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Through the crossed lines of a reinvented battle, by Sylviane Falcinelli
The musical genre inspired by battles flourished throughout the XV and XVI centuries but waned under the English Virginalists at the beginning of the XVII century. Recent wars have only inspired a few works of circumstance (Beethoven : The Battle of Vittoria ; Tchaikovsky : Ouverture 1812 ) before taking on patriotic form « captured live » in the XX century (Vincent d’Indy) : Sinfonia brevis de bello gallico in 1918. Chostakovitch : in 1941). In the mean time the fresco of war had been widely transposed onto the lyrical scene ( apart from Liszt’s symphonic poem : The Battle of the Huns)
The fact that a modern day composer wants to put a medieval battle to music is a demonstration of an original transmutation of the epic into symbolic mystery (as is confirmed by the three gregorian chants representing the passing of the dead from the dark, woeful earth to paradise ). The early instruments bring echos from the past but don’t appear as an ancient language artificially latched onto modern speech. The composer hasn’t foregone its identity.
In fact the listener will quickly understand that the responsibility of the expression of emotions – in allegorical form – lies with the choral ensemble (screams, fear , lamentations) experienced by masses whose flesh and spirit were torn apart, but whose voices can only longer hope for the anaphoric passage by artistic evocation. Patrick Burgan already a master in the art of expressing poetic essence through vocal polyphony, has succeeded this time in breaking down the barriers between the writing and the text – thus becoming the allusive spokesman for the collective sensations and urges. Excluding the narrators, it is the percussionist’s job to bring a touch of realism to the noises setting the the scene. Few in number through the use of superimposed layers he succeeds in evoking the different facets of the poem : an apparent restriction in means – an elegant feature hiding a deeply intricate structure . The whole effect giving a free rein to the listener’s imagination so he can recreate his personal « cinescenie » from the interlacing sounds beckoning his ear.
A lyrical epic, by Patrick Burgan
« 1213–Battle of Muret » depicts the famous battle which took place in Muret, twenty kilometres south of Toulouse on Thursday 12th September 1213. A terrible defeat for the Toulousains led by Count Raymond IV against the crusaders of Simon de Montfort, it marked a decisive stage in the undertaking of depossession led by the crown of France, its conquest of the Languedoc region and the organised annihilation of the Cathar people.
On top of this came tragedy « aux allures d’ordalie » (trial by god) which changed the course of events leading to political repercussions on this event ; King Pierre II of Aragon who had come to support the Toulousains was killed at the start of the battle.
All aspects combined made this an event of remarkable proportions ; the clash on that day between the chivalry of the Catalan-Aragonese people and that of Simon de Montfort’s cunning strategy who with a much smaller army succeeded in bringing off a resounding victory (joining in the ranks of legends in history the famous battle of Agincourt in 1415 in when a few of Henry V’s Englishmen crushed a huge army of French troops.)
The magnificent epic poem which narrates this battle is an extract of La chanson de la croisade albigeoise (The song of the Albi Crusade)
which was written immediately after the event by a troubadour who has remained anonymous. Whereas Guillaume de Tudèle ( author of the first part of the song) is favourable towards the crusaders, our author is an active campaigner against the crusades and is an ardent defender of the ideals of medieval society in Occitan ;
In 1213- Battle of Muret, we can hear one of the narrators representing the troubadour’s voice of the XIII century, relating the original text in the Oc language as passed on through the ages. A second narrator gives a modern French translation : it is the voice of mankind today. Not a man who looks on part of his own story with a distant view but a man who is faced with the same daily problems, the same political involvements, the same idealogical absurdities, the same religious tensions, the same whims of destiny, the same human tragedies.
The two narrators – one to the left and one to the right of the stage deliver the text simultaneously : if this method doesn’t really cause a problem in understanding – the listener will always capture the meaning of the language best mastered – it brings a particularly dramatic effect to the narration .
Behind the narrators four early woodwind instruments – cornetto, shawm, sackbut and dulcian provide the background to the narration, comment on it, execute the transitions, unleashing the battle’s frenetic clamour. The mixed choir has a purely orchestral rôle where no text is used. Through using various vocal effects (coloratura, humming, shouts of anger) it participates along with the instruments in the ensemble of the musical vibrations. Even if at times it seems to harmonise with the voice of the protagonists (Raymond de Toulouse, Pierre d’Aragon, Simon de Montfort etc.) words belong to the strict reserve of the narrators .
The use of early instruments and the Oc language are not the only elements which transport us to the epoch of the subject in question. The musical language itself makes use of certain medieval techniques, in particular the « hiccup » a system of continuous syncopations widely used in the « Ars Nova of the XIV century. The work’s melodic construction is based for the most part on the song of the XV century « l’homme armé » and the last part (le deuil – grief) on three gregorian chants : De Profundis, Lacrimosa, InParadisum. After which the quotation from the troubadour Folquet de Marseille’s song is then included. As acting bishop of Toulouse he blesses the knights on crusade at the end of the third scene.(Second assault).
The dangerously assymetric construction of the metric proportions of the the fourth scene (The battle) is based on the figures and date of the event.
« 1213-Battle of Muret » was first performed on Thursday 12th September 2013 in the church of Saint-Jacques in Muret.