Thanks to numerous studies by eminent historians and researchers in France and elsewhere, the true story of Joan of Arc is nowadays accessible and, in general, quite well known throughout the world. It is a story which transcends the terms “myth”, “legend” and “folklore” that have so often been used in connection with her, for our knowledge about Joan the Maid is based on scrupulously authentic documents: chronicles, public and private letters, records of the Parliament in Paris, manuscripts signed by notaries, and the transcripts of the two trials she endured, one while she was alive and the other after her death, all of which have been meticulously sifted through using the most rigorous historical methods. Unfortunately, this has not prevented all manner of legends and false historical accounts being presented as hidden truths or even new discoveries. However, what has astonished me most during the preparation of this project is how easily even cultured people can overlook essential information, such as the signing of the Treaty of Troyes, which underlies the very origin and culmination of this long and ancient conflict in which the English and the French were violently pitted against each other. “Without the senses there is no memory, and without memory there is no intelligence,” recalls Voltaire in his Aventure de la mémoire (1773). That is why, important though it is, our individual memory often hinges on the facts, knowledge and experiences that are dear and close to us, or that have made a deep impression on us. The sum total of all these memories shapes the historical memory of a people, which in turn determines our ability to keep alive not only the memory of heroic and extraordinary feats accomplished by men and women of the past, but also the tragedy and suffering of individuals who have struggled – often alone, as in the case of the Maid of Orleans – against stifling ideologies and lethal fanaticism. Absolute evil is always the evil that man inflicts on his fellow man. Although we say nothing here that has not been said and repeated before, we echo the words of Régine Pernoud, who writes: “the past offers no example of a destiny more extra-ordinary than that of this nineteen-year-old "Maid". Whether one regards her as an emissary from God or a heroine with a mission to liberate her people, nobody remains indifferent to her: from Voltaire to Schiller, from Anatole France and Renan to Péguy and Claudel, from Chartists to amateur historians, from Japanese scholars to Russian academics… all have been fascinated by her.”
As always, our CD-books are characterised by their presentation of a selection of music and texts which bear a direct relation to certain specific moments in history, a history to which we endeavour to give a spoken voice – in this case, that of Joan and her contemporaries (witnesses and inquisitors at her trials) – and its corresponding “soundtrack”. This soundtrack includes music from the period, as well as new music composed in 1993 to illustrate Joan’s epic story as told in two films directed by Jacques Rivette (Jeanne la Pucelle: Les Batailles and Jeanne la Pucelle: Les Prisons), and music written in 2011 for the concert given on 16th November at La Cité de la Musique in Paris. The music is accompanied by up-to-date texts and commentaries by leading specialists, enabling us to comprehend and gain greater insight into the rich complexity and relevance of the outstanding events of a story without equal. It is in honour of the six-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Joan the Maid and her amazing epic that we have prepared and carried out this project - a different perspective on the life of a young girl cruelly burned at the stake when she was only nineteen years old. It takes the form of a new CD-book, which contains and combines printed texts, recited texts, vocal and instrumental pieces and reproductions of paintings and miniatures from the period, illustrating the key events in her short life and the long conflict between the French and the English.
It is probably true to say that Joan of Arc’s meeting with Dauphin Charles was a turning point in the modern history of France. And it was above all the epic career of this young peasant girl and her journey from her village in Lorraine to Rheims Cathedral, passing on the way through Vaucouleurs, Chinon and Orléans, which brought about the miraculous outcome leading to Charles VII’s reign. Illegally barred from succeeding to the throne by the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, challenged by the majority of his people, disowned by his mother, Isabeau of Bavaria, and with a mad king for a father, he ultimately drove the English out of his kingdom and brought the Hundred Years War to a conclusion, subdued the feudal lords, and reformed the justice system, the army, the economy and the administration, despite innumerable acts of treason and conspiracy against him. After Joan’s martyrdom, a people who had been torn apart by the feud between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians became a nation.
It is a much more straightforward task to reconstruct an historical approach to a period remote from our own on the basis of chronicles, texts and documents than to recapture the spirit and character of the music of that period, some of which has been lost forever, while some has survived in the form of compilations or manuscripts which bear no obvious relationship to what was once their everyday use and purpose.
All musical scores are merely more or less definite outlines of a piece of art which does not truly exist until the moment when it is given concrete form by musical instruments or the human voice. Therefore, all music inevitably bears the imprint of its age: immortal it may be, but it is never timeless.
