Music from the Montpellier Codex 13th CenturyPurchase Love's Illusion at:
From the extensive literature of fin amours there emerge two inviolable precepts: first, true love may exist only outside of marriage and, second, a man must subject himself totally to the will of his beloved, whether her requests seem rational or not. A woman’s physical perfection (often manifested by blond hair and blue eyes) was an outward symbol of her inner goodness, for which a man yearned and suffered, to the point of death. True, this code did raise the woman above the level of pleasure object or chattel in the marriage market, making her both judge and prize in a realm of love outside of marriage. But this elevation only moved her from outright oppression to a starring but essentially passive role in a single dramatic episode. The romantic love expressed in the literature of fin amourswas probably little more than a clever illusion; the reality of day-to-day life remained unchanged.
The thirteenth-century ethos of fin amours is found in epic romans of Arthurian legends, by Chrétien de Troyes and others, as well as in thousands of trouvère love lyrics. The lyric poems, generally set to music as melodic chansons without written instrumental accompaniment, form one of the most important musical repertoires of the high Middle Ages. The rhetoric and idiomatic expressions of fin amours and the musical style of the trouvères had a profound influence on the most important polyphonic genre of the thirteenth century: the motet.
The motet developed from the common medieval practice of troping—adding words to textless musical passages. In the liturgical polyphony in late twelfth-century Paris, the vocalized lines added to certain plainchants were occasionally texted. At some point shortly thereafter, such pieces began to be composed independent of direct liturgical associations, and the texted line and the genre itself were called motetus, from the French mot (word). French secular texts were eventually substituted for the sacred Latin words, and a vigorous new musical-literary hybrid was created. There are motets with one, two or three texted voice parts (motetus, triplum, quadruplum), each with its own poetic text above a wordless tenor usually derived from plainchant. There are Latin motets, French motets, and polyglot motets with both Latin and French texts. With two and sometimes three poems sung simultaneously, the motet carries the trope concept to its vertical and horizontal limit, creating an effect not to be heard again until the eighteenth century, in the ensemble finales of Mozart’s operas.
For this program we have chosen French motets on courtly love texts from the Montpellier Codex. Collected in France around 1300, this manuscript is the richest single source of thirteenth-century French polyphony. Spanning the entire century, it contains polyphonic works in all the major forms of its era—organum, conductus, hocket and, primarily, motets. Its 315 motets (not counting several duplications and incomplete works) have generally been divided into an early group (about 1200 to 1270, Mo 19 through 252) and a late group (about 1270 to just past 1300, Mo 253 through 345).
The French double motet, by far the most popular rype of motet in the thirteenth century, dominates the Montpellier Codex. Its tenor is usually based on a plainchant fragment, but sometimes on a dance or popular tune as in Mo 256, 260, 270, 323, 325 and 337. Each of the two upper voices—motetus and triplum—has its own text. There are also several triple motets (including a third texted part, or quadruplum) among the earlier motet group, as well as many lovely examples of French motets consisting of only a tenor and melody line. Many of the two-voice French motets resemble the chansons d’amour of the trouvères, with an added accompaniment (Mo 200, 223, 231 and 241). In fact, bits of trouvère songs were often incorporated into the upper voices of motets (Mo 21, 111, 128 and numerous others).
The texts of the upper voices of a double or triple motet may be so closely related in content that they resemble a verbal theme and variations (Mo 260). However, in some cases, these texts are connected in a surprising manner, with passionate love of the Lady Marian and the Virgin Mary expressed in very similar language (Mo 20 and 21). In yet other cases, the texts seem to bear little connection with each other. In one such motet, a plaintive love song, a diatribe against hypocrisy, and a rousing drinking song are sung simultaneously (Mo 33).
Toward the end of the century, a notational system was developed that allowed for a wider range of note values and more precision in notating them. Motets influenced by this new system show a greater rhythmic flexibility and variery in the upper voices (Mo 256, 270 and 311). In motets attributed to Pierre de la Croix of Amiens (fl. 1270-1300), such as Mo 215 in this program, the three musical lines of the double motet become increasingly differentiated, with a slow-moving tenor, moderate motetus, and a triplum distinguished by rapid declamation. This texture was favored into the fourteenth century, when the motet returned to its sacred origins, expanding in size and scope in the monumental compositions of Guillaume de Machaut and Philippe de Vitty. The motet continued to be an important vehicle for harmonic and structural innovation through the Middle Ages and beyond.
There has been much discussion about performance practice of thirteenth-century motets. On what occasions were they performed, by whom, for whom, in what manner? The predominance of fin amours texts seems to point to the purely secular environment. But the liturgical origins, the use of sacred and moralizing Latin texts (Mo 328), as well as occasional references to the amorous adventures of nuns and monks (Mo 33 and 34), suggests that these motets were composed and performed in clerical rather than in courtly circles, probably for the entertainment of the performers themselves. Many scholars have believed that since motet tenors have essentially lost connection with their chant texts—or never had them in the case of dance tunes—these tenors should be performed on instruments. While this practice may be perfectly valid, there is no evidence that purely vocal performance is not equally appropriate. We have occasionally added vocal drones and doublings, and because these motets, especially those in the early group, are often quite brief, we sometimes perform them more than once in order to highlight one particular voice part or to allow the whole work enough time to make its impression upon hearers whose ears are new to these remarkable old sounds.
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