Instrumental Music in The Troubadour Tradition
Les Musiciens de Provence & Maurice Guis
To my way of thinking, this is a perfectly delightful record. It is beautifully recorded. It is performed with enormous verve. It is one of those "ancient instrument" affairs that operates on the hypothesis that before we got hemmed in by orchestral scores, one played on anything that tootled, blatted, squawked, bonged, pinged, feefled, or boomped. Hamstrung again by an absence of notes, I am hard put to guess what some of the sound-sources are, but I can tell you that there are several that are, as they say, far-out, and a couple that sound like someone walking barefoot on frogs. In one number I am certain that there's an East Indian gamelan, and I am even more certain that in another there's a gratuitous obbligato for one of those canary-whistles that you fill with water. The only thing about the record I don't like is the title, because I can't figure out what the hell it means.
Music in the Troubadour tradition, forsooth! May I assume that in this sophisticated age, there's no one who still pictures a troubadour in tights with a little peplum sort of skirt-thing and a feather in his hat, soulfully strumming a mandolin under Maxfield-Parrish-colored moonlight? The Troubadours were an 11th-century phenomenon, largely confined to southern France, They spoke a dialect--in which they wrote their lyrics--in which the affirmative was "oc!" instead of "oui! ", and so they were said to speak the langue d'oc (i.e. Provencal), and so the place where they chiefly operated was called Languedoc. They were mostly members of the nobility, and they came up with the notion that it was more fun to adore, hopelessly and at a distance, the lady down the road, than to love their wives, which of course they weren't supposed to do, marriage being then a mere business deal and all. It might be said that they invented love, but that would ignore Socrates, and Plato, and Jesus, and all those other people who did their bit.
It might also be said that the Troubadours invented what we westerners think of as music. They wrote poems of love and longing to the lady down the road--who often turned out to be more willing than they'd dared to dream--and they (or maybe a servant) set them to music and then they (or someone) sang them under windows and across ravines and like that. The songs had very definite rules and formal patterns and pretty soon they caught on in the north, where their practitioners were Trouveres (both words mean, roughly, "discoverers." i.e. creators), and eastward, where the poet-composer-singers were Minnesingers (love-singers), and even got into the music of the Church. (St. Francis of Assisi originally wanted to be a troubadour.)
Having taken this brief excursion into the historical. let us now return to MHS 3987. As far as I can make out. there is only one Troubadour represented. He's Bernard of Ventadorn (or Bernart de Ventadour), who, two notoriously unreliable biographies (one by Uc of St. Circ1) written long after he was dead would have us believe, was the lover of Eleanor of Aquitaine and became a monk before he shoved off into the hereafter. His song about the lark at morn (recorded here with the bird-whistle}. has probably been more recorded than any other troubadour song. Other than that. side one includes Trouvere songs by Gautier de Coincy, Colin Muset, Moniot d'Arras, and two anonymi, and some Provencal pop hits from a time when there wasn't a Troubadour in Languedoc, owing to their having been carved up by some very religious people who (probably correctly} confused them with the Cathari. whom they took to be dangerous heretics. (Side one also contains an Estampie Real. which makes me think of Gabby Hayes explaining to Hopalong that "Camino Real" meant the Real Camino; however this is a royal dance of a rather vigorous kind.)
So far. one can understand that these pieces are all linked to the Troubadours. But, with the possible exception of a piece by Machaut and a couple of early Italian dances, I lose trail on side two. The dance-collections by Gervaise and Susato and Praetorius are all late Renaissance and early Baroque, though there does seem to be an insistance through the whole program on the fife-and-tabor aspect of Provencal (and Basque} music. What particularly mystifies me is why one of the pieces--the Praetorius, I think, though I lost count on the cassette--turns out to be identical with Thomas Campian's ayre I care not for these ladies. At the end we go back to Avignon for some noels or Christmas carols, so I suppose we can say that we end up in the right part of the country at least.