'Refreshingly unusual' (Gramophone)
'One of the most persuasively entertaining records of this music I have ever heard' (CD Review)
'What type of voice feels right for different periods and repertoires is almost entirely subjective. But that is how Mara Kiek sounds to me—absolutely right … If you don't have this already, buy it' (Early Music Review)
“This judgement of ours, published after much guidance and supported by the advice of numerous other ladies, must be accepted by you as beyond doubt and abidingly true. Given in the year 1174 on the 1st of May, on the 7th of the Indiction”
The more or less fanciful ‘Courts of Love’ are described in Andreas Capellanus’s Book of the Art of Love where a lengthy chapter is devoted to describing ‘various judgements on love’. Andreas appears to have been a chaplain to the court of Champagne, probably during the years 1181 and 1187 when it was presided over by the Countess Marie who may well have been instrumental in compiling the treatise. We are told of courts headed by noble women such as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (d1204); Marie, Countess of Champagne; Isabel, Countess of Flanders; and Ermengarde, Viscountess of Narbonne, which were assembled in order to judge disputes between lovers – whether their conduct followed the ‘laws’ of courtly love. As a charade of medieval law courts their enactments were all the more piquant since they made a mockery of the accepted social order, and although they functioned only within the artistic milieu of troubadour song, similar courts of love were documented in the fifteenth century during the reign of Charles VI with the Arrests d’Amour by Martial d’Auvergne. Troubadour songs occasionally cite such gatherings, and the creation of courts to which lovers could bring their complaints would be in complete affinity, or even a necessity to the refined elaborations of fin’ amor, or ‘gentil lovyng’, to use Chaucer’s term.
These love-judgements are musically mirrored by the Provençal tensos, and a rare example surviving with music is S’ie-us quer conselh, bell’ ami’ Alamanda, a debate-song between two poets – the famous Troubadour Giraut de Bornelh and his lady’s maid and namesake, Alamanda. In Bernart de Ventadorn’s Era-m cosselhatz, senhor the arbiters are a gathering of lords who are asked to debate the course open to a lover whose lady has a second ‘intimate friend’; should he leave her and give up composing songs, or be prepared to share her with another? Bernart addressed songs both to Eleanor and to the Viscountess of Ventadorn and was one of the greatest exponents of fin’ amor. Other famous exponents were Giraut de Bornelh and Gui d’Ussel who both dedicated songs to another influential patroness, Marie de Ventadorn, who according to the razo (precis) of one of Gui’s tensos also composed songs. Their northern colleague the trouvère Gace Brulé wrote for Marie de Champagne, while the troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras worked outside France at the Italian court of the Marquis of Montferrat where he composed songs for a Lady Beatrice, the Marquis’s daughter.
Tales of betrayal were popular debating material for the courts and common complaints in both troubadour and trouvère songs, and the music would provide ideal accompaniments to the proceedings. Se be-m partetz, mala dompna, de vos gives voice to Gui’s bitter anger towards his disloyal lady, while a very different attitude is taken in L’on dit q’amors est dolce chose by an anonymous female poet who has also been betrayed in love. The alba (dawn song) is another type of song where the necessary hardships of love are considered – hardships which ensure the pretz, or true worth, of the lover’s amorous sentiments. S’anc fuy belha ni prezada includes parts for the female protagonist who is in the archetypal situation of being forced into an economically beneficial marriage. She is saved from despair by a loyal watchman who ensures the secrecy of her nocturnal liaisons with her noble lover, an arrangement which would have been fully condoned in any court of love. Andreas reports that, according to the Viscountess of Narbonne, ‘when a new marriage alliance is made, it does not properly replace an earlier love-liaison unless the woman chances to cease devoting herself to love entirely, and is in no way disposed to love further’, a judgement that is reiterated by the greatest arbiters of love, Queen Eleanor and her daughter Marie de Champagne.
Stevie Wishart © 1990