Friday, March 22, 2013

Rich hours, castles of welcome, music and memory...

One of my discoveries on internet radio is Ancient FM.  It wasn't the first early music station I found, that was Early Music FM, but they have now sadly gone off air for a bit.  But AFM are very similar, commercial free, run by volunteers and a very diverse mixture of mediaeval to Renaissance, but no Baroque, there are plenty of other stations catering for that (Baroque around the Clock, for example, from Hilversum, a name redolent of old bakerlite radios and the mysterious ether...). Entering internet radio portals is fascinating; following sidebar links can lead you from the Middle Ages to Venice, up into the Baroque or across to folk and Celtic, and, on account of the fantasy element, there seems to be quite a strong cultural connection between mediaeval music and Gothic so I sometimes find myself in places called things like 'Tormented Radio', and 'Radio Dark Dimensions', and  in the company of people like this,


though I don't tend to linger.

I've learned of quite a few early music ensembles over time, but there are even more that come up on Ancient FM that I never knew about: the Dufay Collective, the Baltimore, Waverly and Toronto Consorts, Sequentia and more. But one of the best things was a reminder of Gothic Voices' album 'The Castle of Fair Welcome'.  The station's playlists seem to change at intervals, but to be repeated and shuffled for a period, so for a time a couple of weeks ago the Dufay piece 'Ne je ne dors', one of my favourite tracks from the album, came up several times, and it took me back nearly twenty years, so I found myself stopped in my tracks, heart lifted, giddy with nostalgia.  I bought the 'The Castle of Fair Welcome' on a cassette, so it had no notes, words or translations with it, around the time we were first married, and we played it endlessly, especially on the car stereo in the old BX; in more ribald moments we referred to it as 'The Castle of Easy Access'.  For me it brings back early morning roads through Normandy off the ferry, and winding down through France in early May a week or two after we were married, the walls and turrets of Montreuil-Bellay where we stayed in a dour and ancient hotel with a spiral stone staircase and where the rosé tasted of strawberries, the first sight of silvery stretches of the Loire, and the yellow stones of the Charente and the Perigord where there were nightingales in the trees and wild marjoram in the hedgerows, and we stayed in a tiny house with deep-set windows and lizards on the sills.



We can't seem to find many photos from that time; we argue as to whether there really were more and if so what happened to them. But there are some and I've scanned a few:


produce on a market, the kind of thing I like taking pictures of now, and am somewhat better equipped for;



one of those bastide or hillside towns in the Dordogne - Domme, perhaps, or Sarlat?  I never labelled or wrote on photos then, always assumed I'd remember...


again, I'm not sure where, but I seem to recall this was a one-woman art gallery somewhere;


me in the garden of the gîte;


Tom doing the Boyhood of Raleigh at Montreuil-Bellay.

That was before we had a digital camera, and before we had a dog, or a house of our own, or a garden, before we had all the years we have now, of marriage and life in France, of life altogether.  I don't know how real all these memories are, they are of course light-filled and rosy, like the wine in Montreuil-Bellay, and selective - the house over the road from our honeymoon gîte was the second home of some snooty rich Eurocrats from Brussels, there was a small aerodrome nearby and the planes droned and whined overhead annoyingly for too much of the time, but I can't remember much else that was wrong...  I'm not even sure we had the cassette with us, or whether it's all become blurred through an association of experiences and feelings so I just think we did. But I think we did.  I'm not given to remembering the past over-romantically; I tend in fact to pick out the flaws with hindsight and remember the things which make me wince; I am given to regret and remorse, and not someone who finds it easy to connect with my past selves with much pleasure, and yet to be taken back to that particular time is sweet indeed.

I'm happy now too, of course.

The songs on 'The Castle of Fair Welcome' are mostly polished pieces of courtly convention from the late middle ages, the words formulaic and unimportant, the an exaggerated pose of abasement and adoration,  'Ne je ne dors' included:

I neither sleep nor wake
such is my agitation
all I can do is sigh...
anguish with open eyes urges me
to die with weeping

The exception is Christine de Pisan's 'Deuil angoisseux', though you wouldn't necessarily know it.  For the outpourings of her 'anguished grief... a doleful heart living in darkness... bitter distress endured in secret' are not, as might appear, further striking of attitudes from a man melodramatically relishing the role of courtly lover, but the grief of a widow for the death of her husband.

The cassette of 'The Castle of Fair Welcome' was chewed up by the player in the BX at some point not long after - that car always did have a mean streak - and we stopped playing much music as we drove after that, and didn't replace it with a CD recording, perhaps there wasn't one readily available.  It wasn't till it came up on the radio that it occurred to me to do so, and the internet made it easy.  It's reassuringly as beautiful as ever, though Tom can't hear the subtleties of the harmonies as well as he could.  'Ne je ne dors' is still one of my favourites; it's quite a sedate piece, I suppose, repetitive perhaps, but as each cycle comes to an end I long for it to start over again, which, happily, it does, many times.  And with a piece of music one loves, unlike many things, it's possible to go back to the beginning and play it all over again.  There seems to be only one other version of it on-line, or on You-tube anyway, which is by the Medieval Ensemble of London.  It's probably more authentic, and lovely too in its own way when you get used to the relatively harsh and slightly dissonant sound of it, but not as rich and pleasing as the Gothic Voices version. So I've made a video of that, as I haven't done one of those for a bit. The images are from the tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn and Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, which are roughly contemporary with the song in both time and place.


12 comments:

Roderick Robinson said...

I'm sitting here in my Balzacian dressing gown, it's pouring with rain outside, soon I must shave (that recurring male burden) since I'm short of time and must be off to French. In the village of Mordiford a name that to me always had sinister undertones. Or overtones. And you're posting about music.

