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"Under der Linden - Gesänge der Minnesänger"

Ensemble Céladon
Dir: Paulin Bündgen

rec: April 2022, Lyon, Lycée Saint-Louis-Saint-Bruno (chapel)
Ricercar - RIC 447 (© 2022) (75'12")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Bruder WERNHER (1225-1250): Ich buwe eyn hus; DIETMAR VON AIST (1115-1171): Der Winter waere mir ein zit; FRAUENLOB (Heinrich VON MEISSEN) (1250/60-1318): Gar starc bekannt ist der helffant; Lucas uns melt im anderen capitel; [KONRAD] MARNER (1270-?): Ir schauwent an die cleyn ameyß; KONRAD VON WÜRZBURG (1225/30-1287): Do ich mich übt der seiten klang; Albrecht LESCH (?-1393): Zuch durch die Wolken; ROBIN (13th C): Nieman tzu vrosol prysen; TANNHÄUSER (fl 1245-1265): Avianuß der frey poet; Der UNVERZAGTE (1280-?): Der kuninc Rodolp; WALTHER VON DER VOGELWEIDE (1170-1230: Under der Linden

Clara Coutouly, soprano; Paulin Bündgen, alto; Gwénaël Bihan, recorder, flute; Nolwenn Le Guern, fiddle, crwth; Florent Marie, lute; Caroline Huynh Van Xuan, organetto

The Ensemble Céladon recorded specimens of a most intriguing repertoire: medieval German songs. The best-known representative of this repertoire is Walther von der Vogelweide. This Minnesinger and Spruch poet has left more material to perform than others, and this explains that the latter are far lesser-known. The main exception to the rule may be the poet known as Frauenlob. The virtue of this disc is the inclusion of songs by a number of other poet/singers from the German Middle Ages.

If one purchases this disc, it is useful to first read the liner-notes by Michael Eberle, who gives much information about the various genres and the authors of the texts. The latter are mostly called Minnesänger, but Eberle points out that there was a difference between Minnesang and Spruchsang. "The two disciplines differed not only in theme and form, but also in their creators: MinnesangSpruchsang was practised by travelling professional poets and singers." The basis of the classical Minnesang was unattainable love, but the reason changed from geographical distance to a difference in rank between knight and lady. This indicates that Minnesang was not a real love song, but rather "a courtly game in which the singer consciously adopted the role of the lover and created a fictitious amorous relationship for the diversion of the court." In contrast, the Spruchsang "was practised by professional poet-singers who resided at various courts and were financially rewarded for their art." Their songs deal with different subjects, and include comments of a political, religious or philosophical nature. They also praise or criticise people at the court where the poet-singers were employed.

The two kinds of songs are also different in form. "In formal terms, the Spruchsang differed from the Minnesang mainly in the use of the so-called tones - metrical schemes laid down by the poet that were also linked to a melody by the late Middle Ages at the latest - to which the stanzas of one or more songs were fitted. The bar form (AAB) that was generally used in Minnesang and which originated in the art of the French trouvères also came to be used in Spruchsang from Walther von der Vogelweide onwards." Eberle also points out that the skills which were the foundation of the Spruchsang resulted in a self-esteem among the poet-singers which was a kind of compensation to their social class and their economic dependence. "This is reflected in the concept of masterhood, which shaped the singers' concept of themselves and governed their disputes."

The earliest poet represented here is Dietmar von Aist. He is considered one of the main representatives of the first epoch of Danubian Minnesang. The fact that he was still known in the 13th century attests to his status. According to New Grove, no music by him has survived. Eberle does not go that far, but mentions that at least the majority of the 45 stanzas and 17 tones attributed to him in three important manuscripts may not by him at all, and therefore Der Winter waere mir ein zît is also of dubious authenticity. The melody is taken from Quan vei la lauzeta mover by the troubadour Bernat de Ventadorn.

Most poet-singers in the programme are from the 13th century. Konrad von Würzburg was a professional poet and worked for several patrons on the Lower and Upper Rhine before settling in Basel. He contributed to both and Spruchsang. Do ich mich übt der seiten klang is a song about his own art, the "meistersang". It is not known whether the word Bruder (brother) in the name of Bruder Wernher indicates that he was a monk; Eberle states that it may also have been used metaphorically for his pilgrim-like life of a wandering singer. In Ich buwe eyn hus he complains about his financial status, and refers to the transience of life. The poet known as Der Tannhäuser worked at the Viennese court; he took part in a crusade or prilgrimage to the Holy Land. His poetry has strong autobiographical traits, but Eberle states that these should not be taken as historical truth. Avianuß der frey poet is performed here in an instrumental arrangement.

