The Last of the Troubadours / Martin Best Medieval Ensemble
The Art and Times of Guiraut Riquier 1230-1292
Nimbus SAM 45008 (LP, 45 rpm - 30cm, Ambisonic UHJ Stero Compatible)
, 1981
Nimbus NI 5261, 1991

SIDE ONE  (21.50)
1a. The sack of Beziers  [1:14]
1b. Rassa tan creis  [1:58]

2. No·m say d'amour  [4:18]

3a. La segonda retroencha  [1:29]
3b. Planh for the Lord of Narbonne  [4:00]

4a. Au temps d'auost  [1:04]
4b. Cantiga  [1:37]   CSM 100

5. Fid e verays  [4:02]

6. Maravillosos et piadosos  [2:08]   CSM 139

SIDE TWO  (20.15)
1. La Redonda  [2:47]

2. Mais non faz  [2:19]   CSM 3

3. La Premieyra retroencha  [3:42]

4a. Jesu Crist  [1:36]
4b. Rossinyol  [0:38]
4c. Los Esclops  [1:08]

5. Ja mais non er  [3:39]

6a. Vers: Be·m clegra (Melody and English text)  [2:11]
6b. from 'La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise'  [0:46]
6c. Melody: Si tot me sui a tart apperceubutz  [1:27]

MARTIN BEST—Voice, lute, oud, psaltery.
JEREMY BARLOW—Recorders and pipes.
DAVID CORKHILL—Nakers, hammer dulcimer, tabors, drums, bells and timbrel.
ALASTAIR McLACHLAN—Rebecs and fidele.

Recorded, Mastered and Manufactured by Nimbus Records Ltd., Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Great Britain.
Recorded at Nimbus Records Studios, Monmouth, 6th-7th January 1981

Photograph of Martin Best: Tony Russell
Sleeve photograph: Gerald Reynolds
Design: Acrobat Design

It has been realized for many years that a higher rotational speed for a gramophone record gives lower levels of distortion and permits higher levels of signal to be replayed cleanly. The choice of speed involves a compromise. 331/3 rpm was adopted for the LP record at a time when cutting lathes could only achieve adequate length of side at this slower speed. Unfortunately 331/3 rpm is not ideal to achieve the highest levels and lowest distortion.
The recording techniques which Nimbus use make available a naturally wide dynamic range which puts great demands upon the transfer to disc and on the replay of the finished record. It is only recently with extensive research into new cutting techniques and further experience in record pressing that Nimbus can offer side lengths at 45 rpm up to 29 minutes and 24 to 26 minutes on most programme material. This means that the majority of musical items can now be accommodated on a 45 LP, with the benefit of improved sound quality, lower distortion and a more comfortable reproduction of wide dynamic range recordings even on modest equipment.

Full dynamic range recording.
This stereo record has been encoded from surround sound master tapes and conforms to the BBC/NRDC UHJ specifications.
Stereo playback will give enhanced depth. Surround playback through four loudspeakers using a UHJ decoder will reproduce the ambience of the original performance with improved fidelity. The Hafler loudspeaker arrangement, or Regular Matrix, QS or SQ decoders may also be used although precise results cannot be guaranteed due to variations in the specification of these decoding methods.
This record does not require any special pick-up cartridge to replay it either in stereo or surround. Simply treat it with the same care applied to any record.

Guiraut Riquier is the last known exemplar of the long tradition of sung poetry which began in South West France at the end of the 11th century. Guilhelm, ninth Duke of Aquitaine, was the first, and both had unique qualities. Guilhelm burst onto the scene with a voice almost frightening in its implications: sexual chaos, individual soul-searching, a love-ethic which embraced crude physical imagery, a passionate awareness of nature and an honesty in desire. He was new to his time, and shocking too. He started something which was to challenge feudal and church authority on a number of fundamental levels, but the troubadours of Occitania became too involved with the art which resulted and the sheer joy of self-expression to worry about the consequences. Come they did, however, in 1209, in the shape of the Albigensian crusades. These were proclaimed by Pope Innocent III to crush a widespread heresy centered on Albi which had attempted, in the hands of the Cathars, to withdraw from a corrupt orthodoxy into a simple black-and-white emulation of early Christianity. As was the nature of the times, all sorts were to clamber onto the band-wagon of the crusades and the political effects were profound. France regained feudal control of the county of Toulouse, centre of the South. A million people died in 35 years of war, and with it the vibrant culture which gave chivalry, and especially Love, a voice that reverberates today. The heresy never quite died, in spite of the vicious efforts of St. Dominic. It surfaced in Luther. But Occitania, Provence, in effect vanished.

