Monday, October 15, 2012

medieval musical hauntings

Integration is not all about accepting local hunting and eating habits. It can also mean involvement in local cultural happenings, however scary. The incomer will be secure in the knowledge that he or she will be seen to be part of the community, not least by the Maire,possibly the local MP. For me it might just upset other people's idea of me as an anti-social, tone-deaf, cook-only, bookworm.

It was in this brave spirit that I dragged my nearest, most musical, neighbour to a performance of medieval music in the medieval (translate: unheated) church of St Eutrope at St Aquilin, Sunday, October 14th. The title of the concert was 'Jaufre Rudel, la Croisade d'Amour' or 'Jeffrey Rudel, Love's Crusader.' The ensemble performing was called 'Tre Fontane'* .

The second reason for attending was the story of Jaufre Rudel, Prince of Blaye, archetypal medieval troubadour (c. 1113 - 1170). We all know troubadours sang songs of 'courtly love' in which they adored unattainable ladies. The Prince of Blaye, with the help of the medieval equivalent of Facebook - men in tunics and tights on fast horses, carrying handwritten, wax sealed parchment reports - fell in love with the idea of the Countess of Tripoli, one Hodierne. He wrote many songs about far away love. Then he took the oath of fidelity and became a Crusader, embarking for the Holy Land.

Unfortunately, hygiene not being up to modern cruise-ship standards, he fell ill and was at death's door when when the ship docked at Antioch. The Countess, meanwhile, had heard of his devotion (see information transmission above) and made haste to the port. She took him in her arms, he regained consciousness long enough to look upon her face and die. She buried him with all honours and hied herself to a convent.

The third reason was a compelling curiosity about the musical instruments that would be played: (in French) nay, rebec, saz, luth, vielle à roue, bendir. It was not too difficult to work out of what a 'luth' and a 'rebec' might be – but a 'vielle à roue'? There were three male players, one a singer as well as an instrumentalist (nay, rebec, saz) and the songs in Occitan were interspersed with Andalusian/Arab instrumental ensemble pieces. The musicians, well into their second youth, produced a wonderful sound, high and clear, sometimes reminiscent of solo singers in church, not just because we were in a church. The instrumental pieces were haunting, sounds of far off, yet familiar lands.

The 'vielle à roue' was fascinating. It looked rather like a fat bellied violin laid across a player's knees. Aforesaid player then removed a couple of strings and replaced them with a single row of keys, above which there was a sounding board. The hand not on the handle was used to pluck the keys. I kept wondering what the handle actually did, whether medieval technology was up to shaping wood that accurately, how had the tunes been remembered before written musical notation was common.

The other instruments were less unusual, even to my philistine eyes. A 'saz' was just a lute (long handled lute or leather back turtle in Harrap's Anglo-French dictionary¹). The 'luth' was a standard lute and 'rebec' is rebec in English.
The 'bendir', looked rather like the tambourine musical inadequates are allowed to play in school orchestras, but without mini-cymbals. It was just, the dictionary loftily said, 'a percussion instrument'.

But, oh the disappointment with the English language! The wonderful vielle à roue' – caressed wood bellied violin shape with handle, strings, keys,the smoothest of sounding boards, creator of the most extra-ordinary sounds, romance personified in wood. The English call it a 'hurdy-gurdy.' I could cry.

No comments:

Post a Comment