Thursday, 11 October 2012

A 'new' Rudel song...

Edmond Rostand’s rendition of the Rudel legend, La Princesse Lointaine, features several lyrics written by Rostand but attributed to his fictionalised Goffroy. The original production must have set this to a melody of some kind; but a century later, it seems there’s a new one.

An album by the French singer-songwriter Michel Melchionne (Le rêve est le pain de ma vie) features a song entitled ‘La Princesse Lointaine’, which is credited to ‘Edmond Rostand / Michel Melchionne’.  

Though I haven’t heard it yet, Melchionne’s song probably uses the lyric from Act I Scene IV (for those of you following along at home) which begins:
C'est chose bien commune
De soupirer pour une
Blonde, châtaine ou brune

Lorsque brune, châtaine.
Ou blonde, on l'a sans peine.
— Moi, j'aime la lointaine
Princesse !

...and ends:

Le seul rêve intéresse.
Vivre sans rêve, qu'est-ce?
Et j'aime la Princesse
More information via this youtube page...

Friday, 20 July 2012

Nice draperies, shame about the females

Pity the poor, Pre-Raphaelite painter, untroubled by fame, who decides to have a bash at an obscure troubadour legend for his next subject. 

Such a fellow was one Mr Winfield (even his first name is lost to oblivion), who exhibited his painting, 'Geoffroi Rudel', at the Liverpool Society of Fine Arts in October 1860. The Liverpool Mercury's art critic, having laid into another work of Winfield's entitled 'Jock O'Hazledean' ('a ridiculous, faulty, unnatural abortion'), was a little kinder to his Rudel daub:
This is a picture of some merit, rich in colouring, and the notorious hardness of the pre-Raphael school is somewhat modified. [...] The drawing is also generally good, and the draperies admirable.

But wait... he's not done.
There is, however, a lackadaisical expression about the females which is unfortunate, and should have been avoided by a clever man. One drawback we must notice [...] all the females are painted from the same model, consequently have the same class of features, just a little modified or changed by the painter. This is very wrong.
Altogether the picture is very promising. If the artist will only avoid the absurd crudities and still more absurd rejection of principles which characterise the pre-Raphaelite section of painters, he may attain a high name in art; but adherence to these will only ruin him, as it has done many a man of fair promise within the last ten years.  

Both artist and painting have vanished into obscurity - not that they really ever left it. But the same, of course, goes for the critic.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A Rudel cantata

The Rudel legend has a knack of inspiring minor works, often by long-forgotten artists. Here’s another one: Rudel. A Dramatic Cantata, composed for the 1891 Chester Music Festival by Joseph Cox Bridge (libretto by Frederic Edward Weatherley).

Dr Joseph Cox Bridge (1853-1929), described in one reference work as ‘a celebrated organist and a composer of some merit’, was part of an English musical family (his older brother was Frederick ‘Westminster’ Bridge). He was organist at Exeter College, Oxford, then at Chester Cathedral from 1877, and became Professor of Music at the University of Durham. Besides the Rudel cantata he also composed oratorios, a string quartet in G minor, anthems, songs, part-songs and piano music.

A review in The Times (27 July 1891) offered a synopsis that suggests this rendition strays somewhat from the standard story:
Rudel, a troubadour of Provence, is beloved of a Norman damsel, Felise, whose praises he sings, and whose portrait he shows at a baronial festival in England, whereupon an English knight, Sir Guy, claims the lady as his wife, and challenges Rudel to combat. Rudel slays his opponent, and, feeling that his blood will form an insuperable barrier to his wedding Felise, takes upon him the vow of a Crusader, and joins a party of knights on their road to the Holy Land. Passing through Normandy on his way to the East, however, he meets his lady love, and learns from her that Sir Guy was not her husband, but only a rejected wooer who determined to wreak his revenge by separating her from Rudel. The hero, bound by his vow, continues on his journey to the Crusades, Felise promising to pray for his welfare and safe and speedy return.

The introduction uses ‘three old English melodies, the very ancient “Summer is icumen in”, the dance tune “Cheshire rounds”, and the Elizabethan “Carman’s whistle”.’ The reviewer goes on to say that 'its principal defect' is 'a lack of tenderness in what may be styled the sentimental portions'. That'll be a 19th-century English composer for you, then.

The score has yet to appear in full online, but at least one copy of it is available for purchase.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The princess gets her day recently (16 March 2012) featured 'princesse lointaine' in its popular 'Word a day' series. Clearly the word 'word' is meant in its loosest sense. Jaufre and you-know-who are pictured along with it.

Word a Day, 16 March 2012: princesse lointaine

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Mind how you go

I don't know how things were going for the police force in 1889, but The Illustrated Police News was just getting properly started as a proto-tabloid, after their sensationalist coverage of the Jack the Ripper murders the previous year. But on 21 December 1889, its readers were - for some reason - treated to a homily on chivalry*. Exhibit A was the legend of 'the most noble Lord Geoffrey de Rudel, Prince of Blaye'.

The paper's account of the legend has an infelicity or two: Rudel's sickness is blamed on an 'infectious disease' breaking out on board the ship; and the writer insists 'This is no troubadour's tale; it is a simple excerpt from history'. I think you'd have to call this 'unreliable testimony'.

The article then contrasts this paragon of chivalry with the 17th-century story of Thomas Inkle, a shipwrecked English trader who was rescued by a Barbadian maiden named Yarico but subsequently sold her into slavery in order to recoup his losses (The story became the basis for Inkle and Yarico, a comic opera that was a smash hit in the late 18th century). The story is probably as apocryphal as that of Rudel, but there we are.

Image right: 'By heavens! A woman', illustration from the libretto of Inkle and Yarico.

* A note at the end suggests that the text may first have appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Princess Daisy?

Alphonse Mucha wasn't the only visual artist to go to work on the Rudel legend. The French-Russian designer and artist Romain de Tirtoff (1892–1990), better known as Erté, produced a number of limited-edition prints towards the end of his life, one of them entitled La Princesse Lointaine (right).

There seems to be no information as to whether he had the Rostand play in mind or something more generic, either for this or for an earlier print with the same title (printed in 1970).

However, an art auction site lists a couple of costume designs by Erté for a production of La Princesse Lointaine, dating from 1929 (below right: 'Costume design for Second Mariner'). This suggests that there was a revival of it that year, though it seems a bit unlikely.

The 1984 print is a throwback to Erté's Art Deco heyday, to the extent that his princess rather resembles a 1920s flapper. Incidentally, the wikipedia entry for 'Princesse lointaine' -- the 'stock figure from literature' -- makes reference to Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby's inamorata, as a 20th-century example. So maybe Erté's 'Princesse' approximates how Gatsby imagined Daisy.