My new thirteenth-century frock for the Manuscript Challenge

Browsing Facebook as one does, a few weeks ago, I came across The Manuscript Challenge  and was instantly seized with enthusiasm to take part… It’s a simple enough idea – choose a specific medieval image and recreate the costume (one or more as you wish) portrayed therein. There are few rules and none on authenticity per se, but it seemed to me to chime with the desire to go right back to the sources in reproducing outfits and hopefully thus going some way towards eliminating some of the costume myths that have grown up.

I was wanting anyway to make myself an early thirteenth-century outfit. I have a wonderful twelfth-century outfit, courtesy of Vicky Bayley (Aquerna Fabricae) and have made a similar period bliaut for Paul, which I am really pleased with.

bliaut imagesBliaut dress at Bolsover

Here we are looking all twelfth century. As you can see, there were a couple of images that I used as inspiration for Paul’s bliaut.

However, as we are working on a Magna Carta programme and going to be involved in several commemorative events for the 800th anniversary in 2015 I thought we needed to have good thirteenth-century apparel as well.

Paul at Chester

As usual, Paul is better equipped already… I made him this embroidered cote (left) a few years ago. It’s based on a manuscript image from c.1250 and I think will do well for the first half of the thirteenth century.

As you can see from Paul’s two outfits, there is quite a change from the twelfth into the thirteenth century. In the earlier period there was a great emphasis on tight fitting, with body shape revealed and emphasised with cut and lacing, but this disappears by the start of the thirteenth century. Now the cut is loose, even baggy, with the excess material belted in or simply left loose.

I have to say that I have not found this thirteenth-century look the most flattering cut for the more ample figure… and although I have made myself suitable outfits before I have never really liked them. So I am determined to do better this time and make myself a stunning outfit in the height of early thirteenth-century fashion that – crucially – I actually won’t mind wearing!

I have been gathering images of outfits from the close of the twelfth century and first half of the thirteenth century, which are all available to view on my Pinterest board for the dress project. I was able to discern a fairly typical style which comprised:

  • a loose, very full, and full (or longer) length under dress. This is often but not always in white and may be a  shift. The sleeves are tight and long, being wrinkled back up over the wrists. It’s not possible to see the neckline.
  • an overdress that is quite tight in earlier images but much looser in later ones – I will be going for the loose look as more thirteenth-century. This overdress is not full-length; it varies from just below the knee to just above the ankle and at all times the fuller and longer underdress is visible underneath around the ankles and feet. This overdress has three-quarter-length and baggy sleeves and is usually but not always held in with a belt. Again, belts become more typical into the thirteenth century.
  • a simple rectangular veil usually quite loosely wrapped around the head.
  • a loosely draped mantle

dress

The Madonna Lactans from the Amesbury Psalter

This is the image that I have selected as my core image for the Manuscript Challenge. It is a portrayal of the Virgin nursing the Christ child (the Madonna lactans) and comes from the Amesbury Psalter, dating from around 1250. I was particularly drawn to this image because of the gorgeously decorated blue textile, which I’ve taken to calling ‘starry starry night’. It’s a design that is quite often seen – again, my Pinterest has gathered several examples from the twelfth through to the fourteenth century.

I have been considering how to replicate ‘starry starry night’, and have decided to go with pearls supported by white embroidery. Pearls are often mentioned on garments – for example Chaucer’s “of perles white were alle hise clothes broded”. This will be considerable labour, but I think will add considerably to the grandeur of the outfit.

The conditions of the Manuscript Challenge dictate that I must replicate the design of the dress for a nursing mother. I have already received helpful advice from other seamstresses on the Challenge. Moreover, having examined surviving garments, I have decided to use the gown of St Claire and Empress Matilda’s tunic as my models, both of which allow for side gores going all the way up. This should allow for an open seam above the breast which could either be subsequently sewn up or simply concealed in the bunching of the fabric.

