NYC Group Performing Medieval Poetry, Music

TENET will blend the language, poetry and music of the middle ages in France.

By - Oct 7th, 2019 01:52 pm
TENET. Photo from Early Music Now.

TENET. Photo from Early Music Now.

Early Music Now begins its 2019-20 season Saturday with love songs. Guest artists TENET, an early music vocal group based in New York City, will present the poetry of 12th and 13th centuries set to music by the Trouvères of Northern France. Within this secular tradition popular among the noble classes of the day, ‘high art’ songs of courtly love rub shoulders with cheeky tales of humor and deceit.

TENET Artistic Director and lead soprano Jolle Greenleaf directs the ensemble in repertoire spanning the Middle Ages to the present day. New York series concerts and recent CD’s center on the early Baroque, notably Monteverdi. The organization draws upon a selection of singers and instrumentalists to contribute to focused projects. Jolle Greenleaf, soprano, Virginia Warnken Kelsey, mezzo-soprano, Brian Giebler, tenor, Debra Nagy, winds, Shira Kammen, vielle, harp, Robert Mealy, vielle, harp, and Charles Weaver, on plucked instruments will contribute to this program. Each appears with other early music groups as well. As several of those groups have appeared with Early Music Now, it’s likely some of the artists appeared in other Milwaukee performances.

Troubadours of Southern France began the genre. The Northern trouvères offer a new, lighter vein. Similar entertainments were found in the courts of other nations in this pre-Renaissance era.

TENET will sing in a form of French as unfamiliar to French speakers as the Old English poetry lyrics would be to us. The printed poetry translations will serve the listener well. The selections cover a broad range of influences and attitudes. The tone and formality of the music changes as well. Consider these excerpts from the poetry.

Courtly love:
I am like the unicorn
whom contemplation stuns
as he gazes at the maiden.
He is so elated and unnerved
that he falls fainting in her lap;
then he is traitorously slain.

Comic love:
When I saw she wouldn’t come with me
I played the game of love with her & left,
Then she begged and pleaded, when I returned,
to talk with her again.
If a lady has a bad husband
and she takes a lover, she’s not to blame

Woman thinking for herself:
“Dear girl, I ask for your love,
and I’ll give you something precious to wear.”
She answered, “Knights these days
are pretty tricky;
I’d rather have my shepherd Pete
than a rich guy who’s a liar.”

Lament for the death of a lover:
“For you I will build an abbey such that on the day of this feast,
if anyone comes who has betrayed his love,
he will never be able to enter the church.”
Ah, how it grieves me!

Traditions this old exist at the very edge of the music history we grasp today. Mealy led the research for the program. Musical notation was sparse. Instrumentation is often inferred from paintings of performers. Over 2,000 poems have survived, many with melodies.

Early Music Now has posted the program. Most of the music featured in this concert may be previewed from YouTube. Critically, the text of the poetry has been added to the YouTube pages as well.

A break from the formal sacred music most often associated with early music concerts, this slice of love songs in the Medieval era will delight the listener. The quality of performance, poetry, and melody combine for a pleasant evening of song.

The TENET concert begins at 5:00 p.m. this Saturday, October 12 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on 914 E. Knapp St. in downtown Milwaukee. TENET will offer a pre-concert lecture at 4:00 p.m.

Tickets may be ordered online.

Tickets may also be ordered by phone at 414-225-3113 or by mail at Early Music Now, 759 North Milwaukee Street #420, Milwaukee 53202. Individual adult/senior tickets for Tier 1 through Tier 3 seating range in price from $29 to $59 dollars, with student tickets ranging from $10 to $20. Ticket savings are offered with a subscription for 3 to 6 season concerts.

Parking is available on the street and in the school lot across from the church.  This venue is also very near the 30, GOLD, and 14 bus lines. The approximate program length is 1 hour 30 minutes, and there is no intermission.

Next, on November 9, Early Music Now will host Capella de la Torre in a concert Soundscape: Leonardo da Vinci featuring a vivid picture of the music and sounds that surrounded and shaped Leonardo and his time. The concert will be held at Milwaukee’s Grace Lutheran Church.

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