Les Escholiers de Paris - Two Songs of the Thirteenth Century

Les Escholiers de Paris
Songs of the Thirteenth Century

Ensemble Gilles Binchois, Dominique Vellard 
Brigitte Lesne
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Pierre Hamon

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

Digital/Digital/iTunes Plus

"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

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 :

Brigitte Lesne, Vocalist 
Dominique Vellard, Vocalist 
Emmanuel Bonnardot, Medieval fiddle
Pierre Hamon, Flute


Chanson pieuse du roi de Navarre (chansonnier Cangé)

Chanson de Gace Brulé (chansonnier Cangé)


"Choc" du Monde de la Musique n°175
"10" de Répertoire n°131 
"Recommandé" par Classica n°18
Selected by Le Monde de la Musique n°193 dans "La Discographie médiévale"
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