I have now acquired most of my materials and have begun with the underdrunderdressess (left) – just completed, and made from a vintage medium-heavy linen sheet I bought in France a couple of years ago.  This underdress is very long (just over full-length) and nicely full, with a hem circumference of around three yards. I may end up shortening the underdress for practical use!  For the overdress I have a lovely Italian blue wool and this dress will be lined in red linen. I have some lightweight white linen for the veil, left over from a previous project. I have a length of red wool for the mantle, which I will hopefully be able to line with the remainder of the underdress linen. l still need to decide on what to use for trimming the overdress and the veil – I have some silk/wool material I may use. For the belt I have various possible lengths of braid.

I am about to start piecing the various parts of the overdress – I intend to mark out the pieces on the fabric and do the embroidery before the cutting, avoiding embroidering any material that I don’t actually need to use! I shall post images of the overdress in progress as it goes along.

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Magna Melodia

magna melodia

Magna Melodia is our concert programme for 2015, in honour of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The initial agreement of the Great Charter lies smack in the middle of the period of music that we are most interested in, and so this noteworthy anniversary has provided an admirable spur to us to gather a good range of material into a great programme. Magna Melodia is available for concert bookings in 2015 (with several already signed up!), and also as a programme of linked presentations at medieval festivals or other medieval events. And we are going to put it all together into a CD as well – which will also be available as a digital download.

Magna Melodia presents music from the world of the early Plantagenet kings – Henry II, his sons Richard and John, and his grandson Henry III. As you can see, the timespan is thus c1150 – c.1250. Geographically, the programme goes from England (of course!) to Sicily via the trouveres of northern France and the troubadours of the south. We have been able to include a great deal of our existing repertoire but have also moved into new pastures and new repertoire. Magna Melodia is at this time still to some extent a work in progress – we are trying out different options and thinking what will match up best to make the most satisfying programme – but here’s an idea of what we have in mind.

‘Volez vous que je vous chant’ is a beautiful anonymous trouvère reverdie – it recounts a dream.  We’ve chosen this as our introductory piece as it is redolent of so much that was key to the musical scene in the early thirteenth century. The song conjures up the world of the aristocratic music-makers of both northern and southern France

“Do you want me to sing you a song of love? This was not written by a common man – a knight composed this song, sitting in the shade of an olive tree in the arms of his beloved…”

The song goes on to paint a portrait of an idealised woman, not exactly human:

the nightingale was my father, who sings on the branch and in the high hedges; the siren was my mother, who sings in the salty sea and on the high riversides

This made me think of the legend of Melusine – the fairy woman, daughter of the devil, who was believed to be the distant ancestor of the Plantagenet kings. From the devil they came, it was said, and to the devil they would return…

Richard, John and Henry III had this devil’s inheritance on one side, but on the other – through their mother Eleanor – they had the heritage of Aquitaine, the very heartland of the troubadour tradition. Troubadour music was woven into the lives of the sons of Henry II and as patrons and friends of many composers they are often referenced in specific songs. Henry the Young King, the initial son and heir of Henry II, was the subject of a renowned planh, or lament, by Bertran de Born. Unfortunately, the music for this planh has not survived but we intend to present a partial narration of this lament against the instrumental background of  another de Born melody. Alongside this we will present Gaucelm Faidit’s planh on the death of Richard the Lionheart. King John fared less well at the hands of the troubadours, being noticeably criticised by de Born’s son, another Bertran:

“… his heart is soft and cowardly and no man should ever trust him.”

Troubadour music is also represented by a pair of songs by Bernart de Ventadorn, closely associated with Eleanor of Aquitaine: at present we are intending to pair ‘Can vei la lauzeta’ and ‘La dousa votz’. We may also include one or more tunes by Marcabru.

Staying in Aquitaine, we have been investigating the rich repertoire of religious polyphony from the region. We are working on ‘Lux refulget’, an example of the new style of florid organum where the melody is at times maintained in slow held notes in the tenor and decorated by fluid and lively melismas in the upper voice. We are using Paris ms. lat. 3719, one of the manuscripts closely associated with the abbey of St Martial in the Limoges.

