More on repertoire for vielle – BM MS Add 29987

March 6, 2010

While resting after work on two major musicology essays at the moment, one on Galician cantigas di amigo and the other on Johannes Ciconia, I’m looking at more practical music-making in the form of vielle / Fidel / Fiedel, in my case tuned the same as a treble viol and played gamba-wise rather than at the shoulder. The more I hear from recorded performances, the more I realise how virtuosic this music is, which may explain why a medieval scribe notated them so underpinning their survival down to our own time.

What follows is today’s rather haphazard findings on CDs and the internet. This is in marked contrast to my analyzing performances on LPO/CD/YouTube of Ciconia secular music in far greater detail and with more rigour! Having come across today some performances of dance music which are in fact too fast to dance to, I’ll probably backtrack somewhat and find something slower to get my teeth into.

Yesterday I was honoured to attend Opera Australia’s launch of its OzOpera production, Sound Garden. What impressed me, among many other fascinating aspects of the production, was the use of the West African djembe drum. It was great to see a professional percussionist, Tim Brigden, in action and the experience added to my humble understanding of drumming in medieval music; drums are used to accompany the vielle solos in the recordings mentioned below.


Parlamento (Palamentro), anon. istampitta – BM MS Add 29987

Source is the British Library London, Add. 29987, fol.60-60v (1/0) and a facs has been published by the American Institute of Musicology in 1965 by Gilbert Reaney, “The Manuscript London, British Museum Add. 29987” (Musicological Studies and Documents 13). I’m also aware of an edition by Jan ten Bokum, De Dansen (Utrecht, 1976), pp.49-50. The full citation is “De dansen van het Trecento. Critische uitgave de instrumentale dansen uit hs. London BM add.29987, Utrecht Institut voor Muziekwetenschap, 1967. Scripta Musicologica Ultrajectina I. I think my modern edition comes from the Norton Anthology of Western Music, vol.1, ed. Claude V Palisca, Yale Univ, W W Norton, 1980, pp.40-42: set out in bass clef, with five puncti or sections, each with an aperto and chiusso endings (the equivalent of our first and second time repeats). Apparently it’s discussed by Frederick Crane in Early Music 7(1979): 24-33: On performing the “Lo estampies”.

The Ensemble Unicorn CD recording (Naxos), Chominciamento di gioia: Virtuoso dance-music from the time of Boccaccio’s Decamerone, in fact is a recording of all thirteen instrumental pieces in the BM manuscript, i.e. eight titled istampitta, four saltarello and a trotto. In terms of dating, they appear alongside madrigals c.1390, all the more interesting for someone like me looking at Johannes Ciconia (Rome, Pavia, Padua, Venice approx 1390-1410).

For the record, here is a list of the pieces in the manuscript: Lamento di Tristano and La Manfredina (both slow/solemn), each followed by a Rotta (quick variations); trotto and saltarelli 1-4 (dance music, with simpler and jauntier structure than the istanpitte); the programmatic instanpitte – Parlamento (Talk), Tre fontane (Three Springs), Ghaetta (the cheerful woman), In pro (Please), Prinicipio di virtu (Principle of Virtue), Isabella and Chominciamento di gioia (Beginning of Joy). 

When it comes to recordings, there are three early ones in addition to the above-mentioned Ensemble Unicorn’s:

1. Medieval English Carols and Italian Dances. New York Pro Musica, dir Noah Greenberg, American Decca 79148.

2. Recordings to accompany A History of Western Music and Norton Anthology of Western Music (compiled from other recordings), dir Thomas Binkley, David Munrow and Denis Stevens.

3. Estampie, Instrumentalmusik des Mittelalters. Early Music Studio, Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, dir Binkley. 1974; EMI-Reflexe IC 063-30-122 (GER)/IC 163-119/24 (GER). Recorded 1962.

I’m also aware of a more modern recording: Instrumental Music from the 14th century Italy. Sinfonye, Glossa GCD920701 (which also includes Tre Fontane, Principio di Virtu, La Manfredina etc. and which seems to complement their other CD devoted to medieval instrumental music, Dance in the Garden of Mirth). The internet site devoted to the Silk Road has a mp3 recording.

More on this piece anon! I’m interested to eventually find out more about the instruments modern instrumentalists are employing, as well as accompaniment for the soloist and the tempi.

Trotto – BM MS Add 29987

On the Dufay Collective recording, A Dance in the Garden of Mirth, their track 8 has it teamed up with a Saltarello from the same mansucript source, as mentioned above. It appears to be played on solo vielle by Giles Lewin, with additional drone strings; it seems to be an ‘extended mix’, the whole thing repeated several times. The approach is obviously strongly rhythmic dance music and the following Saltarello deploys the same instrumental forces with the addition of big bass drum accompaniment.

 Chominciamento di gioia / The Beginning of Joy – BM MS Add 29987

There are references in the literary texts Decameron and Il Solazzo to istampitte or estampie being played in front of guests, but in neither case do the guests arise to dance. This appears to point to the form evolving into absolute music, for the purposes of listening rather than dancing.

Ensemble Unicorn has a recorder playing the first punctus/parti, followed with strings and drum accompaniment. The tempo is tempestuous; there are trills on the cadences. It moves straight into Saltarello No.4 and the whole of this track lasts 7mins 23secs. Another recording by them as posted on YouTube has an even faster tempo, too fast for anyone to actually dance, but sounds great!

The Newberry Consort record this on their Il Solazzo album, track 4 (6:27) for vielles and lute. Obviously a more intimate sound.

See for a version on high recorder and drum, on the debut album Canconcier (CD, 56:15, 27 Apr 2009). They also play In seculum viellatoris and the third and sixth Estampies Royales, amongst others.

See the discussion by Jeremy Noble, Early Music Dance (Performing early music on record 5), Early Music 1976(4): 355-360.

This Chominciamento di gioia is obviously popular for medieval ensembles venturing into recording. See The Dufay Collective, Medieval Dance Music, A L’Estampida. Avie Av0015. Inter alia Danse real, English Dance, 6th 4th and 7th estampies reals, Lamento di Tristano, La rotta, etc.






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