Christ Church Cathedral
Artists: Ensemble Diabolus in Musica
During the 12th century, as the famous historian, Georges Duby said, “a new springtime of the world blossomed, on the old Latin stock.” The unchanging social order which prevailed before the year 1000 was now jostled by the feudal system. In southern France castles and monasteries were built, far from the declining influence of the king or the pope. Painting, sculpture, architecture, and music celebrated the beauty of the world in a new way.
In the same regions and exactly at the same time, Roman art flourished and new chants were being created in the generous acoustics of these new basilicas and chapels. In the domains of the great Saint-Martial de Limoges abbey notably, polyphony birthed its first audacious and jubilant elaborations, and the first notated secular songs of France were being created by the troubadours who celebrated courtly love.
Diabolus in Musica is a French medieval music ensemble founded in Paris in 1992. Now under the direction of Nicolas Sansarlat, the ensemble continues to programme rediscovered Medieval works alongside the richness of the well-known musical works by the Troubadours, Trouvères and the Notre Dame School.
Join us for the Pre-concert Talk at 7 p.m. – our Artistic and Executive Director, Suzie LeBlanc chats with Nicolas Sansarlat, director of Musica in Diabolus, and Emmanuel Vistorky, one of the singers from the ensemble.
This concert is generously supported by Agnes Hohn.
Benedicamus domino umane prolis, versus for two voices
Pax in nomine domini, chanson by Marcabru
La dousa votz ai auzida, chanson by Bernard de Ventadour
Can l’erba fresch’, chanson by Bernard de Ventadour
Flore vernans, versus for two voices
No posc sofrir c’a la dolor, chanson by Guiraut de Bornelh
Res jocosa, versus for two voices
Reis gloriós verais lums e clartats, chanson by Guiraut de Bornelh
Chasuts sui de mal en pena, chanson by Bertran de Born
Quan lo rius de la fontana, chanson de Jaufré Rudel
Gregis pastor, versus for two voices
Estampie royale, anonymous
Je muir je muir, rondel by Adam de la Halle
Nicholais presulis, conduit for three voices
Or entre mais e la sesons, anonymous
Around the middle of the twelfth century, the bishop of Paris initiated a long construction project that resulted, decades later, in Notre Dame de Paris, the greatest Gothic cathedral of the Middle Ages. Over two hundred miles south of the capital and far from the French throne, another religious centre was already enjoying its own golden age. At the Benedictine abbey of Saint-Martial de Limoges, pilgrims thronged the aisles of a grand Romanesque church to venerate the relics of Saint Martial, perhaps before continuing their journey to that other famous pilgrimage church at Santiago de Compostela. Limoges was a busy trade centre and a cathedral town, the seat of a bishop. The historical importance of the city’s abbey, though, outshines that of its cathedral—not because of its church, which did not survive the tumultuous years of the French Revolution, but because of its library.
The librarians of Saint-Martial collected musical manuscripts from far and wide, amassing one of the richest collections of medieval music surviving today. Pilgrims attending Mass or the Divine Offices—the two central celebrations of Christian worship—in Limoges no doubt marvelled at the music that adorned the liturgy, hearing (perhaps for the first time) multiple voices interweave in complex but perfect coordination. The music preserved at Saint-Martial de Limoges—the source of much of today’s programme—captures the sense of flourishing innovation that has led historians to think of this period as a “twelfth-century Renaissance.”
Limoges was situated in the heartland of the powerful and relatively autonomous Duchy of Aquitaine. The courts and churches of Aquitaine were places where both sacred and, remarkably, secular art thrived. Duke Guillaume IX, known as the “first the of the troubadours,” inaugurated one of the first traditions of vernacular song of medieval Europe; skilled poet-composers, the troubadours sang of war, nature, and, most of all, the delights and frustrations of fin’ amors, or courtly love. Guillaume’s grand-daughter, Eleanor, who allied Aquitaine through her two marriages first to the French and then to the English crown, provided patronage to some of the most important troubadours of the day, such as Bernard de Ventadour. Eleanor’s son, Richard Coeur de Lion (“the Lionheart”), would later go down in history both as a crusader and as a practitioner of the gai saber, or “gay science,” the troubadour’s art of love poetry.
Sacred song and troubadour song were deeply connected. Love poets often drew on the themes and imagery of religious devotion (veneration of Mary, for instance) to praise their idealized beloved. More broadly, the technological and expressive developments of sacred Latin song—such as written musical notation and sophisticated rhyming poetry—made the art of the troubadour possible.
