Ensemble Unicorn and Oni Wytars – Music of the Troubadours

This is one of those times where a blog post hits under two different project banners for this site: Early Music Explorations and Just Listen: A Musical Spotlight.  Sometimes it just works out that way.  At any rate, I picked another album at random to blog about.  Read on if you’re interested.

When it comes to the exploration of Early Music, two of my very favorite groups are Michael Posch’s Ensemble Unicorn (established 1991) and Marco Ambrosini’s Oni Wytars ensemble (established 1983).  I have several albums from each of these groups.  To have them both on one album performing music of the troubadours is nothing less than special for me.  So far as I’m concerned, Music of the Troubadours is one of those albums becomes an easily accessible listening experience for anyone looking to dip their toes into the realm of Early Music without being inundated by the music of the Church.  I don’t say that with any disrespect towards sacred music by any stretch of imagination.  It’s just that I’ve discovered many people have a preconceived notion of what Early Music is, and that notion typically begins and ends with Gregorian chant and perhaps some polyphony, even if they don’t even know what that entails.  It’s a good starting point for some, but for modern audiences raised on a variety of pop music, the secular sounds of the troubadours are far more fun and inviting, and considerably less daunting.  This album is all about encapsulating that spirit in a handful of tunes that encourage you to clap your hands, tap your toes, and possibly even dance.

The track list looks like this:

1. Tant M’abelis
Written by – Berenguier de Palou
2. Domna, Pos Vos Ay Chausida (Instrumental)
Written by – Anon.
3. Non Puesc Sofrir – Ar Me Puesc (contrafactum)
Written by [Ar Me Puesc (contrafactum)] – Peire Cardenal
4. Bujo (Instrumental)
Written by [Non Puesc Sofrir] – Giraut De Bornelh
5. Bel M’es Qu’ieu Chant
Written by – Raimon de Miraval
6. Cantabens Els Osells
Written by – Ramon Llull
7. Ai Tal Domna
Written by – Berenguier de Palou
8. Reis Glorios
Written by – Giraut De Bornelh
9. Ara Lausatz, Lausat, Lausat
Written by [Monastery Of Sant Joan De Les Abadesses] – Anon.
10. Humils Forfaitz
Written by – Guiraut Riquier
11. Quan Vei La Lauzeta Mover
Written by – Bernart de Ventadorn
12. Lanquan Li Jorn
Written by – Jaufre Rudel

I feel it necessary to offer credit to those who made this music happen as well:

Conductor, Recorder, Flute [Reed-flute], Liner Notes, Producer – Michael Posch
Drums [Tenor, Bowl], Tambourine – Wolfgang Reithofer
Engineer – Elisabeth Reithofer, Wolfgang A. Reithofer
Ensemble, Arranged By – Ensemble Unicorn, Oni Wytars
Fiddle, Fiddle [Keyed], Shawm, Liner Notes – Marco Ambrosini
Fiddle, Laúd – Thomas Wimmer
Goblet Drum [Zarb], Bendir, Performer [Davul, Deff] – Katharina Dustmann
Harp [Gothic], Hurdy Gurdy, Bagpipes – Riccardo Delfino
Liner Notes – Keith Anderson
Liner Notes [French Translation] – Jeremy Drake
Liner Notes [German Translation] – Tilo Kittel
Tambora [Gaita], Performer [Bujo, Ud, Nay], Baglama [Saz] – Peter Rabanser
Vocals – Maria D. Lafitte

No doubt you’ll see some strange instruments in that lineup.  If you’re curious, I encourage readers to exercise some Google-fu and look them up.  That’s half the fun of Early Music, discovering sounds that otherwise don’t exist in the modern world.  Keep in mind, these pieces and the instruments used to perform them are coming to us across the ages.  Scholarship and craftsmanship made this happen, and ironically, what we’re hearing may or may not resemble the original music at all.  But this is where the scholarship comes in.  These interpretations are by masters who are getting it as close as we can without the benefit of time travel.

To accompany the instruments, the pieces here are passionately performed by the late Spanish vocalist Maria D. Lafitte.  The first time I heard her perform when I was first venturing into this world, I’d heard nothing like her before.  I thought, “What did I just get myself into?”  The power she brings to bear will push a listener headfirst into this era, and her exuberance will no doubt grow on you in short order.  There’s no time to acclimate.  Enjoy the vocals, enjoy the instrumentation, and just go with it.  Become a part of this world for a while.

I want to point out track 6 because if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you might recognize the name Ramon Llull.  A couple of years ago, I reviewed a book he wrote on the Order of Chivalry.  He’s not one I’d associate with the troubadours, but there it is.  I’ve had this album for a few years longer, and I’ve not put this together before, so I just learned something.  His track starts as an instrumentally-backed poetry reading, so it seems a bit odd, it kicks into party gear before it’s over and fits nicely in this collection.  But seriously, if you’ve not dived into Early Music before, or even if you have on some level, you would probably be forgiven for not knowing any of the names on this recording.  That’s the obscurity of centuries at work.  That’s why albums like this are so important, to keep these names — and the musical tradition they represent — alive in our modern culture.  It’s why organizations like Ensemble Unicorn and Oni Wytars are so revered in my book.

This recording is on the Naxos label.  If you’ve not heard of them, Naxos is one of the foremost labels for the larger umbrella of classical music.  One of the things I respect most about them is that they’ll commission ensembles and orchestras to record music that most have long since forgotten for one reason or another that should not have been lost in the first place.  The performances are top notch, the recordings are top notch.  It’s a winning combination.  This particular album was recorded in 1996.  If you have the CD, it sounds like it’s being performed live, the recording is that good.

This video, while not up to the audio standard of the CD, is just under half the music on this album.  It should provide an idea of what’s going on.

Just as music of our own time is full of variety, so too was that of the Middle Ages.  This album is a small sampling from one style.  Hopefully you enjoyed it as much as I do.


2 thoughts on “Ensemble Unicorn and Oni Wytars – Music of the Troubadours

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