Haunting the vaults of the municipal library in Dijon, France, is a small volume, its modest grey cover causing it to almost disappear among its neighboring volumes: the Dijon Chansonnier, Ms. 517. Despite its now humble exterior (the original binding has been lost) it contains a veritable treasure trove of some 160 courtly love songs, written in the third quarter of the 15th century, by some of the most famous composers of their day. Largely devoid of the usual ownership stamps that normally accompany such manuscripts, it has perhaps even remained in Burgundy since the time of Duke Charles the Bold, passing from household to household and shelf to shelf, waiting for its treasures to be explored.
While not as floridly ornate as other famous song books of its day, notably the heart-shaped Chansonnier Cordiforme featured on Asteria’s first album of Burgundian chansons, the fanciful, illuminated capitals of the Dijon manuscript flirt playfully with the imagination. Fish, serpents, old ladies and young lovers adorn the elegantly notated pages. But for musicologists, perhaps its most important attribute is that it contains one of the largest known collections of secular chansons by Antoine Busnoys, a highly renowned composer in the employ of the Burgundian dukes.
Asteria and Germolles
Asteria has spent several months in Burgundy each year working with the Dijon manuscript, with a particular focus on Busnoys’ songs, translating each piece from the ancient musical notation and medieval French to their modern equivalents. They have also been actively seeking out the late-medieval sites where this music would have been sung, in order to better understand how it may have sounded in the venues for which it was originally written. This journey of discovery first took them, in 2006, to the Château de Germolles, near Chalon sur Saône, in southern Burgundy. privately owned since the Revolution, it remains today the best preserved country palace of the Dukes of Burgundy still remaining in Burgundy. Renovated and expanded into a graceful princely abode from an earlier manor house at the end of the 14th century by Duke Philip the Bold for his wife, Margaret of Flanders, Germolles is the perfect reflection of Burgundian elegance and artistic sophistication at the end of the Middle Ages. Indeed, records show that Margaret spent long periods of time resident at the château, cultivating a comfortable and pious lifestyle that wanted for nothing: what better backdrop for rediscovering the Burgundian chanson in the 21st century?
Beginning in 2007, the owners of the Château de Germolles have graciously invited Asteria for a residency at the château during the month of May each year, and Asteria has profited by rehearsing and performing throughout the castle and its grounds. They have performed for both private and public gatherings in a variety of historical spaces in the château, including in front of the monumental fireplace carved by the great sculptor Claus Sluter and in the private dressing room of Margaret of Bavaria, daughter-in-law to the first duchess of Burgundy. It is here, in this private and intimate space, its original 14th century wall murals by Jean de Beaumetz giving it an otherworldly quality, that Asteria has recorded the present album of exquisite love songs by Antoine Busnoys from the Dijon Chansonnier.
Track listing – click on song title for text and translation
Total time: 63:49