LOCATION: England THE BUILD: Dover Castle was commissioned by King Henry II in the late 12th century as a mighty fortification to guard the region of Kent, situated at the shortest crossing between Britain and the Continent. Executed by the King’s finest engineer, Maurice, it cost more to build than any of Henry’s other projects. After the King’s death, his sons Richard, and then John, continued construction on the stronghold until it became the first concentric castle in Western Europe. Its magnificent square keep, intimidating forebuilding and innovatively-shaped towers live up to its reputation as the key to England. THE SIEGE: This castle was besieged by Prince Louis of France in the early 13th century. Son of Philip II, Louis came to England to attempt to usurp King John during the First Barons’ War. He seized several fortifications and marched into London. Then he turned his sword on Dover. Prince Louis’ siege machines -like the perrier -faced several layers of defences, including a palisade, before he could even hope to storm the castle and attack its garrison, led by Hubert de Burgh. This vicious fight challenged Dover’s military power, and its outcome would determine the fate of the English crown.+ More details
Written and designed by me in 2000 and many times revised, this work is an illustrated dramatic monologue delivered by trouvère Blondel de Nesle as an old man concerning his legendary youthful love-relationship with Richard I of England (aka Richard Lionheart). The performance is presented here, live, as it took place, on April 17, 2008, as part of LÖWENHERZEN (“lionhearts”), the final event of The Lark Ascending, a New York City-based performance group that I headed. In the lead as narrator is the late George McGrath; Richard’s chanson in prison is sung by bass baritone Peter Ludwig; and the entracte music is by American composer Richard Brooks. THE STORY The love affair of Richard and Blondel has no basis in fact whatsoever, nor is there a shred of evidence that the historical Richard (1157-1199) and the historical Blondel (fl 1155-1202) ever met, though given the popularity of Blondel’s songs, it is probable that Richard had heard of Blondel, as indeed Blondel must have of him. Whether or not the historical Richard was a homosexual has been a much-debated topic in scholarly circles in recent years. My work is pure fiction and loosely based on a few facts from Richard’s life: that he was the third and oldest surviving son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine; that he, Richard, enjoyed the reputation of being an exceptional warrior, battlefield commander, and diplomat, who also wrote poetry and composed music in the trouvère tradition; that in 1190 he set sail for Jerusalem with a formidable fleet to take part in what came to be known as the Third Crusade; that on his way home, a storm drove his ship ashore near Venice, and upon proceeding overland, he was apprehended in Vienna by Duke Leopold V of Austria, who imprisoned him in his castle at Dürnstein on the Danube and then handed him over to Heinrich VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, who exacted an enormous ransom for him from England; that on Henry II’s death, Richard succeeded him to the English throne but spent the remaining years of his life in Normandy, where he unluckily fell victim to an arrow in a local siege. He was succeeded by his younger and sole surviving brother, John, who is best remembered for the celebrated MAGNA CARTA, which a baronial rebellion forced him to issue. As for the historical Blondel, his dedications of various chansons (or songs, as we would say in English) to the oldest generation of trouvères (or itinerant songsters) indicate that he must have been born around 1155-1160; according to the features of dialect in the texts of his works, he hailed from Picardy. Some scholars believe that he may have been Jean I, Lord of Nesle from 1180 to 1202, who took part in the Third Crusade and in this way became linked with Richard in subsequent legend. Twenty odd works by Blondel survive, some of them in ten or more sources, and seven of these include musical scores. So a third fact about him may be added to his, alas, all too brief a bio: his chansons were exceedingly popular. As of the appearance of the fictional RÉCITS D'UN MÉNESTREL DE REIMS in 1260, Blondel's name became linked to the story of Richard’s imprisonment at Dürnstein Castle and his rescue from it. PERFORMANCE HISTORY This was my first original work for performance and was written and illustrated by me in 2000 and premiered on November 12, 2000 at the German-Evangelical Lutheran Church of St Paul in New York City as part of a program titled CHANSONS AND LIEDER I, which was presented by my NYC-based performance group The Lark Ascending. The actor was Jean-Claude Vasseux, the voice of Richard was Peter Ludwig, and the entracte music was from a cd of Medieval trouvere songs. This work was performed again on April 29th, 2001 as part of The Lark Ascending’s CHANSONS AND LIEDER II, and one of those early performances can be seen and heard on the website of The Lark Ascending. Another performance was held on February 5th, 2004 at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York City as part of The Lark Ascending’s program A KINGDOM