Con lagreme bagnandome nel viso is a two-voice ballata of Ciconia’s, thought to lament the death of a north Italian noble of the time, given the appearance of the text in a Florentine manuscript headed “Ballata per il signor Francesco Carrara”.

The Margaret Bent 1985 complete edition gives the text of the ballata as follows:

First verse

Repeated first section: Con, con lagreme bagnandome nel viso, El mio segnor lassay, ond’io strugo inguay, quando io no penso esser de lay diviso.

Repeated second section: Ay me, dolente, ay, dura dispartita, che may non fay ritorno in questo mondo.

Second verse

Ay, ay ingorda malvasa me el viso, fuor d’ogni tempe ranca, sgroppa omay ton balanca, poy che m’ay tolto ogni mio gioco e riso.

Ay, cruda morte, ay, despietata vita, come partesti dal mio amor io cundo?


Berlin: Staatsbibliothek, Mus. 40613 (olim Wernigerode, Fürstlich Stolbergsche Bibliothek, Zb 14) (Locheimer Liederbuch), number 73 (intabulation);
Bologna: Civico Museo Bibliografico Musicale, Ms Q 15 (new fragment);
Florence: Biblioteca Riccardiana 1764, fol. 86 (text);
Lucca: Archivio di Stato 184 (Mancini Codex), fol. 54 (2/2);
Munich: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Handschriften-Inkunabelabteilung 352b (olim Mus. 3725) (Buxheimer Orgelbuch), number 38,137,138,139 (intabulation);
Padua: Biblioteca Universitaria 656, fol. 1 (2 Tenor fragments);
Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds italien 568, fol. 52v-53 (2/2); Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds italien 1069, fol. 45 (text); Bibliothèque Nationale, fonds nouv. acq. français 4379, number 3, 62v (Tenor only);
Treviso: Biblioteca Comunale 43, fol. 6v (text).


The Lucca Codex. Codice Mancini. Introductory Study and Facsimile Edition, edited by John Nádas and Agostino Ziino, Lucca: Libreria musicale italiana editrice, 1990.


1. CLERCX, Suzanne. Johannes Ciconia: Un musicien liégois et son temps, 2 vols., Brussels: Palais des Académies, 1960, Vol. II, p. 63-64.
2. NEMETH, George L. The Secular Music of Johannes Ciconia, Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University: 1977, p. 201-3 (Pn568).
3. Anthology of Medieval Music, edited by Richard H. Hoppin, New York: W. W. Norton, 1978, no. 70.
4. WILLIAMS, Carol J. The Mancini Codex: A Manuscript Study, Ph.D. dissertation (University of Adelaide), 3 vols., 1983, Vol. II, p. 41.
5. The Works of Johannes Ciconia, edited by Margaret Bent and Anne Hallmark, Monaco: Editions de L’Oiseau-Lyre, 1985. Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century XXIV, p. 130.
6. The Lucca Codex. Codice Mancini. Introductory Study and Facsimile Edition, edited by John Nádas and Agostino Ziino, Lucca: Libreria musicale italiana editrice, 1990, p. 105.


1. MANCINI, Augusto. ‘Frammenti di un nuovo codice dell’ Ars nova’, Rendiconti dell’ Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, ser. 8, II (1947), p. 89.
2. BONACCORSI, Alfredo. ‘Un nuovo codice dell’ Ars nova: Il codice Lucchese’, Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Ser. 8, I/12 (1948), pp. 585-586.
3. PIRROTTA, Nino and Ettore LI GOTTI. ‘Il Codice di Lucca. III. Il repertorio musicale’, Musica Disciplina, V (1951), p. 124., pp. 123-124.
4. PIRROTTA, Nino and Ettore LI GOTTI. ‘Paolo Tenorista, fiorentino “extra moenia”‘, Estudios Dedicados a Menéndez Pidal III, Madrid: S. Aguirre, 1952, p. 585.
5. CLERCX, Suzanne. ‘Johannes Ciconia et la chronologie des manuscrits italiens, Mod. 568 et Lucca (Mn)’, Les Colloques de Wégimont II, 1955, Paris: Société d’Edition “Les belles lettres”, 1959, p. 119.
6. FISCHER, Kurt von. ‘Zur Ciconia-Forschung’, Die Musikforschung, XIV (1961), p. 317.
7. GÜNTHER, Ursula. ‘Die “anonymen” Kompositionen des Ms. Paris BN, fonds ital, 568 (Pit)’, Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, XXIII (1966), pp. 90-91.
8. FALLOWS, David. ‘Ciconia padre e figlio’, Rivista italiana di musicologia, XI (1976), p. 175.
9. CLERCX-LEJEUNE, Suzanne. ‘Ancora su Johannes Ciconia (c. 1335-1411)’, Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, XI (1977), p. 588.
10. HOPPIN, Richard H. Medieval Music, New York: W. W. Norton, 1978, p. 495.


