The Romance of the Rose / Heliotrope
Feminine Voices from Medieval France

Koch International 7103

01 - Estampie Roine Blance      [2:33]
adapted and arranged J. Todd
Cox, Kammen, Robberson, Todd

02 - A chantar m'er de so qu'ieu non volria      [8:31]
Trobairitz lyric: Contessa de DIE ca. 1200 Paris, Blb. Nat. MS
Todd, Cox, Kammen, Swastler

03 - Three songs from Guillaume de Dole, The Romance of the Rose
Todd, Kammen     [9:00]
a)  Siet soit Bele Aye      [1:54]
anon. 13th C; melody J. Todd
b)  La Bele Doe siet au vent      [3:38]
c)  Quant revient la sesons      [3:28]
anon. 13th C; melodies adapted from Gace BRULE

04 - Estampie Guiraut Riquier      [2:36]
arranged J. Todd
Cox, Kammen, Robberson, Todd

05 - Per joi que d'amor m'avegna      [10:10]
Trobairitz lyric: CASTELLOZA ca. 1200, New York, Morgan Library 819;
melody: Guiraut de BORNELH
Todd, Cox, Kammen, Robberson

06 - Bele Yolanz en ses chambres seoit      [4:57]
anon. chanson de toile, 13th C Paris, Bib. Nat. F. fr. 20050

07 - Bele Doette as fenestre se siet      [9:30]
anon. chanson de toile, 13th C Paris, Bib. Nat. F. fr. 20050
Todd, Cox

08 - Estampie Marcabru      [3:08]
Arr. J. Todd
Kammen, Tayler, Todd

09 - Estat ai en grue cossirier      [4:18]
Trobairitz lyric: Contessa de DIE, Rome, Bib. Vat. 5232;
melody: Raimon de MIRAVAL

10 - Estampie Bele li gossi      [3:41]
Arr. R. Whelden/S. Kammen
Cox, Kammen, Robberson, Todd

11 - Jherusalem, grant damage me fais      [4:47]
anon. chanson de femme, 13th C. Paris, Bib. Nat. F. fr. 844;
melody: Gace BRULE
Todd, Kammen, Swastler

Joyce Todd

Joyce Todd · soprano, percussion, harp
Natalie Cox · harp
Shira Kammen · vielle, rebec
Kit Robberson · vielle
Kim Swatsler · hurdy-gurdy, monochord
David Tayler · oud

Recorded at St. Vincent's School for Boys, San Rafael, CA
Mastered by Peter Nothnagle
#1 2 4 5 10:
Recorded July, 1995
Produced and engineered by Jack Vad.
#3 6 7 8 9 11:
Recorded November', 1995
Produced and engineered by David Tayler.


The Tradition

The poetic traditions of medieval France produced the first great flowering of vernacular lyric poetry in Western Europe. This recording features songs by the women troubadours or trobairitz from southern France, and also women's songs or chansons de femme from the trouvère tradition in the North. The songs of the trobairitz were composed in Old Occitan (langue d'oc) while the anonymous poets of the chansons de femme composed their songs in Old French (langue d'oil). These repertoires, though composed in different languages and regions, are two branches of the same tradition. In fact, the words troubadour, trobairitz and trouvère are all derived from the same Occitan root, "trobar," meaning "to compose, to invent, to look for."

The troubadour tradition, of which the trobairitz and trouvères are distinct parts, began as early as the 11 th century and continued until the mid-13th century. This poetic and musical culture was not a written culture; thus, the poems of the troubadours, trobairitz and trouvères developed within an oral tradition, in some cases for as long as 150 years before being anthologized in manuscripts in the 13th and 14th century. These manuscripts were compiled after the tradition had for the most part ceased, and scholars are not sure whether there were any previous written sources for the songs or whether they were written down from memory by the scribes. The troubadour tradition's long "prescribal" existence has been pieced together by historians despite the scarcity of written evidence, and it seems clear that the poets relied on memory as the primary means of transmission of their works.

Though most written literary traditions value permanence, originality and ownership, the troubadours, trobairitz, and trouvères could not depend on a stable text since their works were likely to undergo changes as they were learned and relearned by various singers. Poems were learned by memory, and were commonly sent to an intended audience via a "messenger" who was perhaps another poet or jongleur, a performer who may have been in the employ of a poet or acting independently. The presence of this oral tradition is evident in the fact that many of the poems exist in different versions in several manuscripts. In the troubadour tradition, singers who could improve upon a song were celebrated while those who misunderstood the essence of a song, and thereby corrupted it, were criticized. Troubadour scholar Amy Van Vleck writes that this tradition depended on the interplay between "the original poet, the performer (who recomposes), and the auditor (who reconstructs the message in his mind) . . . [where] each new learner of a song speaks partly with the voice of the original poet and partly with his own voice."

The trobairitz repertory is unique in being the largest body of women's lyric poetry to have been composed in the medieval period. The poems of the sixteen trobairitz who are named in the manuscripts were composed between 1170 and 1260, during the latter part of the troubadour tradition. Much research has been directed in recent years toward the status of women in medieval culture. Historians have documented that women experienced a general decline in social position from the 10th to the 13th century, yet they have also shown that women did temporarily recover several important legal rights during a period roughly corresponding to the activities of the trobairitz. These rights, to hold property, administer estates, and create wills, are indications of a society which fostered the participation of noble women in diverse aspects of medieval culture.

