Friday, 10 December 2010

Rostand-related visuals

Rostand's La Princesse Lointaine has, not surprisingly, accumulated more visual material than the rest of the Rudel renditions combined, thanks to the involvement of Alphonse Mucha and several other artists. The holdings of the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire in Strasbourg include many bits of Rudeliana, images of which are usefully collected on an Alphonse Mucha fansite (French). Costume sketches, stage jewelry, photographs, that sort of thing.

The same site reproduces Mucha's Ilsee in its entirety, in a more user-friendly format than the site I mentioned previously.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The root of it all

It was Easter 1993 when this whole thing kicked off. I was leafing through an old tome in my parents' house - a book acquired by my grandfather called History of the ancient Ryedales, and their descendants in Normandy, Great Britain, Ireland, and America, from 860 to 1884 (yes, it's been put online) by one GT Ridlon of New Hampshire. And I came across this:
Galfridus Ridel, eldest son of Galfridus, obtained the principality of Blaye, upon his father's entering the church, and was one of the most celebrated of the troubadour poets. His history illustrates in a most striking manner the age of chivalry in which he lived. He was the favorite minstrel of Geoffrey de Plantagenet Bretagne, and during his residence at the court of England, where he lived in great honor and splendor, caressed for his talents and loved for the gentleness of his disposition, he heard continually the praises of the Countess of Tripoli, — whose fame, in consequence of her munificent hospitality to the Crusaders, who, when returning from the plains of Asia, wayworn, sick, and disabled, were relieved and entertained by her, had spread throughout Christendom, — which praise of her beauty and benevolence, constantly repeated by the returned Crusaders, in their enthusiasm of gratitude, fired the heart of Ridel (sometimes spelled "Rudel") the poet to such an extent that, without having seen her, and unable to bear the torments of absence longer, he undertook a pilgrimage to visit the unknown lady.
'Caressed for his talents'... That beats Arts Council funding any day, I reckon. Not sure where Ridlon got the notion that Rudel spent time at the English Court. But for that matter, the book's evidence of a proper lineage from Blaye to my clan is pretty ropey.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Jaufré Rudel in 'literary paradigm' shock

You know you've arrived when someone writes a scholarly paper about you (OK, that's open to discussion of course). And you know you're in tune with the Zeitgeist when the paper uses you to investigate an aspect of online culture.

You'll need to know your Spanish for this one, though. Sadly I don't. You may also need to be working in academia to access the paper, I'm not sure. But here it is:

Jaufré Rudel's 'love from afar' and distant love via chat; a metaphorical approach (2006) by Pau Gerez Alum, Tutor for Medieval Romance Literature at the Open University of Catalonia.

Part of the abstract reads:
Love for an unknown person in a distant location has featured spectacularly throughout the history of literature. One of the emblematic authors who dealt with falling in love in such a blind fashion was the troubadour Jaufré Rudel, to the extent that he may be considered to be a literary paradigm.
Get you, Jaufré, with your literary paradigm and everything.
[...] it is impossible to escape a comparison with the type of amorous relationships that can be established via chat [...]. In addition to the mystery, related to a high component of idealisation, we believe that there are other comparative links from a metaphorical perspective, such as distance, the identity of the participants and the specific nature of the code used.
Anyone who's tried online dating might find this rings a few bells.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Right princess, wrong Frenchman

On display at the Macklowe Gallery in New York: A French Art Nouveau bronze sculpture, 'Princess Lointaine', by Marius Mars-Vallett (presumably this fellow).

Described on the web page as 'depicting Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Gustave Flaubert's La Princesse Lointaine (The Faraway Princess)'...

Flaubert, eh? Crossed wires somewhere.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Hillier covers Jaufré

Paul Hillier, co-founder of the Hilliard Ensemble and general early music bloke, recorded the six surviving and uncontested songs of Jaufré Rudel on an album for Harmonia Mundi called Distant Love.

For reasons I won't go into here, Hillier was a guest at my wedding in Bloomington, Indiana back in 1998, and during a lull in the small talk, mentioned that he'd just recorded the Rudel songs. I jumped in eagerly to contribute my recollection that a French ensemble had structured an album around the Jaufré legend and included some of his songs.

'Oh, well I won't bother with mine then,' said Hillier. There followed the kind of awkward atmosphere that you only get when you put two shy Englishmen in a foreign setting and leave them to make conversation. I think he was joking rather than offended, but I guess I'll never know...

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A prelude to 'La Princesse'...

Among the handful of composers to have had a bash at the Rudel legend (besides the previously-blogged-about Kaija Saariaho) is the Russian composer Nikolai Tcherepnin (1873-1945). I think you'd have to call him one of the minor late Romantics, on a par with someone like Anatoly Lyadov or Vasily Kalinnikov.

Tcherepnin (not to be confused with his son Alexander or his grandson Ivan, both also composers but of a very different stripe) studied composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov at the St Petersburg Conservatory. While still a student he was commissioned to write an orchestral prelude for Rostand's Rudel drama, La Princesse Lointaine (1896). According to the Tcherepnin family's website, 'Tcherepnin later observed that his concept of professionalism owed much to the experience of writing and exhaustively rewriting his Prélude pour la Princesse Lointaine, Op. 4, under Rimsky's guidance'.

