Recorded September 1987
Erato CD 0630-17072-2 Reissued by Warner Classics as Apex 2564 62685-2
"La fraicheur!" -- Répertoire (Paris), June 1997
"Azéma makes emotional magic of medieval song"-- The Boston Globe, May 1997
"Azéma conveys both freshness and sophistication"-- The Washington Post, May 1997
Anne Az é ma, voice
Shira Kammen, vielle, rebec, harp
Jesse Lepkoff, flute, recorder
Robert Mealy, vielle, harp
Margriet Tindemans, vielle, gittern, harp
John Fleagle, harp, voice, bagpipe
Noel Bisson, voice
Catherine Jousselin, voice
Ellen Santaniello, voice
Program conceived and directed by Anne Az
Research, transcription and edition of original source material: Anne Az é ma
Instrumental research and creation: Margriet Tindemans, Shira Kammen,
Robert Mealy, Jesse Lepkoff
notes by Anne Azéma
"On a bed of flowers, they played the game of love to their heart's content."
Love is a game, and every game has its rules. In medieval France, the rules are new and give the woman, the dame, a novel status. And the game of love, thus played out with the consent of all those involved, takes on different facets or aspects, whose varied characteristics attract us still.
A first feature of this game, codified through the fin'amor (courtly love) of the musician-poets of the 12th and 13th centuries -- troubadours in Southern France, and their followers, the northern trouvères -- is not just the privilege (granted by the lord to his courtiers, and especially to the young unmarried knights) to have a full role in the life of the court, but also, and above all, is a new relationship with Woman, and with women. The noble dame, through the consent of her husband, becomes sovereign, teacher, beneficiary of these iuvenes -- young unmarried men -- and recipient of their homages .
In this new exchange, a host of other games are involved, rites created for and by the members of aristocratic societies. Our program brings together several genres and styles and encompasses several generations of trouvères from the North and North-East of France. We have mixed together texts and melodies which are the true heirs of the fin'amor of the South, aristocratic in composition and in form ("Amour me fait conmencier" or the great "Lai du Chevrefeuille"), with a lighter repertoire. These latter pieces probably reflect a more popularising or pastoral reality and bring us near to the domain of the dance, as in "La jus desouz l'olive" .
Unlike the poetic repertoire of the South, in which certain texts are signed by women, it is more than doubtful that any of the trouvère texts which concern us are actually by women authors. Nevertheless, by collecting texts which speak in the feminine voice ("L'on di qu'amors est douce chose", "Prendés i garde", "En un vergier") we can get a glimpse of how women may have participated in the poetic, musical and social life of medieval French society.
During the May fêtes , rural women and girls were relatively free as far as their actions and their bodies were concerned . One whole segment of trouvère literature is steeped in this spirit of the first loves of May, in their permissiveness and in their playful quality. We know little about the caroles , probably sung and danced, in procession or in the round, outside. The very few we have in written sources are just a token of a very vivid monophonic repertoire of "amateur" or public music and dance making. However, these caroles very often found their way in higher-brow music (as in motets, for example), which is a testimony to their popularity.
The so-called weaving songs ( chansons de toile ) also speak in the feminine first person. Of a rather melancholy and languid character (although "En un vergier" ends well!), with refrains, they are generally narrative. These songs about unhappily married women, ill-mated, (and one here about a woman who is beaten), have a personal touch and are rich in picaresque commentaries. Ours is set in an orchard and makes allusion directly to the misconduct of the abusive husband, who knows full well that he is at fault for beating his wife; since by so doing he is endangering his position with his father-in-law!
Apart from the unresolved questions - notably in relation to rhythm - linked to the notation system in this repertoire, there is another issue which has divided scholarly opinion for several generations: the presence (or absence) of instruments. The problem and the challenge of instrumental medieval music comes from the fact that a large part of this repertoire belongs to minstrels and jongleurs, whose art was transmitted orally. There are only a few surviving sources of purely instrumental music (thirty or so from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.) Since there are no separately notated instrumental lines in the chanson repertoire, our evidence has to be indirect. The repertoire of the North of France is, in a certain way, the one which lends itself most easily to inclusive choices: several sources clearly mention strings being touched in relation to the caroles or lays. Moniot d'Arras plainly describes the couple dancing in the orchard to the sound of the vielle.....
But just as for the rather vague medieval descriptions of the desired vocal colour, "clere, plaisant et bele" (clear, pleasant, and lovely), the mention of the presence of instruments is not sufficient to determine their function. We have tried to follow in the footsteps of the medieval jongleurs by putting together our own music, based on preexisting vocal sources, and using the medieval methods of teaching (learning by heart, improvisation, rhetoric). It is in this spirit that we hope to create a new instrumental medieval sound, une chançon novele .