This record begins with an evocation of the start of the Albigensian wars. Simon IV de Montfort led an army of French, Burgundians, Flemish and Normans (and some renegade knights from Languedoc) into Beziers, which they sacked on 22nd July 1209, ironically the feast of St. Mary.

Riquier was born about 20 years after this event, but his work is tinged with its effects. He believes in the old ways of troubadour art, the old values it represents, and he needs a patron. This record traces his wanderings in search of recognition. From about 1254 he remained in Narbonne, leaving in 1270 for the Court of Alfonso X of Castile, where he stayed until 1280; he spent the last 12 years of creative life at the Court of Henry II of Rodez. As he wandered, so he turned out regular quantities of song, dating each with a considered efficiency. His verse never quite gets off the ground, but when combined with his wide-ranging melodies its evocation of a dying culture is as powerful as Guilhelm the IX's is of one being born. Indeed, in these two men we have both the beginning and the end of the story.

Riquier's surviving melodies number 48. The selections on this record are approached with regard to both main rhythmic theories of transcription. This means, quite simply, that some songs are given with a rhythm which conforms to one of the six medieval options, and some are not. The choice is governed by the spirit of the song concerned, and by what can best be described as an informed instinct. This is manifestly the only course open to a 20th century performer, and it is also taken with regard to the accompaniment. The attempt is made to create an authentic 13th century atmosphere, using instruments of the period in a way which gives the overall performance unity. The hope is that the attempt is authentic for today.

© Martin Best, 1981


1a. The sack of Beziers and the siege of Carcassonne, 1209   [1:15]   spoken English text
From Adam John Munthe's book "A note that breaks the silence". (Bodley Head, 1977).

1b. Rassa tan creis   [1:59]   Bertran de BORN, melody only


2. No·m say d'amor   [4:11]   Guiraut RIQUIER, The 7th canso, 1259
— voice, oud, dulcimer, tenor recorder, rebec, fidele
In this canso, or love song, Riquier is playing a studious game with the refrain-words which close the eight lines of each stanza. He even manages to squeeze them all into the three-line tornada at the end. His desire for patronage from Almeric IV obliges him to flatter the Viscount while maintaining his word scheme. The images of love are conventional, but the melody is not, and the result is — despite the artifice — highly individual.

3a. La segonda retroencha   [3:59]   Guiraut RIQUIER, 1265
— oud, rebec, pipe, pottery nakers
This song is played as a dance, on instruments only. The retroencha is a strophic form with a refrain at the end of each stanza.

3b. Ples de tristor, marritz e dolorois   [1:26]   Guiraut RIQUIER, planh for the Lord of Narbonne, 1270
— voice, oud, dulcimer
The Planh, or lament for a dead leader, was a standard genre of the troubadours, and one of the fundamental expressions of chivalry. This is a fine example, in spite of the endless trouble taken by Riquier to maintain his rhyme scheme, and his pivoting of each stanza round the word "Narbona".

4a. Dance—songAu temps d'auost”   [1:02]   anonymous, French, 13th century.
— lute, pipe, rebec, drums
4b. Cantiga   [1:37]   anonymous, Spanish, 13th century   CSM 100
— lute, recorder, fidele, dulcimer, bells
Both of these instrumental pieces are popular in character and duple in meter. The first celebrates the month of August, the second praises the Virgin. The movement towards worship of Mary began in Cluny in the 12th century and found its flowering throughout Christendom in the ensuing 150 years. Riquier would have known such pieces and was himself to adopt the cult of the Virgin both openly and in his love songs. The Cantigas were songs collected and composed by Alfonso X el Sabio of Castile, and the inclusion of one at this point marks Riquier's departure from Narbonne, following the death of Almaric IV, and his journey to Castile to seek Alfonso's patronage.


5. Fis e verays   [3:56]   Guiraut RIQUIER, canso, 1265
— voice, psaltery, plucked fidele, recorder, pottery nakers
Riquier here adopts a rhyme pattern abbcdde, which alternates stanza by stanza with its own inversion. It seems that all is subservient to this purely technical exercise, but the melody gives Riquier's musings an effect of contemplation, as much as Machaut's lais were to do a hundred years later. In this song Belh Deport makes one of her many appearances. Some authorities maintain that she was Philippa d'Anduza, Viscountess of Narbonne, to whom Riquier is either expressing passion or addressing a need for patronage; others say that the senhal Belh Deport was a pseudonym for a love of the Virgin Mary. In any event, her qualities are always ideal, almost mystical, and in the face of them Riquier insists on his worthlessness. The deep connection between an idealised love of Woman and adoration of the Virgin should not surprise us: it was part of the whole thrust of medieval thought and remains today in many parts of the world.