I knew of course that you liked early music but you've been rather stingy about opening up on the subject. Preferring to throw up smoke-screens about technical ignorance and (I think) a limited range of interests. I need to chase down some of these links but, for the moment, the razor awaits. For the removal of surplus bristle you understand; my mind isn't dwelling on what the French - in an excess of emphasis - call self-suiciding. Yes one may do it (the Republic allows one the freedom) but always remember the verb is reflexive.

My mind is full of strategems despite the relentless digital clock (bottom right of my screen). Wondering whether a path of influence via period instruments might be viable. I have Melvyn Tan playing LvB pno cti 1 and 2 and they profit from his fortepiano. It's not the sagbut but who knows.

I'll be back but I just had to make some sort of mark, vague and off-message though it is.

Lucy said...

Mordiford! We had a caravan holiday there when I was a kid. There was a tremendous storm and the caravan awning was ripped from top to bottom like the veil of the temple. My brother and I slept through it all while our parents battled the wind and rain to save our nomadic worldly goods...

the polish chick said...

beautiful. thank you.

Roderick Robinson said...

Back again from Mordiford (wind speed more or less normal) having had my wrist slapped for suggesting the second sentence in:

Il bourra sa pipe avant de démarrer, la fit rougeoyer avec l'allume-cigare. C'était bon de fumer.

could not mean that the pipe (a recent gift) smoked well, and the words translated in the most obvious fashion.

So I turned to Ancient FM for comfort. Got Joel Cohen with the Boston Camerata, being propulsively drummed through Bulla fulminante, a jolly bit of music-making which put paid to the canard that songs of this period have a tendency to drone. However when I switched to AVROBaroque Around the Clock for some purely instrumental stuff (never identified) Ancient FM continued to emerge simultaneously through my speakers, although by this time the song had become The Famous Ratcatcher. Can this happen? I asked myself. It could and did.

Attracted by the name of the CD you cited (The Castle of Fair Welcome) and even more so by the track (Le souvenir de vous tue) I fiddled but I would have had to cross the moat of registration and for the moment didn't do it.

On a mission I tried every which way to track down Ne je ne dors but all obvious rabbit holes were stopped. Thinking I'd make do I enabled the Kyrie from Dufay's mass, L'homme armé, and found myself entranced by some beautifully muscular à capella singing.

So there is co-existence with Bach. Does keyboard Bach offend you when it's played on a Steinway? I do hope not. Because that would mean you might never hear Emil Gilels play the English Suite, a source of happy tears for me. Why I'd even... No, we won't go down that road again.

A policy suggestion: a musical post once a month? That's not much to ask.

marja-leena said...

I loved being taken along on the memory trip and old photos (don't you two look romantic and French!). The music selection is haunting and beautiful, along with the tapestry and Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a favourite, and of which I have a copy. Now I must get that book and peruse it as a re-listen to the music! Wonderful compilation of images and sound, thanks Lucy!

Zhoen said...

Enjoying the music.

Anne Higgins said...

Found your blog through your comments on Via Negativa.

I am very interested in that radio station; hope I can get it here in the US.

Love your blog and the photography, too. I booked marked it and will visit again.

marly youmans said...

How lovely! The romance of your past, dear Lucy, and the world's past twined together so prettily--an arbor of singing flowers. And I am watching now and yes, I think I will need to listen to some more early music this morning.

Julia said...

The Past is a land that one should visit often, it is good to remember who we once were...

zephyr said...

oops...i think i messed up my comment...if so, let me say again:

i love those photos, especially of you and Tom...and what lovely music!

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

PC and Zhoen - glad you liked!

RR - much mediaeval music is unarguably jiggy or droney. There are more authentic renditions of the Carmina Burana played on Ancient FM than your dreaded Orff, which aren't really much more palatable. My main interest in these is my great affection for Helen Waddell who first brought the texts to public attention. I understand the early music fraternity in classical circles have a similar reputation to folkies in pop: as being hairy, smelly, preoccupied by authenticity at the expense of tolerable sound, and generally uncool. I probably like early music for the same reasons that I tended to the folky fringes of pop when I listened more to that: because it tends to be less sophisticated and demanding. (Another more precise but not unrelated way in which it appeals is that, the notation being as primitive and limited as it is, interpretations can vary widely, so even a musical ignoramus like me can discern and find interest in the differences between them). But I'm not being falsely modest when I say I am not qualified to speak or write in any way intelligently about music, so while I might try to remember to post anything of interest that comes to hand on the subject, I'm not going to promise to expose myself on a regular basis! Hyperion's catalogue is interesting, and their older recordings very reasonably priced, so I'd recommend signing up to access it if necessary. That's where the link for 'The Castle' is for. It's never occurred to me to be offended by keyboard Bach on a Steinway. Period instruments are interesting as objects but I have no particular axe to grind on the matter.

ML - thanks ever so. To me, we just look young (relatively), which is rather poignant! Glad you like the Duke's Hour Book, it is an amazing thing, one thing that amuses me about it is the number of private parts they sneaked into it!

Anne - thanks for stopping by. Ancient FM is based in Canada, I think, and should be available everywhere.

Marly - that's lovely, thanks! Hope you find some nice early sounds, I find the radio stations good, as I wouldn't necessarily want to own all the recordings, but can enjoy them played to me.

Julia - I am very torn and mixed about the past, mine and the general, in all kinds of ways, it both enriches and horrifies me. But one needs to be brave and look at it sometimes!

Zephyr - thanks for re-commenting anyway, and thanks for the nice words!

Mailizhen said...

This is such a lovely post, lovely Lucy. I'm glad you're going to stay right here. That means I can keep checking in and admire the beautiful photos and read the post and continue to wish I were living your life.
- alison