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Hyperion Records

CDH55207 - Bella Domna – The medieval woman: Lover, poet, patroness & saint
CDH55207
(Originally issued on CDA66283)

Recording details: September 1987
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: April 2006
Total duration: 59 minutes 28 seconds

GRAMOPHONE CRITICS' CHOICE

'Like so much that has been good, innovative and dangerous in recent recordings of early music, this comes from Hyperion' (BBC Record Review)

'Surely one of the most memorable and touching recitals of the decade' (The Independent)

'A fantastic record. Buy it' (Early Music)

Bella Domna – The medieval woman: Lover, poet, patroness & saint
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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Provençal Domna (courtly lady) was worshipped as an unobtainable lover or noble patroness. She had all the virtues of beauty and fine courtesy as well as being from a higher social sphere than her humble, lovelorn knight. In reality women suffered extreme discrimination. For St Jerome she was the gate of the devil; for Aquinas a necessary object needed to preserve the species and to provide food and drink. Her elevated status in the poetry of courtly love was a result of the artistic sophistication cultivated during the later twelfth century—a time when, in Occitania, women obtained increased territorial and governing powers. Eleanor of Aquitaine ruled from 1170 at Poitiers, where she established her court as an influential centre for Troubadour song and, together with other patrons such as Marie de Ventadorn, began to play a crucial role in its development and diffusion. The prevailing sentiments of l’amour courtois are encapsulated within the single surviving stanza of the dansa Domna, pos vos ay chausida.

As well as the wealth of songs by male Troubadours we have also inherited works by some twenty women Troubadours (Trobaïritz) who speak in a personal tone of rather more realistic amorous pursuits. A chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non voIria, the only song to survive with music, was composed by the enigmatic Comtesse de Die who unashamedly admits her bitterness and anger towards an unfaithful lover. The Countess was probably from Die, north east of Montélimar, and was descended from seigneurial families of the Viennois and Burgundy and was married to the Comte de Die.

Eleanor’s enthusiasm for l’amour courtois was passed on to her children, notably Richard Cœur de Lion and Marie de Champagne whose courts nurtured the Trouvères of northern France. While their southern colleagues sang in the soft tones of the langue d’oc, the Trouvères wrote in the langue d’oïl and assimilated the Provençal courtly lyric in more narrative song forms which included genres reserved for the expression of female sentiments. The chansons de toile, or spinning-songs, are sung by a narrator who recounts the thoughts that lovelorn ladies of the court were at least supposed to express while their menfolk were absent on some crusade or other call of duty. The chansons de femme, on the other hand, were sung by the female protagonist in person and it is to this genre that Onques n’amai and Lasse, pour quoi refusai belong. Their folk-like quality may suggest a kinship with popular dance songs or caroles, genres also associated with female participation which apart from these distant echoes leave little trace today.

In the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade the courtly lyric was taken up in other European courts. The thirteenth-century Cantigas de amigo by the Galician trovador Martin Codax are also in the voice of a woman and again echo popular idioms. Their short, repetitive texts and simple but highly evocative melodies convey the wistful thoughts of a Gallego girl (moça) as she looks out to sea and pines for her lover (amigo/amado) who is far from the shores of Vigo. The seven poems, with music for six of them, came to light on a parchment leaf found inside a bookbinding in 1914 by a Madrid bookseller.

The manner of performance of this repertory is shrouded in the mists of our medieval past, leaving much to the imagination of its modern interpreter. The instrumentation and musical arrangements recorded here are partly guided by information gleaned from musical theorists (Jerome of Moravia, Johannes de Grocheo) and descriptions of musical events in romances and epics of the time while also being inspired by related surviving musical traditions. The refrain-based songs with their catchy melodies are set off well against drones and are particularly associated with instrumental participation. By contrast the majority of Troubadour and Trouvère songs are characterized by more elusive melodies and extended, highly expressive texts such as A chantar m’er. These invite a more intimate rendition by the voice alone. Besides the voice, which was held in highest esteem, the medieval fiddle was considered one of the most expressive sonorities and particularly suited to accompany certain vocal genres (see Christopher Page: Voices and Instruments of the Middle Ages, London, 1987).

Evidence on the performance of the Galician Cantigas de amigo is even more limited. In this interpretation the songs are accompanied by the symphony (sanfonia), harp and pandeiro (square frame drum) which frequently feature in musical iconography from this region and can still be heard playing traditional music today.

I would like to express special thanks and gratitude to the following, without whom this record could not have come to fruition: Stephen Haynes, Dr Christopher Page, Manuel Ferreiro, Beth Willis, Pam and Colin Denley, and the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

The following French and Provençal texts and translations were prepared by Stephen Haynes who also guided the pronunciation.

The Provençal and French songs are all contained in the so-called ‘Manuscrit du Roi’ in the possession of the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and which dates from the thirteenth century. The Dansa and ‘Royal’ estampies are included as a later (early fourteenth century?) addition to the same manuscript.

Stevie Wishart © 1988

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