Le ray soleyl, Johannes Ciconia

March 12, 2010

Le Ray Au Soley! is a short work by Johannes Ciconia, one of two he wrote in the form of a canon. This is in three parts, with the top two parts texted and the bottom part untexted. One reference gives this as preserved in a Ciconia manuscript, Perugia, f.83 and from its title, is obviously a work done in the French style.  Planchart, in the liner notes of the Ensemble PAN recording, describes this as an early work when he was strongly influenced by French music; I need to examine any links in this piece with Ciconia’s role model, de Caserta. Exactly which of the three possible Johannes Ciconia of the period becomes a factor here – how this French influence was activated and whether or not he spent time in Avignon. Planchart concludes that “our” Ciconia was an Italian composer with north European training.

As seen below, it has been recorded consistently but not as often as some others. It lasts for a minute as sung, in all parts, by the Orlando Consort, who sing it at a Goldilocks pace, not too fast and not too slow. The character of this all-too-brief piece lends itself to asking for more, so Ensemble PAN have on their track 10 done just that pushing it out to 2mins 12secs, with an opening focussed on the rocking lullaby nature of the rhythm, followed by a very light touch in the voices. This is an arrangement by Shira Kammen. Both so far have been all-vocals, so Ensemble PAN launch in their track 11 into a treatment with vielles and harp in the lowest line. To keep the whole thing from sounding laboured, they’ve done it as-is in 1min 12secs. Track 11 reprises the whole thing in a large ensemble-sounding effort, voices and strings. The melodic fragments falling over each other is enormously infectious and this “bubbling” effect, so often used by Ciconia, makes me wonder whether he was enormously influenced by highly resonant performance spaces, exploiting echo and reverb. Its “modern” soundscape lends itself well to a contemporary group like  Alarm Will Sound arranging it over 2’47 mins, starting with a solo voice joined by violin; the Blindman Saxophone Quartet has also recorded a version lasting 6’23 mins. 

The sparkling, effervescent quality immediately falls into place once we consider the lyrics (rhyme scheme is ABBA). Whoever the ‘laquel compagnon’ is, it’s an ode of sunshine, with a strong hint of a dedicatory intent in the mention of the “dove”.

To quote at length from Timothy Dickey, “All Music Guide”:

The manuscript copy that preserves the music for us today makes this clear: the scribe has highlighted words within the text that point to elements of Visconti’s crest: soleyl (the sun), tortorelle (the turtledove), and a bon droyt (faithfully). The text otherwise appears to be a rather simple pastoral image of the turtledove waking a lover in the rays of the sun. The wit and true cleverness of Ciconia’s music here comes in the canonic conception: in the manuscript, only one musical melody is notated, with a Latin inscription indicating that all three voices should be derived from the single melody, as each reads its notes in a different mensuration, or rhythmic framework. The esoteric and rarefied nature of this musical device has actually tended to obscure our understanding of it, as no one is completely sure how to properly interpret the canon.


Le ray au soleyl qui dret som karmeyne/En soy bracant la douce tortorelle/Laquel compagnon onques renovelle/A bon droyt sembla que en toy perfect reyne.

The ray of sunlight, in whose true enchantment/sleeps the sweet turtledove – in his embrace -/ever rejuvenating that beloved one;/faithfully makes his appearance in your perfect kingdom. (Trans. John Fleagle)


2009      A/Rhythmia. Alarm Will Sound. Nonesuch. (15/9/09). Inter alia: Le Ray Au Soley! arr Gavin Chuck, 2:47.

2005 (Dec 13) Ars subtilior: Dawn of the Renaissance. Ferrara Ensemble, Ensemble Organum, Hilliard Ensemble, Huelgas Ensemble, Orlando Consort. Harmonia mundi Fr. Inter alia: 2. La fiamma del to amor; 3. Le ray au soley!

2002    Multiple Voice, Blindman Saxophone Quartet. Universal 472596-2. Inter alia, Le ray au Soley! puzzle canon,  4 saxophones (6’53).

1999     The Saracen and the Dove: Music from the Courts of Padua and Pavia. Orlando Consort. Deutsche-Grammophon, Archiv, 2894596202. Inter alia: Doctorum principum; Per quella strada lactea; O felix templum jubila; O Padua sidus praeclarum; Con lagreme bagnandome; Una panthera (5’24); Sus une fontayne; Le ray au soley! (1’01).