1. Johannes Ciconia. Madrigaux et Ballades, Clemencic Consort, directed by Rene Clemencic (1980): Harmonia Mundi HM 10068.
2. Johannes Ciconia, Las Huelgas Ensemble, directed by Paul van Nevel (1980): Musique en Wallonie 80040-44 (set).

Donato Mancini in the All Music Guide mentions the importance of melodic line in Ciconia’s compositions. strongly evident in this ballata and its overall tone of ‘elegant sadness’. Were it not for the echoing between the two parts, the lower part could be said to be entirely at the mercy of the top line. In the version recorded by the Huelgas Ensemble directed by Paul van Nevel, this ballata grande is interpreted as a lament, complete with bracing wails, inflections and ornaments. Apart from its constant movement at a modern tempo, it recalls both a troubadour song in its simplicity and a Monteverdi lament in its emotion and to this extent is useful for pointing up how far Ciconia has moved from earlier medieval musical models. Much is lost without a second vocal part and the almost Baroque air is provided by instrumental accompaniment in the form of a solo rebec (upper voice) and a chekker keyboard (lower voice), with voice accompanied by chekker and whole sections given over to the instruments from time to time. Much more elegant and straightforward is the Orland Consort recording of two voices, which allows for focus on the lyrics and a much more subtle interplay of the two-part writing for voices. The emotion is less strident, relying for its impact simply on the resonance of the space around the voices.

Given scholarly discussion about tonal areas in Ciconia, the tonal area here is F. There is a constantly recurring four-note motif which appears for the first time in the lower part in bar 7. There is very strong contrast between long drawn-out notes and short four-note runs, first seen in bar 3 of the upper part. Repetition reinforces imitation between the two voices; bars 4 and 5 in the upper part are repeated as bars 6 and 7, with a reprise a third lower in bar 11. Upper part bar 39 is repeated as bar 40 and again in bar 41 with a slight rhythmic variation as bar 42. Also worthy of note is the long arc of melody incorporating syncopation, upper part, bars 28-32. These features become the focal points of interest in five extant keyboard intabulations of the ballata, made some fifty years or so after its composition.

These five keyboard intabulations form, with intabulations of another work, Deduto sey, part of an appendix to the Margaret Bent edition. The first retains much of the simplicity of the original ballata, with a third voice very lightly suggested through octaves and fifths in the lower part. Not surprisingly, there is florid decoration of the upper part via fioriture starting on a mordented quaver. As described on p.218 of Bent’s critical commentary of the complete works, the source is D-B 40613, no.73, pp.86-87, labelled “c.l.” (con lagreme) and dated “Anno 1455 Remigny confessoris”, i.e. 10 Oct 1455. It was identified with Ciconia’s ballata by Ludwig (see Apel K,p.vii) and is notated in German organ tablature.  

The second appears in D-Mbs 3526 no.38, fol.16-17, headed M(agister) C(onradus) C(ecus), i.e. Paumann, one of the few compositions thus ascribed to Conrad Paumann (c1410-1473) and so listed in the New Grove, “Paumann”. Eileen Southern in her article posits the M.C.C. abbreviation as being ‘Magister Ciconia canonicus’ – see page 261 of “Foreign Music in German Manuscriptts of the fifteenth-century”, JAMS 21/3 (Autumn 1968), 258-285. It is notated in German organ tablature. It contains much more florid decoration than the first, with some very long demisemiquaver runs.

The third and fourth in Bent also appear sequentially in the same source, D-Mbs 3526, the third in fol.73v-74 and fourth in fol.74v.-75. The ornamentation and long runs are again present in the fourth and fifth. In the fourth, note the syncopated rising runs in the lower part starting with a rest (bars 10 and 11); a third inner voice is strongly felt.

The fifth returns somewhat to the simplicity of the original ballata. Probably the maximum speed at which the fast runs can be played points to a maximum tempo of a quarter note to 80 bpm; at that speed, the ornamental mordent trills are played extremely quickly.


Some preliminary observations on bowed vielles used in audio recordings, inspired in part by wondering about the provenance of instruments used in the period 1950-2010 in recordings of Johannes Ciconia and in part by discovering the use of violins and ‘cello, alongside viols, used in an early recording of Lawes and Byrd viol consort music by the Leonhardt Consort on LP. My thesis is that instruments might have been handed down from master to student. This is part of wider thesis that the translation of musicological research into audio recordings (and presumably concerts as well) follows a trajectory marked by the loyalty students have to their masters and will shy away from innovation – by no means an original idea. This contrasts with my ‘anecdotal’ impression that a few years ago viol playing sped up enormously, perhaps around the time of Pandolfo interpreting Tobias Hume and the increased drive and exuberance in the playing of Forqueray, for example, by Il Giardino Armonico. I’m also much intrigued by Howard Meyer Brown’s article in Early Music on the Trecento fiddle and its bridges. I’m hoping to ‘track’ specific instruments down through the decades. Or not.

Recordings made 1982-1994, with a few interlopers.

0. English Medieval Songs, The 12th & 13th Centuries. Music of the Middle Ages vol.5. Russell Oberlin, countertenor and Seymour Barab, viol. CD, Lyrachord Early Music ser, LEMS 8005. Originally recorded in 1958 on a (fretted) tenor viol (Dolmetsch, England). Saville Clark has devised his own viol accompaniment to these examples of English monody.

1. L’Art de la Flute, vol.1 La Flute a Bec du Moyen-Age au XVIIIe Siecle. Roger Cotte et le Groupe des Instruments Anciens de Paris. LP, 1969. Liner notes by Cotte, trans. Edgar Hunt. Arion 30A070.The bowed vielle, played by Odette Geoffre, makes an appearance on the first three tracks of this recording. Track 1. Ductia, Oxford MS. 0’55. Larigot, rebec, tambourin. Track 2 In Saeculum Viellatoris, motet instrumental, anonyme. 0’55. Flute a bec, viele a l’arc and cornet a bouquin.Track 3 Hoquet David fragments, Guillaume de Machaut, 0’51. Largiot and viele a l’arc over the plainchant played on the harpe medievale a fils d’archal.

2. Music of the Crusades. Early Music Consort of London, dir. David Munrow. CD, Decca, 1991. Recorded 1971. No vielles on this recording, but Oliver Brookes plays bass rebec. This LP/CD features the French royal dances, which is why I mention it here, e.g. nos.3 and 8 are played on a treble rebec and a bass rebec.

3. In a Medieval Garden. Stanley Buetens Lute Ensemble, dir. Stanley Buetens. LP, Nonesuch H71120, [1960/70s?]. Fifteen tracks of music ranging from C13 to Capirola’s La Spagna (C16) via Dufay, Obrecht and Attaignant. Instrumental accompaniment and instrument-only pieces are played on recorder, krummhorn, lute and viol in the main. This recording predates the use of the bowed vielle, but I include it here because it perhaps forms part of the bowed vielle music canon. Side 1. Track 2. Anon. C13, In seculum artifex (krumhorn, lute, viol), 1’12. From Higinio Angles, ed. El Codex de las Huelgas, vol.III. Barcelona, 1931. Track 5. Anon C13, Trotto (recorders, krummhorn, viol, lute, percussion), 1’10. From British Museum MS; Harold Gleason, ed. Examples of Music before 1400, New York, 1942..Side 2. Track 2. Anon C13. In seculum viellatoris (krummhorn, lute, viol), 1’00.From Gleason, ibid.

