Marvin Gaye Meets The Middle Ages At chatterbird's Next Nashville Concert | Nashville Public Radio

Marvin Gaye Meets The Middle Ages At chatterbird's Next Nashville Concert

Mar 9, 2016

One of Nashville’s newest performing ensembles is redefining the pops concert. Promotional materials for chatterbird’s Thursday night show prompt audience members to bring sheep noisemakers (if you happen to have such a thing) and references New Wave keyboards, improvisational pygmy singing and Wendy Carlos.

Among the list of pieces chatterbird will perform are two from an intriguing series of compositions by Eve Beglarian. Since 1986, she’s periodically returned to the idea of writing music that connects contemporary pop genres with a master of the Medieval avant-garde, Guillaume de Machaut.

Machaut was a major figure of the Ars Nova, a 14th century movement to develop a brand new kind of music. Even to modern ears, Ars Nova can sound wild and rollicking; to listeners accustomed to fairly regimented songs and lute tunes, it must have been mind-blowing.

Machaut was also a skilled poet who worked at the French royal court. While knights and ladies played at the flirtatious game of courtly love, he provided them with verses full of symbolism and innuendo.

Looking at Machaut’s words and music, Eve Beglarian sees parallels to much more recent sounds and the lyrics. A virelai about how Love pushes a man to the best and worst emotional states almost seems like a direct commentary on a  Marvin Gaye song begging for his lover to feel as passionate as he does.

"The Bells"

Recorded by Marvin Gaye and The Originals in 1970

Do you hear the bells honey?

Do you hear them ringing when I’m kissing you baby?

What do I have to do to make you feel the tingling too…

True love and joy and faith

And all my strength I’ll give to you darling

My love is yours exclusively to enjoy

Any way you want to

One thing I want you to remember if you ever leave

I believe I’ll go insane

Darling I’ll never hear the bells again

No, no, no, no, no, no

Oh baby don’t leave me, don’t leave me baby

"Tels rit" from the Remede de Fortune

by Guillaume  de Machaut, 1340

He laughs in the morning who weeps in the evening,

And he believes Love works

For his benefit while she is attacking him

And doing him wrong;

And he thinks Joy is hastening to help him,

While she lags behind.

Fortune does all this harm

As she turns her wheel,

And she doesn’t wait for daybreak

To turn it; she doesn’t stop,

But turns, turns again, turns it upside down,

Until she brings to the top

He who was lying flat in the gutter,

He who was exalted she brings down low;

And makes the happiest man sad and gloomy

In no time at all.

Detail from an illuminated manuscript of Machaut's love songs.
Credit Bible de Jean de Sy

Belgarian’s composition, "Machaut in the Age of Motown."  doesn't use those words. However, the story told by the combination of those lyrics is at the heart of her music, which interweaves melodies from 1340 and 1970 into a cross-generational mashup. 

The other piece of chatterbird's program takes an almost opposite approach, keeping the words but building on musicial similarities.

Ars Nova often features a loose, off-center rythym; Belgarian finds echoes of it in the bounciness of go-go, the offshoot of funk music born in Washington D.C. nightclubs. “Machaut A Go Go” starts as a straight performance of the virelai “Moult sui de bonne heure nee” before a go-go drummer interrupts; Machaut’s poem continues, half-rapped as a jazz-tinged band plays an adaptation of his melody.

chatterbird will perform "Machaut in the Age of Motown," "Machaut a Go Go," and genre-bending works by six other composers at 7:30 p.m. in the Emma Bistro.

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