This week I'm performing in the Feast of the Pheasant at the Newberry Consort in Chicago. (Have a listen to this little L'homme arme setting). Some poetic accounts survive and director David Douglass has sewn together a truly fine program with images, speaking, and great music. On board are Ellen Hargis, Shira Kammen (vielle, harp), Tom Zajac (sackbut, douçaine, recorder, kitchen sink), yours truly singing countertenor and playing lute and gittern, and the amazing Rachel Barton Pine on rebec and voice.
Among the best works on the program are Busnoys' Regina Coeli, Dufay's marvellous motet Ecclesie Militantis, and many fine chansons by Dufay and Binchois.
It's a pleasure to work on this repertoire - my third concert of 15th c. rep. this season. The admixture of what we today think of as separate domains, i.e., counterpoint and harmony - is truly satisfying. Rhythmically, there's a residue of the late 14th century floating here and there - especially in the contratenor parts (a middle/low or middle/high part against the primary pair of tenor and cantus). And there's enough virtuosity to go around for
The text of the Feast is interesting. I need to dig into its symbolism. To me, it seems like the primary account is full of encoded memory images. These fantastic descriptions remind me of rhetoric manuals from ancient Rome and of the Ciceronian memory system. It would be interesting to know what relationships are being uncovered by, say, green striped cloth, or of a woman thrashing birds out of a tree for someone to eat. I bet someone has written about this and I'll soon know more.