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MARCIA YOUNG-soprano and medieval harp
DREW MINTER-countertenor and medieval harp
MARK RIMPLE-countertenor and medieval lute

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TREFOIL now has an official website! Click below for the latest performance info!

Trefoil's Official Website

Trefoil is a newly formed trio of singer/ instrumentalists long active in early music, with experience in ensembles such as Concert Royal, Les Arts Florissants, New York's Ensemble for Early Music, Pomerium, Clarion Music Society, Piffaro, My Lord Chamberlain's Consort, and other groups.  The trio debuted in New York and Philadelphia in early 2000 with a program of 14th century French ars subtilior song.  The Philadelphia Inquirer tagged the performers as "a hearty trio of medieval-music specialists" and their work as an "intricate, enigmatic, vocal art."

Trefoil has been invited to give workshops and concerts at Boston College, Temple University, Vassar, and the Vermont Millennium Arts Festival in fall 2000, as well as a series of four holiday concerts at The Cloisters in December.  For its fall programs Trefoil will move into the lauda repertoire of 14th-century Italy, characteristically performing the pieces in a variety of vocal and instrumental formats, accompanying one another on plucked strings.

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Programs for 2004-2005

Lauding the Nativity in Medieval Florence




Gabriel’s Announcement: Da ciel venne messo novello
Gloria in excelsis Deo: Matteo da Perugia (d. ca. 1418)
Prayer to the Virgin: Ortorum virentium/Virga Yesse/Victimae Paschali Laudes
Aquila Altera (Faenza Codex)
The Angels sing: Sanctus
Praising the Virgin: Sovrana si né sembianti
Ave stella matutina
Regina pretiosa
Ave Maris Stella (Instrumental – Faenza codex)
The Birth: Puer natus in Bethlehem
A Dance around the Virgin: Co la Madre del beato


Christ’s descending glory: Da tucta gente laudato
Christ’s Purpose: Christo e nato
The Magi’s journey: Stella nova
Nova stella apparita
Heaven and Earth rejoice: Gloria: Johannes Ciconia (c. 1335 – 1411)

ABOUT THE PROGRAM:  The small repertoire of surviving medieval Italian praise songs, or Laude, was first brought to modern attention in the late 19th century by the German scholar Friedrich Ludwig.  Ludwig and Guido Adler both published selections from a beautifully copied collection of these songs, the Florentine Laudario (now in the Florence Biblioteca Nazionale:  BR 19 olim Magl. II.I.122). This collection and the Cortona Laudario are the only two large collections of laude that survive complete with their musical notation.

Believed to have originated with the followers of St. Francis of Assisi, the lauda repertoire came into being in the latter half of the thirteenth century. These songs allowed the general public to perform religious services in their own language, and outside of the Latin liturgy, which offered little in the way of congregational participation. The songs were sung by lay confraternities called Laudesi and Disciplinati in Siena, Arezzo, Cortona, and Florence. The Laudesi performed their own para-liturgical ceremonies in oratories attached to churches. Disciplinati divided their time between their own private ceremonies, which sometimes included self-flagellation, and processions through the streets of Florence and its environs.  All of these services apparently included the singing of laude. Those on this disc are drawn from the repertoire of the Laudesi of the Church of Santo Spirito, where the songs were performed in procession, in chapel services around a central painting of Madonna and Child, and in liturgical ceremonies requiring the assistance of a cleric or priest.

Lauda texts were modelled after the secular ballata, originally a dance song, which was divided into a repeating pattern of refrains and stanzas sung by a soloist. Professional musicians were employed to lead the music and to perform as cantor/soloists and instrumentalists. The payment records of Laudesi companies contain entries for musicians whose ‘trade’ names identify their function, such as "Cellino della viuola" (Cellino who plays the viol). In the mid fourteenth century, three singers were regularly employed to lead the service at one Florentine church, often in addition to instrumentalists. Iconography of the time corroborates the common use of organ, lute, harp, psaltery, vielle, and other instruments to accompany devotional singing.

One of the challenges posed by this repertoire is its ambiguous notation. Its cursory nature indicates that improvisation was likely an element of the lauda performance tradition. Precise rhythmic values are not indicated, so there can be no single answer to the question of how the songs may have been performed. We have used a variety of approaches from chant-style delivery to metric treatments based on the natural rhythm of the texts. In other instances, such as the highly ornate soloistic chants 'Nova Stella' and 'Sovrana ne sembianti,' we opt for an unmeasured delivery that allows the soloists to sing with a maximum amount of rhetorical freedom.

