Performance Workshop 1: JP27a

A first post from the performance workshop with graindelavoix, sponsored by the Leverhulme Trust and held at St Hugh’s College, Oxford in March 2017.


This is the first of a series of posts giving the audio tracks and an introduction for the songs from Douce 308 that we workshopped in Oxford in March 2017 with graindelavoix and my students and postdocs. This first song, Amins ki est li muez vaillans (RS365) is a jeu-parti included seamlessly and without a new large initial letter, separate index listing, or number after JP27, thus given the number JP27a. As well as being found in an eight-stanza version in Douce 308, the text is found in TrouvC with empty staves and in TrouvO with notation, although with only the first three stanzas of text. The notation in TrouvO reveals that this is one of a number of texts that were sung to the tune of Bernart de Ventadorn’s widely copied song, Can vei la lauzeter, which is why listeners might recognize the melody. (The Douce 308 texts can be found starting on f.190v if you follow the link to the manuscript images here.)

The JP text stages a debate between woman and a man, with the woman asking which is better: the lover who comes and takes all his desire quickly and leaves, or the man who stays all night but does not do the whole deed? The man, responding in stanza 2 argues for the first option, claiming that desire needs sating; the woman therefore agues the other side. The text is replete with musical and textual parallels in the two sides of the argument and the man ultimate breaks into the regular pattern of stanzaic alternation to wrest the seventh stanza from the woman mid-way through (the pretext is his answer of what is surely a rhetorical question on her part). The laughter at the end of the track was occasioned by the singer playing the woman (Meghan Quinlan), storming offstage in extreme disapproval at this terrible behaviour.

The tracks below give the song first in an English singing translation by Meghan Quinlan (the singer of the male part is Joseph Mason), and then in the original French, sung by members of graindelavoix. Much of the acting is audible in the audio, but I hope also to post video footage as well, which will show just how many additional possibilities for generating meaning from these pieces are available when performed as a ‘scene’.

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English version of JP27a: Meghan Quinlan and Joseph Mason: 

French version of JP27a: Anne-Kathryn Olsen and Adrian Sîrbu: 

(Accompaniment in both recordings by Thomas Baeté)

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Performing jeux-partis with graindelavoix

This second year of my Leverhulme project will involve a workshop with performers designed to help me think about my unnotated manuscript in a more musical way.

Back in the summer I gave a paper at the International Courtly Literature Society conference, a triennial event whose theme this year for their meeting in Lexington KY was leisure, play, and pastimes. I talked about the jeux-partis and their relationship to tournaments, as exemplified in Douce 308, which has some of the latest jeux-partis known to have been written as well as transmitting two major poems about tournaments. The staged and formal debate of the jeu-parti has elements in common with the joust in terms of a competitive but playful form in which violence is expected: the jouster expects to be struck by a lance; the lover is wounded by the lance of the lady’s eyes, extromissively piercing his heart.

As part of my presentation I played what is by far my favourite performance of a jeu-parti.

Performance groups very seldom tackle this genre because it’s quite wordy and dramatic and the melodies are often perfectly designed for comprehension, ear-worminess, but not the purer aesthetic pleasure that one might get from a more melismatic troubadour or trouvère love song. Just see, for example, the faint praise of Thedore Karp in Grove cited at the opening of the Wikipedia entry on the composer of this jeu-parti. However, if you watch the video above you’ll see how compellingly this debate can be staged in the hands of sensitive and bold performers like those in graindelavoix. The love questions asked in jeu-partis are often still very amusing and the two singers here perfectly bring out the sense of play involved in the musical eloquence of this song.

At the bottom of this post I give a stanza-by-stanza synopsis of this song’s debate, in which Duke Henri III of Brabant and the poet-singer-composer Gillebert de Berneville differ on the question of whether getting rapid sexual satisfaction from your lady prolongs or shortens your desire for her. The noble Duke has the more courtly position, thinking something still desired better than something already enjoyed and worrying about compromising the lady’s good name. Gillebert, his interlocutor, insinuates that the Duke is shallow wham-bam-thankyou-ma’am kind of lover if he fears losing interest so quickly.

