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"Leuven Chansonnier" [Vol. 1]

Sollazzo Ensemble
Dir: Anna Danilevskaia

rec: Jan 2019, Antwerp, AMUZ
Passacaille - PAS1054 (© 2019) (61'38")
Liner-notes: E/F/IT/NL; lyrics - translations: E/NL
Cover & track-list

anon: Escu d'ennuy; Helas, l'avoy je desservy; Henri Phlippet; J'ay des semblans; J'ay pris amours; Ravi d'amours, despourveu de bon sens; Tant est mignonne; Tousdis vous voit; ?Gilles BINCHOIS (c1400-1460) / ?Guillaume DUFAY (1397-1474): Je ne vis onques la pareille; MICHELET (15th C): S'il advient que m on dueil me tue; Gilles MUREAU (c1450-1512): Je ne fays plus; Johannes OCKEGHEM (c1410-1497): D'un aultre amer; Fors seullement; Ma bouche rit

Perrine Devillers, Yukie Sato, soprano; Vivien Simon, tenor; Johanna Bartz, flute; Sophia Danilevskaia, Anna Danilevskaia, fiddle; Christoph Sommer, lute

In the course of history, large amounts of music of different kinds were written for all sorts of occasions. It indicates the importance of music in everyday life, but also as a manifestation of power and influence. The further we go back in time, the smaller the number of compositions that have been preserved. We have to assume that today we only know a very small portion of what was written. That goes in particular for the time before the invention of music printing. Music of that period has been preserved exclusively in manuscript. Paper was expensive and was often reused, if the texts or the music on it were no longer needed. It does not happen that often that a collection of music from that period is rediscovered. But exactly such a rediscovery is the raison d'être of a series of recordings, of which the present disc is the first.

In 2015 the Alamire Foundation in Leuven was approached by an art dealer, who wanted advice on a small manuscript with music. It was discovered that it was a hitherto unknown song book, a so-called chansonnier. The book was purchased by the Léon Courtin-Marcelle Bouché Fund, which deposited it with the Alamire Foundation. As the original owner is not known, it is now called the Leuven Chansonnier. However, the coat of arms of the Duke of Savoye-Nemours at the flyleaf suggests that the manuscript may have been part of the library of Jacques de Savoye, the second Duke of Nemours (1531-1585).

The songbook includes fifty items: one sacred piece and 49 chansons on French texts (*). None of the pieces mentions the name of the composer. However, as a number of pieces are known from other sources, it was possible to identify the composers of 26 pieces. The composers are all from the 15th century, which indicates that Jacques de Savoye, if this manuscript indeed was part of his library, was not the first owner. As was the custom in the 15th century, all chansons are for three voices (except one, which is in fofour parts). Twelve pieces are not known from any other source; these are so-called unica. This very fact is unique indeed, as this means that with this songbook the repertoire of 15th-century French songs is substantially extended.

Four of these pieces are part of this recording, which comprises fourteen chansons from the collection altogether. More than half of them, among them the four unica, are anonymous. Among the composers, who could be identified, we find some of the best-known of the 15th century, such as Johannes Ockeghem, Gilles Binchois and Guillaume Dufay. Je ne vis onques la pareille is attributed to one of the latter two in various sources. We also find some little-known names among the composers. S'il advient que mon dueil me tue appears in six different chansonniers, which indicates that it was rather well-known. Unfortunately none of the sources includes the name of the composer. A manuscript from a later time gives the composer's name as Michelet, who has not been identified, and is not mentioned in New Grove. The second unknown is Gilles Mureau, a French singer and composer, who worked for most of his life in Chartres. Je ne fays plus appears also in other sources, and in some it is attributed to Antoine Busnoys and to Loyset Compère; the latter is considered unlikely.

All but two of these chansons have the form of a rondeau. The exceptions are Ockeghem's Ma bouche rit and the anonymous Tousdis vous voit, which are of the virelai type. The latter closes this disc on a rather cheerful note, as most of the chansons are of a much more gloomy nature, focussing on the trials and tribulations of love. Fors seullement is one of the most sour: "Save only the expectation that I shall die, no hope remains in my weary heart, for my misery torments me so very bitterly that there is no pain I do not feel because of you, since I am quite certain of losing you".

The singers have perfectly caught the character of these songs. With their way of singing, the content is communicated eloquenty even to those, who don't have the text at hand. In the closing song that I just mentioned, they sing a different tune and are just as convincing. The three voices blend perfectly here, as they do in the other chansons. As these pieces are based on counterpoint, in which each part is equally important, it is vital that there is a good balance between voices and instruments, and exactly that is the case here. Since this ensemble was founded, it has received many glowing reviews for their live performances and recordings, and rightly so. I have had the pleasure of hearing them in several live performances, and was struck by the quality of their singing and playing. That is not any different here. This is a top class recording of top class repertoire.

This disc comes as Volume 1. I assume that a complete recording of the Leuven Chansonnier is planned. When the chansonnier was first performed live, three other ensembles took care of other parts of the collection: the Ensemble Leones, Park Collegium and the Huelgas Ensemble. Can we expect them to record the ensuing volumes? The booklet does not inform us about that. This is the only issue of this production: the liner-notes don't give any information about the chansons or the composers, nor are we informed about which singers and/or instrumentalists can be heard in every single piece. Two items are performed instrumentally; it is nice that their text is printed, but given their short playing time, the original structure is not maintained.

(*) Table of contents

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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