Performing jeux-partis with graindelavoix

This second year of my Leverhulme project will involve a workshop with performers designed to help me think about my unnotated manuscript in a more musical way.

Back in the summer I gave a paper at the International Courtly Literature Society conference, a triennial event whose theme this year for their meeting in Lexington KY was leisure, play, and pastimes. I talked about the jeux-partis and their relationship to tournaments, as exemplified in Douce 308, which has some of the latest jeux-partis known to have been written as well as transmitting two major poems about tournaments. The staged and formal debate of the jeu-parti has elements in common with the joust in terms of a competitive but playful form in which violence is expected: the jouster expects to be struck by a lance; the lover is wounded by the lance of the lady’s eyes, extromissively piercing his heart.

As part of my presentation I played what is by far my favourite performance of a jeu-parti.

Performance groups very seldom tackle this genre because it’s quite wordy and dramatic and the melodies are often perfectly designed for comprehension, ear-worminess, but not the purer aesthetic pleasure that one might get from a more melismatic troubadour or trouvère love song. Just see, for example, the faint praise of Thedore Karp in Grove cited at the opening of the Wikipedia entry on the composer of this jeu-parti. However, if you watch the video above you’ll see how compellingly this debate can be staged in the hands of sensitive and bold performers like those in graindelavoix. The love questions asked in jeu-partis are often still very amusing and the two singers here perfectly bring out the sense of play involved in the musical eloquence of this song.

At the bottom of this post I give a stanza-by-stanza synopsis of this song’s debate, in which Duke Henri III of Brabant and the poet-singer-composer Gillebert de Berneville differ on the question of whether getting rapid sexual satisfaction from your lady prolongs or shortens your desire for her. The noble Duke has the more courtly position, thinking something still desired better than something already enjoyed and worrying about compromising the lady’s good name. Gillebert, his interlocutor, insinuates that the Duke is shallow wham-bam-thankyou-ma’am kind of lover if he fears losing interest so quickly.

Based purely on seeing this video I decided to ask graindelavoix if they would come over to Oxford and work with me on some of the other jeux-partis and also some of the motets in Douce 308. We’re currently setting up a date in the early Spring of 2017. Not only will there be a few sessions for me and my graduate students to help us think through the still controversial performance possibilities for this repertoire, but we plan a short public presentation of our ‘results’ and I’m hoping also to make some recordings and post them here. Stay tuned!

Synopsis of JP26 (RS491)

Jeu parti between Henri III, Duke of Brabant and the trouvère Gillebert de Berneville

I (Henry)

Henry Addresses “Biaus Gillebert” and demands an answer to this question: if a knight loves a lady so well that he can have his pleasure with her night and day, will the love last?

II (Gillebert)

Duke of Brabant, listen to my thoughts on this: it wouldn’t cause love to fail but would double it, provided they were both loyal.

III (Henri)

Henry berates Gillebert and asks how he comes to believe such nonsense: that which is still desired is better than that which has been had.

IV (Gillebert)

Gillebert says he’s listened to the Duke’s reasoning and implies that it stems from a personal difference: when love treats Gillebert well, it doubles his love. Clearly the Duke is the kind of man who forgets a lady as soon as he’s had his way with her.

V (Henri)

Henry calls ‘Bel Gillebert’ a proven fool because the sort of behavior Gillebert would do will result in his lady being blamed. A loyal lover would never act in a way that brings his lady shame.

VI (Gillebert)

Gillebert invokes the name of God and says he can’t believe that a good lady might be refused but should be served more than before. He says the debate has gone on too long and the two ‘parties’ should be put to judgement now.

Envoy 1 (Henry)

Henry names Raoul de Soissons as his judge.

Envoy 2 (Gillebert)

Gillebert asks for the Count of d’Anjou as his judge.


  1. dlkester1 says:

    I am fascinated with these debate songs – how could I hear and learn more?!

    1. There are a few more pages on the blog with some materials, but these are largely neglected by recorded performers. See here; here; and here.

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