Les Escholiers de Paris


Les Escholiers de Paris
Motets, Songs & Estampies of the Thirteenth Century

Ensemble Gilles Binchois, Dominique Vellard 
Anne-Marie Lablaude
Brigitte Lesne
Susanne Norin
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Willem de Waal
Pierre Hamon
Randall Cook

"Choc" du Monde de la Musique n°175
"10" de Répertoire n°131 
"Recommandé" par Classica n°18


"Through school and royalty, Paris triumphed in the mid-13th century; and through Paris, the art of France".

Georges Duby

In fact, with the royal family's increasingly frequent visits to Paris and the development of the university, Paris became the focus of a vital flowering that attracted the greatest artists, musicians, scholars, and theologians to Europe's leading cultural center. From all provinces and all countries "escholiers" flocked to the universities and colleges, hoping to study with the most learned and renowned teachers of their day; thus was the social fabric of Paris enriched by young minds responding to the stimulus of the city's artistic and intellectual ferment.

Music occupied a position of honour in this effervescent atmosphere, having experienced exceptional development at Notre-Dame from mid-century onwards. This school's influence was so great that its creations spread throughout Europe, and soon music in every form and circumstance became a major aspect of the city's social life.

In churches : construction work was completed at Notre-Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle towards the middle of the century and, counting the royal parish of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois and rich abbeys such as Saint-Victor, Paris boasted countless distinguished locations where musical Chapels and the liturgical apparatus as a whole vied in opulence and excellence for the embellishment of religious rites and processions.

For all public and royal occasions and popular entertainments : music was performed not only by professional musicians - both religious and lay - but also by the bourgeoisie. In his chronicles, Nicolas de Braie tells us that matrons and young ladies from the Parisian bourgeoisie sang chansons and motets greeting Marie de Brabant, wife of Philippe le Hardi, as she entered Paris after his coronation at Saint-Denis on June 24th, 1275.

At court : we learn from the chronicle of Saint-Denis that in the reign of Philippe Auguste (early in the century), jongleurs and minstrels gathered at the courts of princes, barons, and the wealthy where they "chantent et content noviaus motez et noviaus diz et risies de divers guises" (sing and recite new motets and new poems and tales in various styles). Not only did the nobility use musical entertainment to enhance its formal celebrations, but also, seemingly, as a background for ordinary domestic life. It was for the latter purpose that singers (children?) were kept on call by the royal family for use as wanted; in order to comply, rehearsals were held "every day after vespers" and also on Sundays, so that a repertory would be in constant readiness for performance.

Contemporary accounts indicate that certain musical forms were confined to specific social groups. The audience for motets and conduits, for example, was made up of the cultivated and wealthy. These were listeners capable of appreciating the innovation and musical and literary complexity of the forms ; connoisseurs eager to cultivate the most sought-after musicians; and thus a major influence in spreading the new music. The nobility, on the other hand, preferred the traditional chanson. Chivalric and mythological themes drawn from the poems of provençal troubadours or from French romans fulfilled the nobility's desire to respect tradition and preserve the ideals courtly society.

These remarks provide a partial explanation of 13th-century musical reality in Paris, but they should not circumscribe our perception of how amazingly these varied and diverse forms became an integral part of the city's life. Theorist Jean des Murs underscores the extent to which music nourished all layers of society: not just the cultivated and privileged, but also the common people. It was generally recognized by the close of the 13th century that the role of music and dance had gone beyond mere entertainment to become a factor in the equilibrium and stability of society as a whole.

When this has been pointed out, is it then any wonder that numbers of our own century's musicians and musicologists are fascinated by late 13th-century Parisian musical life? The formal and stylistic diversity, and the intriguing migrations of musical and literary material (through copies, adaptations, variations) have aroused keen interest among scholars and performers alike.