FOR A SONG with George McGrath as narrator, Peter Ludwig vocalist, and music from the same cd. A new performance took place on November 4th, 2004 as part of The Lark Ascending’s program VIENNA VIDI VICI again at the Austrian Cultural Forum, this time with the addition of live period music by Louise Schulman, vielle, and William Zito, lute. For the final two performances in 2008, I commissioned Richard Brooks to compose entracte music; additionally, Mr. McGrath lent his considerable professional expertise by adjusting the script to have Blondel relate the story in his old age, and he added zest to the performance by occasionally ad-libbing and moving around the stage instead of remaining stationary. THE MUSIC Of the entracte music, composer Richard Brooks writes: “My original music, for oboe and clarinet, is based on fragments from two medieval melodies, one attributed to Blondel, the other to Richard I. These fragments were extracted, altered, extended, and varied to create a sense of medieval timbre and were for intended for interweaving into the spoken text. This blending of the "old" with the "new" appealed to me very much. In a sense, the two instrumentalists represent, in music, the two human characters, Richard and Blondel.” Richard’s song, admirably performed by bass baritone Peter Ludwig, is addressed to his half-sister Marie de Champagne. Scholars maintain it to have been written by him sometime during his imprisonment by the Duke Leopold V of Austria in his castle at Dürnstein on the Danube: I Ja nus hons pris ne dira sa raison Adroitement, se dolantement non; Mais par effort puet il faire chançon. Mout ai amis, mais povre sont li don; Honte i avront se por ma reançon Sui ça deus yvers pris. II Ce sevent bien mi home et mi baron-- Ynglois, Normant, Poitevin et Gascon-- Que je n'ai nul si povre compaignon Que je lessaisse por avoir en prison; Je nou di mie por nule retraçon, Mais encor sui [je] pris. III Or sai je bien de voir certeinnement Que morz ne pris n'a ami ne parent, Quant on me faut por or ne por argent. Mout m'est de moi, mes plus m'est de ma gent, Qu'aprés ma mort avront reprochement Se longuement sui pris. IV N'est pas mervoille se j'ai le cuer dolant, Quant mes sires met ma terre en torment. S'il li membrast de nostre soirement Quo nos feïsmes andui communement, Je sai de voir que ja trop longuement Ne seroie ça pris. V Ce sevent bien Angevin et Torain-- Cil bacheler qui or sont riche et sain-- Qu'encombrez sui loing d'aus en autre main. Forment m'amoient, mais or ne m'ainment grain. De beles armes sont ore vuit li plain, Por ce que je sui pris VI Mes compaignons que j'amoie et que j'ain-- Ces de Cahen et ces de Percherain-- Di lor, chançon, qu'il ne sunt pas certain, C'onques vers aus ne oi faus cuer ne vain; S'il me guerroient, il feront que vilain Tant con je serai pris. VII Contesse suer, vostre pris soverain Vos saut et gart cil a cui je m'en clain Et por cui je sui pris. VIII Je ne di mie a cele de Chartain, La mere Loës. No prisoner can tell his honest thought Unless he speaks as one who suffers wrong; But for his comfort as he may make a song. My friends are many, but their gifts are naught. Shame will be theirs, if, for my ransom, here I lie another year. They know this well, my barons and my men, Normandy, England, Gascony, Poitou, That I had never follower so low Whom I would leave in prison to my gain. I say it not for a reproach to them, But prisoner I am! The ancient proverb now I know for sure; Death and a prison know nor kind nor tie, Since for mere lack of gold they let me lie. Much for myself I grieve; for them still more. After my death they will have grievous wrong If I am a prisoner long. What marvel that my heart is sad and sore When my own lord torments my helpless lands! Well do I know that, if he held his hands, Remembering the common oath we swore, I should not here imprisoned with my song, Remain a prisoner long. They know this well who now are rich and strong Young gentlemen of Anjou and Touraine, That far from them, on hostile bonds I strain. They loved me much, but have not loved me long. Their plans will see no more fair lists arrayed While I lie here betrayed. Companions whom I love, and still do love, Geoffroi du Perche and Ansel de Caieux, Tell them, my song, that they are friends untrue. Never to them did I false-hearted prove; But they do villainy if they war on me, While I lie here, unfree. Countess sister! Your sovereign fame May he preserve whose help I claim, Victim for whom am I! I say not this of Chartres' dame, Mother of Louis! Translated by Henry Adams THE ILLUSTRATIONS My source for the period photos was the Picture Collection of the New York Public Library. In the early performances of this work, the illustrations began as sequenced color slides printed by me from scans that I digitized in Photoshop; in the later performances, the slides were generated as digital images and projected live on the wall behind Mr. McGrath. For this final version of the work, I added to them considerably, including landscapes and the like, which were shot by me with my Nikon D-90 in Austria. Its finalizing as a slide sequence and the wedding of the sequencing to the audio were done by me in Proshow Producer.+ More details
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