In our upcoming program, What’s Old is New: The Leuven Chansonnier, we’ll perform music from the Leuven Chansonnier, a 600-year-old book containing 49 secular love songs from Medieval France.
We’ve chosen 14 of those songs to perform in our concert, six of which were unknown before the discovery of the Leuven Chansonnier in 2015.
- “J’ay pris amours” (Anonymous)
- “Je ne vis onques la pareille” (Binchois)
- “De tous biens plaine” (Hayne)
- “D’un aultre amer” (Ockeghem)
- “Tristre Plaisir” (arr. Nagy)
- “Sans faire de vous” (arr. Nagy)
- “Danse de Cleves” (arr. Nagy)
- “En atendant vostre venue” (Anonymous)
- “Escu d’ennuy” (Anonymous)
- “J’ay des semblans” (Anonymous)
- “Par malle bouche” (Anonymous)
- “Comme femme desconfortée” (Binchois)
- “Helas mon cuer, tu m’occiras” (Anonymous)
- “Oublie, oublie” (Anonymous)
To give shape to this program, we have built a narrative around these curated love songs. Like other late-medieval miscellanies of lyric poetry, our story is propelled not only by words but also images. Just as woodcuts of lovers broke up the visual monotony of printed pages while threading a visual narrative through Jardin de plaisance et de rhetorique, a famous book of lyric poetry, we’ve chosen images from a lavishly-decorated French manuscript of the Roman de la Rose (c. 1475) to illustrate and enrich our story of imagined lovers.
One of the most widely-read works of the Middle Ages, the Roman de la Rose is at once a courtly song, a story of initiation, and a literary game complete with metaphors and other literary devices. Over 300 manuscript versions of the Roman survive (its text dates back to the late 13th-century), many of which are gorgeously illuminated with images of L’Amant (the lover) and numerous allegorical characters. The fact that many songs in the Leuven Chansonnier still make reference to allegorical figures from the Roman like Bon Espoir (Good Hope), Amours (Love), Malle Bouche (Slander), and Dangier (Risk) testifies to the enduring cultural currency of courtly love themes in the late 15th century. While the cultural references may have been old, their modern musical settings in the Leuven Songbook (complete with pervasive imitation, irregular modes, and experimentation with four-voice textures) gave chivalric poetry a modern voice.
Our imagined story begins with the Lover introducing himself by way of his motto (“J’ay pris amours à ma devise”). It’s summer and he’s a man on a mission (to fall in love!). Naturally, the most gracious lady in the world catches his eye as a prelude to piercing his heart (“Je ne vis onques la pareille”). Showering her with compliments, he expresses his wish to serve (“De tous biens plaine”), and she replies with an oath of fidelity (“D’un autre amer”). Flirtation continues that evening as the couple enjoys a great feast followed by dancing. Nothing good can stay, however, and the lovers must separate. She dutifully awaits his return (“En atendant vostre venue”) while he goes off to the battlefield, bearing the arms of affliction and sadness (“Escu d’ennuy”). He receives only snippets of news while he is away and begins to doubt that she still loves him (“J’ay des semblans”). He is shocked to receive a letter from his Lady’s handmaid accusing him of disloyalty (this is the first he’s heard of it!), and he rushes to both refute the rumors and apologize (“Par malle bouche,”) She laments lost love in personal, emotional terms (“Comme femme desconfortee”), while he complains of a broken heart while hinting at future conquests (“Helas mon cuer, tu m’occiras”). A friend urges the Lover to forget his troubles (“Oublie, oublie”) and make room for the next lady in his life.