The chansons on Asteria’s debut album are gathered from compositions which were likely performed in the courts of the Dukes of Burgundy at the height of their reign and cultural influence during the mid to late 15th century. As you listen to the work of these masters, let the emotions conveyed in their ancient melodies carry you away, as they did the courtly audiences of the middle ages.
100 years before the reign of the Renaissance masters, a new polyphonic art form was taking root in the low countries and making its way across a rapidly transforming Europe. The Burgundian chanson tradition, which reached its apex in the latter part of the 15th century, is much less well known and understood than that of the 16th; however, it was a crucial step in the development of western music, leading out of more chaotic, early polyphonic experiments into the refined, mature polyphony of the high-Renaissance.
At the time the chanson repertoire was created and performed, large orchestras and choirs did not exist, nor did the modern concept of a concert. Period documents often mention individual songs being performed by one or two persons as a diversion in a larger program of entertainment at banquets and other social settings at court. Small, mixed ensembles of voices and instruments were not infrequent, with lute, harp and vielle being among the favorite accompanying instruments.
The verses that make up the bulk of the Burgundian chanson repertoire often seem superficially simple, even trite, and yet they are steeped in a fascinating tradition of elevated poetry that sought to transcend the horror of everyday existence in the middle ages, with its plagues, diseases and death at every turn, creating a temporary mythical reality. Reading court scribes of the period would lead us to believe that every move, meeting and affair was drenched in a fantastical surfeit of emotion and allegorical role-playing. Lords, courtiers, pages — everyone rejoiced, wept and despaired with great frequency and passion. The distinction between fiction and non-fiction writing is in fact barely perceivable, with the 400 year old chivalric tradition still very much the dominant aesthetic even into the 16th century.
Quasi-deification of the “Lady,” appeals for aid to personified figures representing Fate, Death, and Jealousy, and a general willingness to extinguish one’s life at the drop of a hat for one’s principles all find their way into Burgundian poetry in much the same form as in the 13th century verses of the Provencal troubadours. “The memory of you kills me when I cannot see you…” writes Robert Morton in the title composition, while Estienne Grossin asks bluntly in his delightful “Vit Encore”: “…is he not dead yet, this false rascal Then by God, he shall soon die!”
The chansons on Asteria’s debut album are gathered from compositions which were likely performed in the courts of the Dukes of Burgundy at the height of their reign and cultural influence during the mid to late 15th century.
A renowned patron of spectacle and art, Philip the Good (1396-1467), with his court centered in present day Lyon, was blessed with great economic prosperity and regional power unrivaled even by the King of France. His prolific court historian Georges Chastellain provides us with much of what we know about this period, including the emotionally charged comings and goings of noble guests and the wondrous fetes that witnessed such spectacles as “a giant, leading an elephant,” mechanical dragons, and one account of a “huge meat-pie from which sprang twenty-eight musicians.”
Every generation wistfully idolizes that which preceded it as being more pure, uncluttered with trouble and complexity. As you listen to the work of these masters, let the emotions conveyed in their ancient melodies carry you away, as they did the courtly audiences of the middle ages, yearning for the romantic utopia of their forbears.
Track listing – click on song title for
01-Quant La Doulce Jouvencelle (anon from Oxford Can. Misc. 213) (3:55)
Total time: 37:10