Early Music Recording Lists

Medieval Secular Songs

The subject of this list is primarily the French language compositions of the Medieval period, whether the chanson proper or the polytext motet. Material in other languages (especially Italian) will be included, where appropriate. This does include Latin, if the theme of the program is not primarily sacred.

This music shows a broad range, from the subtle monophonic melodies of the late 12th century to the convoluted polyphonic songs of the early 15th century. Of course, Machaut is central. The recordings listed will not be entirely composed of secular music (of necessity), but that will be my primary interest in the disc (so far as that can be pinned down).

The sectional break-downs & individual listings are arranged roughly chronologically, and intended to help clarify stylistic eras. In this case, ratings tend to be rather clearly indicative of a broad appreciation on my part.


Troubadours & Trouvères

These recordings seem to come in bursts, with long lags in certain areas, but overall the volume is high, so I am rather selective here. Nonetheless, the list below is ample, at least for the trouvères, and the range of interpretation is pleasantly large. Other troubadour releases remain welcome, as there are some favorite songs which do not appear on compelling overall programs.

Nuits Occitanes (**)
Troubadours' Songs
Ensemble Céladon - Paulin Bündgen
Ricercar 340
Trobar & Joglar (**)
Alla Francesca
Agogique 017
La Chanson de Guillaume (**)
Lai, Chansons guerrières et politiques (1188-1250)
Diabolus in Musica - Antoine Guerber
Studio SM 2756
L'amor de Lonh (**)
Medieval songs of love and loss
Ensemble Gilles Binchois - Dominique Vellard
Glossa 32304
Thibaut de Champagne - Le Chansonnier du Roi (***)
Amour Courtois et Chevalerie au XIIIe siècle
Alla Francesca
Aeon 1221
Tristan et Yseut (**)
Alla Francesca - Brigitte Lesne & Pierre Hamon
Zig-Zag Territoires 051002
Adam de la Halle: Le jeu de Robin et Marion (**)
Ensemble Micrologus
Zig-Zag Territoires 040602
Adam de la Halle: D'amoureus cuer voel chanter (*)
Le Jardin de Courtoisie - Anne Delafosse Quentin
Zig-Zag Territoires 070401
Fontaine de grace (**)
Jehan de Lescurel: Ballades, virelais et rondeaux
Ensemble Gilles Binchois - Dominique Vellard
Virgin Veritas 45066

Ars Antiqua

This section links up closely with the preceding one, but here the emphasis is on polyphony and the motet, which evolved alongside both the trouvère song and the sacred polyphony of the era. The emphasis is on the Parisian motet, although some outlying repertory is included.

Les Escholiers de Paris (***)
Motets, Chansons et Estampies du XIIIe siècle
Ensemble Gilles Binchois - Dominique Vellard
Harmonic 9245
Motetus (**)
Music at the Time of Notre-Dame in Paris
Visse / Mentzel / Brownless / Mason / Clemencic Consort - René Clemencic
Stradivarius Dulcimer 33398
Codex Bamberg (*)
Camerata Nova / Ensemble Chominciamento di Gioia - Luigi Taglioni
Stradivarius 33476

Machaut

Machaut is clearly one of the all-time great Western composers, and I am happy to have a variety of wonderful recordings to list here. Although there are many other recordings available, especially given the relatively advanced state of interpreting Machaut's songs, I have tried to be selective. The recordings in this section are chronological by recording date.