The lack of accidentals in the manuscript invites a certain freedom as well; in some instances we employ a hands-off approach that allows modal dissonance to reign, as in "Nova Stella." We have also taken the liberty of improvising vocal parts in the manner of 14th-century part singing, for example in "Da ciel venne messo novello." We take our lead from the knowledge that polyphonic laude did exist -- written by Andrea Stefani in the 14th century  -- but are now lost.

To complement our laude we have chosen a number of pieces of late fourteenth and early fifteenth century 'ars subtilior' polyphony by Johannes Ciconia, Matteo da Perugia, and their anonymous compatriots. This was the music of the cathedral clerks of Padua and Perugia. In its elaboration and mannerism it stands in stark contrast to the humble urban middle-class music of the lauda. It is replete with sophisticated musical effects such
as hocket and dramatic chromaticism.  We also include two instrumental works from the Faenza codex, as demonstrations of contemporary experiments in improvisational division writing over existing melodies. The older monophonic laude continued to be sung by the lay confraternities up to the sixteenth century, so our juxtaposition of the
popular and arcane is within the bounds of known tradition.

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1. Sus un fontaine    Johannes Ciconia (ca. 1370-1412)
2. Helas, pitie    Trebor (Johan Robert?) (fl. 1390-1410)
3. De ce que foul pense    Anonymous
4. En ce gracieux temps   Jacob de Senleches (fl. 1378-1395)
5. Tres gentil cuer    Solage (fl. 1370-1390)
6. Pres du soloil    Matheus de Perusio (d.1418)
7. En l'amoureux vergier    Solage
8. Li dieus d'Amours    Johannes Cesaris (fl. 1385-1420)


9.  En la saison    Hymbert de Salinis (fl. 1400)
10. Tout par compas    Baude Cordier (fl. 15th c.)
11. N'a pas longtemps    Anonymous
12. Aquila altera    Jacopo da Bologna (fl. 1340-1370)
13. La harpe de melodie    Senleches
14. Se Genevre    Johnnes Cunelier (fl. 1372-1387)
15. Se Galaas et le puissant Artus    Cunelier


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Treading the Medieval Labyrinth

Le Mont Aon Anonymous
Phyton le merveilleus serpent Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300-1377)
Phiton, Phiton Franciscus (fl. 1370)
Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter Grimace (fl. 1370)
La douce cere Faenza Codex (ca. 1400)
Ausi conme unicorne sui Thibaut de Champagne (1201-1253)
Eisamen com la pantera Rigaut de Berzebeihl (fl. 1140 – 1162)
Le basile Solage (fl. 1390)


Fortz chausa Gaucelm Faidit (c.1150-c.1220)
Se July Cesar Johan Robert, called Trebor (fl. 1390-1410)
Pictagoras Johannes Suzoy (fl. 1380)
En la maison Dedalus Anonymous (fl. ca. 1375)
Tout par compas Baude Cordier (fl. early 15th c .)
Se Dedalus Pierre Taillander (fl. 1390)




Notes on the Program: The complex polyphony of 14th-century France was intended for performance by highly trained specialists. Each court had its clerks, usually a trio of singers with an arsenal of the most current musical fads and techniques. In the last quarter of the century, the rhythmic complexity of "ars subtilior" polyphony required these clerks to be fluent in an intricate new system of musical notation that included a wide variety of numerical formulae, special colors and exotic note shapes. The kaleidoscopic rhythmic language of this music should dispel the typical bias against medieval music as music in a "primitive" state or as an inconsequential phase on the way to the music of Bach and his subsequent heirs. This is music written by some of the most skilled composers of the western tradition, who composed much of it in their minds and wrote their parts out without ever seeing them aligned, one above the other, in a modern score. The real masters of this concert are composers whose biographies are, sadly, marginal.

Like the sinuous lines of the polyphony, the masters, monsters, and mazes in our program are interwoven. The mazes hide monsters and their conquerors, both in the texts and in the form of arithmetic conundrums that must be solved by the performers. In preparing this program, we chose to study the music from the original notation in order to confront the puzzles in their original form. This required a longer learning process, filled with trial and error. When absolutely necessary we consulted modern transcriptions, a luxury not available to the clerks of the 14th century (though perhaps the composer or a close associate was available for consultation). We noticed several things immediately: First, "finding the downbeat" was not an issue because we did not need to be aware of our position "within a measure" as in modern scores. (No bar lines!) Secondly, working from parts instead of scores, we were compelled to rely solely on our ears to keep track of one another's part; and thirdly, we found that switching back and forth between meters (mensurations) was a natural function of the notation, made less complicated when we couldn't see one another's music. Because we didn't think about "lining up," we did it much more easily.

