Music & Poetry from Thirteenth Century France: Conductus 3

John Potter, Christopher O’Gorman, Rogers Covey-Crump
Hyperion CDA68115

I spent a lot of time working on this repertoire in the 1960s and 70s, and the editors then assumed that the notation must be according to the six metrical modes. These follow the main four sources, “Notre Dame” sources: W1, W2, F & Madrid (any textbooks will give the information), but there is no certainty that the conductus  should use the metrical modes except for short openings. (Other forms in the main sources are also not necessarily metrical.) The short lines of the conductus  are based on the texts. The number of voices can be one, two, three or (though not on this CD) four. Three of the 11 are vernacular, and of the remaining eight none relate to the Notre-Dame MSS. The flexibility of what is heard here is intensely refreshing.

First time through, concentrate on the words. The stanzas are rythmically accurate, but the poems avoid normal hymn-style patterns and have mostly short lines: Vite perdite, for instance, has syllable-lengths of 5, 3, 4, 5, 3, 4; 7, 6, 7, 6. Rhymes are in use as well: the first section contains 6 lines, in two groups of three different rhymes; the last four lines are simple ABAB. It must be deliberate that the total number of syllables is 50. I haven’t seen the source, but each syllable has the same length, with breaks at the end of each line. Short additional notes are sung within the main note. The story relates a man who mostly lived badly, the last line finishing with Miserere mei. There are also versions in French and Provençal. But I’m not going to write paragraphs for each of the 11 items in the CD!

The three singers are impressive. All are titled “tenor”, but not particularly high. John and Rogers I’ve known for decades – Rogers goes back to the ‘60s. I don’t know Christopher, but the three singers match well. Mark Everist offers a valuable introduction. It was generally assumed the conductus  implied a medieval procession, but an alternative is “conduct”, as in the ultimate good conduct in Vite perdite.

I hope this will be popular!

Clifford Bartlett