New York Times: “Capturing a Yearning Fit for a Prince”

By VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

It might seem a stretch to ask audience members at Bargemusic, the floating concert hall on the East River with an expansive view of the Manhattan skyline, to imagine themselves next to the Rhine in 1475, as the tenor and lutenist Eric Redlinger did before a concert on Thursday evening.

But Mr. Redlinger wanted to set the scene for a program called “Music for a Rash Prince — Favorite Composers From the Court of Charles the Bold in Medieval Burgundy,” which he performed with the soprano Sylvia Rhyne. The two frequently appear together as a duo called Asteria.

Only a handful of listeners showed up, which was a pity, as the musicians had clearly put much thought and research into this appealing performance of 15th-century love songs by Robert Morton, Antoine Busnoys and Hayne van Ghizeghem.

The three were composers in residence at the battleground court of Charles the Bold during his yearlong siege of Neuss, a German town. Charles, said to be a talented noble who sang, composed and played the harp, was entertained with a new song every night according to Mr. Redlinger, who described Busnoys as the most avant-garde of the three composers.

“Quant ce vendra” (“When it comes”) illustrated Busnoys’s facility with polyphony, weaving three lines (two voices and lute) in a complex tapestry, beautifully rendered here.

The duo sang all the works on the program in medieval French, with translations provided. Throughout, they drew in the small audience with deeply expressive, intimate and often haunting interpretations. Ms. Rhyne’s pure, elegant voice was particularly appealing.

Before a wistful rendition of van Ghizeghem’s “Allez Regrets” (“Go, Regrets”), Mr. Redlinger said that van Ghizeghem was one of the few medieval musicians who developed a career solely as a court composer. (Most professional composers of that era were associated with the church.)

Ms. Rhyne discussed how the arranged (and presumably loveless) marriages of the Middle Ages spurred courtly romance — infatuations with unattainable crushes. Such longing inspired songs like Morton’s “Le souvenir de vous me tue” (“The memory of you kills me”).

The duo has studied medieval manuscripts in European libraries; they came across Busnoys’s “Au gre de mes yeulx” (“At the whim of my eyes”) in a library in Dijon, France. Ms. Rhyne said they haven’t encountered the song elsewhere, and the performance at Bargemusic — a highlight of the evening — might have been the song’s first in 600 years.

Published September 11, 2011 in The New York Times

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