Fourteenth century poets used authorities from the literary past as touchstones for their writings about love, praise, and war. This practice was inherited from the troubadours’ use of a senhal, or literary pseudonym, that replaced a rival troubadour or other figure in a poem. Usually this pseudonym came from the ancient past. Sometimes these masters became a musical symbol: the inventor of the labyrinth was Dedalus, and En la maison Dedalus is inscribed within a circular labyrinth. An even more complex labyrinth is formed by the notation of Tout par compas. Within this circular maze, the musicians encounter the mathematical equivalent of dangerous foes to be conquered. By successfully negotiating these mathematical problems, the musicians can continue their way through the maze. The medieval musicians who learned these pieces from these beautiful manuscripts were metaphorical "maze-treaders." They traversed a labyrinth of sound, much as a pilgrim would follow the path of the Chartres cathedral labyrinth, making false turns, retracing their steps, and eventually making their way to the end. Their reward was the knowledge of a new piece of music, and the delight of its performance. Perhaps, as one scholar has noted, the notation was a code meant to keep novices away from the treasures of the courtly repertoire. A less negative comparison would be to a board game – the winter months were long and without wars to fight, and courts needed diverting games and activities to pass the time.

In Se Dedalus, the famous inventor is listed beside Zephirus, Orpheus, and Jupiter, as symbols of power made impotent when confronted by love. So many masters and mistresses are quoted in Se Zephirus/Se Jupiter that the object of the poet's charms would be a downright villainess if she refused him her gaze. A different kind of master, Pythagoras, leads the list of those who represent the ancient art of music in Pictagoras. This ballade represents music in Pythagorean mathematical terms: one voice as a constant mean in relation to two constantly shifting partners. In this piece, the meaning of the text is hidden within the process of its composition and the means for recreating it. It is a musical attempt to represent Boethius’ concept of music as numerical sound.

Of course, this music was meant to be sung for living masters, or great lords, who enjoyed hearing themselves and their courts compared to heroes and kingdoms of the distant past. Le Mont Aon is set on a mountain in ancient Thrace, amidst the nine muses, whose master was Phoebus Apollo. Phoebus was an official sehhal for the colorful Gaston III, known as Gaston Phoebus, count of Foix and Bearn. Febus ruled in a mountainous region in the south of modern France; his mane of golden hair and love of classical allusion was the subject of a number of courtly lyrics at the end of the 14th century. Both Se Galaas and Se July Cesar contain his famous battle cry: "Febus avant!" (Phoebus forward!). In these poems, Febus is compared to Galahad and Julius Caesar, among other great heroes of ancient battles. These heroes are drawn from a medieval poem in praise of the "nine worthies" or three heroes each drawn from the bible, the ancient world, and the age of chivalry. Egidus' ballade Phiton le merveilleus serpent, based on the earlier setting by Machaut, begins with the premise that Gaston Phoebus will conquer a mythical beast (representative of one of his rivals) through his prowess in war.

Monsters and magical beasts abound in these texts. Colorful bestiaries, or collections of pictures and descriptions of exotic monsters and animals, were quite common in late medieval libraries. The troubadours and trouvères often used these animals as symbols of themselves in their poems, beginning with a comparison such as "eismen comme la panthera" (like the panther…) or "ausi conme unicorne suy" (I am like the unicorn…). These creatures were chosen for their obvious symbolic content: the unicorn appears as a not-so-subtle metaphor for male desire in the Ausi conme Unicorne suy, while the panther was known for his (not so obvious) resemblance to Christ, a victim of humanity’s self-centered and cruel nature. The basilisk, a serpent with a deadly gaze, appears in a quirky song by Solage, a composer who belonged to the mysterious Society of Smokers (fumeurs). Its awkward physical nature is mirrored in the quirky rhythms and syncopations of the music. The symbol of a hart, or stag, is the basis of Bartolino's La douce cere, heard here in its elaborate intabulation from the Faenza codex. This piece was very likely connected to a feudal device of a great Italian or French monarch.

This is not a program for idle listening. We hope that you will find yourself learning to tread the labyrinth with us, following its twists and turns, and discovering "clues" that will compete for your attention. Thankfully, these songs are written in fixed forms containing two or three sections of music that repeat many times. While listening, you can avert your "gaze" from one event to another as the music returns, much as spending significant time contemplating an elaborate medieval painting or sculpture can unlock different aspects of its nature. If you persevere and follow Ariadne's thread out of the maze, you might emerge having glimpsed the beauty of the quest for knowledge.

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