Christ Church Cathedral
Pre-Concert Talk | 7 p.m. : Catalina Vicens hosted by Bill Richardson
Artists: Servir Antico, directed by 2023 Artist-in-Residence Catalina Vicens
Founded and directed by Catalina Vicens, Servir Antico breathes new life into European vocal and instrumental music from the age of Renaissance humanism. With Our City of Ladies, the ensemble continues to explore The City of Ladies, an allegorical city conceived by Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) to defend and protect women and their right to education. Servir Antico’s journey is to expand the walls of the City started five centuries ago and to invite everyone to take part in its existence.
“In this program, we want to tell you about a revolutionary woman from the Renaissance, Christine de Pizan (1364 – ca.1430), who questioned the place, role and treatment that society had given to women for centuries. Whereas many men harshly criticized her, we want also to tell you about a man who championed her cause. This is the poet Martin Le Franc, who defended Christine, and with his work Le Champion des Dames, he brought awareness to the importance of women as active and multifaceted citizens in history. In this book dedicated to the Burgundian duke Philip the Good, Martin le Franc (ca. 1410 – 1460) tells the story of women from antiquity to the present day. Governors, lawyers, warriors, muses, artists, musicians and poets are part of the many women whose story was often forgotten and left in oblivion by historians. In this defense of womankind, he also describes the arts in society, where music and rhetoric had reached its greatest perfection through the works of various 15th Century musicians, especially of those at the court of Burgundy. They also tell about women from a different perspective. Not only divine; she is an active agent and an inspiration for composers like Dufay, Binchois, Solage and Grenon.” – Catalina Vicens, founder and music director, Servir Antico
This concert is generously sponsored by Pam Ratner & Joy Johnson and Dr Katherine Paton
Johannes Ghiselin (fl. 1455-1511)
O florens Rosa
Baude Cordier, arr. Michaël/le Grébil Liberg (b.1973)
Belle, bonne, sage
Solage (fl. late 14th c.)
Corps femenin par vertu de nature
Anonymous (14th century)
Che ti cova nascondere
Blamed for courting, blamed for not (Drwg am garu, drwg am beidio…)
(Excerpt from “Mi feddyliais ond priodi”… by anonymous, medieval Welsh woman)
Catalina Vicens (*1983) / Servir Antico
Blamed for courting, blamed for not Text by anonymous, medieval Welsh woman)
Gilles Binchois (ca. 1400-1460)
Michaël/le Grébil Liberg
A Lunel lutz una luna luzens
Text by Guillem de Montanhagol
Nick Martin (1989)
Anonymous (14th century)
Febus mundo oriens / Cornibus equivocis
Anonymous (15th century)
John Dunstaple (1380-1453)
Catalina Vicens (1983) / Servir Antico
Descendi in ortum meum / Alma
(improvisation based on 14th century anonymous sources)
TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS
Click here to read the texts and translations.
“Urbs beata Jerusalem,” begins a Latin hymn from the seventh or eighth century, “dicta pacis visio”: “Blessed city of Jerusalem, called ‘vision of peace’.” It continues, drawing on the splendid imagery of the Book of Revelation in its description of pearl-encrusted gates and walls made of living stone. As for the biblical psalmist who had prayed, centuries earlier, for peace within the walls of Jerusalem, the “blessed city” offered a vision of security and belonging in defiance of the world’s usual restrictions and hostilities.
It was along broadly similar lines that Christine de Pizan, around 1405, assembled her Le livre de la cité des dames (The Book of the City of Ladies) as an imagined place of refuge and a defence against the frequent misogyny of literary culture of the time. Weaving in the stories of accomplished women of the past, Christine populated her city with ladies of learning, virtue, piety, and political power; as an advocate for women’s education, she envisioned the city as somewhere such skills could be nurtured and encouraged—perhaps something like what Virginia Woolf would call (some five hundred years later, in her classic feminist text of the same name) “a room of one’s own.”
“Our City of Ladies” extends Servir Antico’s continued exploration of Christine de Pizan’s legacy by bringing together a new programme of music from the age of humanism that poses searching questions to present-day listeners: What does it mean to build the City of Ladies today? How do we welcome those parts of ourselves and of others that have been shut out? What kind of collective life, or “vision of peace,” can we imagine together, in company with music and words of the past and contemporary texts speaking directly to our current moment?
Christine de Pizan’s vision was both of her time and beyond it; as freshly as it speaks to us today, her work was also strongly rooted in the unusual historical situation of a fourteenth-century widow who chose to support herself and her children by writing rather than to remarry. Christine worked to hold her own in an aristocratic-artistic world governed by relationships of patronage, and counted among her patrons representatives of the French court, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, other ducal rulers of the French territories, and, further from home, royalty and nobility in Bavaria and England. Having gained fame during her lifetime, Christine’s writings continued to circulate after her death in 1430; especially important to this programme is the posthumous intellectual kinship she shared with fellow writer Martin le Franc (about fifty years Christine’s junior), who vigorously defended her ideas from criticism in Le champion des dames.
Both Christine and Martin were closely engaged in a musical culture conscious (like our own) of the presence of both old and new. As a poet, Christine provided the exquisite texts—rooted in the themes of faithful love and long-suffering devotion central to the courtly love tradition—set by composers of chansons. “Deuil angoisseux,” by Gilles Binchois, is one example. Christine’s text explores the darker side of amour courtois’s emotional spectrum: the pains of separation are intense and irremediable, blighting every interest in life. Clearly, these words had a powerful appeal; this was one of Binchois’s most successful songs, and copies of it appear even as far afield as England.