We are really pleased to be including some Sicilian material. The Norman kingdom of Sicily was associated with the Angevins through the marriage of Henry and Eleanor’s daughter Joanna to King William II. Joanna spent her earliest years at the abbey of Fontevraud with her brother John, her near contemporary. King William died unexpectedly and young, and Joanna was taken prisoner by the new king Tancred, who had seized the throne in default of any clear male heir. She was rescued from this ignominious state by the arrival of her elder brother Richard, now king of England, and went on to accompany him on his crusade to the Holy Land.

The fabulously rich kingdom of Sicily was a vibrant mixture of traditions – Norman, Byzantine, Saracen, and three books of music from the Norman Sicilian church are extant in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid; they contain much liturgical music and also more informal songs of praise and celebration. We include several of these in Magna Melodia. For all the cultural diversity of Sicily, this church music can be shown to derive clearly from the practices of the church back in Normandy and northern France. Indeed, some pieces, like Orientis Partibus, are also known from later northern French sources.

This Sicilian link thus returns us back to northern France. The trouvère tradition is not so strongly linked to the Angevins as is that of the troubadours, but King Richard himself wrote in French as a trouvère and we will certainly include his plaintive ‘Ja nus hons pris’, alongside the roughly contemporaneous anonymous crusade song ‘Parti de mal’, which survives appended to a work dedicated to Henry II. This song, which was perhaps written by someone working in the royal Chancery, appears to reference the king and his sons:

“my good lords whom I have loved so much that I almost forgot God!”

Other trouvère material to be featured may include instrumental versions of anonymous pastourelles. Staying in northern France we intend also to include a selection of melodies from the Ludus Danielis, the play of Daniel originating at Beauvais in – it is thought – the late twelfth century.

Which leaves us finally, and necessarily, in England. We aim to include here too both music of the church and secular music. For the former, we have been working on the polyphonic Verbum patris humanatur, a lively new year celebratory song. It’s important to realise that for secular music the Anglo-Norman and Angevin aristocracy of England would have been enjoying the repertoire of the troubadours and trouvères, just like their continental cousins but, that said, there is also some music extant in English. We will certainly feature ‘Miri it is’, and are also working on ‘Man mei long him lives wene’ and ‘Foweles in the frith’, although this last may take us too far out of our time frame.

So, as you can see, the programme is still somewhat up for grabs, but we think that it is shaping up well and we are very much looking forward to presenting this broad sweep of music from the time of England’s Angevin kings. This really was the age of magnificent melody, whether in the monophonic song or in the excitingly blended lines of polyphony. We aim to bring these melodies to life with a range of contemporary instrumentation and show what a wonderful musical world this was.

If you are interested in booking Trouvère for Magna Melodia do get in touch! We’ll be putting up some tasters of Magna Melodia over the next few months. And if you have any comments or suggestions for inclusions in the programme, we’d love to hear them.

photo-8     At Cordes http://www.medievalminstrels.com

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Trouvere at Large Summer 2014 – Final episode: Bayeux!

Our last weekend in France was spent performing at the Fêtes Médiévales at Bayeux. It was our second time at the festival as performers and our third time in all – our first time was as visitors, when we were massively impressed with the whole thing! Bayeux is a great place for a medieval festival – it’s not too big, there’s a good campsite a short walk from the centre, the centre  is dominated by an utterly magnificent medieval cathedral with several other nice medieval buildings close at hand, and of course the town possesses an iconic medieval relic in the Tapestry. Every year on the first weekend in July, the entire centre is taken over with the Fêtes. Market stalls huddle all about the Cathedral, and the streets – which are generally thronged with people – are packed with entertainments. The cathedral is thrown open all day and into the evening, with extra events taking place inside, and on the Sunday morning there is a massive parade of all participants which draws simple huge crowds. For the first time (I think) this year, the Tapestry Museum was a major venue, and (certainly for the first time) there were events there on the Friday night, in which we played a part.

