Vocal work for 12 voices and 5 tuned percussion


March 21, 2019

Gavin’s Notes:

I have written a number of vocal works using old or lesser-used languages (Faroese, early Gaelic, 12th century Icelandic). For this choral work for L’Ensemble, based in Toulouse, I set Occitan, the language of much troubadour poetry, having spent some time in the High Pyrenees where Occitan is still spoken. This also builds on my experience of working with early music vocal ensembles, as well as extending further my long-standing relationship (since 1984) with Les Percussion Claviers de Lyon, who performed with L’Ensemble. They had also formed the instrumental ensemble for my recent chamber opera The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (2018).
There were two texts, the first by the writer responsible for the revival of the Occitan language in the 19th century, Frederic Mistral (who gives the work its title) and the second by an Irish/French poet William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse. In the second part the five tuned percussionists play almost entirely with bows (two each) rather than beaters, and at the end the 12 singers play a collection of small hand-held bells.

Fréderic Mistral: from Reneissènco Felibrenco (1878)

Quand del la Fourèst Negro la barbarìo e li tenèbro aguéron desbounda sus lou mounde latin, l’oumbro emé si frejoulun e si trèvo de niue ac até, durant de siècle, la lumiero di letro e la civilisacioun…. Dins la sourmiro, uno voues clarinello e fresco s’enaurè, cantant e recantant l’aubado que reviho…

La Provença cantavo, lou Lengadò cantavo, la Gascougno cantavo; lou Limousin, l’Auvergno, lou Dóufinat, la Catalougno, tout lou Miejour cantavo. Cantavo lou printems, cantavo la bèuta, cantavo lou bonur d’èstre en vido, l’amour, lou dre, li gràndi causo; cantavo la crousado contro li Sarrasin, li bataio erouico ounte l’ome valènt lucho pès sa patrìo, pèr la resoun e pèr sa fe; cantavo lou desden de la forço òutrajouso, e partejavo lou cor dóu grand Blacas.

La tèsto dóu Miejour toumbè souto lou ferre…. La tèsto barrulè subre lou sou rouman, e di tres encountrado ounte anè reboumbi, Franço, Itàli, Espagno, n’en sourgentè tres font de reneissènço pouëtico.

L’escrachamen de nosto lengo, de nosto engèni dins sa flour, ansin dounè de large i tres roumano que toucavo emé li couide. Ansin li jardinié, pèr douna mai de forço i coustié d’uno panto, copon souvènti-fes la flour superiouro. Pamens lou recaliéu qu’en terro dóu Miejour amago si belugo, talamen es revoi que rèn l’amosso. N’èro pas morto, la martirisado! e dóu clapas de rouino ounte jasié, un jour, coume dóu cros de sant Baudèli, n’en sourtiguè ‘n laisié vitourious.

O lausié de Toulouso, o lausié de Vau-Cluso, o lausié sèmpre verd que simboulises glòri, lumiero e pouësìo, en terro dóu Miejour as regreia toustèms; toustèms regreiaras!

William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse: “La castelano” from Li Parpaioun blu (1868)

Noun èro aqui, ma damo douço e bello!
Mai sus si terro e sus soun blanc castèu,
Lou soulèu gai, la luno sounjarello,
Brihavon sèmpre, e tau qu’i jour de mèu
Ounte èro aqui ma damo douço e bello!

Soun pesquié lisc gardavo sa clarour;
Si verd pavoun fièr si pavounejavon;
Soun ort de roso avié la memo óudour;
E, dous pèr dous, si blanc ciéune trevavon
Lou pesquié lisc gardo sa clarour.

Noun èro aqui, man gènto castelano!
E triste, iéu, coume un arbre ivernen,
Dins chasco flour qu’ournavo lis andano,
Dins chasco flour retrouvave l’alen
De moun amado e gènto castelano!

Pèr quau aman coume es dous de soufri!
Pèr la bèuta coume es dous louy martire!
Iéu pensatiéu, soulet, alangouri,
Tant lèu me manco, elo, fau que redire:
– Pèr quau aman coume es dous de soufri!


Fréderic Mistral: from Felibrean Renaissancxe (1878)

When barbarism and darkness from the Black Forest had engulfed the Latin world, the beacons of art and civilization were enveloped, for centuries, by the sudden chills and nocturnal phantoms of shades and shadows…. All of a sudden, from within this darkness, a fresh and crystal-clear voice rang out, singing over and over again the reawakening dawn.

Provence sang, Languedoc sang, Gascony sang; Limousin, Auvergne, Dauphiné and Catalonia: the whole Midi sang. It sang of spring, of beauty, the joy of life, love, justice, great causes; it sang of the Crusade against the Saracens, heroic battles where brave men fought for their patrie, ideas and faith; it sang of disdain for abuse of power and it shared the heart of the great Blacas.

That century of troubadours, a century of resurgence, zeal, bloom, elegance, glory and, above all, independence, was …. the great century of the Midi.

The head of the Midi fell under the sword.

This head rolled along the Roman soil; and from the three places where it bounced, France, Italy and Spain, there appeared three springs of poetic revival.

The crushing of our language and spirit in their first flowering thus gave room to the three romance tongues with which they rubbed shoulders. Like the gardener who, to strengthen the lateral buds of a plant, often cuts the flower at the tip. Yet the ember that hides its sparks in the Midi burns so consistently that nothing can extinguish it. The martyred language was not dead! From the heap of ruins where it lay, there came a laurel of victory like at the tomb of Saint Baudilus.

O laurel of Toulouse, laurel of the Vaucluse, evergreen laurel symbol of glory light and poetry – on the land of the Midi you have always grown back and you will always grow green.

William Charles Bonaparte-Wyse: “The Chatelaine” from The Blue Butterflies, 1868

She wasn’t there, my sweet lady fair!
But on her land and her castle white,
The merry sun and the dreamy moon
Still shone as in the days of honey
When she was there, my sweet lady fair!

Its glassy fishpond retained its gleam;
Its peacocks green paraded proudly;
Its rose gardens exhaled the same scent;
And, two by two, its white swans haunted
The glassy fishpond that retained its gleam;

She wasn’t there, my kind chatelaine!
And I, gloomy like a tree in winter,
In every flower of the festooned paths,
In every flower I found again the breath
Of my adored and kind chatelaine!

How sweet to suffer for those we love!
What delight to be a martyr for beauty!
Alone, pensive and languishing,
Once more I’m without her, I must say again:
– How sweet to suffer for those we love!


Mistral part two: La Castelano

Gavin Bryars