1998       En doulz chastel de Pavie: Chansons a la cour des Visconti vers 1400. Inter alia: La fiamma del to amor; Le ray au soley! (1.30) and Le ray au soley (8:15).

1992      Homage to Johannes Ciconia c.1370-1412. Ensemble P.A.N. New Albion, NA 048. Includes Shira Kammen and Steven Lundahl on medieval slide trumpet. Inter alia: 2. Chacando un giorno (2:27); 3. O Padua sidus praeclarum (2:52); 4. Regina Gloriosa (2:15); 5. Aler m’en veus (5:15); 6. Io Crido amor, arr S Kammen (3:20); 7. O rosa bella, ballata (5:02); 8. Poy che morir (4:49); 9. Ben che da vui donna arr. C Young (2:18); 10. Le ray soley! (2:12); 11. Le ray soley! arr S Kammen (1:12); 12. Le ray au soley! (1:18); 13. Petrum Marcello Venetum (2:45); 14. Chi nel servir antico (2:34); 15. Per quella strada (3:47); 16. Una panthera (4:51); 17. Gli atti col dancar (3:02); 18. Sus une fontayne (5:23); 19. O Petre Christi discipule (2:28); 20. Doctorum principem (2:41); 21. O Virum omnimoda (2:17). Reissued 2009.

1982 L’œuvre intégral / Johannes Ciconia. Huelgas Ensemble, dir Paul van Nevel. Musique en Wallonie, MW 80040-44. (10 and 12/80). Œuvres italiennes I: Una panthera; Chi nel servir; Poi che morir ; I cani sono fuora; Motets I: Albane missi celitus; O Petre Christi; O virum omnimoda; Doctorum principem; Parties de messes I: Et in terra pax “Regina gloriosa” & Patrem omnipotentem “Regina gloriosa”; Et in terra pax & Patrem omnipotentem; Œuvres italiennes II: O rosa bella; Chaçando un giorno; Lizadra donna; Deduto sei a quel; Œuvres françaises: Le ray au soleil; Aler men veus; Quod jactatur; Sus un fontayne; Motets II: Petrum Marcello; Ut te per omnes; O felix templum; O beatum incendium; O Padua sidus praeclarum; Œuvres italiennes III: Merçe o morte; La fiamma del to amor; O donna crudele; Per quella strada lactea; Parties de messes II: Et in terra pax; Et in terra pax & Patrem omnipotentum; Et in terra pax; Motets III: Regina gloriosa; Venecie mundi splendor; Parties de messes III: Et in terra pax; Patrem omnipotentem; Œuvres italiennes III: Dolçe fortuna; Chi vol amar; Con lagreme bagnandome nel viso.

1972 Johannes Ciconia (1335-1411), Early Music Studio, dir. Thom. Binkley. EMI-Reflexe 1C06330102, LP/Cass and CDM (or 555) 7 63442 2 (CD). (12/1970)2. 1. Una panthera; 2. Chi nel servir anticho; 3. Lizadra donna; 4. Per quella strada; 5. O rosa bella; 6. Le Ray au soleil; 7. Sus un’ fontayne; 8. Aler m’en veus; 9. Albane misse celitus; 10. Gloria; 11.Credo “Regina gloriosa”. (mezzo, tenor, c/tenor, vielles, lute/sackbutt, sop, sackbutt). Reviewed in Diapaison, Gramophone, Fanfare 4/5, MayJune 198

Ciconia Dufay Isaac.  Renaissance Telefunken Alte Werk. Capella Antiqua Munchen conducted by Konrad Ruhland. (LP) 1. Una panthera, (5:42; 2. Chi nel servir (3:11); 3. Lizadra donna (4:10); 4. Per quella strada, (3:48); 5. O rosa bella (5:35); 6. Le ray au soley! (1:50): 7. Sus un’ fontayne (5:57); 8. Aler m’en veus (3:54); 9. Albane misse celitus (2:45); 10. Gloria (3:45); 11. Credo (5:38).

2. YouTube videos

Johannes Ciconia – French Ballads (1/3) Le ray au soley! bartje11, 16 Jan 2010 (1:57). Source: Andrea von Ramm, mezzo; Willard Cobb, tenor; Thomas Binkley, sackbut. Visuals: lyrics.

Johannes Ciconia: Le ray au soley! musiquedumoyenage, 28 Feb 2010. Huelgas Ensemble.

“Le ray au soley! qui dret som kar meyne”. MONTENSEM, 21 Dec 2009 ( : ). Voices. Visuals: still image. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: