Our Medieval Mondays blog series was initiated in April of 2020 in response to the musical silence that fell on our community in the early months of the pandemic. In these posts, our Artistic Director, Eric Mentzel, highlights publicly available performances that he feels stand out for their artistic merit or thought-provoking approach. The series will be added to periodically by Director Mentzel as well as guest curators throughout the year.
Francesco Landini: Ecco la primavera
September 28, 2020
One of the most popular songs of the 14th century was surely Francesco Landini’s 2-part ballata, “Ecco la primavera.” This exuberant celebration of spring stands out for its inventive melodies and infectious rhythms. The very name of the musical form “ballata,” is taken from “ballare,” which means “to dance.” There are many 14th-century ballatas that show little affinity for their ancestry, but in this one the listener can certainly hear its roots in the long tradition of medieval dance songs.
It is fitting that this performance is done by a singer accompanied by organ. Landini himself was a famous organist and was involved in the installation of several Florentine organs, including that of the Florence Cathedral. The portrait of him that accompanies his works in the richly-illuminated Squarcialupi Codex shows him playing an organ very much like the one used in this video.
The performers on this recording are organist Catalina Vicens and singer Enea Sorini.
Jacob Senleches: La harpe de melodie
April 27, 2020
La Harpe de melodie is written in a style known today as “Ars Subtilior.” Some composers of that time took advantage of new innovations in notation to write exceedingly complex rhythmic figures and juxtapositions—kind of like de Vitry did, but even more so. But at it’s best, these are very, well, subtle: they don’t hit you in the face, but they kind of induce a dream-like state. In me, anyway.
In some manuscripts, Ars subtilior pieces are written in elaborate, fanciful notation that seems to capture something of their character: A canon written in a circle, for example, or a piece by Cordier written in the shape of a heart (“cor”). In the case of this piece, in one source there is an illustration of a harp, and the notes are written on the strings as if they were a musical staff. There is a little more info about the piece here:
Finally, the piece has two voices, but the top voice is a canon, so it is realized as a three-voice piece. In this recording the top voice is sung, the second voice (which is the same as the top voice, but starts one bar later) is played on the lute and the bottom voice, the tenor, is played on the harp. The performers are members of the Ferrara Ensemble, with whom I sang for many years: Lena Susanne Norin, alto; Crawford Young, lute; and Marion Fourquier, harp. I never get tired of listening to Lena Susanne: she’s one of a kind.