4. Medieval Monodies: Martin Codax and Marcarbru. La Romanesca. CD,. Move Records, Melb. Australia, 1987. Recorded 1982. Vielle (as appearing on front cover photograph of liner notes) played by Ruth Wilkinson and Australian-made by Ian Watchorn (then Canberra).

5. Bella Domna: the Medieval Woman: lover, poet, patroness and saint. Sinfoyne, dir. Stevie Wishart. CD, Hyperion, 1988. Vielle is mostly limited to the more instrumental of the tracks here – the Martin Codax songs are accompanied by symphony, harp and pandeiro, for example. Vielle accompanies two C13 troubadour songs. Vielle and Moroccan bendir, a very limited texture compared to larger ensembles, are used in recordings of the same pieces: Estampie Royales nos. 2, 4 and 6. Vielles are described as ‘Medieval Fiddles, by Alan Crumpler (tuned according to Jerome of Moravia’s 2nd tuning) and by Jim Bisgood, as used in the troubadour song’..

6. Ars Magis Subtiliter, Project Ars Nova: secular music of the Chantilly Codex. CD, San Fran: New Albion, 1989. All but two of the fifteen tracks, vocal with instruments and instruments alone, feature one and/or two vielles: Shira Kammen, vielle by Fabrizio Reginato (Fonte Alto, Italy, 1984) and Randall Cook on one by Richard Earle (London, 1982).

7. Little Consort: Ciconia & His Time. CD, Channel Classics, 1990. Recorded in 1988. Both Kees Boeke and Toyojiko Satoh take up the viella in addition to their principal instruments, flustes and lute respectively. Their CD liner notes quote the Eugene Deschamps, L’Art de dictierAbout Music, 1392 to justify their use of bowed vielle.

8. The Island of St Hylarion, Music of Cyprus 1413-1422. Ensemble P.A.N. CD, New Albion Records, 1991. Half of the sixteen tracks feature bowed vielle, played by Randall Cook and Shira Kammen, as per 1989..

9. A L’Estampida. Dufay Collective. CD, Avie 0015, 2002. Recorded June 1991. Three vielles on this one, played by Giles Lewin, Susanna Pell (a large bass vielle, easily the size of a tenor viol or small bass, judging from the photo in the liner notes) and Raphael Mizraki. Their 1993 recording seems to ‘fill the gaps’ so that between these two CDs, one appears at first glance to have the entire Italian istanpitta collection and the British MS pieces.

10. Homage to Johannes Ciconia, ca.1370-1412 Ensemble P.A.N. CD, New Albion Records, 1992. Recorded April 1992. This is the first CD devoted entirely to the composer since the complete works recorded on a 3-CD set by the Huelgas Ensemble. It’s the first to explore arrangements and improvisation in interpreting Ciconia. The vielle appears on just about all the tracks. Bowed vielle played by Shira Kammen on the Reginato mentioned above

11. Wanderers’ Voices: Medieval Cantigas & Minnesang. The Newberry Consort. CD, Harmonia mundi HMU 907082, 1993. Mary Springfels plays a bowed vielle without credits – presumably the same instrument as played on their other albums, Il Solazzo, Ay Amor! and Cornago.

12. A Dance in the Garden of Mirth: medieval instrumental music. Dufay Collective. CD, Chandos, 1994. Recorded 1993. Suzanne Pell plays a Gary Bridgewood (London, 1988) bowed vielle on Tracks 1 (Ghaetta istanpitta), 5 (3rd Royal Estampie), 8 (Trotto-Saltarello), 10 (Belicha istanpitta) and 11 (Isabella istanpitta). She shares the music with at least five or six others on these tracks, which are large ensemble/dance band interpretations of the standard French and Italian monophonic dances I’ve mentioned in other posts.

