however, that it was to be played and danced fast and furiously.
Ave verum corpus is a trope of a Sanctus. The practice of troping—inserting new music and text into a pre-existent composition—was very popular during the Middle Ages. Musicians seemed especially to favor the Ordinary of the Mass for such insertion.
En Albion (“In England”), from the famous Chantilly MS, and Ma tredol rosignol by Borlet, from the companion Modena MS, both date from the late fourteenth century, the so-called manneristic period. The writing in both cases is intricate and sophisticated, but the two pieces are very different one from the other. En Albion lacks a cantus firmus and all parts are equal. The changes in rhythms and divisions of the beat are so complex that it seems sometimes that Mr. Apel’s statement about notational speculation may be referring to this piece. Yet there is a strange haunting beauty about it. Whether this is because of or in spite of its complexity we cannot say. Like seaweed, this music is an acquired taste but well worth the effort of repeated exposure. One very unusual feature of En Albion is the first cadence, where all parts descend a half step to the cadence chord, a C-sharp-minor triad in its first inversion. Other than the few cadence moments, the melodic writing seems to be concerned with keeping the three parts as different from one another as possible. On the other hand, Ma tredol rosignol is a charming, lighthearted duet, set over a sad cantus firmus. There is a lovely interplay between the upper two parts which occasionally even move together. The cantus firmus is in this case played by the lute and viol and is almost isorhythmic.
The basse dance for lute solo is based upon the song Tous mes amys and has the buoyant, carefree quality this title suggests. It is included in Pierre Attaingnant’s collection Dixhuit basse dances, 1529. The original tune by Claudin de Sermisy was extremely popular, and Attaingnant’s arrangement of it spread its fame still further. The dances in this collection all eliminate the old tenor-cantus-firmus technique and are melody-oriented and for the most part homophonic.
Dale, si Ie das is a Spanish three-part song from the 15th-century manuscript collection El Cancionero de Palacio. The lyrics are rather indecent and practically unusable on records today. The recorder solo here “sings” the verse where the long note suggests the beginning of a dirty word but finishes it in morc sanitary fashion.
The giant figure of Guillaume Dufay (c. 1400-1474) dominates the fifteenth century. Though Flemish by birth he spent most of his musical life in France and Italy. In the course of his long life he produced a prodigious number of works in every conceivable form and style. He is a decidedly progressive force in music and may be considered the bridge between Medieval and Renaissance music. The most common form of his secular chansons is the rondeau, two of which are presented here. In Pour l’amour, the rhythms of the melismatic passages have a “jazzy” quality with their accented and unaccented notes, similar to the way jazz musicians “throw away” certain notes. Progressive tonal tendencies are noticeable here too, as in the imitation at the fourth in the second part of the first section. Adieu m’amour is in the progressive binary rhythm, with the middle voice, the contratenor, definitely intended for an instrument. In the typical Dufay manner, only the superius and tenor are supplied with texts. Imitation is abundant throughout all Dufay’s music, and these two pieces illustrate his mastery of this technique. Dufay’s works, both religious and secular, rank with the greatest music of Western civilization.
Thank you to Nonesuch Records for providing access to the original master tapes. This is the first time this recording has been available in a digital form. Only minimal remastering was done. It is wonderful to hear these already high-quality tracks updated digitally for the 21st century. Please note this is the only album released by the Stanley Buetens Lute Ensemble. Stanley Buetens did record other songs with other artists. Those interested in buying books about playing the lute, and hopefully one final recording by Stanley Buetens, should see the website: www.lutestuff.com
In memory of my father, Stanley Buetens | 1931 - 2009