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The mediaeval bestiary, a mirror image of a society


(Performers: 4 or 5 musicians)


Selvagia, fera di Diana serva by Locus Desperatus takes its name from a ballata by Francesco Landini; this is a mediaeval music performance which delves deep into the fantastic world of the bestiaries of the age.

The bestiaries were illustrated volumes from the mediaeval period, containing descriptions of beasts and fantastic monsters, with an allegorical or moral theme. In the mediaeval tradition, beasts reflected the virtues and defects of society, in keeping with the ancient tradition of the fable, or exemplified the wonders of the world created by God. The mediaeval bestiary, therefore, enables us to indirectly gain access to the image man had of the world surrounding him.


We often present this programme accompanied by texts on the same theme, which may be from mediaeval times, such as the Llibre de les bèsties by Ramon Llull and the Disputa de l’ase by Anselm Turmeda Assault, or contemporary works such as Zoo by Carles Fages de Climent. In all of them animals serve as a pretext to highlight human ambitions and misery.




Ecclesiastical music in the Royal Chapel of Martin the Humane


(Performers: 6 musicians)


In 1379, the first-born Infant John had his own music chapel, where the leading minstrels and singers of the age performed. Apart from the chants for the masses, it was designed for motets, rondos, ballads and virolais. It appears that the singers, especially those at the service of the Pope, were the best music composers of the mediaeval period, as they understood the subject and how it was performed.

In 1395, Friar Steve de Sort, xantre i bon sonador d’orguens e hom religiós e de bona condició (singer, good organ player and a religious man of good character), came from the region of Avignon to the papal court on the recommendation of his ambassador, to enter the service of John I of Aragon. In 1396, upon King John’s death, the singer went on to enter the service of the new monarch, Martin the Humane, where he became a member of the best group of singers the kingdom had ever known. Steve de Sort is the author of the famous early musical composition titled Missa de Barcelona (Manuscript M971 in the National Library of Catalonia), one of the most remarkable works of 14th-century mediaeval religious polyphony.

In the project titled Dulces resonabat sonus by Locus Desperatus, the mediaeval music ensemble, we enter the religious polyphonic repertoire which resonated around the ancient chapels of the last monarchs of the Catalan royal dynasty: Peter III, John I and Martin the Humane. The ordinary polyphonic repertoire of the 14th and early 15th-century mass conserved in the territories of the Catalan crown is contained in 12 manuscripts. Generally speaking, these are works for three voices which bear a close relationship to the musical style in vogue around the papal court in Avignon. We can date this influence back to around 1353, when four singers from Avignon went to the Catalan court to enter the service of its chapels. On the initiative of John I, the new musical style gained popularity in the churches and monasteries of the Crown, not without a certain degree of resistance, as is demonstrated by the reluctance expressed by Francesc Eiximenis in his work titled Primer del Crestià.




Music and power in the Middle Ages


(Performers: 4 musicians)


Armes, amors, damez, chevalerie is a verse from the ballad titled En Seumeillant by the singer Trebor, which introduces us to a King of Aragon, who is generous and a champion of knightly ideals, ready to invade Sardinia. This description is perfectly in keeping with John I, a lover of grace, whom some accused of raiding the public coffers to satisfy his personal pleasures: hunting and music. This is one of the pieces which appears in the Chantilly Codex, dedicated to the monarch of the Catalan house and the members of his entourage.

Although we know little about his life, Trebor was the author of one of the most important poetic and musical productions in the Chantilly Codex, the greatest exponent of the Ars Subtilior. What we do know is that, on 24 June 1408, he was registered as a singer at the Chapel of King Martin I of Aragon, under the names of Johan Trebol, Treboll or Triboll.

Although we do not have any documentary evidence of Trebor’s service at the Chapel of John I, there is no doubt about the relationship that existed between the composer and King John. The old Chantilly Codex attributes six ballads for three voices to the singer, some of which are dedicated to the Catalan monarch and his wife Violant. Other authors of the manuscript also dedicate their works to the mediaeval Catalan monarchs. Not surprisingly, the Catalan house was one of the three benchmarks with regard to the emergence and development of the Ars Subtilior.


The royal couple were great lovers of books, had very broad cultural interests (history, the classics, science, music, literature, etc.) and a special predilection for all things French, particularly the work of Guillaume de Machaut, the greatest exponent of the Ars Nova. Machaut is also one of the authors who appears in the Chantilly manuscript.

Patrons of musicians (the king himself was an amateur composer), and the most brilliant minstrels and singers of the time passed through the court of John I, some of them remaining at the service of Martin I and Martin the Humane in Sicily.

The Ars Nova, and later the Ars Subtilior, eclipsed the old troubadour tradition and the new musical styles, especially ballads and rondos, were the ones most frequently used by 14th and 15th-century composers in France and by the Crown of Aragon. In this project, the Locus Desperatus ensemble invites us to journey to the court of John I of Aragon, to enjoy the music that resonated around his palaces, from religious works to the refined pieces of the Ars Subtilior.




 A story of love and disaffection in the 14th century


(Performers: 4 musicians, a dancer, a rhapsodist)


Signs are a feature of the contextualization of the literary texts of the Middle Ages, terms which conceal the names of the people they were dedicated to in the poetic verses. In order not to reveal the name of his loved one, the troubadour indicates the lady with a sign (pseudonym), which usually appears at the end of the poem. This custom, derived from troubadour poetry, also extended to Italian mediaeval works. Sometimes it helps to shed light on important aspects of the musical life of the age, such as patronages and the milieu of the composers.

Initially, at the court of the Scaligeri, the ruling Lords of Verona from 1260 to 1387, the composers Jacopo da Bologna, Giovanni da Cascia and Magister Piero, three of the leading composers in the first generation of the Italian trecento, created a series of works containing the sign “Anna” in their lyrics. This leads us to the conjecture that they were dedicated to a lady from the court. In this case, the sign "Anna" appears on its own, or included in other words, such as “Annamorar” (Apres’ un fiume), “Annascere” (All’onbra d’un perlaro) and “Annamorata” (Donna già fu leggiarda).

In the Florentine period, there appear new signs such as “Alessandra”, “Cosa” (Niccolosa), “Lena” (Magdalena), “Orsa” and “Petra” in some works by Francesco Landini and younger composers, like Paolo Tenorista and Andrea dei Servi. Some of the verses in which these signs appear receive a particular sound emphasis, drawing the attention of scholars and enabling them to come to the conclusion that the terms were, in fact, signs. Not always, but in some cases, it has been possible to identify the lady to whom the composition was dedicated.

In Loindan’Amor, Locus Desperatus offers an auditory and visual depiction of the lyrical compositions of the Italian trecento which contain signs. This is an interdisciplinary and intertemporal performance in which the reconstruction of mediaeval music merges with love poems by Carles Fages de Climent and contemporary dance. The dancer, with her modern choreography, depicts the deep expression of the feelings described by the lyrics and music, created by the Italian authors and interpreted in keeping with historical criteria.

Music from the 16th century, texts from the 20th century and dance from the 21st century, at the service of the subject par excellence: love and disaffection.