13. Poder a Santa Maria: Andalucia in the ‘Cantigas de Santa Maria’ of King Alfonso X ‘el Sabio’. Sinfonye, dir. Stevie Wishart. CD, Almaviva, DSI 0105, 1994. Recorded Oct. 1993. Stevie Wishart plays Medieval Fiddles on the three tracks out of eleven. Alan Crumpler (Leonminster, UK) made the waisted fiddle and Bruno Guastaldi (Oxford) made the oval fiddle. Tuned according to Jerome of Moravia’s Tractus de Musica.

14. Venus’ fire. The Renaissance Players. CD, Walsingham WAL 8004-2, 1994. Recorded 1992/1993. Katie Wards plays an Ian Watchorn vielle, with four or five other instrumentalists, in a large ensemble texture, which includes Royal estampies 4 and 8. Vielle-maker Bernard Ellis has one of his rebecs on this recording.

15. Oswald von Wolkenstein, Lieder. Ensemble fur Musik des Mittelalters.CD, BMG, 1993. Two Fiedels, one by Rainer Ulreich (Vienna, 1991) and one by Richard Earle (Basel 1988). Elizabeth Gaver plays one and Rainer Ullreich the other. Songs here are accompanied by fiddle(s) and sometimes with additional late Gothic Harp. Elizabeth and her vielle photographed on the back cover of the liner notes.

16. Chominciamento di gioia: virtuoso dance-music from the time of Boccaccio’s Decamerone. CD, Ensemble Unicorn. Naxos, 1994. Fidel/Fiddle features in the photo of instruments on the back cover of the liner notes. Fidels played by Marco Ambrosini and Thomas Wimmer.

Another brilliant composition and video clip from Guido Ponzini (YouTube, Ghigo85, 6 mins11 secs). The subtle layering of sound, now plucked now bowed, adds considerably to the creation of a chilling yet bracing feeling, evoking the winter wind of the title. Ponzini clearly understands the historical legacy of a soaring melodic line over a dark, plucked bass, drawn from viol and theorbo, as well as the ‘modal’ scale motifs well-suited to the instrument. He doesn’t try for the jagged harmonic changes in Sollima’s Terra Aria, relying instead on texture, though obviously in terms of length and breadth it evokes Sollima. He speaks directly though to our generation through hints of Japanese koto and innocent Japanese melody. He too matches the plucked viol to the instrument’s strong links with the lute.

The multi-tracked layering is the twenty-first century’s answer to the viol orchestra. The viol orchestra is one of those near-mythical things recorded down through the ages. In medieval times, vast numbers of musicians were recorded as having got together for royal command performances. The thing virtually defies imagination, so commentators often conclude that when writing of such things, they were in fact exaggerating the numbers of musicians in an attempt to inflate the status of the ruler. It’s difficult to imagine their repertoire. The same seems to go with early sixteenth-century France where massed ‘orchestras’ of lutes and viols seemed to have entertained at court. We seem only to arrive at terra firm once we get to the French violin bands of the mid- to late-C17. 

The viol ‘orchestra’ remains enigmatic as part of the Early Music authenticity movement during last century and has yet to be taken seriously in this. But if it can’t be achieved in fact – the idea of eight viols in one room together is all but imposible – , and remains as since medieval times, something of a fantasy, then at least in the twentieth-century, with the ‘invention’ of ‘cello orchestras and here, as in Ponzini’s and Sollima’s case, we can reify the concept through multi-tracking and the ‘virtual world’ of video clips.

I’m imagining the Christmas Day Mass at Notre-Dame-de-Paris in 1189 or 1190 when Perotin’s works were being served up to the French public for the first time, or at least only on high feast days. The cold winter wind, perhaps necessitating the closing of the giant front doors of the cathedral; the guilds and their sodalities gathered with banners and tapestries in the west nave, surrounded by the populace – with no other church to go to, since this Notre-Dame was the only one, this giant ten-storey edifice in the town of 20,000 people – perhaps including the king and court in the front row before the giant rood screen. And beyond the screen, in the light-filled sanctuary of the east choir, a hundred or so priests and a dozen crack soloists, booming out their tumbling multi-layered discant, projected out by the curved roof of the glassed-in nave, out over the high rood screen. The words indistinguishable, the text lost and the momentum of the text in suspension, the audience wondering where the music starts and finishes, a heavenly sound pouring forth without end. Only available on high holidays and feast days like Christmas and Easter, this would have been special-occasion music.

