The Art of Story Telling in the Middle Ages

Anne Azéma

Erato CD 4509-94830-2

Critic's Choice (Gramophone)
nominee for the Grand Prix des Discophiles

Track Listing Audio Track Samples

To hear a song excerpt, click on the
icons below.

1. 'Serena En Mer Hante'
2. 'En Mai Au Duz Tens Nouvel'
3. 'Issi Avint Qu'un Cers'
4. 'Dun Gupil'
5. 'La Danse De Gupil'
6. 'Ensement Com La Panthere'
7. 'Monosceros Est Beste'
8. 'Aussi Come Unicorne Sui'
9. 'Que De Memoyre'
10. 'Las, Las, Las'
11. 'Quarte Jours Plains'
12. 'Sour Cest Rivage'
13. 'N'est Pas Merveille'
14. 'De Sainte Leochade'
15. 'Au Renouvel'
16. 'Belle Doette'
17. 'Je Chevauchoie L'autrier'

This program of old French music and poetry explores a very important but-little known aspect of the Middle Ages: the art of story-telling.

Centuries ago, the frontier between the musical and literary worlds was much less sharply drawn than today. This recording focuses on French narrative art, both religious and secular, from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth centuries. unicornThe recording begins with a lovers' Bestiary. In medieval times, animals both real and mythical were used to represent the various states of the human psyche: the works we perform tell of the sorrows of love (the panther), of treason and death (the unicorn), of vanity (the stag), of pride (the fox). We include simple songs (the nightingale), narrative recitations (Marie de France, the twelfth century poetess), and some of the more elaborate trouvère songs: one of these, Thibaut de Champagne's song of the unicorn, develops all the "secret" themes of courtly love, its joys and its tribulations, perils and hopes.

Gauthier de Coincy (1177-1236), prior of Vi sur Aisne, was a prolific author of religious poetry and music. Among his "Miracles of Our Lady," we have selected the cycle of Sainte Leocade (in its American première). The poems and songs tell the story of a holy statue stolen and then found in the Aisne, thanks to the intercession of the Virgin. Gauthier's text is rich in vivid images, and his melodies are among the most beautiful of the period.

The last part of this program focuses on women's texts. The "weaving song," Belle Doette, tells the romanticized story of a maiden whose lover is killed in a joust; the girl then creates the "abbey of love" where all disappointed lovers may go to escape the world. We then meet a dame de Paris, anxious to abandon a husband who beats her for the young gallant she has just met.

The songs and texts are framed by instrumental interludes, based on tunes of the French trouvères.
these notes (c) by Anne Azéma

Review of The Unicorn
from Répertoire (Paris)

rating: "10 de Repertoire"
(highest, exceptional category)

One could go on at great length about symbolism in medieval poetry, or, to g
uide the listener along new paths, continue to find new themes in this most original of programs.
And it's true that explanations can be indispensable to the pleasure of discovery. But allow me to give some advice: before dipping into the program booklet, let yourself, first of all, be carried away by the voice of Anne Azéma! Because it will take you on a long journey, this voice -- supple, feline, incredibly pure of timbre, perfect in diction -- true pleasure for a program that owes as much to music as to words.

The other joy of this recording is, precisely, the program, mixing song and narrative, including fables of Marie de France and Philippe de Thaon, bringing together reverdies and chansons de toile, including a marvelously expressive interpretation of Belle Doette. Here are united a lovers' bestiary with its miraculous animals (the Licorne of Thibaut de Champagne) and the didactic wonders of Gauthier de Coincy's Miracles de Notre Dame, apparently recorded for the first time (here, the Cycle de Sainte Léochade).

This diversity is just right for Anne Azéma, here supported by instrumental accompaniments that are as subtle as they are inventive, and that allow her to give full rein to the
expressive capacities of her voice, already familiar to us from her recordings with Joel Cohen.

François Camper

technique: Purity matching that of the voice.

review from Dernières Nouvelles
(Strasbourg, France) 30 October, 1994

Rating: 3 storks, "nec plus ultra," (highest possible rating).

Anne Azéma, whose Alsatian roots are well known, usually blends into Joel Cohen's ensembles (even if she is remarkable in that role). Here she is on her own, just barely accompanied, simply and discreetly, by a few early instruments: gothic harp, vielle, rebec... This goes with the choice she has made of an ancient repertoire, of distant poems sung or said, that evoke terms laden with meaning and emotion -- a lover's bestiary, miracles and marvels...Sirens and unicorns live again, next to deer and foxes, under the compassionate eye of the Virgin.

[Anne] Azéma offers us a harvest of lyric song, sacred and profane, from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Her soprano voice, pure and flexible, but not in the least inexpressive, shapes in the best possible way these delicate texts of Thibault de Champagne, Philippe de Thaon, and Moniot d'Arras. A sweet, gentle moment and a gracious entertainment.