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Mignarda concert sets: “Pour un plaisir”

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Pour un Plaisir:
chansons for a summer evening

“For he, Sire, that hearing the sweet accord of instruments or the sweetness of the natural voice feels no joy and no agitation and is not thrilled from head to foot, as being delightfully rapt and somehow carried out of himself – ’tis the sign of one whose soul is tortuous, vicious, and depraved, and of whom one should beware…”

– Pierre de Ronsard (1524 – 1585), dedication from Livre des mélanges, 1560

The music on our concert program is inspired by Ronsard’s obiter dictum quoted above, and highlights the “sweet accord” of the beguiling lute with the “sweetness of the natural voice” which is the very heart of Mignarda’s unique sound.  In our specially prepared concert set, we present a few rarities that have likely languished unheard for 450 years, and we welcome the opportunity to breathe new life into this profound and passionate music.

Our program opens with a brief introductory Ricercar by Francesco da Milano (1497-1543), who apparently spent part of his illustrious musical career in France and was also known as Francesco da Parigi.  The instrumental piece serves the purpose it was originally intended by setting a particular mood and establishing a tonal point of reference for what follows.

Ricercare, by Francesco da Milano (1497-1543)

The title of our program is from the anonymous poem “Pour un plaisir que si peu dure,” and we offer a musical setting of the text by the primary exponent of the Parisian chanson, Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1490 – 1562), in a direct and appealing setting that communicates the text with just a tinge of melancholy.

Pour un plaisir que si peu dure, by Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1490 – 1562)

Pour un plaisir que si peu dure,
J’ay enduré peine et travaux,
J’en ay souffert douleur trop dure,
Je’n ay receu cent mille maux.
Or Dieu me dont bonne aventure,
Fortune a faict sur moy ses sautz.

For a pleasure so fleeting,
I have endured anguish & hardship.
I have suffered harshest pain,
I have received a hundred thousand wrongs.
Now may God grant me good luck
Fortune has abused me enough.

Next, we illustrate the connection between our first two composers with a beautiful chanson by Sermisy, “Las, je me plains.”   This miniature masterpiece of melancholy was arranged for solo lute by Francesco da Milano and was published in 1536, in the same collection as our opening Ricercar.  Our arrangement follows the four-voice setting of the chanson, adding a bit of decoration provided by Francesco.

Las, je me plains, by Claudin de Sermisy (c. 1490 – 1562)

Las! Je me plains, maldicte soit fortune,
quant pour aimer je n’ai que desplaisir.
Venez, regretz, venez mon coeur saisir,
et le monstrez a ma dame importune.

Alas! I bewail my evil fortune
As for love, I credit that displeasure.
Come regrets, come seize my heart
And remonstrate my importunate lady.

Our next chanson is Je suis déshéritée by Pierre Cadéac, a composer who served as tutor for singers of the bishop of Auch in the 1540s.  Our unique setting is inspired by the arrangement for solo lute by another Italian who served in France, Albert de Rippe (c. 1500–1551).  Again, we borrow decoration from the lute setting, this time given over to the voice.

Je suis déshéritée by Pierre Cadéac (fl.1538-1558)

Je suis déshéritéé
Puis que j’ai per du mon amy,
Seule il m’a laissée.
Pleine de pleurs et de souci.
Rossignol du bois joly,
Sans point faire de meure,
Va t’en dire à mon amy,
Que pour lui suis tourmentée.

I am disinherited
Since I have lost my lover.
He has left me all alone,
Full of grief and anguish.
Nightingale in the lovely forest,
Without any further delay
Go tell my lover
That I am tormented by longing for him.

The probing Praeludium that follows is from an earlier lute print by the prolific music publisher, Pierre Phalese of Antwerp and Louvain, setting the tone for our next chanson.

Praeludium, Phalese, 1547

We offer a second setting of “Pour un plaisir que si peu dure,” this time by Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505-1557).  Crecquillon’s setting bears all the hallmarks of a good pop tune, but what charms the ears is embellished by a clever use of imitation among the four voices, three of which are assigned to the bass lute.

Pour un plaisir que si peu dure, by Thomas Crecquillon (c.1505-1557

Pour un plaisir que si peu dure,
J’ay enduré peine et travaux,
J’en ay souffert douleur trop dure,
Je’n ay receu cent mille maux.
Or Dieu me dont bonne aventure,
Fortune a faict sur moy ses sautz.

For a pleasure so fleeting,
I have endured anguish & hardship.
I have suffered harshest pain,
I have received a hundred thousand wrongs.
Now may God grant me good luck
Fortune has abused me enough.

Continuing with a bass lute, we feature a short Fantasia by Francesco da Milano, this time from an English lute manuscript copied much later, probably in the late 1580s.  The English connection carries through with our next track.

Fantasia, by Francesco da Milano (1497-1543)

In closing, we revisit the text of “Pour un plaisir que si peu dure” once again in a setting by Flemish lutenist and composer Philip van Wilder, whose intricate polyphony provides an absorbing contrast to the music of Sermisy and Crecquillon. Van Wilder and Sermisy were both present at the 1520 festivities arranged by François I and Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold – Van Wilder was snapped up by Henry VIII soon after this historic meeting and served as master of music at the Tudor court, responsible for teaching future monarchs Mary and Edward to play the lute.

Pour un plaisir que si peu dure, by Philip van Wilder (c.1500 – 1553)

Pour un plaisir que si peu dure,
J’ay enduré peine et travaux,
J’en ay souffert douleur trop dure,
Je’n ay receu cent mille maux.
Or Dieu me dont bonne aventure,
Fortune a faict sur moy ses sautz.

For a pleasure so fleeting,
I have endured anguish & hardship.
I have suffered harshest pain,
I have received a hundred thousand wrongs.
Now may God grant me good luck
Fortune has abused me enough.

Just as songs from popular 20th century musicals by Gershwin or Kern were published for domestic consumption for voice with piano, the best and most evocative airs were arranged and published in the standard 16th century format for solo voice and lute, enabling the public to indulge in the latest hit tunes at home.  Our goal is to communicate the intimacy of a domestic setting of transcendent music as it was enjoyed by musicians of ages past, when complex and intricate music was an expression of the élan vital, and singing was as natural as drawing breath.

“Without music, poetry is almost graceless, just as music without the melody of verses is inanimate and lifeless.”

– Pierre de Ronsard

 

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