6. Maravillosos et piadosos   [1:59]   13th century,
from the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso the Wise (or learned)
  CSM 139
— voice, lute, pipe, rebec, timbrel
Alfonso X of Castile is famous for his collection of cantigas, or popular songs in praise of the miracles of the Virgin, of which this is one. The collection of 450 songs is lavishly illustrated in vivid colour, and yields vital information on some 30 instruments in use at the time. This song follows the form of the French virelai, (refrain, verse, refrain) as do the majority of the cantigas, and give further indication of the universal nature of Christendom's developing devotion to the Virgin as the bearer of personal prayers to a newly accessible God.


1. La Redonda   [2:50]   Guiraut RIQUIER, canso, 1270
— voice, lute, pottery nakers
In his exhaustive work on Riquier, Joseph Anglade identifies his essential quality as effortless facility. While this may not always be born out by results, Riquier, in "La Redonda", brings off a fascinating sound pattern based on three distinct
rhyme endings in each 12 line stanza, which alternate within 4-line sections. The effect, when combined with his flowing melody, is an enchantment of repeated yet subtly different sounds. Hence the song's title of Redonda, or "round and round" song. It is addressed to Belh Deport, to knowledgeable poets, and to Alfonso the Wise, and is one of the finest cansos in the troubadour repertory.

2. Mais non faz   [2:16]   Villancico (13th century), from las Cantigas de Alfonso el Sabio   CSM 3
— voice, oud, tambourine, bells, rebec, recorder
"Villancico" is a little song on a religious theme, and follows the French virelai form. This example has been transcribed into duple time, and is in the Galician dialect of Santiago de Compostela.

3. La Premieyra retroencha   [3:38]   Guiraut RIQUIER, 1270: In praise of the Catalans
— voice, psaltery, rebec, dulcimer, finger cymbals
A retroencha, like the French routrouenge, is a song with a refrain. Riquier is one of several troubadours who praise Catalonia, but this complete eulogy is unique. Behind it lies, possibly, Riquier's endless search for patronage and recognition. In 1270 several courses had been possible for him, one of which was in the direction of a Catalan court, perhaps that of the Viscount of Cardone. Its rhyme scheme of alternating line endings and its lilting melody give it an atmosphere of simplicity and charm.
In Riquier's imagery there are, consciously or otherwise, echoes of the great 12th century troubadour Bernart de Ventadorn. Knowing nothing about the ways of love, the seeking of the path of real, or pure, love, and the whole sense of departure are all features of Bernart's famous song "Can vei la lauzeta".


Riquier's hopes of patronage and recognition from Alfonso X of Castille were, by 1279, obviously to remain unfulfilled. The king was preoccupied with domestic political problems, and after nine years Riquier was disillusioned. He left Spain in 1279, travelling back to France along the pilgrim route. The new Viscount of Narbonne, Almeric V, was not particularly involved with Provençal poetry, and most of Riquier's friends and colleagues were dead or very old. He offered his services to Henry II of Rodez, one of the most enlightened rulers of the time.

4a. Jesu Crist   [1:38]   Guiraut RIQUIER, vers, 1275
— solo voice
A vers is simply a poem or song, as opposed to the love-song or canso. Riquier began to compose religious songs in 1263. They were all couched in terms which enabled his mystical love for Belh Deport to be transformed into his adoration of the Virgin. "Jesu Crist" is the first of his songs addressed directly to Christ, and marks the beginning of his last creative period, hence its move to this point from 4 years before his arrival in Rodez. The moral tone of the song is characteristic of Riquier at this stage of his life, as it was in that of the so-called first troubadour, Guilhelm IX of Aquitaine. Ambition and love are embers, preparing for heaven is now the proper medieval preoccupation.

4b. Rossinyol   [0:37]   trad. Catalonia
solo pipe
This traditional air from Catalonia seems apt for this moment in the programme: its original text asks the nightingale to fly to France and carry home news of the exile.

4c. Los Esclops   [1:05]   trad. Languedoc
lute, rebec, tabor, pipe
A traditional dance from Languedoc, in the centre of which Rodez lies. Its quick 6/8 rhythm is characteristically medieval, though it was collected in the 1950's. "Esclops" is the occitan word for "shoes".

5. Ja mais non er   [3:32]   Guiraut RIQUIER, vers, 1286
— voice, psaltery, dulcimer, rebec, recorder
Moral and satirical songs form an important part of the troubadour repertory. From the mid 12th century, they warn against breaking the feudal code, attack the wealth and vices of the clergy, and exhort knights to go on crusade. In this vers Riquier begins to admit not merely his own failure, but that of the whole troubadour tradition to preserve itself through the Albigensian wars. He blames "evil", but in truth the song is a lament for what, in the midst of all his efforts, he genuinely loves. Unwittingly, this makes the song original, and its effect is once again heightened by an unusual melody, not unreminiscent of Lennon and McCartney's "Norwegian Wood". It is Riquier's last surviving music.