Anne Azéma , translated by Peter Ricketts
(with Shira Kammen, Margriet Tindemans, for participation on the notes for instrumentation)
* LE JEU D'AMOUR: Ce fut en mai, au dous tens gai/ Moniot d'Arras (vers 1213-1239); Amour me fait commencier/ Thibault de Champagne (1201-1253); L'on dit q'amors est dolce chose/ Anonymous; Bien se lace/ Jehannot de l'Escurel ( ?-?1304); Je muir/ Adam de la Halle (ca. 1237 - 1288); Lai du chèvrefeuille/ Anonymous; Jamais ne serai saous/ Guillaume d'Amiens ( 13 th c.).
* LA JUS DESOUZ LA VERTE OLIVE: RABARDIES ET ESPRINGUERIES: Pastourelle/ Guillaume le Vinier (?-1245); Caroles on "La verte olive" / Margriet Tindemans, Robert Mealy; La jus desouz la verte olive/ Anonymous; C'est desous l'olive/ Anonymous; C'est la jus par dessous l'olive/ Anonymous; Prendés i garde/ Guillaume d'Amiens (13th c.); Prennés i garde/ Anonymous; En mai / Colin Muset (13th c.); Margot, greif sunt li mau d'amer/ Anonymous; Trois serors sor rive mer/ Anonymous; En un vergier / Anonymous; Tut cil qui sunt enamourat / Anonymous.
Review of Le Jeu d'Amour
from Gramophone (London)
This recital of courtly songs and dances is drawn from the repertoire of the trouveres of Northern France, with named composers such as Cohn Muset, Thibault de Chimpagne and Adam de Ia Halle, but also a host of other musicians of whom we can only catch glimpses through their music. Anne Azema is herself responsible for the research, the selection, the transcriptions and their interpretation. She is also the prime performer, singing and declaiming with her customary verve and spirited delivery. Her pronunciation of the courtly French in the spoken items is quite delight- ful and her vocal timbre, with its lively edge, is one of which I never tire.
She sings of the courtly game of love, with its rules and sophistication, but also of the more unruly pastoral delights of May Day celebrations, the "caroles" and "rondels". One of the most stun- ning pieces is the fully developed Lai del Kievrefuel - the Lay of the Honeysuckle, traditionally the love-song composed by Tristan for Isolde and so- called because no plant in the woodland is sweeter or more fragrant. It begins with a long instrumen- tal introduction, followed by fiery, passionate singing and one section comes across as hoarse semi-speech.
Instruments - fiddles, rebec, flute, recorder, harp - play a large part, both independently, as introductions or interludes, and as discreet accom- paniments, to complement the voice. But there are also a number of unaccompanied songs, and this variety is refreshing. The sound quality is excellent. Delightfully entertaining and instructive. MB
Review of Le Jeu d'Amour
from Le Monde de la Musique (Paris)
"The listener is swept up in a feeling of exuberance" Anne Azéma serves the secular music of the Middle Ages with an independent spirit that honors her. This very well conceived anthology leads the listener along the path of the trouvères, the French-speaking successors to the Southern singers of fin amor (courtly love). All the styles are present, from the pastourelle to the polyphonic rondeau , thus echoing the myriad nuances of romantic emotion delineated by these poet-musicians. The vivacity and the musicality of the team here assembled (which in fact includes most of the members of the Boston Camerata, sans its director) generate the charm of the production.
Anne Azéma posseses a luminous voice, whose timbre is not at all over-characterized, thus allowing her to utilize diverse approaches to singing. Her diction is always clear, and so one can follow the texts without being obliged to read them -- a rather unusual privilege in this repertoire, and especially remarkable since her singing style is always dynamically alive and dramatically present. Her colleagues are members of the American school of medieval instrumentalists whose merits are by now well known. Their contributions are lively, and the instrumental ensemble colors delicious (for instance, En Mai , mixing flute, gittern, and harp). Here, too, the dynamism of the interpretations fairly breathes the joy of music-making. The listener is swept up in a feeling of exuberance -- and that is one of the best guarantees that the eternally youthful message of these seven-hundred year old pieces not be sacrificd on the altar of musicological hairsplitting.
Review of Le Jeu d'Amour
from Répertoire magazine (Paris)
Rating: "10" de Répertoire
(highest, exceptional rating).
Love is a game. An odd game. And sometimes, when codified by the rules of fin amor (courtly love), a cruel one. It's a healthier and more vigourous game when linked to festivity and dance. And a game everywhere present in the repertoire of the Middle Ages.
One may as well admit that musicians have generally chosen to portray the unending torments of love.... Anne Azéma, for her part, takes several intineraries in the country of the trouvères. With equal success, she portays the sufferings of amourous passion in the famous Lai du chèvrefeuille; or leads the dance with lighthearted voice; the amusing pastourelle of Guillaume le Vinier, depicting a country fête, is wonderfully light and vivacious.
Light and vivacity! Such are the feelings one gets from this recording. Led by the clear, supple voice of Anne Azéma, the other musicians and singers, drawn from the Boston Camerata, participate on the game, leaving aside artificial flourishes, and flowery sentiments. I think they have found the right tonality in which to celebrate love: when all is said and done, the program gives forth more pleasure than sorrow.
Just as it should be...