To recreate a musical universe that would bring us closer to the fascinating and mysterious life of Joan the Maid, it was first of all necessary to take our bearings on the historical context and try to discover the different functions and uses that musical activity might have had in everyday life at that time: popular songs and dances, ceremonial music, court music, Church music and martial music.
Music always played an important role: sovereigns and nobles often travelled with their musicians. Armies were led into battle by trumpets and drums of war and by clerics intoning hymns. In the accounts of battles (1421), reference is frequently made to “the air and the earth vibrating with the sound of trumpets and bugles.” All celebration ceremonies involved the participation of numerous minstrels, singers etc ... “the clerics welcomed them singing hymns and praises that they knew, and there was playing on the organ and horns, and all the bells were rung” (1424). In 1435, numerous concerts were performed to mark the peace treaty signed in the town of Arras between France, England and the Duchy of Burgundy. On 29th July, the Duke of Burgundy entered Arras, followed by the ambassadors of the kings of France and England and the Papacy, and before them went “seven trumpeters playing melodiously. “ However, according to Jean Lefèvre, the French delegation was even more sumptuous and “comprised kings at arms, heralds, attendants, trumpeters, minstrels and chaplains, and all officers pertaining to the rank of princes.” (Marix 82).
Several very different aspects are involved in the musical characterisation of Joan the Maid:
– Joan’s village origins: Popular melodies from the period, Dufay’s Ce jour de l’an, Rondeau “La Tremouille”, etc ...
– The mystery of the voices that she heard (St. Catherine, St. Margaret and St. Michael): Dufay’s Veni Sancte Spiritus (symbolically sung by 2 sopranos and 1 countertenor).
– Her warrior vocation: Melody of L’Homme armé, which evolves into Ballade de la Pucelle in an adaptation of the lyrics of the song from the period, and which recurs throughout the evocation of the two years of conflict, until her death, when we hear it (with a cornet and a bell), superimposed on Planctus Jehanne.
Three very different approaches have been adopted in the functional pieces:
– Fanfares for the Battles
In this section on the motifs and themes of the period, we have imagined a situation in which there is a semi-tone’s difference in the tuning of the English and the French trumpets; the two fanfares are also played in totally different ways (in binary and ternary rhythms, respectively).
– Music for the Coronation ceremony, for which we either had to compose pieces “in keeping with the spirit of the age” (Marche royale, Te Deum, Fanfare royale, etc.), or make use of existing works appropriate to the staging of the coronation ceremony: Hosanna I & Il and Sanctus of the Mass from Dufay’s L’Homme armé, completed with the anonymous hymn of the period celebrating and saluting the king’s return, with two texts sung simultaneously: Rejois toy terre de France and Vivat Rex in eternam.
– Pieces or motifs designed to create a specific atmosphere:
Rondeau “Fortune, par ta cruaulté”, Dit le Burguygnon, Fortuna desperata, Adoramus te / anonymous. Planctus Jehanne, sonneries, arpegios, drums, and the various motifs such as Le départ, Les Voix, Les Fanfares, Les Prières and La Marche pour l’Onction, evoking the extraordinary wealth of situations which more or less cyclically succeed one another at different stages from the beginning to the end of Joan’s short life.
This functional relationship between music and events is particularly significant. Concert music is often detached from its context, set loose from its functional tethers, to become an independent act of interpretation. In the narrative of a heroic deed or epic, all music is creative and must bear a relationship that is genuinely expressive or descriptive (or both) to the events being highlighted. The cinematic mise en scène and that of our CD-book, consisting of music and declamation, are really not so different; both approaches begin with the search for an actual or imaginary link with real life, although we are forced to go about the creation or interpretation of the music in radically different ways, because in the medium of film the approach is determined by image, whereas in our historical-musical narrative it is shaped by texts and events. Without sacrificing any of their purity, word and music, sustained by emotion and grace, take on a sacred dimension to become an integral part of a global living spectacle, thereby allowing us to attain that magical dimension suspended between reality and myth.
The prominence of battles and prisons in our story of Joan’s life may come as a surprise, but the stark reality is that the Maid’s brief and dazzling epic – from her encounter with the king on 6th March, 1429, to her execution on 30th May, 1431 – can be divided in two distinct parts: a year of countless battles and a year of imprisonment. As Régine Pernoud so aptly puts it, “she is the prototype of the glorious heroine, and at the same time Joan is the prototype of the political prisoner, the victim of hostage-taking and other forms of oppression against the individual which form part of daily life in the 20th (and 21st) century.”
San Juan de Puerto Rico
4th March, 2012
Translated by Jacqueline Minett