Lute Society of America Quarterly: For the Love of Jaqueline

by DOUGLAS HENSLEY

Antoine Busnoys (1430-1492) was one of the most celebrated composers of the 15th century.  According to the CD liner notes, he “ranks among the most avant-garde and prescient composers of his time.  In the period of rapid social transformation and technological development that characterizes the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, he effortlessly straddles the two epochs and exerts a profound influence on both his own and future generations of composers.”  The title of the programme was inspired by several references to “Jaqueline,” “Aqueville,” and “Jaqueline de Aqueville” in Busnoy’s works.  Together with other possible references, Asteria derives “an epic love story whose words seem to reveal a genuine and passionate intensity that is surprising as it is rare in medieval literature.”

The music presented here is drawn from the Dijon Chansonnier, Ms. 517, from the Bibliothèque Municipale de Dijon.  Asteria spent several months annually over a period of several years studying and transcribing works from this manuscript, with a particular focus on the songs of Busnoys.  Their research into sites where this music would have been sung led them to the Château de Germolles, the best-preserved of the country palaces of the Dukes of Burgundy still remaining in Burgundy.  It was there, in the private dressing room of Margaret of Bavaria, daughter-in-law to the first Duchess of Burgundy, complete with the original 14th century murals, that this recording was made.

This is Asteria’s fourth recording of 15th century music.  The entire package, including a 27-page booklet (filled with the original French texts and English translations, background information on Busnoys and his time, and photographs of pages from the manuscript and of the Château) and wonderful performances, is a testament to their love for and commitment to the amazing music of this era, for which the combination of soprano and tenor singers plus lute seems perfectly suited.  The settings vary somewhat: the soprano generally sings the cantus line, but the tenor and contratenor lines are sometimes played instrumentally with lute (Joye me fuit); or the tenor line is sung and the contratenor line played by lute (Quant ce viendra, Le corps s’en va); or the sung tenor line is doubled by lute, which plays the contratenor as well.  There are also several solo lute intabulations, such as the anonymous chansons Sur mon ame and Il sera pour vous.  There is also an intabulated performance of Bunoys’ Au gre de mes ieulx that serves as a prelude to the following sung version.

The ensemble’s soprano and tenor voices seem ideal for these works, which they clearly treasure, and Mr Redlinger gets a consistently beautiful and polyphonically clear sound from his 5-course Cesar Mateus lute, which he plays with fingers, in the late-15th century style, rather than plectrum.  We are fortunate, indeed to have such talented, hard-working, and excellent musicians delving so deeply into the rich vein of music.  I hope they will continue to share with us the fruits of the labours of love.

Volume XLVII, No. 1  Spring 2012

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