Similarly Ponzini is creating music peculiar to his time and ours. The YouTube ‘performance space’ is special to our time, the string sound deeply embedded in our consciousness as characterful and important, from the medieval to the present. The ‘moving picture’ medium is as important to us as was Perotin’s reliance on the architecture of Notre-Dame.

It goes without saying that I look forward to more of Ponzini working with this instrument, in this medium.

This two-voiced Italian ballata has been infrequently recorded work outside the complete works’ collections. What is immediately striking in the score is the use of a repeated first section.

All is explained by Timothy Dickey, All Music Guide, whom I quote at length as follows:

A composition such as Johannes Ciconia’s Ballata La fiamma del to amor che giá me strinze, though it qualifies as complex and polyphonic, preserves a somewhat lighter texture than its Francophile contemporaries (which Ciconia certainly knew). Both text and music follow he Italian refrain form, which kept a closer resemblance to the French virelai. An opening refrain is followed by two verses with both contrasting music and poetic structure. A volta (turning) gives new text to the opening meter, and the refrain rounds the entire form with its return. Ciconia’s music fills the expected form with a powerful yet subtle structure. Both refrain and contrasting “feet” (verses) are in the same meter and are close to one another in level of rhythmic complexity; the refrain, however, contains subtly longer melismatic extensions, a bit more rhythmic interest, and more intimacy of imitation between the two voices; the music for the “feet” also shifts the basic tonality of cadences, leading to a more secure harmonic return in the “turning.” The Italian poetic text mirrors (or presages) these subtleties in a number of ways. The refrain sets out the duality of love in an almost Petrarchan dichotomy: the lover’s soul balances between life and death. The “feet” elaborate: his spirit desires to soar above its weeping, but cannot find a place to live beyond death. Almost surprisingly, the “turning” offers hope: “Love can conquer death!” Unfortunately, the form demands that poem and music return to the opening refrain, and we are once again reminded of the lover’s perilous suspension between life and death.

Sources: Lucca: Archivio di Stato 184 (Mancini Codex), fol. 54v (2/2).

Facsimiles: The Lucca Codex. Codice Mancini. Introductory Study and Facsimile Edition. Edited by John Nadas and Agostino Ziino, Lucca. Libreria musicale italiana editrice, 1990.


1. CLERCX, Suzanne. Johannes Ciconia: Un musicien liégois et son temps, 2 vols., Brussels: Palais des Académies, 1960, Vol. II: 61.
2. NEMETH, George L. The Secular Music of Johannes Ciconia, Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University (1977): 198.
3. WILLIAMS, Carol J. The Mancini Codex: A Manuscript Study, Ph.D. dissertation (University of Adelaide), 3 vols., 1983, Vol. II:  45.
4. The Works of Johannes Ciconia, edited by Margaret Bent and Anne Hallmark. Monaco: Editions de L’Oiseau-Lyre, 1985. Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century XXIV: 134. Work No.31


1. BONACCORSI, Alfredo “Un nuovo codice dell’ Ars nova: Il codice Lucchese.”  Atti della Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Ser. 8, I/12 (1948): 586.
2. PIRROTTA, Nino and Ettore LI GOTTI. “Il Codice di Lucca. III. Il repertorio musicale.” Musica Disciplina, V (1951): 129.


1. Recording on CD

2009 Trecento. EtCetera KTC1902. Jill Feldman, soprano and Kees Boeke, fl. Inter alia: Dolce fortuna; La Fiamma del to amor. Reissued by Olive Music, OM002, 2009.

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 (2’27); 3. Le ray au soley! (1’27)

1998 En doulz chastel de Pavie: Chansons a la cour des Visconti vers 1400. Ferrara Ensemble, Crawford Young. Harmonia mundi ‘Documenta’ 905241 (60:28). Inter alia: La Fiamma del to amor, a 2 (Lucca f54v) (2:30); Le ray au soley! canon, Perugia, f.83 (1:30); Sus une fontayne (Mod.f.27v-28)(8:15). Incl Randall Cook on viola d’arco, CY on guiterne and Marion Fourquier on harp.

