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Guillaume COSTELEY (c1530 - 1606): "Mignonne allons voir si la Rose"

Ludus Modalis
Dir: Bruno Boterf

rec: Nov 2011, Brémontier-Merval, Église Saint-Martin
Ramée - RAM 1301 (© 2012) (71'54")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Allez mes premieres amours; Allons au vert boccage; Bouche qui n'as point de semblable; Chassons ennuy; Dialogue de l'homme et son coeur (Arreste un peu mon coeur); Du clair soleil; Esprit doux de bonne nature; Fantasie sur orgue ou espinette; Grosse Garce noire et tendre; J'ayme mon Dieu; Je plains le temps; La terre les eaux va buvant; Las je n'eusse jamais pensé; Las je n'yray plus; Le plus grand bien; Mignonne, allon voir si la Roze; Muses chantez; Perrette disoit Jehan; Prise du Havre (Approche toy); Puisque la loy; Quand l'ennuy facheux vous prend; Quand le Berger; Seigneur Dieu, ta pitié; Sus debout, gentils Pasteurs; Sy c'est un grief tourment; Toutes les nuitz; Venez dancer au son de ma musette

Source: Musique, 1570

Annie Dufresne, Nathalie Marec, soprano; Sophie Toussaint, contralto; Jean-Christophe Clair, alto; Bruno Boterf, Reinoud Van Mechelen, tenor; François Fauché, bass; Freddy Eichelberger, harpsichord

If I am not mistaken the Italian madrigal of the 16th century is more popular among performers than French chansons of the same period. Some French ensembles, such as Dominique Visse's Ensemble Clément Janequin, regularly perform this repertoire and have made many recordings, but overall the catalogue includes more discs with Italian music than the kind of repertoire which is the subject of this disc. That is probably because the Italian madrigal is considered more expressive than its French counterpart. This particular disc shows that this is a prejudice. Mareover, various composers of the renaissance contributed to both genres, such as Orlandus Lassus and Jacques Arcadelt.

Guillaume Costeley is a most interesting composer whose oeuvre is relatively small if one compares it with that of, for instance, Claude Le Jeune or Clément Janequin. One of the reasons is that he published only one collection, in 1570, and seems to have written nothing since. He was born in 1530/31 in Fontanges-en-Auvergne and arrived in Paris probably in 1554. Some years later he entered the service of the court. I mentioned Jacques Arcadelt not without a reason: there are suggestions that Costeley might have been connected in one way or another with that composer from the Franco-Flemish school. Another connection has been suggested: between Costeley and Pierre Sandrin. Costeley seems to have been interested in the microtonal theories of Nicola Vicentino which he might have become acquainted with through Sandrin. The latter was at the service of Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, and so was Vicentino. Sandrin visited Paris in 1557 and both men could wel have met. Costeley's interest in these theories come to the fore in one of his chansons, Seigneur Dieu a pitié. The French court was receptive to Italian influences anyway as it was dominated by Catherine de' Medici, the Queen Mother.

As a servant of King Charles IX it was not only Costeley's duty to compose chansons for the singers of the royal chamber, he was also responsible for the musical education of the dauphin. It contributed to his reputation which at the time of the publication of his Musique was such that some of the leading poets of his time considered him as their equal. He was also a member of Antoine de Baïf's Académie which received its royal charter in 1570. Costeley seems to have been quite a wealthy man at that time. He married and settled in Evreux in Normandie, which meant that he was only in Paris for three months a year. This could also have been the reason that no new compositions came from his pen.

The collection which was printed under the title of Musique includes pieces of various forms and content. These are summed up in the dedication by the composer: "Martial, serious, exalting, civil & comic songs". These are all represented in the selection made for this recording. Prise du Havre is chosen as an example of a 'martial song'. There are some reminiscences of Janequin's Bataille but it is rather different, and has also a spiritual ending: "Praised be God, the king of our desire". There are several chansons with a spiritual content which can be ranked among the 'serious' pieces. J'ayme mon Dieu (I love my God, and his holy word), Sus debout, gentils Pasteurs (Come, awake, gentle shepherds) and Seigneur Dieu, ta pitié (Lord God, extend your mercy to me) are three specimens. Obviously a number of chansons are devoted to happy or unhappy love. Among them are Mignonne, allon voir si la Roze, Le plus grand bien and Sy c'est un grief tourment. Examples of light-hearted chansons are Chassons ennuy, Allons au vert boccage and Venez dancer au son de ma musette.

The forms and textures are different as well. There are chansons with stanzas of three lines (Je plains de temps), but also a sonnet (Du clair soleil). Some chansons are dominated by polyphony, others are mostly homophonic. Seigneur Dieu, ta pitié, with its remarkable harmonies, has already been mentioned. Interesting is also Dialogue de l'homme et de son coeur, a dialogue between a man and his heart which is exposed through the division of the five voices between a high (middle voices and soprano) and a low 'choir' (middle voices and bass).

A number of chansons the voices are supported by the harpsichord. This is not a basso continuo part; the harpsichord plays colla voce. I don't know what the justification for this practice is; the liner-notes don't mention the issue. It seems that these chansons could also be performed at the keyboard. After all, Costeley was also organist. In this recording Freddy Eichelberger plays several chansons. He adds the only extant keyboard piece from Costeley's pen, Fantaisie sur orgue ou espinette.

I have reviewed two other discs by Ludus Modalis in recent years, and I greatly enjoyed them both. That isn't any different this time. First of all, Bruno Boterf and his colleagues deserve much praise for their choice of repertoire. This is music which is rarely performed, although it is of superior quality. They have made a nice selection which demonstrates the versatility of Costeley's compositions. This ensemble's singing is superb: the singers have all beautiful voices which blend perfectly. They show great responsiveness to the text and those parts of the text which are clearly depicted in the music are conveyed to the full. Freddy Echelberger plays a beautiful harpsichord strung with gut and brass which results in a remarkable sound.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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