Treasured Tunes featuring Jocelyn Nelson

Podcast Transcript


Welcome to Treasured Tunes where professors from the East Carolina University School of Music offer commentary about selected musical pieces. Please sit back and enjoy the music.

Jocelyn Nelson Speaking

Hi. My name is Jocelyn Nelson and I’m on the faculty of ECU’s School of Music. I teach music history and early guitar, and I specialize in the four course renaissance guitar. The four course renaissance guitar was basically the guitar that we know of before 1600. It was the ancestor to all modern guitars. It’s very small. The body is only about a foot long, and it’s strung in four courses, or double strings. It is a treble instrument with a range in the higher pitches.

This little renaissance guitar usually functioned as a humble, popular strumming instrument. It was made for accompanying singers and dancers. But, for a brief and fascinating moment in history, right in the middle of the 16th century, it was the focus of a flurry of published music, especially in France. Several French lutenists published books of music for the guitar, and it wasn’t just humble strumming music anymore. They composed original works in all kinds of genres including dance music, ground bass variations, and fantasies. And they published songbooks full of arrangements of the most popular songs of the day for voice and guitar.

You’ll hear some of this 16th century guitar music from my recent CD, Ma Guiterre je te chante, which means, “My guitar, I sing of you,” from a poem by 16th century poet Ronsard.

The first piece is a light dance in triple meter called Tourdion by Adrian Le Roy. You’ll hear a plain statement of the dance, and then a decorated version.

Music playing composed by Adrian Le Roy (Tourdian, performed by Jocelyn Nelson)

Next is a group of short contrapuntal pieces: Two Canons and a Duo. Both canons feature two voices in strict imitation, which is rather impressive on such a small instrument. The term “duo” for the last of these refers to the number of musical lines rather than the number of musicians. It will still be me playing the guitar, solo. There is a dramatic dissonance at the end of the duo that I always love.

Music playing composed by Gorlier (Two Canons & Duo, performed by Jocelyn Nelson)

I think the highlight of the CD is when my partner, soprano Amy Bartram, sings Mes pas semez. This is a mesmerizing song about a woman on a quest to find her lover, and it’s built on a repeating bass pattern. We treated each of the four verses differently. Amy sings the first verse completely alone, without accompaniment. I play Adrian Le Roy’s published accompaniment in the third verse, but in the second and fourth verses, I arranged my own accompaniments.

Music playing composed by Adrian Le Roy (Mes pas semez, performed by Jocelyn Nelson and Amy Bartram)

Finally, you’ll hear the ever-popular Tant que vivray by Claudin Sermisy. This song was a huge hit in the 16th century, and it’s popular now, too, with early music audiences. This is the only music on the album that isn’t from a 16th century guitar book. I arranged the accompaniment based on Sermisy’s original three-part chanson about requited love for a change! It begins: “While I am in my prime, I will serve Love, the powerful God, in deeds, words, songs, and harmonies.”

Thanks for listening.

Music playing composed by Claudin Sermisy (Tant que vivray, performed by Jocelyn Nelson)

This has been a production of East Carolina University. To hear more, please visit the Treasured Tunes index.