1982 L’œuvre intégral / Johannes Ciconia.: Huelgas Ensemble, dir Paul van Nevel. Musique en Wallonie, MW 80040-44. (10 and 12/80). Œuvres italiennes III: Merçe o morte; La fiamma del to amor (4’44); O donna crudele; Per quella strada lactea. ?Reissued 1997.

2. YouTube video clips

Johannes Ciconia (1335-1411) – La fiamma del tio amor (instrumental). theprof1958, 24 Oct 2009 (2:26). Ferrara Ensemble, dir Crawford Young. lute and vielle. Visuals: still image.

Johannes Ciconia. La fiamma del to amor. CathedralMusicOnline, 6 Dec 2009 (3:30). Fidel and vielle. Case Western Reserve University Collegium Musicum, dir. Dr. Debra Nagy. Performed at Trinity Cathedral (Episcopal), Cleveland, Ohio. Brownbag Concert: A medieval banquet, November 18, 2009. Visuals: live concert, church altar.

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. 

I almost didn’t attend this week. Working as an actor under a strong director or producer, working as a chorister under a strong conductor is all about dogged subservience to one person’s vision. It’s of course masochistic, but the rewards are worth it. In absenting myself this week, I would have set myself up for some quite exquisite torture next week. The process is not dissimilar to that of a personal trainer who is asking for more, for my own good. I learned this week, from a performance of a chamber opera for deaf students, assisted by two signers, that the Auslan sign for “stone” is the index finger pointing at one’s chin. Given elaborate explanations at previous choir practice sessions about the difference between a loose jaw as opposed to a loose chin (and how one is not the other), I’m seeing singing pedagogy everywhere I go.


Main points this week:

* unless the air is allowed to come up, or be pushed up, from the lungs, singing in tune will falter

* be aware of maintaining an open mouth at all times, whether or not there is any sound issuing forth (!)

* think vowels and working the soft palate before working the lips to sound/sing words

* sing the whole thing in vowels – only when they’re correct start “half”-adding consonants and finish up eventually with some lip activity.

* I am the Instrument. For one who’s been playing instruments outside my body all my life, this is an amazing realization!

Implications for Medieval/Renaissance music study:

* consider the breath and voice dynamics involved in singing Kyrie eleison. Watch how the breath and voice moves through these vowels from the lungs initially, “ky”  through loose tongue (“r) and the vowels and the “el” to get the tuning right, o a finish with “son”, a bright soft palate sound. The perfect way, honoured over centuries of Western singing, of warming up a voice and getting all the necessary components ready.

* Godhead here in hiding: start and and end on the same note C, first line rising and falling through the hexachord, falls nicely in most people’s range. A nice slur in each of the four lines.


I was out of the firing line this week, most attention going to convincing the women their ‘natural’ voices lay – a lot higher than they anticipated. I heard some astounding Cs from women who thought they had no singing voice!

Here beginneth the daily look at Ciconia’s individual works. As I gain further insights and information, I’ll update and edit the words below.

Una panthera is a three-voice Italian madrigal, one of four attributed to Ciconia, thought by some to have been composed in the 1390s and by others as more closely linked with the visit of the noble Lazzaro, from Lucca, visiting Giangaleazzo Visconti in Padua in May or June 1399. Ciconia was working for Visconti at the time.

To quote Donato Mancini in the “All Music Guide”:

The lyrics, possibly Ciconia, engage Lazzaro in deep flattery. They refer to the mythical founding of Lucca by an armoured panther (or leopard), in the company of the war-god Mars. The celebration of the creature’s strong defnse of the city is aimed to flatter Lazzaro into accepting terms for a political and military alliance with Padua.

