Bernard de Ventadorn: Can vei la lauzeta mover

Hear our recording here

Here is a recording as performed by the Martin Best Ensemble.

Here is a performance by the American countertenor Russell Oberlin.

Here is a recording of Paul Hillier singing Bernard's classic.

The troubadors were wandering minstrels from the South of France who, it is believed, composed and sang their own poetry and music. Central to their poetry were the ideals of courtly love. Their topics also included political and moral themes, laments, satires and literary and social debates. The troubadours wrote in the local languages and in the so-called 'fixed forms" of French medieval poetry. Unlike medieval church music, the names of many of the secular composers are known. Their lyric was collected and the stories of their lives and personailities were immortalized in minibiographies, known as vidas, that were interspersed within these collections.
Troubadours flourished during the twelfth and thirteenth century before the Catholic church's zeal in eliminating the Cathar movement with the Albigensian crusade (1202 - 1229) caused many of the troubadours to disperse.
Among the most famous of the first generation of troubadours was Bernard de Ventadorn (c. 1145 - 1200) whose music survives (45 poems and 19 melodies) in multiple sources. Bernard's vida is presented below in a translation from the Provencal by James Donalson:

Bernard in a 13th century manuscript
Bernard de Ventadorn was from the castle of Ventadorn in Limousin. He was a man from a poor family, the son of a servant who was an oven-tender and heated the oven to cook the bread for the castle. He grew handsome and skilled, and knew how to compose and sing, and he was courtly and educated. The Viscount Ventadorn, his lord, was greatly pleased with him and his composing and singing, and honored him greatly. Now,Viscount Ventadorn had a wife who was beautiful and gay and young and noble, and she was pleased with Sir Bernard and his songs, and she fell in love with him and he with her, so that he made his poems and songs about her, the love that he had for her and her noblesse. Their love lasted for a long time before the viscount the lady's husband, and the other people realized it. And when the viscount caught on, he distanced Sir Bernard from him and had his wife shut in under guard. Then he had the lady dismiss Sir Bernard, and made him agree to leave and depart from the district. So he left, and went to the Duchess of Normandy, who was young and of great nobility, and well-versed in worthiness and honor and eulogy. And she was most pleased with Sir Bernard's poems and songs, so she received, honored, and supported him and and gave him many great favors. He was at the court of the duchess for a long time and he fell in love with her and she with him, so Sir Bernard made many good songs about it. But King Henry of Enqland took her to wife and took her from Normandy and took her to England. Sir Bernard stayed behind, sad and ailing, and he left Normandy and went to the good count Raymond of Toulouse, and was with him at his court until the count died. And when the count was dead, Sir Bernard abandoned the world, and composing and singing and the world's solace, and entered the order of Dalon and died there. And all that I have told you about him was told to me by Viscount Eble of Ventadorn, who was the son of the viscountess Sir Bernard loved so nuch.

Can vei la lauzeta mover is perhaps Bernard's most popular song and was known even to Dante who paraphrased its opening in his Paradiso: "Like the small lark who wantons free in air, / First singing and then silent, as possessed / By the last sweetness that contented her, / So seemed to me the image, deep impressed / With the Eternal Pleasure, by whose will / Each thing in its own nature is expressed."

Things to Note
Troubadour music was perhaps derived from the primary monophonic styles of chant. It differs, however, in a number of subtle ways. The melody is generally more closely allied with the poetic metrics and also it is generally organized in a strophic form - that is, every verse of poetry is set to the same music. The final verse, known as the tornada, is shorter than the others and uses only a portion of the music.
The melody used for each strophe is usually determined by the form of the stanza, in that phrase length often corresponds to line length and melodic and lyrical cadences tend to coincide. Troubadour melodies can either repeat sections or be through-composed, that is lacking in refrain or repetition. Is this piece through-composed?
There is little consensus as to the actual sound of troubadour music. Our recording performed by a member of Germany's Studio de Fruhen Musik under Thomas Binkley is performed monophonically. The listening chart below follows that recording. You can follow the score here.

Listening Chart

Bernard de Ventadorn: Can vei la lauzeta mover (c. 1150)

Can vei la lauzeta mover 0:00 Verse 1: The first half of the melody. It moves gently up to a high point before cadencing on the same note on which it began.
Ai! Tan grans enveya 0:24 Verse 1: The second half of the melody. It begins halfway between the high and low points of the first half and eventually cadences on the same note as the beginning of the entire melody.
Ai, las! Tan cuidava saber 0:52 Verse 2: The structure is the same as verse 1.
Anc non agui de me poder 1:43 Verse 3: The structure is the same as verse 1.
De las domnas me dezesper 2:32 Verse 4: The structure is the same as verse 1.
D'aisso's fa be femna parer 3:23 Verse 5: The structure is the same as verse 1.

