Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Diary of a glass-half-empty person 5

Ah… thank you, Consuela.

Consuela (my Tejana maid) has just brought me my morning orange juice. Very thoughtful. I shall sip it as I recline here on my chaise longue, wrapped in my blanket depicting the Cheyenne version of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and watch the morning clouds drift over Strathmore. The teepee-flap is pulled back, and a gentle breeze is tugging at my hair… an occasional raindrop is blown in to caress my face…

A couple of points before I begin today’s business. Firstly, Consuela and I are in dispute about my chaise longue. I mean I’m sure it’s a chaise longue, but Consuela insists it’s a duchesse chair. Actually I don’t much care either way so long as it’s comfortable, but I’m not being bested by my maid, dammit!

Secondly those bogus letters from someone pretending to be Wes Studi have started again. I’ll keep you… um… posted.

Now to the pith of today’s journal…

A correspondent has pointed out to me a flaw in my thinking about 15c musical scores. It’s a big one, and I feel a complete numpty for not having realized it.

Putting it simply, it is the vast corpus of work completed by the prolific composer Anon. I assume that my correspondent is referring to Pierre d’Anon, a composer of extraordinary longevity, who was Maistre de Ménestrelsie to four successive Comptes de Clermont-Ferrand. The difficulty is quadrupled because so few of his extant pieces actually bear a title, and none are in his own hand. I shall mention a couple of notable exceptions.

Firstly his now-infamous rondelai “Frappez ma chienne en haut”, a misogynistic  song written when his first wife left him for a strolling troubadour*.

Secondly a small fragment of what was to have been his magnum opus, a setting-to-music (four viols, two crouths, crumhorn, nakers, and seven voices) of the medieval German poem Nibelungenlied. It is a very small fragment, limited to a preliminary score of the first few lines (no, not those beginning “Uns ist in alten mæren wunders vil geseit
”, which as any but the ignorant know were inserted at a much later date) running thus:

Iteneuwe maere sic huoben uber Rin,
Man sagte das da waere manec scoene magedin…”

Astonishingly the melody he used bore a strong resemblance (it has been subsequently noticed by academia) to “Phil the Fluter’s Ball”. As far as we know this work was never completed, although it has been speculated that there was an almost-complete version destroyed in the Great Fire of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1503. Nibelungenlied as an inspiration for music lay undisturbed until the 19c of course.

Anyhow, unless you stumble on those two pieces which can be dated precisely to 1413 and 1454 respectively, you’re literally up the Rhone without a paddle.

* It has been a mystery to many musical historians why, if the wife-stealer was a strolling troubadour, Anon did not simply run after them and catch them up.

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