Group brings medieval music to Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – This Sunday the group Diabolus in Musica will fill the Cathedral of St. John in Providence with music from Medieval France. The performance is part of the Museum Concerts of Rhode Island series.

There's a bit of a chill inside the sanctuary at St. John the Evangelist in Newport. The old, stone church sits quietly, except for the three women at the altar, sniffing and coughing as they fight off colds and warm up their vocals.

Those are Diabolus in Musica's two sopranos and mezzo-soprano. There are five members in all, Antoine Guerber founded the group.

"I wanted to know about those music that came first in our history and I wanted to know what was at the source of our music," said Guerber.

Diabolus in Musica will perform what's known as the Trouveres repertoire. They are songs penned in the 12th and 13th centuries just as musicians were starting to stray from religious music and delve into the secular drama of love and courtship. Most of the songs are about the man's experience of love. But Gurber found a few songs told from the woman's perspective.

"There is a tiny portion of the Trouveres Corpus which has female authorship. Very few ladies wrote songs, so it was really interesting for us to focus on this special part of the corpus," said Gueber.

Diabolus in Musica performs these songs as they were written, in what's called "langue d'oil" an ancestor of modern French.

Aino Lavoipierre is one of the sopranos. She says these love songs written centuries ago by women speak to her.

"Those are eternal feelings, we recognize ourselves of course, and it's not only pure beautiful love songs," said Lavoipierre. "There are also songs where the women make fun of the man, she tells him keep quiet' she is going to her lover and so on. So there's lot of humor also in these songs."

The musicians accompany these medieval love songs with flute, harp, drum and fiddle all authentically made to the time period.

Founder Antoine Guerber plucks a green, wooden harp with a carved lion's head that looks out at the audience. It's a replica of a Roman harp that made its way to France in the 12th Century. And there's a medieval flute, played by Estelle Boisnard.

"This is my maple, there are no keys on it, it's just plain, like a piece of wood. You just blow into it to make sound," said Boisnard.

The musicians of Diabolus in Musica said audiences are often amazed not only by what they hear, but also that such relatively young performers are interested in 12th and 13th Century music.

"Is it possible that you can play this middle ages music but you are very young? Why are you interested in this? But I don't know, I think it's simple, really colorful, it's like I'm traveling, travel in the time, myself," said Boisnard.

And that travel back in time, to pull the medieval music into the present is an important journey for Diabolus in Musica. There are only a few groups like them who know and play this music. As Boisnard puts it, they are like a living picture of 13th Century France. People wouldn't burn an ancient picture, she said, so why should they discard this music just because it's centuries old.

Want to Go?
Diabolus in Musica
Sunday, November 14th 3:30pm
Cathedral of St. John
271 N. Main Street, Providence
For more information click here.

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