Integral to an understanding of Ciconia and his music is the political context of the north Italian city-states spending both a lot of money on ceremony and status-seeking musical accompaniment and on fighting with each other. Initially, the principal struggle was between the two ports, Genoa and Venice. After Genovese acquiescence to Venice, a struggle grew between Venice and Milan. Pavia, a city immediately to the south of Milan was caught up in military action, as did Padua not far from Venice. Florence, to the south of Bologna, came into its own more in the fifteenth-century after these events of the late fourteenth-century, after the Black Death of 1385 and the likes of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Things seem to have rather come to a natural close with Padua surrendering in 1405 to Venice. I’ll refine my understandings of the politics as I go along. Obviously Ciconia has a place in the music of Venice; more on that later, and of course, Padua.

But back to the music. Any superficial listening will cause one to consider Una panthera in terms of “angularity” and strong contrasts between long sustained chords and melismatic vocal acrobatics. In considering Mancini’s further description of this madrigal, he describes it as a “most famous” and “most… influential” work. Now I’m not sure to what extent it was famous and popular in Ciconia’s own time – perhaps it was one of those works which was copied and transmitted across Europe. But certainly it has been famous and popular for modern audiences, with at least fifteen different recordings in the last five decades. Sus un fontayne comes in with twelve over the same period, but almost all the remaining works have been recorded once, twice or three times, by comparison.

To quote Mancini again at length:

All four of these pieces (madrigals) are consistent in their Italianzed style and tone. Their particularly Italian traits are mostly rhythmic/melodic, quick lines with many notes, triplets in the beat, longish scalar passages, and often sequenced. The cumulative effect is celebratory and oddly three-dimensional. Una panthera breaks back and forth between sections of ebullient fludiity and studies in the syncopated montage of parts. In these latter sections (the refrains), Ciconia seems to be experimenting with the kind of the angular grace that can eb created when somewhat awkward, syncopated lines are justly superimposed. He makes a point of weaving the movements of onel ine into the open or static spaces of another. His concept seems to draw inspiration directly from the conventions of French Gothic architecture, sometimes described as the ‘awareness of space as a tangible entity’. Such asn awareness naturally leads to a fascination with the dramatic intersection of the hard lines that compose a space. To this learned, rational French sensibility, Ciconia adds an Italianate interest in color and flair, individualistic expressions of his own creative pleasure. The result of his efforts are some of the most enjoyable, influential works of the entire ars subtilior.

I’m not aware yet of how exactly a madrigal, with ostensibly such slim resources as three voices, can have taken on such an important role in the diplomatic and political fortunes of two bellicose north Italian city-states. I guess this is the Trecento equivalent of today’s photo opportunity of two political leaders shaking hands and about to announce a peace treaty. Perhaps the creation, performance and notation of a madrigal was as important then as any peace treaty signed with Montblanc fountain pens now. But certainly Ciconia was in the thick of it; his works are sprinkled with emblematic references and metaphors to the opposing city-states. And perhaps as a supremely confident man in his late-twenties, then at the prime of his life, he felt he could compose his own music to his own lyrics, and at least on one occasion include his own name in the text.

When it comes to the untexted bottom line of the three melodic parts, some performers have chosen to perform this as an all-vocal work and I’m obvious swayed by the powerful Orlando Consort in this regard, while other recordings have featured all-instruments, for example, three recorders, or recorder/vielle/harp. The Little Consort recording has a mezzo with two flutes and cetra; Catherine Bott is accompanied by two vielles. The madrigal seems to have gained a strong foothold with the Ruhland and Binkley LP recordings, obviously followed up in the Clemenic and Huelgas Ensemble ‘complete works’ CDs, with almost regular recordings from 1990 onwards. I’ve yet to fully understand its popularity, but its obvious choice by recording companies as well as performers is undeniable.

Having copied out the score by hand, I’ll come back later with comments on the madrigal’s structure and the relationships between music and text. I’ll include the full lyrics here shortly. Over time, I’ll consider how versatile it obviously is when it comes to instruments-only performances.

Una Panthera

Una panthera in compagnia de marte

Candido Jove d’un sereno adorno

Constant’e’ l’arme chi la garda intorno.

Dando a ciaschun mortal che ne sia degno

Triumpho, gloria e parte in questo regno.

Questa guberna la cita luchana

Con soa dolcezza el cielo dispensa e dona

Secondo el meritar iusta corona.

Dando a ecc.