Working hard on ‘Magna Melodia’…

We have been really getting to grips with some new repertoire over the last few weeks, and it’s all shaping up to a very pleasing and varied programme of music for our ‘Magna Melodia’ concert of music from the time of the Magna Carta. One tune that we’ve been working on in particular is the lament on the death of Richard the Lionheart, by the troubadour Gaucelm Faidit.

This lament is usually known as ‘Fortz chausa es’, which is its original Occitan title, but the song with its music survives in four manuscripts (and many more with just the words), and we have chosen to do one of the lesser-known versions, in which the song has been reworded in French (or more like heavily Frenchified Occitan). We went for this version for a couple of reasons – firstly, it is the one in our beloved ‘Chansonnier du Roi’, the mid-thirteenth century collection that is the basis for our 2012 CD Music for a Medieval Prince. It’s always nice to expand our repertoire from this wonderful source. Secondly, this much less well-known version of the tune is a bit different (though clearly ‘the same’ in a broad sense) and this allowed scope for us to develop our own version of the song. Thirdly, we liked the idea of a French version, as we thought it more likely for an aristocratic English audience, whose own language would have been (broadly) that of northern France. Use of the Chansonnier version, however, brought its own problems. Firstly, there are only two verses given (other versions are much longer), so we will only work with these two. Secondly, there are the usual problems of damage in the Chansonnier, and very small sections of both music and words are missing. We have substituted these sections from other extant versions.

It is a stunning song in which words and music work so well together to express the devastation felt at the death of King Richard. The verse is through composed – there is no repetition of themes or phrases, rather the tune is continually changing and developing, while retaining an overall unity.  Here is our working version of the first verse, (although eventually it will probably end up a bit freer in rhythm); asterisks mark the ends of lines:

Fortz chausa dots page 1

Here’s my rough translation, to give an idea of the flavour of the piece:

It’s a harsh matter and certainly the most harmful, and the most grievous sorrow that ever was. This thing that should be mourned for all time with weeping, I must say it well in singing and must recount it. He who was of valiant men the captain and the father, the valiant king Richard, king of the English, he is dead – alas – what sorrow and what loss – what an unfriendly word and savage to hear. The man that can endure it has a hard heart indeed.

In the second verse, the poet goes on to compare Richard – favourably, of course – with Alexander the Great, Charlemagne and Arthur. In other versions, further verses lament the fate of the Holy Land now that Richard is no longer around to fight for it.

I have been learning the song, and I found it a little hard at first to get a handle on it, but the more you sing it the more interesting and satisfying it gets.  The melody is really unusual and in this version ends off the tonic – curious but beguiling! I am looking forward to singing it in concert, when it will be accompanied by the medieval lute.

While ‘Chose fort avias’ has been our major focus over the last week, we have also begun work on a wonderful piece of Aquitanian polyphony, the ‘Lux refulget’. This has some incredibly mobile melodic lines for us to master! Paul has begun work on Bernart de Ventadorn’s “La dousa votz’, and I have been working hard on ‘Man mei longe him lives wene’ and ‘Foweles in the Frith’: the latter sounds very sweet with both lines played on the harp. We will post up some sounds on Facebook soon!

 

 

 

My new thirteenth-century frock – part two

I’ve been hard at work on the new frock based on the Amesbury Psalter image. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been able to:

  • cut and assemble the lining of the overdress, and
  • decide on my embroidery design and begin the embroidery.

There were really helpful comments on ‘The Manuscript Challenge’ in response to my first blog. A great deal of debate centred on the pros and cons of using linen as a lining, as I had been intending. Linen is a very effective wick, and it will soak up water from the ground, causing not only itself but also any accompanying wool to become waterlogged. This has led many to choose not to use linen as a lining, and I was forced to reconsider this option. However, in the end I decided to stick with linen for the lining of my overdress. For one thing, the overdress is not full length and so should not come into contact with moist ground too easily. Secondly, I have actually pretty much always used linen for my linings, even on full-length dresses, and I have not found it too much of a problem (even in the English climate!) Having acquired a nice lightweight linen in red, I decided to use it as originally planned.

Measuring and cutting the pieces for the overdress lining gave me a chance to  experiment with the design, based on ideas from the St Claire of Assisi gown (below, right) and the Empress Matilda dalmatic (below left, details for both on my Pinterest):

st claire of assisiempress matilda

As can be seen, both of these extant garments allow for considerable extra volume with wide gores. Both have a relatively narrow central rectangular piece, with extra pieces added from the shoulder line and slanting out all the way to the bottom hem. These full length gores are on the reverse of the St Claire gown but on both front and back of the Empress Matilda dalmatic. The St Claire gown then has extra gores added lower down as well.

I wanted to have plenty of volume, and also front seams over the bust, that could be opened out for nursing purposes, so I had the full-length gores on the front and back of the garment – something like the Matilda dalmatic, but not so wide across the shoulder. Here’s the design I came up with, which is relatively close to the St Claire gown, but with full-length side gores and a simpler, more open sleeve.

COTE PLANS

This worked well and felt comfortable and voluminous when on while fitting nicely at the shoulders. This has provided me with the models for cutting the pattern pieces in wool for the outer of the overdress.

It was time to start on the outer. I wanted to establish the design of the pearly ‘stars’, and decided to cut the two sleeve pieces and work on them first. If the embroidery just didn’t work for some reason I would not have wasted too much of my beautifully soft blue woollen fabric! Starting with the sleeve also meant I could examine the original image and see how many ‘stars’ there were on the loose sleeve and get an idea of spacing on my garment. In the end I decided to go for ‘stars’ spaced 3.5 inches apart, measuring from centre to centre.

WP_20141031_003 WP_20141031_004

Each star is composed of (1) a central pearl of 5-6mm, surrounded by a circle of chain stitch in white linen and (2) an outer ring of six smaller pearls (4mm approx), each one again surrounded by a circle of chain stitch. It’s taken a bit of practice and some stars are better than others, but I am really pleased with the result.

The finished dress will have some weight to it, and I am looking forward to seeing how it will drape with the weight of the pearls.

It’s all taking some time! Basically, the shift took one day (6-8 hours), and the lining took another day (6-8 hours). The stars now take about 15-20 minutes each, and I am currently about one-third of the way through the second sleeve (and awaiting a new consignment of pearls). All in all, this is a true winter project which should keep me busy in between the novel-writing, recording of a new CD and the general music practice requirements… I expect my next ‘Manuscript Challenge’ post to be the completed overdress – sometime in January!