41 Bayeux - timetable42 Bayeux fetes

There were two elements to our involvement at the Festival. Firstly, we were presenting a short programme of English medieval music in the chapel of the Tapestry Museum – this happened on the Friday evening and on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Then – in complete contrast! – we were presenting masked mimed foolishness in the guise of Reynard the Fox and Tibert the Cat. We had three of these shows on the Saturday – two outside the western doors of the cathedral (an established performance space for the festival) and one on the stage in front of the Hôtel de Ville – the biggest performance area of the festival. And two of these shows on the Sunday. So we had a busy programme right through the weekend.

The performances in the Tapestry Museum chapel were quite special – it is a thirteenth century space and the only surviving element of the earlier medieval abbey which was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and done away with at the time of the Revolution. We had excellent attendance at all three performances and our music suited the space really well. Our programme travelled from a pre-conquest antiphon through to the fifteenth century ‘There is no Rose’, with St Godric’s ‘Sainte Nicholas’, ‘Parti de Mal’, ‘Ja nus hons pris’, a Ductia, ‘Verbum patria humanatur’, ‘Miri it is’, ‘The Song of the Nuns of Chester’ and ‘Brid one brere’ in between. I managed to introduce everything in passable French, and Paul managed to chat in French about the instruments to interested parties at the end of each show. All in all, we very much enjoyed doing these short concerts – it was a real treat for us.

47 Bayeux - Paul at the Chapelle 248 Bayeux - Paul at the Chapelle

The only problem for Reynard and Tibert was the weather – which was truly awful on Saturday.  The streets were still busy, but not as busy as usual and it was obviously impossible for some shows to go ahead at all, notably many of the déambulations in the streets. We were concerned about our first show, but then the (excellent) staff told us that if it was raining we should just move inside the cathedral! Well, if needs must… Being all English about it, we still had our doubts about this but as we were setting up one of the clerics came up to make sure we were okay and assure us that yes we should perform inside. It was something special to strike up our sounds within such an amazing space: in the first picture below I am standing more or less where we performed. The great pipes sounded IMMENSE! Our second Saturday show, outside the Hôtel de Ville, proceeded in light drizzle, but proceeded rather successfully for all that – the noble French gallantly gathered to participate in our nonsense. Thankfully on the Sunday the weather was much better by the afternoon, and our final show at the Hôtel stage gathered an sizeable audience and went down really well. We even got an encore! All in all, we felt rather pleased with our efforts to bring medieval mime to the French…

Article in Bayeux cathedral44 Bayeux - The stage at the town hall51 Bayeux - Reynard with fish

Finally we should mention the parade on the Sunday morning. The weather was still making its mind up what to do and we weren’t sure whether to wear our masks or not – but in the end we went for it and were glad we did as the rain disappeared and we were able to prance our way happily down the streets in fox and cat mode. We got a lovely reception as ever, and thanks to Stephen and Helen Jones for once again taking some amazing images of us prowling away.

bayeux parade both bayeux parade both 2 bayeux gill bayeux paul close-up bayeux both 3 bayeux paul

And so we returned to England with much improved French (let’s hope it lasts) and a new instrument or two, and a lot of great memories. We really hope to get back to France again next year to meet familiar faces and make more new friends, and to experience some more of those amazing French fêtes!

Trouvere at Large Summer 2014 – Episode Three: Heading North

Our visit to Philippe Bolton’s atelier was an absolute joy. We’d headed out of Languedoc, skirting past the magnificent citadel of Avignon. I’d visited Avignon thirty years ago, long enough for it to seem like it had happened in another life, and nothing seemed familiar; Paul was bowled over by the stunning battlemented citadel and it’s for sure that we will return to Avignon and spend a few days there. A campsite close by the centre was spotted, as we narrowly managed to avoid a low tunnel and sped north and east into the rolling Provence countryside.

The atelier is in Villes-sur Auzon, a charmingly round village. The workshop is small and packed with amazing tools and instruments in the course of being made. Philippe took us through the whole process of creating a hand-made recorder – it was a wonderful insight that has helped us understand the instrument a lot better.  The delicacy of some of the operations is remarkable.  We are looking forward so much to our new medieval alto.

