Sunday, November 01, 2009
Globalisation is nothing new
Music and place again provide some fascinating linkages. My upper and lower montages use photos taken in September at the 12th century cathedral in Autun, which lies south-west of Dijon in central France. When we returned from our exploration of Burgundy I found a new CD waiting for me from Joglaresa, an ensemble I had written about enthusiastically in my August post about improvisation. Not only is the new release from Joglaresa and Belinda (I do not sing soprano!) Sykes of French medieval songs contemporaneous with the building of the great cathedral at Autun, but the first song on the disc is by the Burgundian trouvère Guiot de Dijon.
Douce Dame Debonaire is another example of an independent label going where the corporates fear to tread. A major label's marketing department would say forget about French medieval song, because David Munrow cornered that market with his definitive 1973 project The Art of Courtly Love and the only opportunity for this repertoire today is in quasi-smooth jazz arrangements. And, in fact, Douce Dame Debonaire almost did get written off. But not by a marketing department; through no fault of Joglaresa it was nearly victim of one of many financial failures currently decimating the classical music supply chain.
But thank goodness Douce Dame Debonaire is available, even if it has slipped into the shops without a single crumhorn being sounded. Arguments about early music authenticity have always struck me as redundant for the simple reason that no one really knows what the reference for measuring authenticity is. For me, good early music should sound honest, atmospheric and spontaneous while still respecting its origins. Which is exactly what Douce Dame Debonaire does.
Sacred and secular medieval French songs by Guillaume de Machaut and others are performed not in conventional bel canto style, but 'off the voice' using just one or two female voices (Belinda Sykes and Jennie Cassidy) and accompanied by Gothic harp and mey, a traditional reed instrument from Mesopotamia. The use of the mey has some historic justification as in 725 the forces of Moorish al-Andalus captured Autun. This marked the easterly limit of the great Islamic conquest of Europe from al-Andalus, and in 732 the army of the Umayyad Caliphate was defeated by the Burgundian and Frankish forces at the Battle of Tours following which the Moorish invaders started a slow withdrawal westwards.
By taking a multi-cultural viewpoint Douce Dame Debonaire provides a fresh perspective on the songs of the troubadours and trouvèresto and reminds us, that, in music at least, globalisation is nothing new. Full marks to Belinda Sykes and Joglaresa for this thought-provoking new CD which looks far beyond geographic, religous and cultural boundaries to allow us to hear these songs for what they really are, music without borders.
Now bring on the medieval avant-garde.
A review copy of Douce Dame Debonaire was supplied at my request. All photos were taken by me at Autun Cathedral and are (c) On An Overgrown Path. More photos of Gislebertus' stunning Autun carvery here. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk