The singers and instrumentalists of St. Mary Schola, who held their spring concert, “Ce moys de may,” Sunday at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Falmouth, have invented a time machine.

I can’t think of any other Maine group, except perhaps for Renaissance Voices, that can transport one so immediately to the so-called ‘dark ages,’ the Renaissance, the court of Louis VIII or the Elizabethan era. As one example, the French Renaissance “air de cour,” “Ha! que de tes conseils,” sung by tenor Timothy Neill Johnson with lute accompaniment by Timothy Burris, was uncanny in its evocation of courtly love.

Tenor Bruce Fithian began the schola in 2008 and continues to direct it and perform as a soloist and with the 13-voice choir. He sang a hauntingly beautiful “When days are growing long in May,” by Jaufre Rudel (d. 1147) that exemplifies the theme of hopeless love invented by the troubadours.

Sunday’s program was divided into four sections: songs of the troubadours; medieval and Renaissance Italy and France; The Struggles of Love; and The Triumphs of Love.

The last two sections were relatively “modern,” spanning the Elizabethan era, except for a delightful “Le chant des oyseaux” by Clement Janequin (ca. 1485-1558), which imitates birdsong with nonsense syllables and warns away the cuckoo, the herald of infidelity.

Two plaintive madrigals by Francis Pilkington (1565-1638), “You that pine in long desire,” and “O softly singing lute,” while masterpieces of counterpoint, show the origin of that love of the lugubrious that still has a place in country and western music. Unrequited yearnings were pilloried a little later in a shorter piece by Thomas Morley (1558-1603) called “Fyer,Fyer.”

The love complaint almost parodies itself in the “Gram piant’ agli ochi” of Francesco Landini (fl. ca. 1325): “Great weeping for the eyes, heavy pain to the heart — as the soul is filled so it dies. Because of this bitter and cruel departure I call for death, but it will not hear me.” The sentiment provides the occasion, however, of some unusually ethereal three-part harmony between Fithian, mezzo-soprano Madeleine Hanna and the lute.

Fithian interspersed the soulful with the lively celebration of spring throughout the program to great effect. The “Revecy vinir du printemps” of Claude Le Jeune (1528-1600) is a happy canter through green fields, while “Kalenda maia” by Raimbaud de Vaqueiras (fl. 1180-1207) has a distinctly African flavor.

It was preceded by a lilting and flirtatious “Ce moys de may” of Clement Janequin (1445-1558), sung by soprano Christine Letcher, mezzo-soprano Abra Mueller, tenor Martin Lescault and baritone Nicholas MacDonald, The song, which gives its name to the program, is sung by a girl who hopes her lover will remove her green skirt.


Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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