Aliénor la reine

A music typewriter on display in the music building

The UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s spring concert, Ex Tempore: Improvisations on Historical Musics, was this past weekend, and Isabelle and I went. Most of the concerts of theirs I’ve attended have been in the rotunda of Powell Library, but this one was in the organ studio in the music building. It’s a very intimate space, dominated by a pipe organ that sits on a dais. The performers were right in front of the audience; no one was more than four rows away. Besides the pipe organ, there was another organ behind us, as well as an upright piano and a harpsichord in the corner. This isn’t counting the harpsichord and the small organ-on-wheels that were on stage and actually played in the concert.

There’s apparently a tuba and euphonium ensemble on campus, and they were featured in a couple of pieces. I especially liked the arrangement of Monteverdi’s “Ecco mormorar l’onde” for two euphoniums, one trombone, and two tubas. The sound made the whole studio vibrate, and it was like being enveloped in the ocean. That madrigal was one of the ones I learned for the Jouyssance singalong last year.

I also really liked “My Lief is Faren in Londe” (I was surprised by how comprehensible the rest of the text was after the fairly foreign-looking first line; it turns out the song is in Middle English). It was fun to hear Vivaldi’s Concerto in D Major for lute on classical guitar, and the modern harmonies of the arrangement of Scarborough Fair were compelling.

The most delightful piece for me, though, was “Stella splendens in monte,” from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, a 14th century manuscript. It began with a sort of duet for symphony (a kind of early hurdy-gurdy) and musa bagpipe. The piper is the musician who played the musette at the hurdy-gurdy concert I went to my first year of grad school. Our paths have crossed multiple times over the years because he also sings shape note and Georgian music (yes, it’s all one cult). In fact, he just started coming to Datvebis Gundi’s rehearsals, and the first time he came he had the musa bagpipe and showed it to us! This particular instrument is unusual in that the drone can change notes (just to one other note).

Anyway, as the symphony and bagpipe played, I realized I recognized the tune as the Tri Yann song “Arthur Plantagenest.” Yes, this happened the last time I went to an Early Music Ensemble concert too. “Arthur Plantagenest” is about Arthur’s untimely end, but the song begins with his grandmother, Aliénor la reine, i.e. Eleanor of Aquitaine. Here’s a version of “Stella splendens in monte,” and here’s Tri Yann’s “Arthur Plantagenest,” from the album Portraits.

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