This situation is an invitation to performers to bring the full diversity of the period to the attention of their audiences - a task made possible by the excellent state of perservation of the major manuscript sources - and to juxtapose works containing common elements, thus revealing to today's listeners certain features that were "understated" by their creators or that might be "underappreciated" by our contemporaries.

Dominique and Anne-Marie Vellard
English adaptation by Louise Guiney

Johannes de Grocheio (Jean de Grouchy) taught at the Collegium Sorbonicum, one of the schools of divinity within the Parisian University during the last quarter of the 13th century. His treatise De musica contains valuable information on the musical life of this time. It is in fact unique in that it discusses various approaches to music side by side. Grocheio of course duly cites antique authorities, Boethius for instance, and he refers to well-know medieval predecessors like John of Garland and Franco. But he also presents a classification of music of his own invention, in which he uses sociological criteria in a remarkable and unusual way. He indicates by whom the various musical genres are most aptly performed and for whom they should preferably be executed. The emotional and moral effect of the music on performers and audience is likewise indicated. He seems to think that only the scholastic method enables him to present this clear picture : at the University of Paris "the principles of any liberal art whatsoever are diligently sought out in our days".

It is of interest to see how the music that we selected for our recording can be placed in Grocheio's system. «Let us say then that music used by the people of Paris can be reduced to three general classes» says Grocheio starting the description of his system. These classes are musica simplex vel civilis, quam vulgarem musicam appellamus, monophonic music, the music of towns and boroughs, which is called common music, musica composita vel regulari, quam appellant musicam mensuratam, polyphonic music that is composed according to strict rules, called measured music, and musica ecclesiastica, music for the church, that has elements of both other classes and is therefore of the highest standing. These three classes are then subdivided.

Musica civilis can be of a serious nature or more light-hearted. Chansons de geste should be sung for old people and the working class : hearing of the hardships that the heroes of these stories-in-song had to endure, it will be easier to carry one's own burden. Grocheio then cites two examples of cantus coronatus with texts by Thibault. We have chosen two other songs of this kind by the same author, who was Count of Champagne and Brie and later King of Navarra [2 & 6] and two by another nobleman, Gace Brulé [15 & 18]. Cantus coronatus "is usually written by kings and noblemen and is sung for kings and rulers, so that their mind will be moved to audacity and strength, to benevolence and generosity, all of which make for good government. These songs treat of pleasing and arduous matters, for instance true and selfless love-bonds". The lady to whom one sings may be in heaven [6], but she is usually on earth, although for that not any easier to attain.

Similar songs of a lesser quality are called cantus versualis. "They should be performed for youths, so that they may not be found in idleness". The anonymous song "Joliz cuers et sovenance" [14] is an example of this lighter genre.

In the description of the rondeau Grocheio says that this song bends back on itself, because it ends the ways it starts. "This kind of song is sung toward the West (of Paris), for instance in Normandy, by young women and men to honour their feasts and banquets". The joy of Jacob on leaving for Egypt to see his son Joseph again, described in "N'en puis ma grant joie celer" [8], may not have been a proper subject for «feasts and banquets", but it has the form of the rotunda or rotundellus indicated by Grocheio. The polyphonic rondeau "Helas tant vi de male eure" [20] is a rather sad complaint of lost love, possibly better suited to these occasions.

The melody of "Haute chose a en amour" [12] by Gillebert de Berneville, a trouvère of Amiens in Northern France, has quite a few elements of the vocal stantipes. (Stantipes is the latin form of the French word "estampie"). It repeats parts of the melody in a special way. It is even more difficult to perceive this repetitive form in the instrumental stantipes.

The ductia is remarkable for its most wondrous effects. "this is a song that goes up and down through its melody lightly and quickly and it is sung by lads and lasses while dancing. Its leads their hearts and keeps them away from frivolity and is said to be a remedy against the passion called love or eros".