Inevitably, you can listen to the piece on youtube. It's quite floaty and tone-poem-esque.

Update, 6 August 2011: No you can't - it's been removed.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Bernhardt bombs

The great French actor Benoit-Constant Coquelin (1841-1909) (left), who created the role of Cyrano de Bergerac in Rostand's play, described to the American writer and artist Eliot Gregory (1854-1915) a meeting with Rostand and Sarah Bernhardt at which Rostand read his Rudel play, La Princesse Lointaine, aloud for the first time.
'I shall remember that afternoon as long as I live! From the first line my attention was riveted and my senses were charmed. The great actress ... accepted the play then and there.'
La Princesse Lointaine closed after 31 performances, and Bernhardt made a loss of 200,000 Francs. Monsieur Coquelin had a fairly clear impression of the production's failings:
'Between ourselves,' continued Coquelin, pushing aside his plate, a twinkle in his small eyes, 'is the reason of this lack of success very difficult to discover? The Princess in the piece is supposed to be a fairy enchantress in her sixteenth year. The play turns on her youth and innocence. Now, honestly, is Sarah, even on the stage, any one's ideal of youth and innocence?' This was asked so naively that I burst into a laugh, in which my host joined me. Unfortunately, this grandmamma, like Ellen Terry, cannot be made to understand that there are roles she should leave alone, that with all the illusions the stage lends she can no longer play girlish parts with success.
Ouch. But never mind the aging actress: as in the legend, so in this tale, it's the tender poet who suffers the worst, as Coquelin went on:
'The failure of his play produced the most disastrous effect on Rostand, who had given up a year of his life to its composition and was profoundly chagrined by its fall. He sank into a mild melancholy, refusing for more than eighteen months to put pen to paper.'
But the play Rostand came back with was Cyrano de Bergerac. Which only goes to show.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Poetry in the distance

The troubadours' theme of Amor de lonh, or distant love, has inspired more than its share of tiresome pining (cf Rostand's La Princesse Lointaine), but the American poet Sarah White uses Rudel's song Lanquan li jorn son lonc en mai as a starting point for an illuminating essay on 'the impact of far love on her own vocation, life, and poetry'. Her book, The Poem Has Reasons, is a beguiling mix of memoir, poetry and... I suppose you'd call it literary non-fiction. It's definitely worth a look; I'd go so far as to say that it's the most rewarding Rudel-related work I've come across. There's a downloadable PDF of it on the website of its publisher, Proem Press.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Rudel by Mucha

In 1897, the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was commissioned to illustrate an edition of the Rudel legend written by Robert de Flers, to coincide with the production of La Princesse Lointaine, Edmond Rostand's play starring Sarah Bernhardt. The result, Ilsee, has become one of Mucha's most celebrated works. In 2007, a two-volume set of proofs for the book, hand-watercolored by Mucha, were put up for auction. Getty has two press images of the volumes.

A Czech website is selling individual pages as prints, and has the whole book online in low resolution (terrible navigation though).

Also online are a set of images from a (rather cheaply done) Dover Publications collection of artwork from Ilsee, with the text removed.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Rudel sails again (via Hyderabad)

Obscure and lengthy retellings of The Rudel legend, Part Three.

First we had John Graham, then Étienne-François de Lantier; now I bring you Nawab Sir Nizamat Jung Bahadur (1871-1955). This servant of the British Empire was born Nizamuddin Ahmed in Hyderabad State, south-central India, read Law at Trinity College, Cambridge, and worked in London from 1892 to 1895. A passionate reader of Shakespeare and the Anglo/European canon in general, he probably came across Rudel via Heine's rendition. He began writing poetry while living in London.

He returned to India in 1896 and served in various judicial posts in Hyderabad, then received the title of Khan Bahadur Nawab Nizamat Jung in 1905 and became Home Secretary (of Hyderabad, I assume) in 1909.

'Rudel of Blaye', a work of some 100 stanzas published in Hyderabad in 1926, was described less than glowingly by AR Chida (in An Anthology of Indo-Anglian Verse, 1930) as 'good enough in its way' and 'better than his sonnets'. Chida goes on: 'His mediaeval rhyming dictionary and an excess of the sedate and sombre manner of writing have ruined his poetry'. He also chastises the poet for favouring European subject matter and encourages him to compose 'epics and ballads dealing with our national history'.

Here's a snippet, rather reminiscent of John Graham's Rudel effort:

Immortal Beauty! Be thou still the theme
Of the heart's worship and its fervent song.
Still let the soul, by Faith and Love made strong,
See in God's works, though as a transient gleam,
The mystic light that veils thy form supreme!
Still let thy fleeting images that throng
Before the mind their magic spell prolong
Until man's life on earth becomes a heavenly dream!

I've gathered these biographical details (and the image) from Life's Yesterdays (1945) by Zahir Ahmed, which is available in somewhat badly scanned form (at the present time) at the Internet Archive. I have yet to find a complete text of 'Rudel of Blaye', but AR Chida's anthology, also online, includes selections from it. If I figure out how, I'll put up a pdf of the relevant pages for download.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Jaufré Rudel on youtube

In case you wondered what Rudel's music might have sounded like...

Two very different renditions of 'Lanquan li jorn':

A live performance by an ensemble called EVO...

...and a studio recording by the Medieval Babes...