45 Puivert - Philippe and Paul Here are Philippe and Paul exploring recorders at Puivert.

We had given ourselves a mighty day of travel however, and were soon back on the road heading north to Cluny: a long drive but successfully accomplished. Cluny is another charming town, dominated by the ghost of its abbey. As I am concentrating on luthiers in this post, however, I will hasten on to our continuing journey the next day north and east to Mulhouse… and the next day over the border into Germany and over the hills of the Black Forest… to finally pull up at the home and workshop of Eric Kleinmann, harp maker, in Rangendingen. We were here to collect my new Romanesque harp, and I soon had my greedy paws on this beautiful little beast:

89Rangendingen - new harp   unknown-artist-king-david-playing-his-harp-westminster-abbey-psalter-circa-1200

It’s based on an image of King David from the Westminster Psalter:

Eric and his wife Atsuko made us incredibly welcome over the next two days. We were given a whistle-stop tour of Swabian highlights, culminating in a visit to the wonderful reconstructed wooden castle at Bachritterburg. There was a living history group at the castle, who made us very welcome. One of them was a singer and it was great to play along with her in the beautifully dressed period rooms. Eric also took the opportunity to take some splendid shots of the harp in fitting medieval settings.

99 Bachritterburg - jam 2 102 Bachritterburg - Gill in the tower 103 Bachritterburg - Foxy harp in the tower

The journey to our next atelier took us some time. In brief….

An amazing drive back through the Black Forest north and west to Strasbourg, which gave the brakes a good workout… Two wonderful days in Strasbourg which took in the annual Fetes de Musique; we heard and saw a very splendid baroque group… south and west to Troyes via the village of Villehardouin (special relevance to me from my Greek medieval history and the visit meant a lot to me)… a visit to Guédelon, which is a unique and thoroughly admirable project to build a castle using as authentically medieval techniques as possible; we played a little in the recreated painted chamber… five days rest at Rigny-Ussé near the Loire where we hoped for wild swimming and got torrential rainstorms but also saw the village’s amazing Romanesque church and ransacked various vides greniers and brocantes… south and west to Poitiers which just has the most wonderful Romanesque sites… and finally south to Luzon to pick up a medieval symphony from Bryan Tolley.

We had been massively taken by these symphonies at Puivert but had not succumbed as we then foolishly maintained that we had not come to France to buy another symphony and it was quite enough to buy a citole and a recorder. What nonsense, we had fairly swiftly concluded – obviously we have to have one of those little symphonies! We’d contacted Bryan and discovered a mutually convenient day – and here we were.

Bryan lies in a tiny quiet hamlet some miles south of Poitiers, and his workshop is a large sun-filled room haunted by two noble felines.  We were given plenty of instruction in the gurdy in general and the symphony in particular and were again impressed with everything we saw and heard. Here’s the symphony nestled amongst some of our other instruments – it really has quickly become part of our sound:

Symphony and shawms

Bryan has been very clever with this symphony design. For a start, he explained how he had developed a design with a much taller bridge and a wheel standing above the soundboard, and that this had increased the sweetness and volume. Secondly, the keyboard appears diatonic (no sharps and flats) as it should for a medieval instrument; however, the tangents inside have been constructed such that they can be moved to create B or B-flat, F or F-sharp and E or E-flat. Thus the symphony is just that bit more versatile in combination with other instruments. The chanter is tuned to G, with a G and a C drone and the sound is wonderfully sweet.

Later the same day we drove north and west into Brittany. After an overnight stop at the incredibly charming Pont-Aven, we made our way to Penmarc’h and Atelier Tri Nox Samoni to collect our double flute from Benjamin Simao. Benjamin has a great little workshop right on the main street and again we were swallowed up in the wonderful smells of woodworking! Unfortunately, it turned out that there was still a little work required on the double flute, so Paul arranged for this to be sent on to us as we had to make our way north to Bayeux, where the Fêtes Médiévales were about to get underway! But that must wait for the final episode of our summer adventure…