Instrumental music is also part of musica civilis. Grocheio prefers the viella or fiddle; he says : "a good craftsman" - he evidently considers musicians to be craftsmen - "can play all kinds of serious and light song and all musical forms in general on the fiddle". But other instruments may be used just as well. We have recorded the song "Joliz cuers et sovenance" [14] with loud instruments. Another well-known instrumental genre is the estampie. We have selected two of them from the Chansonnier du Roi [5 & 16]. "Because of its difficulty it makes the mind of the performer and listener linger on it and it often turns the minds of the rich form evil". Although the sections begin in various ways, they always slip into a common melody somewhere in the middle. A difficulty lies in catching this moment.

Musica mensurata has its name from the fact that the duration of each note and rest can be measured. It is also called musica composita, because it is a composite of several parts, or musica regularis vel canonica, because it is governed by rules. "The ancients divided it in several ways, but we divide it according to the moderns in three parts : motetus, organum and hoquetus".

"The hocket is a piece with two or more parts which have melodies broken up by rests". "This genre pleases cholerics and youngsters because of its agile and swift melodies. For like likes to look for like and likes its likeness" [11].

All other pieces on this record are motets, the most important genre in Paris from c.1230 on written for a small group of connoisseurs. Grocheio says the motetus "should not be offered in the presence of the common man, because he cannot apprehend its subtleties, nor will he rejoice in hearing them. It should be performed for the literate people" - meaning university and ecclesiastical circles - "and for those who search for these subtleties. And it is sung during their feasting, just as the rondeau is sung in the feasts of the common man."

Motets were important enough to be collected in large and costly manuscripts. We have used three of them. A codex of 400 leaves, containing some 340 pieces is the largest and most interesting source. It was written, notated and illuminated in a Parisian workshop and is now lying in Montpellier. A recent investigation of the manuscript, using information from art history, seems to indicate that it was written rather earlier than common musicological opinion has held until now, possibly during the 1260's, in any case before 1280. This implies a redating of the music of the last two parts, which was thought to have been composed during the last decade of the 13th century or even the first of the 14th. The collection is carefully ordered according to genre (it has some hoquetus, organa and conductus beside motets), number of voices (ranging from 2 to 4), language (French as well as Latin) and style. Another manuscript, now preserved in Bamberg, was probably written in the German Rhineland somewhere between 1260 and 1290. It contains some 65 leaves with music and another 15 leaves with a theoretical treatise. This collection has about 100 three-part motets ordered alphabetically and by language, and a few other pieces such as "In seculum viellatoris" [11] and "In seculum d'Amiens" [11]. The 55 motets in the La Clayette manuscript, written in the Ile-de-France around 1260, form only a small part of the contents. The same manuscript contains the Miracles by Gautier de Coincy, which is also of interest to musicians; the remaining items are of literary value.

Motets may have very disparate traits, for instance "Onques n'amai tant com je fui amée" [19] is a trouvère song, found as such in chansonniers collecting that repertory, here with an added tenor ; "Endurez,.../Alleluia" [17] a two-line refrain with a simple tenor in long notes. Most of the pertinent elements of the genre however may be exemplified by the first motet of this recording, "Ave deitatis templum mirabile - Cele qui m'a tolu la vie - Lonc tens a que ne vie m'amie - Et sperabit" [1]. The tenor is a melisma taken from plain-chant, here "Alleluia. Laetabitur iustus in Domino et sperabit in eo...". The notes of the melisma are organized in a repetitive rhythmical formula. The other voices, called motetus, triplum and quadruplum in that order, are added, forming a simple counterpoint of consonances of unison, fourth, fifth or octave with the tenor on the strong beats. The phrases of all the voices may coincide, but usually there is an interesting play of overlapping. The art of writing a good motet consists of inventing well-formed melodies for the two top voices within the constraints that the polyphonic writing imposes. Often the triplum or quadruplum are distinguished by declamation of the text in shorter note values. In our example tenor, motetus and triplum move at about the same speed in short-long rhythms ; the Latin quadruplum, found only in the manuscript La Clayette, stands out because of its slightly faster declamation. Motets may incorporate hoquetus technique, as is the case here. The general tendency in motet composition is to differentiate the voices; "Ave virgo regia - Ave gloriosa - Domino" [9] is a clear example. But in "Ave deitatis templum mirabile" [1] all the parts are equalized, using common melodic material and the same kind of text, expressing longing for the lady on earth, in motetus and triplum. Even the quadruplum is only mildly differentiated, transposing the longing to the Lady in heaven, extolling her virtues. And the melisma from the plain-chant is of course not selected at random, the hope put in the Lord being transposed to hope for the lady or Lady.

