This work consists of an illustrated reading of François Villon’s celebrated poem, “Ballade Des Dames Du Temps Jadis,” and a slide choreography of CLUSTERS by American composer Hubert Howe.

THE POEM

The “Ballade Des Dames Du Temps Jadis” is a lament for the past, both its glories and pains, which are gone forever, indeed like the snows of days gone by. Villon (ca. 1431-63) makes reference to famous women who lived before him; ironically, some of them are so little remembered today that one is hard-put to find a likeness of them.

A ballade (which is not to be confused with a ballad) is an old French verse form consisting of three octets, each rhyming ababbcbc, followed by an envoi in the form of a cross-rhymed quatrain. The last line of each stanza is the same and functions as underlining would today—with devastating effect. What are love and fame, indeed life itself, all about?

Dites-moi où, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora la belle Romaine,
Archipiades, ne Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine,
Echo, parlant quant bruit on mène
Dessus rivière ou sur étang,
Qui beauté eut trop plus qu'humaine ?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan ?

Où est la très sage Héloïs,
Pour qui fut châtré et puis moine
Pierre Esbaillart à Saint-Denis ?
Pour son amour eut cette essoine.
Semblablement, où est la roine
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fût jeté en un sac en Seine ?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan ?

La roine Blanche comme un lis
Qui chantait à voix de sirène,
Berthe au grand pied, Bietrix, Aliz,
Haramburgis qui tint le Maine,
Et Jeanne, la bonne Lorraine
Qu'Anglais brûlèrent à Rouen ;
Où sont-ils, où, Vierge souvraine ?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan ?

Prince, n'enquerrez de semaine
Où elles sont, ni de cet an,
Que ce refrain ne vous remaine :
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan ?

Here is Dante Gabriel Rossetti's masterful translation:

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where's Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere—
She whose beauty was more than human?...
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where's Heloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen
Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack's mouth down the Seine?...
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden--
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the Lady of Maine--
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there--
Mother of God, where are they, then?...
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Envoy
Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword--
But where are the snows of yester-year?

THE MUSIC

Hubert Howe, the composer, writes regarding his cd titled CLUSTERS:

“The compositions…were composed between 2005 and 2011. They reflect my ongoing interest in creating interesting, unusual, and intricately structured sounds in music.”

He goes on to say of this particular work of the same title:
“Most sounds that we hear in music consist of a spectrum of harmonic partials or overtones, and sometimes these also include some inharmonic components.” In this work: “the overtones are all clusters of 5-note chords duplicated through three to five octaves above the note; they are harmonic partials. In other words, harmony becomes spectrum.

“For most sounds, the amplitudes of these components are varied so that they have a kind of “shimmer” moving up and down the spectrum. There are five different kinds of instruments used in the piece: the basic cluster itself, a “sparkle” or variegated cluster, a “whoosh” sound that attacks each of the components separately, a “gong” sound, and a cluster glissando. The piece begins in the middle range and proceeds through several short passages, each emphasizing a combination of the instruments, until it reaches a climax where all instruments are used, and concludes quietly, much as it began.”

In other words, these are not random tickles but a through-composed work that stands alone as such.

THE VISUALS

These derive from digital photos taken by me hither and yon with a Nikon D-90. Also included is a recent video of a jogger on a beach in the area of Flagler Beach, FL, likewise shot with the D-90. The historical figures and places are from the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library. After being loaded into my system, the digital photos together with the scanned figures and places were composited by me in Photoshop and, together with the video, ended as sequenced slides in Proshow Producer.

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