6a. Be·m clegra de chantar tener   [2:10]   Guiraut RIQUIER, vers, 1284; melody only
— voice, pipe, psaltery, rebec
Spoken text translated by Jack Lindsay.

6b. from 'La Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise'   [0:46]  spoken English text
Attack on Simon IV of Montfort, leader of the French forces in the wars against the South until 1218.

6c. Si tot me sui a tart aperceubutz   [1:32]   melody by Folquet de MARSELHA
lute, pipe, drum, rebec, bells
Folquet de Marselha (1160-1231), Bishop of Toulouse and a one-time troubadour, he became a leading supporter of Simon de Montfort and a vicious protagonist in the Albigensian Crusade.

Nimbus NI 5261, 1991

[liner notes from

The Last of the Troubadours

Guiraut Riquier is the last known exemplar of the long tradition of sung poetry which began in South West France at the end of the 11th century. Despite the fact he was born 20 years afterwards, his work was clearly overshadowed by the 35 year long war between Pope Innocent II and the Cathars who had rejected corrupt orthodox religion in favour of simple, early Christianity. Riquier's art, in the wake of the bitter war, showed a similar nostalgic yearning for the simple pleasures of bygone, pre-war days.

This collection is structured around Riquier 's life, offering works from each period selected from the 48 melodies that survive. Riquier spent the years 1254-70 at Narbonne, and it was here that he composed No·m say d'amor (1259). In this canso, conventional images of love are contradicted by an unusual melody and innovative word scheme in which each stanza ends with the same word 'escorja'. La segonda retroencha (1265) in strophic form (in which there is a refrain at the end of each stanza) is played here as a dance, on instruments only. There follows an example of the plahn, a genre in which the death of a leader, in this case the Lord of Narbonne, is lamented, grief being a fundamental expression of chivalry. In this form, as in others, there is a self-referential element despite the fact that the song is dedicated to the glory of another. Riquier makes it known that it had been 'for the sake of justice [his words] were made'.

Two instrumental pieces follow, the first celebrates the month of August, and the second, an anonymous Spanish Cantiga (see NI 5081) is dedicated to the Virgin Mary who became something of a cult during the 13th century. Riquier, who resided at the Court of Alfonso X for ten years (1270-80) openly adopted this gentle, feminine face of Christianity and worshipped her in his own songs. Fid e verays, (1275) is devoted to the 'Belh of Deport' thought to be a pseudonym for Philippa d'Anduza, Viscountess of Narbonne, although it has been suggested that it is a name for the Virgin Mary. Songs dedicated to a goddess-like and therefore 'super-human' female often assumed a similarly ambiguous nature, whereby religious and earthly love are inextricably linked. Maravillosos et piadosos is another cantiga belonging to Alfonso X's extensive collection in which the Virgin represents a newly accessible God.

In La Redonda (round and round) (1270), Riquier successfully coordinates a fascinating sound pattern based on three distinct rhyme endings which alternate within four-line sections in each stanza. The effect, when combined with the sweeping melody line, is an enchanting mixture of repeated and yet subtly different sounds. Mais non faz, a Spanish Cantiga transcribed into duple time is a short dedication to the Virgin in the Galician dialect of Santiago di [sic] Compostela. La premieyra retroencha, the retroencha being a form which, like the French routrouenge incorporates a refrain, is a eulogy of Catalonia, where Riquier says he will take refuge since he is unable to please his lady. It has been suggested that Riquier's unfulfilled quest for love reflected his need for official recognition in the form of a patron, to which Alfonso X did not respond. He left Spain in 1279 and returned to France where the new Viscount of Narbonne, Almeric V showed no particular interest in Provençal poetry and music, and so he offered his services to Henry II of Rodez.

Jesu Crist was the first of Riquier's religious songs to address Christ directly and marks the beginning of his last creative period in which religion began to play an increasingly prominent role. The moral tone of this self-denigrating poem which is set in the vers form (simply a poem or song, as opposed to a love-song) is typical of Riquier during the latter years of his life which he intended to 'live only to please' God. Two traditional instrumental pieces follow, the first, a Catalonian air for solo pipe is followed by Los Esclops (lit. 'shoes'), a dance from the region Languedoc, where Rodez is centrally situated. Ja mais non er, (1286) is Riquier's last surviving piece in which the death of the troubadour tradition is bitterly lamented. He is deeply despondent at how 'far into the depths the world has sunk', and become a place where 'Evil's so proud, they've put good up for sale'. The world of Riquier's old age 'no longer' welcomes 'lovely words and pleasing sounds' as it once did in days gone by.

© 1999 Martin Best/Nimbus Records
℗ 1981 Nimbus Communication International Limited