This play of references exists not only between the parts of one motet, but also between different motets as one can easily see comparing the texts in this booklet and listening to the music on the record. A common tenor may tie two compositions together; a common refrain is an even more consciously used device. These refrains, text and melody, wander from motet to motet. Thus "Puisque bele dame m'eime, je ne demant plus" is found at the beginning and at the end of "Puisque bele dame m'eime - Flos filius eius" [4a] and as the last phrase of the quadruplum of "Par un matinet - He sire - He bergier - Eius" [4b]. And "Que ferai biau sire diex? Li regart de ses verz euz m'ocit" is found in the motetus of "J'ai les maus d'amours - Que ferai - In seculum" [11] and in the triplum of "Que ferai - Ne puet faillir a honour - descendentibus" [13]. The triplum of "J'ai les maus d'amours" [11] even consists of refrains only. These aphoristic refrains not only occur in motets, but also in trouvère chansons, dancing songs, plays like Le jeu de Robin et Marion, and in courtly romances. In this way they obliterate to a fair extent the sociological distinctions made by Grocheio. His theoretical distinctions are not invalidated by this phenomenon, though. It just shows that praxis, action in real life, cannot be fully captured by theory, life in removed contemplation.

Willem de Waal

Ensemble Gilles binchois, Dominique Vellard


It was in the choir of Notre-Dame de Versailles, where he sang as a child, that the main lines underlying all his musical activity became clear to Dominique Vellard. His choirmaster, Pierre Béguigné, trained at the Niedermeyer School, passed on his passion for Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, the French masters of the 17th century, organ music and Bach chorales. After an obligatory stint at the Versailles Conservatory, he soon found himself confronted with a new manner of interpreting Baroque music, led by the generation of "harpsichordist-conductors" of the 1970s.

Interested by the way that the interpretation of the Baroque repertoire was being called into question, but somewhat alarmed by the presumption of the participants in this evolution, he preferred to devote most of his activity to the interpretation of music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance that fascinate him and in which he is free to express his aesthetic choices. Aware that professionals and listeners alike aspire to more personal readings of these repertoires, he now strives for a more lyrical and contrapuntal interpretation of 17th and 18th century music.

The Gilles Binchois Ensemble

Founded in 1978, bears the hallmark of a group dedicated to the discovery and interpretation of music from the Middle Ages. Unaffected by fads or fashions, the group has remained completely loyal to its objectives, which include close study of the various repertoires (especially French) and of their relationship with music of the oral tradition, study of different types of notation, and an attempt to achieve the vocal and instrumental tones appropriate to these repertoires. The Ensemble has deliberately chosen to accept only those engagements which fit in with the goals it has set itself, devoting the time required for research and preparation of the programs offered. This self-imposed discipline may have slowed development of the group's public image, but it has fostered the maintenance of extremely valuable contacts and privileged relationships with musicologists, instrument makers and record companies who have nourished and stimulated the group's creative work. In the course of the last ten years, the arrival of numerous specialized artists of different nationalities has enriched the quality of the Ensemble. The Gilles Binchois Ensemble has received public recognition throughout Europe as the result of its recordings, tours and concerts (Belgium, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Switzerland as well as Hungary, Baltic Countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia with the help of the Association Française d'Action Artistique and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). In France, the Ensemble is subsidized by the Conseil Régional of Burgundy and the Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles of Dijon.

