Medieval Music


Conductus from the Middle Ages & new works by Jean-Philippe Goude

ΙΕΡΟΣ (from the Ancient Greek): sacred, consecrated to a divinity, belonging to God, that which can be offered in sacrifice.

At the same time as the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was being built at the end of the 11th century, polyphonic sacred music freed itself from the earlier Romanesque style and ventured into the heights, becoming more intense and more complex in the process. This innovative new style was named the School of Notre Dame.

Paris and France in general were regarded as the artistic and cultural heart of Christianity during the 13th century. Nine centuries later, we may wonder what remains of this idea of the sacred that once inhabited and guided the artists of the Middle Ages in France. What do these ideas of holiness, divinity and religion have to do with our modern world? What do these ideas currently reflect in modern society?

The composer Jean-Philippe Goude, having been commissioned to compose works for the Céladon Ensemble for this project, provides his own personal answer to this question in 8 pieces that create their own resonance with the music of the past; one of these is the astonishing Litanie des Taillis, in which we hear the poignant chanting of the names of town and cities that no longer exist today.

Dame, Jehan de Lescurel vous salue

The love songs of Jehan de Lescurel

One of the first encyclopaedias of matters musical, La Biographie des Musiciens, includes an entry concerning Jehan de Lescurel: 
“A French musician from the beginning of the 14th century, till now unknown to all music historians. A manuscript of the allegorical and satirical tale of Fauvel […] contains ballades, rondeaux and dits entés […] composed by Lescurel. […] the manuscript was created between the years 1316 and 1321. […].” 

This manuscript contains the Roman de Fauvel and 31 chansons by Lescurel.  Lescurel’s poems describe the many different aspects of the state of love. The extreme brevity of certain texts is astonishing, as they seem almost to be snapshots of emotions that appear and are gone. The melodies that the musicians reveal to us a a spontaneity and, when there are given a rhythm that matches the meaning of the text, seem to amplify the emotions being described.  This fascinating work, so like that of a jeweller or goldsmith, has allowed the Céladon Ensemble to come to a slightly better understanding of the character and the music of Jehan de Lescurel.  An intelligent poet with a sense of wit, a sensitive and brilliant composer, this Parisian Don Juan of the late 13th century nonetheless keeps the greater part of his mystery and his charm absolutely intact some seven centuries after his death.

Nuits Occitanes

Troubadours’ songs

The music of the troubadours is the subject of many questions, the first of which concerns the importance of music in the troubadour tradition, given that this tradition was both the mirror of a society as well as one of its most refined poetical expressions. What remains from almost two centuries of troubadour art is limited to a few manuscripts which contain approximately 2,500 poems (only 350 had been assigned melodies). 

Nuits Occitanes is devoted to songs about love and the usually vain research for it. This is always at the primary level of physical love, except for the less frequent songs in which the lovers are reunited, only to be separated again at daybreak. This programme, based on the theme of night, transports us into a world of courtly chilvary that despite its savagery and wildness also knew moments of extreme refinement. As musicians, the Céladon Ensemble’s greatest concern was to reflect the emotions that they had experienced when they first read these troubadour’s songs and poems. Real men and women of flesh and blood are described.  Their underlying and almost palpable presence makes this music even more alive and moving.

Deo Gratias Anglia

English polyphonies and songs from the Hundred Years’ War

A century of music for a century of war. From 1337 to 1453, France and England waged a merciless war: the Hundred Years’ War.  The Plantagenets on the English side, the Valois on the French and, in between the a, a thorny, painful conflict interspersed with truces of varying duration.

In England, far from the battlefields, spiritual and intellectual activity intensified. Lay musicians perpetuated the musical and poetic tradition of the troubadours, imported from France. Sacred music constituted the major part of written musical production in mediaeval Europe. Works circulated and ties were woven between the monastic and secular worlds, monasteries and libraries. Of folk inspiration and having a powerful impact, the selected pieces of music well illustrate the variety of musical and poetic compositions from this troubled century. 

During the concert, the three singers walk through the venue, making their voices fill in the space. The motets, conducti, canons and carols charm and fascinate with the clarity of their polyphony, and the beauty of the vocal lines. The beautiful synergy of the three voices is as precise as a lacemaker work. 

Enjoy the inventiveness, poignancy and modernity of this music, brought through the centuries with a spreading enthusiasm. 

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