The comparatively large trobairitz repertory provides evidence that the tradition of courtly love or fin amors in which these poets worked did not exclude the participation of women. Women were not only the objects of desire of the male poets, but also singers, jongleurs, composers, and suitors in their own right. Marriages were not expected to be accompanied by love, and, especially for women, were often arranged for political expediency and at a very young age. In this culture courtly love was more likely to be expressed outside the boundaries of marriage. According to the conventions of courtly love, a poet vows selfless service to a beloved, who was often the spouse of another noble. These conventions can be viewed as a code of love which served as the inspiration for poetry as an end in itself, as well as a practical means to attain the object of desire.

The Songs

The two trobairitz represented on this recording, the Comtessa de Die and Castelloza were active in the early 13th century. Though nothing is known for certain of their lives or identities, their poems present two highly individualized voices within the trobairitz repertory. The Comtessa de Die's "I must sing of that which I would rather not" (A chantar m'er de so qu'ieu non volria) laments the singer's betrayal of her loved one, while at the same time reminding her lover and her audience of her fine qualities as a beautiful and courtly woman. This same confident tone, which combines lamentation with a declaration of self-worth, is maintained in the Comtessa's "Lately I have been in great distress" (Estat ai en greu cossirier). In this seduction song, the singer, having loved to excess (sobrier), describes the pleasure her chevalier would feel if she let him lean his head against her breast, and hold him in her bare arms (bratz nut). In the last verse she makes the conditions of the seduction clear when she says: "I would gladly have you in my husband's place, if you would swear to do my bidding." In contrast to the Comtessa's pride, the poems of Castelloza reveal a suitor who feels powerless to succeed in attaining the object of her desires. In the song, "For the joy that comes to me from love, I'll no longer care to rejoice" (Per joi que d'amor m'avenga) the singer seems to relish the defeats of love, thanking her beloved even for her sufferings, for these are all that she receives from him. Castelloza's songs give voice to a deep despair that has earned her the title of "dark lady" of medieval song, and, in her own time, her finely crafted poems brought her honor and stature as a trobairitz.

Many of the women's songs from the North were chansons de toile, sometimes translated as "spinning songs," in reference to the activity which occupied women throughout the year, the spinning of yarn for weaving. These chansons are romantic narratives which tell the stories of female protagonists, who are usually of noble origins. The songs typically begin by naming the heroine: bele Doette, bele Yolanz or bele Aye; they then describe what she is doing: sitting by the window, sewing or reading a book. Such formulaic beginnings introduce a great variety of narratives, some tragic, some seductive, and some humorous. Bele Doette narrates the story of a young woman whose husband Doon is away at a tournament. Such tournaments were popular peacetime opportunities for knights to practice their battle skills. Knights could benefit financially by capturing their competitors, and these contests were not infrequently fatal. In the song, a messenger arrives to tell Doette the news that Doon was killed while jousting. Doette's grief prompts her to become the powerful abbess of an abbey which she builds for those who suffer from love. The song's beautiful, repetitive melody and plaintive refrain express Doette's lament. Bele Yolanz, sounding a lighter note, describes the meeting of two lovers after a long separation. This song ends happily, for the lovers "lie together, in the French manner, upon a fine bed."

The third source of songs for the present recording is the important 13th-century romance by Jean Renart: The Romance of the Rose or Guillaume de Dole (not to be confused with the better-known Romance of the Rose written by Guillaume de Lorris.) The "rose" of the title refers not to the flower but to the heroine Lïenor's birthmark, "the great marvel of the crimson rose on her soft white thigh." In this story, Conrad, the King of Germany, falls in love with Lïenor, sister to the gallant and brave knight Guillaume de Dole, who has become the king's best friend. However, a jealous vassal (seneschal) of the king, who fears his privileges will be usurped by Guillaume, plots to ruin Lïenor's honor, and tricks her mother into telling him about the "rose" on her thigh. The seneschal then claims to have "deflowered" Lïenor, using the intimate knowledge he has pried from her mother. Lïenor is thought guilty by all, including her brother Guillaume, but through an ingenious plan, she manages to outsmart the seneschal, prove her innocence, and marry the king. Besides being of great interest to feminist literary scholars, the Romance is important as a document of early 13th century culture, diet and dress. It is also a unique source for medieval chansons which are skilfully woven into the fabric of the narrative. The present recording includes two chansons de toile sung in the Romance by the heroine Lïenor, and a trouvère song-fragment sung by a jongleuresse introduced as "the beautiful Doette from Troyes."

The Music

The poems of the trobairitz and the chansons de toile have survived almost entirely without melodies. This situation is not unusual since out of all the songs in the medieval manuscripts, less than one tenth appear with musical notation. When melodies do accompany the poems, the notation does not, as far as we know, indicate rhythm, nor does it give any indication of meter, tempo, or accompaniment. I have drawn on melodies from contemporaneous manuscripts to create settings for these poems, a solution which is fully consistent with the medieval predilection for borrowing, adapting, and copyrighting from existing sources. The instrumental accompaniments and the instrumental dances have been created using medieval forms as guidelines, though they are nevertheless a modern musician's contribution to the repertory. Perhaps in this performance we can assume a place in the troubadour tradition by speaking partly with the voices of the original poetesses, and partly with our own.

© 1995, Joyce E. Todd
University of Pennsylvania

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