Based purely on seeing this video I decided to ask graindelavoix if they would come over to Oxford and work with me on some of the other jeux-partis and also some of the motets in Douce 308. We’re currently setting up a date in the early Spring of 2017. Not only will there be a few sessions for me and my graduate students to help us think through the still controversial performance possibilities for this repertoire, but we plan a short public presentation of our ‘results’ and I’m hoping also to make some recordings and post them here. Stay tuned!

Synopsis of JP26 (RS491)

Jeu parti between Henri III, Duke of Brabant and the trouvère Gillebert de Berneville

I (Henry)

Henry Addresses “Biaus Gillebert” and demands an answer to this question: if a knight loves a lady so well that he can have his pleasure with her night and day, will the love last?

II (Gillebert)

Duke of Brabant, listen to my thoughts on this: it wouldn’t cause love to fail but would double it, provided they were both loyal.

III (Henri)

Henry berates Gillebert and asks how he comes to believe such nonsense: that which is still desired is better than that which has been had.

IV (Gillebert)

Gillebert says he’s listened to the Duke’s reasoning and implies that it stems from a personal difference: when love treats Gillebert well, it doubles his love. Clearly the Duke is the kind of man who forgets a lady as soon as he’s had his way with her.

V (Henri)

Henry calls ‘Bel Gillebert’ a proven fool because the sort of behavior Gillebert would do will result in his lady being blamed. A loyal lover would never act in a way that brings his lady shame.

VI (Gillebert)

Gillebert invokes the name of God and says he can’t believe that a good lady might be refused but should be served more than before. He says the debate has gone on too long and the two ‘parties’ should be put to judgement now.

Envoy 1 (Henry)

Henry names Raoul de Soissons as his judge.

Envoy 2 (Gillebert)

Gillebert asks for the Count of d’Anjou as his judge.

Review of book on Trecento song texts

My review of  Lauren McGuire Jennings’s book on Trecento song texts has just been published.
Many of you can get this through your library if it gets JRMA, in which case please use these links:

Elizabeth Eva Leach
Journal of the Royal Musical Association

Volume 140, Issue 2 pp. 445-449 | DOI: 10.1080/02690403.2015.1089022

Taylor and Francis, who publish JRMA, have given me at link to the full text, which is restricted to 49 downloads. Please only download this text if you’re really going to read the review. When the 49 downloads are done, I’m assuming that the link will no longer work and/or you’ll be asked for money. The link is here: Free download (49 copies only)

Putting a tune to a tuneless song

Gace song in N

Gace’s melody in MS N

The fifth song in the grands chants is unique to Douce 308 and is thus transmitted to us without any melody. However, its versification makes it possible to sing it to the tune of a song with a similar poetic structure. Continue reading

Douce 308 complete images now online!

Dead peacock

Porrus kills Fezonas’s peacock in the first item in Douce 308, The Vows of the Peacock. Image, Bodleian Library.

The first thing promised as part of my Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship is now done.

The complete images of the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce 308 are now online. The photography is funded by part of the Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship that I was awarded for 2015-18 specifically to write a book on this source and what it might tell us about the culture(s) of vernacular song in the few decades either side of 1300. (Some viewers may find it easier to use this alternative link to view the images.)

Many thanks to the Bodleian Library for their great efficiency in getting this done in time for the project start date (1 Oct 2015), which will mean I can get going straight away. I was interested to be asked whether I actually wanted to withhold the open-access web-mounting of the images until after I’d written my book. While I’m glad they asked, I think anyone’s going to ‘beat me’ to saying exactly what I would say about it, and my general view is the more the merrier on people using these images and finding things to say about this wonderful and complex source. I certainly won’t exhaust it!

I’m looking forward to blogging bits and pieces of interesting stuff as I go along.