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Folger Consort's Valentine

Seven Songs of Love, the Folger Consort's unique Valentine's weekend performances at the Folger Shakespeare Library, featured songs of the troubadours and trouvères from the late 11th century through the Renaissance. Both musicians and poets, Occitan troubadours and their northern knock-offs composed in a range of genres according to poetic convention, ranging from socio-political commentary to love songs to polemical dialogues. The troubadours are most remembered for their songs of love, especially that between disparate classes. Founding Consort member Robert Eisenstein's frank remarks in the program notes about the "speculative" performance practice of these works thankfully releases the performance of all claims of the dreaded A-word, authenticity:

The surviving manuscripts date from 50 to 100 years after the songs were composed and are not performance editions but rather compilations for posterity of an art form near the end of its life. These lavish manuscripts contain only the texts and pitches for the songs, leaving rhythmic interpretation and choice of accompaniment, if any, to the modern performer. Medieval monophonic song is difficult to reconstruct, and any modern interpretation is speculative.
The outcome was a delightful mix of accompaniments -- combinations of vielle, lute, citole, harp, etc. -- for soprano Johana Arnold (pictured), who allowed the stories to unfold through the repetition of verses, each often gradually building in intensity. Arnold communicated the lengthy texts in a powerful way because of her intimate approach. Projections behind the four musicians displayed translations, and at times pictures of the original manuscripts.

Other Articles:

Aaron Leitko, Seven Songs of Love: Martin Codax & the Folger (Express, February 12)
Interestingly, Arnold only spoke the text of the sixth of Martin Codax's Seven Songs of Love, due to the damaged manuscript, projected above the stage. Arnold largely based her interpretations on colloquial speech, while interpreting note groupings rhythmically by their placement on the manuscripts -- some non-troubadour works, such as Codax's, did use or make reference to known rhythmic systems. Quaint instrumental pieces were interspersed among the variety of songs, some weeping in despair, others in denial of love lost, and one with the flippant refrain: "My husband is very jealous... I tell you: One should send the boring churl packing."

The final concerts of the Folger Consort's season are devoted to a program called Highland Ayres (April 18 to 20), with baritone William Sharp. The selection of Scottish music from the 15th and 16th centuries is a postscript to an upcoming play production, when the Folger Shakespeare Library courts disaster by staging Shakespeare's Macbeth (February 28 to April 13).

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