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.
Since they don't involve the vernacular flowering of the following section, and especially because much of this repertory was closely associated with Notre Dame (& its cathedral music), I had previously included it in the Ars Antiqua section of the sacred list. However, particularly as prompted by the first item, creating this section now seems warranted. The listing for this section will likely remain brief, but more items are possible, as the earliest horizons of performable music continue to recede....
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.
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.
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.
After a short burst of activity a could of decades or so ago now, this section was starting to languish a bit — after having recovered from what seemed like almost nonexistent coverage a couple of decades before that. Italian music of this period does compete with the French in volume, even if the contrapuntal variety is not so great, and so there is still more that could be done, particularly as regards individual composer surveys, etc. Performance practice does solidify nicely, but there's still a matter of familiarity with the most intricate lines & allusions.
Once neglected and considered "bizarre" or even unplayable, this music is enjoying a tremendous increase in attention. There are (relatively) many quality performances appearing, 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 below span this shift, to an increasing degree.
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: 27 February 2021