for this album the members of the Gilles Binchois Ensemble are :

Anne-Marie Lablaude, Vocalist, Percussions
Brigitte Lesne, Vocalist, Harp and Percussions
Susanne Norin, Vocalist 
Dominique Vellard, Vocalist, Cithern
Emmanuel Bonnardo, Vocalist, Rebeck and Medieval fiddle 
Willem de Waal, Vocalist, Recorder
Pierre Hamon, Recorders, Flute, Bagpipes and Percussions 
Randall Cook, Medieval fiddle, Shawm and Recorder


Motet (manuscrit de Montpellier)
Motet (manuscrit de La Clayette)

Chanson de Thibault de Champagne, roi de Navarre (chansonnier Cangé)

Motet (manuscrit de La Clayette)

Motet (manuscrit de Montpellier)
Motet (manuscrit de La Clayette)

(manuscrit français 844 Bibliothèque Nationale)

Chanson pieuse du roi de Navarre (chansonnier Cangé)

Motet (manuscrit de Montpellier)

Rondeau (manuscrit français 10036 Bibliothèque Nationale)

Motet (manuscrit de Montpellier)

Motets (manuscrit de Montpellier)

Motet instrumental (manuscrit de Bamberg)
Motet (manuscrit de La Clayette)
IN SECULUM d'Amiens, breve
Motet instrumental (manuscrit de Bamberg)

Chanson de Gillebert de Berneville (chansonnier Cangé)

Motet (manuscrit de Montpellier)

Chanson instrumentale (chansonnier Cangé)

Chanson de Gace Brulé (chansonnier Cangé)

Instrumental (manuscrit français 844 Bibliothèque Nationale)

Motet instrumental (manuscrit de Montpellier)

Motet (manuscrit de Montpellier)

Chanson de Gace Brulé (chansonnier Cangé)

Motet (manuscrit de Wolfenbüttel 2)

Rondeau (collection Picardie 67 Bibliothèque Nationale)


"Chocdu Monde de la Musique n°175 :

Le XIIIe siècle marque l'âge d'or des universités. A Paris comme à Oxford, Bologne ou Prague, tout un monde de clercs, doctes et savants se presse entre les murs de nouveaux édifices destinés à accueillir les chercheurs de savoir. Ceux ci sont nombreux, qui se livrent à de passionnantes tentatives de conciliation entre la foi et la connaissance rationnelle. De leurs conquêtes intellectuelles, de leur conquête d'indépendance aussi vis-à-vis des pouvoirs ecclésiastique et laïc, émane comme un premier parfum d'humanisme, bien avant la Renaissance. Le répertoire associé au milieu universitaire possède le même air de jeunesse, la même fantaisie : conservé dans les manuscrits de Bamberg et de Montpellier principalement, il consacre les développements d'un genre, le motet, en dehors de tous les cadres précédemment établis. Textes liturgiques et profanes se mêlent pour former les plus délicates des miniatures, dont le charme musical, malgré toute la science contrapuntique qui y est déployée, sait rester simple, d'une grande fraîcheur d'inspiration mélodique. On se réjouit de retrouver l'Ensemble Gilles Binchois dans un de ces projets aboutis et fouillés dont il a le secret. La présentation matérielle du disque, le soin apporté à sa conception frôlent l'excellence; quant à l'interprétation, elle paraît, telles ces couleurs longuement recherchées, un pur joyau. L'Ensemble est un des rares, en ce domaine, à évoluer d'un disque à l'autre : on le mesurera sans peine au travers d'un ton plus libre, plus délié que dans les disques précédents. Un tableau vivant de l'époque, mais stylisé aussi, et toujours infiniment précis dans sa conception : on ne saurait trouver plus belle défense d'un répertoire encore trop peu connu et apprécié. - Marc Desmet
Technique : 8,5/10

"10de Répertoire n°131 :