A member of the Burgundian court chapel for much of his career, Binchois was one the most influential composers of the first half of the fifteenth century. It was our friend Martin le Franc who made the claim—oft-cited by music historians—that Binchois and his colleague Guillaume Dufay had taught a “nouvelle pratique” or new practice to their successors by imitating the “contenance angloise.” The composer most closely linked with this “English countenance” was John Dunstaple, whose works (mainly from the 1410s and 1420s) have been credited with spreading a novel sound ideal through mainland Europe: rather than the open sonorities of medieval polyphony, he emphasized “sweet”-sounding cascades of triadic harmonies, with flowing melodies and clearly articulated cadences.
A few generations earlier, the claim to novelty had been laid by the so-called Ars Nova (“new art”) made possible by notational innovations described by Phillipe de Vitry in the early fourteenth century. Guillaume de Machaut was the outstanding poet-composer of this earlier period. The ballade “Dame de qui toute ma joie vient” was included in Machaut’s long poetic work Remede de fortune, which seems to be dedicated to Bonne of Luxembourg. Remede de fortune’s hapless protagonist must learn from a powerful female allegorical figure—Lady Hope—to bear patiently with the reversals of Fortune and the uncertainties of love. This ballade comes at a moment of good spirits in the narrative; perhaps its words of praise were really intended for Bonne herself, since she appears to have been among Machaut’s most cherished and respected patrons.
The late fourteenth-century art of composers such as Solage is sometimes referred to as an Ars Subtilior, or “more subtle art,” because of its notational complexities. “Corps feminin par vertu de nature,” from the Chantilly Manuscript, shows typical refinement in the supple melodic writing and intricate rhythms. Coupled with this musical sophistication is an unreservedly erotic text in praise of the “female body.” True to courtly form, this body is both an object of adoration for its “sweet and pleasing” beauty and, potentially, an expression of power in its ability to “snare” or seduce.
The chansons reimagined in this programme by the multifaceted artist and composer Michaël/le Grébil Liberg displayed both verbal and musical ingenuity. One expects that Christine de Pizan might have admitted the praise of being “Belle, bonne, sage,” since her allegorical city demonstrated that women could be, in many different ways, beautiful, good, and wise. The original song of this name (also represented in the Chantilly Manuscript) was by Baude Cordier, and it rests on a visual pun: whereas Cordier’s text asks the beloved to accept a “new song / Within my heart, which presents itself to you,” the musical notation is literally laid out in the shape of a heart. The wordplay of “A Lunel lutz una luna luzens” (the original is attributed to Guilhem de Montahnagol and preserved in the Chigi Codex) is more modest; the poem celebrates a lady from Lunel who shines (“lutz”) like a glowing moon (“luna luzens”). (By contrast, the anonymous polytextual motet “Febus mundo oriens / Cornibus equivocis” praises a famous nobleman, Gaston III of Foix-Béarn, as the rising sun; Gaston acquired the nickname “Fébus,” after the sun-god Phoebus-Apollo, while fighting a crusade in Prussia.)
Aside from the love song tradition, celebrations of womanhood were most common in the context—as with Dunstaple’s “Beata mater”—of Marian devotion. Johannes Ghiselin was a contemporary of Josquin des Prez, and his beautiful “O florens rosa” was among the first pieces of sacred music to be printed with movable type by Ottaviano Petrucci. Another Netherlandish composer, Johannes Brassart, set the “Ave Maria” in the profound, slightly austere idiom of the age’s Franco-Flemish masters. Added onto the traditional prayer are phrases of supplication and a series of sublime epithets hailing Mary as the “glory of women”: “jewel of virgins,” “rose of martyrs,” “queen of angels.” “Dum transisset,” a text belonging to the celebration of Matins on Easter morning, concerns not the Virgin but Mary Magdalene, whose early arrival at the tomb gives her a special role in the story of the Resurrection.
Finally, “Descendi in hortum meum” is a Marian antiphon drawn from the Song of Songs, whose love poetry was applied (among other interpretations) to the relationship between God (as Bridegroom) and Mary (as Bride and representative of the Church). The “Shulamite” woman is the main speaker of the Song of Songs, an ardent and self-assured presence that would not be out of place in Christine de Pizan’s utopian city. And like that city but on a more intimate scale, the “garden” is a place of growth, safety, and delight.
- Connor Page
Servir Antico is an ensemble inspired by the legacy of Renaissance Humanism (an intellectual/cultural movement from the 13th to 16th century). The group was founded by Catalina Vicens, a musician and researcher specializing in Medieval and Renaissance repertoires who unites the power of acclaimed vocal and instrumental soloists (possessing extensive experience in historically-informed performance) with the desire to create an environment of respect and communication.
Servir Antico’s programs are designed to not only bring an almost forgotten repertoire to contemporary audiences, but to also immerse that audience in a multi-sensorial experience. Poetry, dramaturgy, and musical text transport the listener back to an era of dazzling creation, introspection and beauty. With the music and texts as a point of departure, projects of social engagement are an intrinsic part of each program.
Catalina Vicens, music director
Born in Chile and currently residing in Italy, Calatina Vicens is recognized by the international press as “one of the most interesting musicians in the field of early music.” Her approach to historically-informed performance and musicological research has led her to become one of the most versatile and sought-after historical keyboard performers and teachers of her generation.
In 2013 she founded ensemble Servir Antico, with whom she aims to shed light on the lesser-known repertoire and intellectual heritage of the Humanistic Period (13th-16th century) while using the concert stage to share with the audience the voices of these visionaries of the past, and to also using it to amplify new voices. In 2021, Ms. Vicens was named curator of the Tagliavini Collection in Italy, one of the largest historical keyboard collections in Europe, and artistic director of Museo San Colombano in Bologna. She is also harpsichord/research lecturer at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels (Belgium) and Visiting Professor of Harpsichord at Oberlin Conservatory (USA), amongst many other prestigious appointments.