The versus is a Latin sacred song distinguished from most of the Gregorian repertory in that its texts (like the vernacular texts of the troubadours) employ end rhyme and accented metre; its music tends to be lilting and tuneful. Some versus, like “Benedicamus Domino umane prolis,” originated as tropes of liturgical chants—that is, as extra sections of music and/or text added on to the existing chant. Such pieces display a fertile creativity that could not be contained by the forms of the liturgy alone, just like the colourful illustrations and ornate capitals that run amok in the margins of medieval manuscripts.
The phrase “Benedicamus Domino” (“Let us bless the Lord”) concludes most of the Divine Offices and, optionally, penitential Masses. Inventive monks, composers, and scribes, however, felt the urge to decorate this simple phrase with new poetry and music. This piece includes elegant verses in praise of the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. It is also an early and accomplished experiment in polyphony, composition for multiple voice parts. In the polyphonic versus, composers developed the structural role of the tenor, the backbone of medieval polyphonic writing; the tenor is the simpler, more slowly-moving voice above and around which more complicated parts can be composed.
The versus was an important precursor both to the troubadour repertoire and to the conductus, another kind of Latin song. The conductus (from Latin conducere, “to escort”) is associated with certain liturgical functions and with processions. Originating in southern France, the conductus was another key genre in which composers experimented with the coordination of two or more voice parts (something made possible by the relatively recent innovation of musical notation that expressed rhythm as well as pitch). Conducti were often intended to celebrate high feast days of the Church, and “Nicholais presulis” may well have been written for the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th.
Whereas the composers of sacred song are most often anonymous, many troubadours achieved celebrity in their day and had details of their lives recorded in fanciful vidas, or biographies. Some, like Marcabru and the great Bernard de Ventadour, are said to have risen from humble origins: Marcabru, it is claimed, was a foundling, and Bernard the son of a cook. Others, like Bertran de Born, came of noble lineage. All of them were attuned to the social and political motions of powerful courts and, often, their military enterprises; many likely participated in the bitter conflicts of the Crusades. Marcabru’s “Pax in nomine Domini” speaks of the Spanish crusade as a “washing-place” where the complacent and ungodly can wash away their sins. Jaufré Rudel, on the other hand, is most closely associated not with warfare but with the intense courtly torments of l’amor de loing, love from afar.
Adam de la Halle is the outlier among these troubadours, being a trouvère who wrote in the language of northern France (the langue d’oïl) rather than the langue d’oc of the South. Adam also lived a century later, and looked back on the intricate poetic forms of the past even as he cultivated the polyphonic chanson of the future. “Je muir je muir” is a haunting polyphonic rendition of the theme of unrequited love, which is emphasized by the repeated refrain that characterizes the rondel (or rondeau) form.
Compared to song, very little dance music survives from the Middle Ages since it was rarely written down. Several estampies, however, are among the few examples of notated dance tunes that have come down to us over the centuries. These are lively numbers in triple metre that give us a sense of how people might have danced during the “new springtime of the world.”
- Connor Page
Diabolus in Musica
Since 1992, Diabolus in Musica has been dedicating itself to the study and the interpretation of all medieval musics, from the Gregorian chant up to the great polyphonies of the 15th century, with a preference for French 12th and 13th centuries.
Basing its work on musical and historic research, the ensemble directly works on manuscript sources and focuses on unpublished works and repertoires. At the rate of 2 to 3 creations each year, Diabolus in Musica has built up a wide range of secular and sacred music programs, in all the musical styles of this time. Our programs always approach the middle Ages in an original way, placing the music in its historical and artistic and social context, thanks to deep reserches on the medieval mentality and sensitivity. Concerts and Cds are now following each other, and the ensemble is internationally acknowledged.
Based in Tours since its creation, Diabolus in Musica has been invited in many prestigious festivals and concert halls in France (Ambronay, Saintes, Royaumont, Fontevraud, Cité de la Musique…) and abroad (Oude Muziek Utrecht, Mexico City, Music before 1800 (NYC)…), and is now recording for the label Aeon.
Our discography has been greatly singularised and praised by French and international awards (Diapason d’Or de l’année 1999 et 2004, Choc du Monde de la Musique, ffff de Télérama, 10 de Répertoire, 5* de Classica, 5* de Goldberg…). Critics particularly highlight its strong personality and innovative interpretations.
Nicolas Sansarlat, dir.
With his rich musical studies and artistic adventures, Nicolas Sansarlat flourished in early music through the practice of many instruments. He runs through the songs of a music that questions the past and the present, where the unwritten and the written merge to bring out the intelligence and the musical gesture. It is with great humility and happiness that he receives the keys of the Diabolus in Musica ensemble to continue sharing music intended for elevation, understanding and emotion.