Frauenlob is the only poet-singer who is represented with more than one piece. His real name was Heinrich von Meißen and he worked in Central Germany. Gar starc bekannt ist der hellfant follows the piece by Konrad von Würzburg, and that makes much sense, as the latter mocked Frauenlob in verse, whereas the former wrote a lament on the latter's death. The piece performed here is one of many from the Middle Ages which mention several animals; recently the Ensemble Dragma devoted an entire disc to this kind of songs, albeit from a later time, and from Italy and France. The mention of the snake is a bridge to the religious part of the poem. The second poem is more clearly sacred in character: Lucas vns melt is about Simeon, living in close connection to God, expecting the coming of Christ, as the Gospel after Luke tells us.

The Christian name Konrad seems to have been given in later times to a certain Marner; he was a Spruchdichter from Upper Germany. He also wrote poems in Latin, and Walther von der Vogelweide was his model. Ir schauwent an die cleyn ameyß is another 'animal' poem; in this case the ant is used to communicate the message: just like the ant in the summer prepares for the winter, man should prepare for the Last Judgment.

Another composer whose real name is not known ist Der Unverzagte - which means "the dauntless one". New Grove writes: "His name may derive from his bold expressions of open criticism, directed not so much at political or socio-political situations (as with Walther von der Vogelweide) as at the personal characteristics of kings and royal lords, their generosity or meanness, justice or injustice, artistic sensitivity or philistinism, and so on." An example is Der kvnic Rodolp, referring to Rudolf I of Habsburg, king of Germany and of Rome. He is praised for his prowess and his courtesy, but the end includes the sting: his avarice when it comes down to paying his musicians and poets.

With Robin and Albrecht Lesch we are at the end of the era of the Minnesänger. Robin left only a very small number of songs; Nieman tzv vro sol prysen is a kind of planctus, a lament on the death of a person, in this case no fewer than five singer-poets, among them Walther von der Vogelweide and Bruder Wernher. Albrecht Lesch, who was from Munich, can be considered one of the first of the Meistersinger, the bourgeois and non-professional successors to the Sangspruch poets. Zuch durch die wolken is performed instrumentally.

At the end of the programme we return to the beginnings of the Spruchdichter era, with Unter der Linden by Walther von der Vogelweide. He was probably employed at the court f Duke Frederick I in Vienna until the latter's death, and then moved from one court to the other. He was a poet of great repute and influence, and was an innovator in the form of both Minnesang and Spruchsang. Unter der Linden is an adaptation of an anonymous trouvère song, En mai au douz tens nouvel. The nightingale, which appears in the original, is given a new role: to witness a love scene.

The music performed here is not easy to understand. The liner-notes by Michael Eberle and the outlines of the content of each song by Paulin Bündgen are of great help to grasp their meaning, but the lack of translations is a serious omission. This music is also not easy to perform, for several reasons. All songs are monophonic, but it seems very likely that they were often sung with an instrumental accompaniment, which must have been improvised by the singer. The latter was almost always the poet/composer. The consequences are that this kind of songs should be performed by one singer, accompanying himself on a plucked or strung instrument. The performers have taken some liberties.

"We decided to use two singers for our approach to this clearly monodic repertoire, as the presence of two voices enriches the sound palette considerably and makes it possible to enter into dialogue, sing in unison, and add counterpoint and echoes - or, more simply, to colour the melodic line." This seems to be the general approach these days. I find it regrettable that no attempts are made to come closer to the way these songs were performed in the time of the poet-singers. Robin's Nieman tzv vro sol prysen is the only song performed by a single voice without any accompaniment, and that works perfectly. In Marner's Ir schauwent an die cleyn ameyß an echo has been added, which I find rather odd; a recording should be as close to a live performance as possible. That is also part of 'historical performance practice'. And, if we want to be very strict, as all the singer-poets were male, a performance by a female voice is also not 'authentic'. That said, some compromises are inevitable, and not all of them have an influence on the result. Today only a few performers are able to sing to their own accompaniment; splitting these two roles among two performers is really no problem. It is praiseworthy that the performers have investigated the correct pronunciation of the texts.

Setting these considerations aside, this is a very fine disc with intriguing repertoire that is not often performed. Most names were unknown to me, and that probably goes for many lovers even of medieval music. The performances are excellent: it is impressive how Clara Coutouly and Paul Bündgen are able to communicate the tenor of these pieces to a modern audience. The playing is also first-class. This is a disc to be savoured with attention. Delving into the world of medieval German poetry is well worth the effort, and the members of the Ensemble Céladon are the right guides.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Céladon

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