Classical Music #7: Garrit Gallus... by Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361) - The Book of Ramblings
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Tue, May. 8th, 2012 01:16 pm
Classical Music #7: Garrit Gallus... by Philippe de Vitry (1291-1361)

I'm reaching WAY back here for one to showcase for you today. I know this won't be everyone's cup of tea but perhaps you'll give it a chance.

Most people know this, but if you don't, I have an absolute love for Medieval and Renaissance era music. It was why, when I had a chance to go to a Renaissance Faire back in high school I was SO EXCITED. I mean, I was going to hear people sing motets! And play recorder consort music! And hear CRUMHORNS!!! And, as anyone who goes to a Renaissance Faire knows, I got none of that. Even though I've gone since and even played at the Faire one summer, I still feel oddly disappointed at the lack of real Renaissance music.

Anyway...moving on...

I was introduced to Philippe de Vitry's music in a music theory class in which we analyzed music of all eras. This Ars Nova ("New Art") music of the 14th century acquired much more polyphonic (many-voiced) sophistication than earlier music, thanks in part to advances in notation. Composers could move beyond simple rhythmic modes that had followed the monophony of plainchant. Now, composers during this time got a little carried away with this new-found freedom, sometimes so completely obliterating the text that folks who listened probably had no idea what the songs were about. Some had each singer singing a different, related text. And some even had them singing in different languages! Craziness, I tell you!

Ok in all seriousness, as soon as I learned about them, I fell totally in love with the whole concept of the isorhythmic motet.

What the hell is that? you ask. Sure no problem. Let me try to explain this!

The heart of isorhythm lies in the tenor, that slow-moving voice you'll hear in the midst of the piece I'll link you to shortly. Isorhythm is made up of two parts:

(1) A repeating pattern of rhythms (called the talae)
(2) A repeating pattern of pitches (called the color)

Often the rhythm would be one amount of notes and the pitches would be a different amount of notes, thus causing them to overlap until finally coming back together. In general, the work would take longer to cycle through the pitches than to cycle through the rhythms (for instance, the color might be 28 notes long while the talae only 4 notes; that means it would take 7 repetitions of the talae before the color is completed!).

Fun, right?

Ok maybe only for theory nerds.

At any rate, above the tenor were often 2 (sometimes more) voices that moved in free-form against them, creating that polyphony I was talking about earlier. These voices are called the motetus and triplum. Because we have to name EVERYTHING in music theory.

The tenor voice, by the way, is sometimes played on instruments and sometimes sung. People nowadays are unclear as to which is historically accurate (both may have been).

Here's a recording of this work. The full name, which is "Garrit Gallus flendo dolorose / In nova fert animus" is drawn from opening lines in the two top voices. Here is the translation of the text.

The rooster (Gaul) chatters with bitter weeping;
indeed the whole flock mourns,
for it is stealthily being betrayed
by the satrap even as it keeps watch.
And the fox, like a grave-robber,
flourishing with the cunning of Belial,
reigns with the full consent of the lion himself.
Alas, what anguish!
Behold how the family of Jacob
once again flees from another Pharoah:
no longer able, as before, to follow
the path of the Jews, it weeps.
In the desert it is tortured by hunger,
its arms and armour lack a helper.
If it cries out it will be despoiled;
the voice of the wretched exiles,
near death, is harsh.
O sad chattering of roosters!
Since the blindness of the lion is subject
to the shadowy deceit of the treacherous fox,
whose arrogance encourages sin,
you must rise up:
otherwise what is left of your honour
slips away and will continue to slip away:
with only late avengers it will soon turn into villainy.

My mind is bent to tell of bodies changed anew:
that evil dragon
whom glorious Michael once conquered thoroughly
with the miraculous power of the cross,
again is living, now fortified
with the grace of Absalom,
gloating with the eloquence of Ulysses,
armed with the teeth of a wolf
as a soldier in the army of Tersitis -
in fact changed into a fox.
Deprived of his sight by deceit,
the lion is subject to this ruling fox,
who sucks the blood of lambs,
sates himself with chickens, and never stops;
rather he thirsts on.
He comes to weddings with his hunting dogs.
Woe to chickens and woe to the blind lion;
but in the end, woe to the dragon when he must face Christ!

At least both texts were in Latin? Anyway...

You can listen to the work on youtube here.