Le vray remède d'amour (***)
Machaut: Ballades, Rondeaux, Virelais, Motets
Ensemble Gilles Binchois - Dominique Vellard
Harmonic 8825
Le Jugement du Roi de Navarre (**)
Machaut: Ballades, motets, virelais et textes dits
Ensemble Gilles Binchois - Dominique Vellard
Cantus 9626
Machaut: Ay mi! (**)
Lais et virelais
Emmanuel Bonnardot
Opus 111 30-171
Mercy ou mort (*)
Machaut: Chansons & motets d'amour
Ensemble Ferrara - Crawford Young
Arcana 305
Songs from Le voir dit (*)
The Machaut Edition
Orlando Consort
Hyperion 67727
Machaut: Mon chant vous envoy (****)
Marc Mauillon / Angélique Mauillon / Vivabiancaluna Biffi / Pierre Hamon
Eloquentia 1342

Italian Ars Nova

This section has improved dramatically, from the almost nonexistent coverage of not so long ago, but still could use more. At this point, Micrologus is clearly over-represented here, since there are some other interpretations available, but obviously I am very taken with their approach. Italian music of this period does compete with the French in volume, although the contrapuntal variety is not as great.

D'Amor cantando (**)
Ballate e madrigali veneti: Codice Rossi XIV secolo
Micrologus
Opus 111 30-141
Alla Festa Leggiadra (*)
Ballate, madrigali e danze all'epoca di Boccaccio (XIV sec.)
Ensemble Micrologus
Micrologus Edizioni Discografiche
Landini E I Suoi Contemporanei (**)
Firenze Secolo XIV
Micrologus
Opus 111 30-112
Landini: Fior di Dolceça (****)
L'Ars nova di Magister Franciscus Cecus Orghanista de Florentia
Micrologus
Zig-Zag Territories 050603
Stylems - Italian Music from the Trecento (**)
Egidius da Francia, Bartolino da Padova, Don Paolo da Firenze
Ensemble Syntagma - Alexandre Danilevski
Challenge Classics 72195
Rosa e Orticha (**)
Music of the Trecento
Ensemble Syntagma - Alexandre Danilevski
Carpe Diem 16287

Ars Subtilior & Transition

Once neglected and considered "bizarre" or even unplayable, this music is enjoying a tremendous upswing in attention. There are many quality performances dedicated to it, and the voluminous sources are making it one of the longest sections of this list. In many ways, this repertory grows naturally out of the late works of Machaut, but then the center of activity shifts to Southern France & Northern Italy. There is also a significant outlier in French-ruled Cyprus. Toward the end of this section we also find the the beginnings of the Renaissance style with its simpler lines and greater emphasis on harmony in thirds. The last programs here span this shift, to an increasing degree.

Codex Chantilly (**)
Bibliothèque du Musée Condé 564
Tetraktys - Kees Boeke
I: Etcetera 1900
II: Etcetera 1905
Fleurs de vertus (*)
Chansons subtiles à la fin du XIVè siècle
Ferrara Ensemble - Crawford Young
Arcana 40
Corps femenin (**)
L'avant-garde de Jean Duc de Berry
Ferrara Ensemble - Crawford Young
Arcana 355
Flour de Beaulté (**)
Late Medieval Songs From Cyprus
La Morra - Michal Gondko & Corina Marti
Ramée 0602
Zacara: Spinato intorno al Cor (**)
Currentes - Jostein Gundersen
Lawo Classics 1026
Ciconia: Opera Omnia (***)
Diabolus in Musica - Antoine Guerber / La Morra - Corina Marti & Michal Gondko
Ricercar 316 (2 CDs)
Perusio: Virelais, Ballades, Caccia (*)
Huelgas Ensemble - Paul Van Nevel
Sony Vivarte 62928
Beauté parfaite (**)
L'Automne du Moyen Age - Chansons des XIVe et XVe siècles
Alla Francesca
Opus 111 30-173
Armes, Amours (*)
Alla Francesca / Alta
Opus 111 30-221

If a recording in this genre is not listed here, either I haven't been able to obtain a copy (perhaps out of print), I don't know about it at all, I felt that it is substantially duplicated by a recording I like better, or I didn't care for it enough to give it one star. Please feel free to inquire, especially if you know a recording I probably don't.

I will try to keep this page up to date as new releases appear.

To recommendation lists.

Todd M. McComb
Updated: 26 August 2014