The second half of the fourteenth century, despite wars, plagues, economic depression, and religious strife, saw the flowering in the arts, in literature and in philosophy, of a delight with subtlety of the most intricate kind, and a refinement of sensibility that took special pleasure in all kinds of complexities. This can be observed in the filigree decoration of the 'gothique flamboyant', the detail in the borders of illuminated manuscripts, the arcane network of internal puns, acrostics, and classical references in much of the poetry, and the 'summae' of the last of the scholastic philosophers.
The same delight with subtlety and complexity can be heard in the music of the period, when composers devised elaborate notation systems that let them write music of extraordinary intricacy by the process of creating a set of rhythmic world of its own, with syncopation, hesitations and shifts of speed, regulated by numerical proportions that also controlled the temporal coordination of the parts and their relationship to one another. The cement binding the musical edifice together was the theory of discant: a basic framework of note-against-note counterpoint effectively regulated rhythmic displacements as they were heard by performer and listener alike. Early in the century, this framework admitted only perfect intervals, the octave, the fifth and the fourth, at structural points, but towards the end of the century there was increased use of imperfect consonances, thirds and sixths, that lent the music a new warmth and sweetness. The two goals of sweetness and subtlety were the seemingly paradoxical ends toward which the music of the late fouteenth century strove.
All the songs in this record come from the Chantilly codex and present as clear a picture as can be presented within one recording of the song repertory of the late fourteenth century. The 'ars subtilior', as Ursula Gunther aptly has called it, is not just music of great complexity, some of which can be understood only by the performers themselves or by those who take the time to ponder the sometimes arcane texts and complex notation. It is also music of charm and delicacy that has its own immediate appeal. Like the elaborate work of contemporary goldsmiths, each of these songs charms and dazzles at first sight and also repays careful listening and study of detail.
Reviews"This recording is simply the best of a very fine but still small number of discs featuring secular music of the late 14th century -- a time of great social and political upheaval, and the beginning of an era of unequalled interest in and advancement of the arts. 10/10" - CD Review