HARMONIC CLASSICS (Records) Le retour tant attendu
L'un des plus beaux labels de l'histoire du disque avait disparu... Harmonic Classics renaît aujourd'hui de ses cendres et quitte les rives d'Evian pour les embruns bretons... Pour ceux d'entre vous qui s'intéresseraient depuis peu à la chose enregistrée, il est important de présenter le concept d'Harmonic. Cela pourrait s'intituler "la plus belle chose dans le plus bel écrin". Un disque mitonné par François-Dominique Jouis n'est pas un "produit" comme un autre; c'est aussi un objet esthétique. Le plus grand soin et la plus grande inventivité ont présidé à la réalisation de la pochette, voire du boîtier (cf. la profondeur du noir de celui de l'Office des Ténèbres de François Couperin). Si aujourd'hui Glossa en Espagne ou Symphonia en Italie nous ont habitué à trouver de "beaux" disques ailleurs, il ne faudra jamais oublier que François-Dominique Jouis fut un pionnier en la matière. Et comme il a aussi du flair, le contenu est très fréquemment aussi beau que le contenant. Harmonic Classics peut ainsi s'enorgueillir d'une véritable moisson de "10" de Répertoire, mais aussi de la découverte de talents déterminants : rappelez vous l'organiste Kei Koïto dans Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach ou Gérard Lesne dans le Stabat Mater de Vivaldi, ainsi que l'Ensemble Gilles Binchois...
... Grands pourvoyeurs de beaux disques au sein du label Harmonic, Dominique Vellard et l'Ensemble Gilles Binchois se voient honorés par cinq rééditions, toutes majeures. Il y a la bouleversante et incontestable Messe de Notre-Dame de Machaut, l'un des plus beaux disques du catalogue ("10" de Répertoire, N° 38, HCD 8931), que l'on complétera avec deux CD sur une époque antérieure, consacrés à l'Ecole Notre Dame (1163-1245). Le premier reprend les manuscrits de Florence et de Wolfenbüttel (HCD 8611), le second s'attache au rayonnement de l'Ecole, avec des manuscrits de Florence, Las Huelgas et Montpellier, la moitié du programme étant consacrée à Pérotin (HCD 9349). Ces deux CD méritent leur "10" de Répertoire, le second ayant été attribué dans notre N° 82. Le plus beau disque de Chant Grégorien est peut-être bien ce "Tons de la Musique"... Ce n'est certainement pas participer à une inflation éhontée que de transformer le 9 attribué dans notre N° 35 en un très évident "10" de Répertoire (HCD 8827), exercice que l'on opérera aussi sans crainte, par rapport à la note attribuée dans notre N° 68, pour "Les Escholiers de Paris", un programme de Motets, Chansons et Estampies du XIIlème siècle, qui complète parfaitement les deux CD de l'Ecole Notre Dame, avec un programme d'une intelligence suprême et d'une réalisation parfaite qui intéressera les mélomanes au delà du cercle des initiés de cette musique (HCD 9245, "10" de Répertoire). Le retour au catalogue de ce label était espéré : vous comprenez à présent pourquoi! 

"Recommandépar Classica n°18 :

... Quel magnifique cadeau que de retrouver ce label dépositaire de somptueux trésors! Vous pourrez désormais vous délecter de titres qui, lors de leur sortie, ont été unanimement salués et récompensés. L'Ensemble Gilles Binchois et son chef Dominique Vellard ont trouvé dans la collection un terrain propice aux récompenses de leur indiscutable talent : goûtez au hiératisme des Tons de la Musique à travers le chant grégorien, aux deux florilèges de l'Ecole de Notre-Dame du XIIème au XIVème siècles et à leurs sculpturales Monodies et Polyphonies vocales et terminez enfin par les Estampies, chansons et motets des "Escholiers" venus étudier à Paris au XIIIème siècle.

Selected by Le Monde de la Musique n°193 dans "La Discographie médiévale"
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