Merces es perduda, per ver, 4:15 Verse 6: The structure is the same as verse 1.
Pus ab midons no.m pot valer 5:04 Verse 7: The structure is the same as verse 1.
Tristeza, no.n auretz de me 5:54 Tornada: Melody starts at its second half.


Can vei la lauzeta mover
De joi sas alas contral rai,
Que s'oblid' e.s laissa chazer
Per la doussor c'al cor li vai,
Ai! Tan grans enveya m'en ve
De cui qu'eu veya jauzion,
Meravilhas ai, car desse
Lo cor de dezirer no.m fon.

When I see the lark
Spread its wings for joy and fly towards the sun,
Forget itself, and fall
In the bliss that rushes to its heart
Alas! How I then envy
All creatures thaat I see happy.
I am amazed that my heart
Does not melt away there and then with longing.

Ai, las! Tan cuidava saber
D'amor, e tan petit en sai,
Car eu d'amar no.m posc tener
Celeis don ja pro non aurai.
Tout m'a mo cor, e tout m'a me,
E se mezeis e tot lo mon;
E can se.m tolc, no.m laisset re
Mas dezirer e cor volon.

Alas! how much of love I thought I knew
And how little I know,
For I cannot stop loving
Her from whom I may have nothing.
All my heart, and all herself,
And all my own self and all I have
She has taken from me, and leaves me nothing
But longing and a seeking heart.

Anc non agui de me poder
Ni no fui meus de l'or' en sai
Que.m laisset en sos olhs vezer
En un miralh que mout me plai.
Miralhs, pus me mirei en te,
M'an mort li sospir de preon,
C'aissi.m perdei com perdet se
Lo bels Narcisus en la fon.

I no longer had power over myself,
Nor beonged to myself, from the moment
When she let me look into her eyes;
Into that mirror which so delights me.
Mirror, since I was mirrored in you
My sighs have slain me;
I am lost
As fair Narcissus was lost in the spring,

De las domnas me dezesper;
Ja mais en lor no.m fiarai;
C'aissi com las solh chaptener,
Enaissi las deschaptenrai.
Pois vei c'una pro no m'en te
Vas leis que.m destrui e.m cofon,
Totas las dopt' e las mescre,
Car be sai c'atretals se son.

I despair of all women;
Never again shall I trust them;
As much as I was formerly their protector
I shall now neglect them;
Since no woman will come to my aid
With her who destroys and confounds me
I fear them all and mistrust them
For well I know that they are all alike.

D'aisso's fa be femna parer
Ma domna, per qu'e.lh o retrai,
Car no vol so c'om voler,
E so c'om li deveda, fai.
Chazutz sui en mala merce,
Et ai be faih co.l fols en pon;
E no sai per que m'esdeve,
Mas car trop puyei contra mon.

My lady wants to appear a good woman;
So I discourage her.
For she does not want what she should,
And what is forbdden her, she does.
I have fallen into disfavour
And behaved like the fool on the bridge
And I don't know how it came about
Unless it was that I applied too much pressure.

Merces es perduda, per ver,
(Et eu non o saubi anc mai,)
Car cilh qui plus en degr'aver,
No.n a ges, et on la querrai?
A! Can mal sembla, qui la ve,
Qued aquest chaitiu deziron
Que ja ses leis non aura be,
Laisse morrir, que no l.aon.

Mercy is lost, truly
(And I never knew it)
For she who should have had most
Has none: and where should I seek it now?
Oh! how pitiful it seems to him who sees -
wretched and lovesick as I am
Unable to know happiness without her -
How she lets me die, and will not come to my aid.

Pus ab midons no.m pot valer
Precs ni merces ni.l dreihz qu'eu ai,
Ni a leis no ven a plazer
Qu'eu l'am, ja mais no.lh o dirai.
Aissi.m part de leis e.m recre;
Mort m'a, e per mort li respon,
E vau m'en, pus ilh no.m rete,
Chaitius, en issilh, no sai on.

Since nothing can help me with my lady,
Neither prayers nor grace, nor the rights that I have,
Since it does not please her that I love her
I shall not speak of love again.
I give up love and deny it;
She has willed my death, and I answer with death;
I leave, since she does not hold me back,
And go wretched into exile, not knowing where.

Tristeza, no.n auretz de me,
Qu'eu m'en vau, chaitius, no sai on.
De chantar me gic e.m recre,
E de joi e d'amor m'escon.

You will not see my sorrow,
Since I am going, wretched not knowing where.
I renounce and deny my songs
And flee from joy and from love.

Ruins of Ventadorn castle

All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.