Recorded at Emmanuel Church, Boston, MA, January 1989
Erato CD 2292-45420-2


Anne Azéma and Ellen Hargis, sopranos
Laurie Monahan, mezzo-soprano
Michael Collver, countertenor
John Fleagle and William Hite, tenors
Herman Hildebrand and Joel Cohen, baritone
Nicholas Isherwood, bass
Jesse Lepkoff, flutes and recorders
Dan Stillman, sackbut, shawm, recorders
Carol Lewis, vielle and tenor viol
Alice Robbins, vielle and bass viol
John Fleagle, hurdy-gurdy (vielle-à-roue)
Joel Cohen, lute and percussion

Douglas Kirk, cornet and shawm
William Ramsey, sackbut
Dan Stillman, shawm and sackbut
Stephen Lundahl, sackbut

Oyez seigneur:
This poem is a sixteenth-century version of the Sybil's` prophecy, attributed to St. Augustine, and one of the oldest works of the Advent-Christmas repertoire. During the Middle Ages, the text was sung at the nighttime vigil service of December 24.

O oriens:
One of the so-called "O" antiphons of the Advent season.

Kyrie "Le jour de Noel":
The medieval practice of "troping" familiar liturgical melodies produces here a beautiful, vernacular Christmas carol.

Christmas week in Beauvais:
During the middle ages, the week between Christmas and New Years' incorporated many elements of the Roman saturnalia, including a considerable amount of rowdiness and revelry. In many French towns of the North, a donkey was driven through the church doors on New Years' day (Orientis partibus) --a survival, no doubt, of some pagan year-end practice. Many other chants in the extensive Beauvais manuscript seem influenced by a tradition of lively, popular music-making.

Ave regina celorum --
The familiar Gregorian melody is paraphrased and "harmonised" by one of the great masters of Burgundian court music. The lack of text in the manuscript source indicates that this piece was performed at some point during the fifteenth century by instruments.

In tua memoria--
Lantins, a French-speaking composer who sang in the papal chapel at Rome, has given us an extraordinary, song-like motet not too dissimilar in style from the courtly love songs of the day.

Dufay's expressive setting reworks the chant melody using a variety of compositional techniques. In keeping with the practice of the time, chant strophes alternate with composed sections. The polyphonic passages are carefully "orchestrated" for complementary and opposing vocal colors.

Noe, noe --
Brumel's setting comes down to us without text, therefore indicating instrumental performance. There were probably words at one point, however -- the phrase patterns suggest a sung "Noel" refrain.

Noe, noe, magnificus est rex pacificus --
Claudin de Sermisy is best known as a master of secular song, but his motets, derived from the polyphonic style of Josquin des Pres, are full of invention and vigor. This work was in the repertoire of the King's private choir at the Sainte Chapelle, Paris.

Conditor en français --
The printed carol collections of old France generally give texts only, with an indication before each poem of the melody to which the words are to be sung. Most often the tunes were folk songs or derivations of well-known polyphonic chansons, but here (as in the "Kyrie" and the "Oyez seigneur" above) a liturgical melody supports a vernacular text.

Chantons noel --
Jean Daniel's Christmas poem was meant to be sung to a very popular dance-song, versions of which are known as "J'ai le rebours" or "Au joli boys."

Bransle de bourgogne --
Here set for lute, this tune also exists in a version for instrumental consort. Like many notated dance pieces of the period, it may be derived from folk-music sources.

Or vous tremoussez --
We have derived the melody from the polyphonic setting which follows, and from the Provençal satirical song "Non podrio anar plus mau."

Et d'ou venez vous --
The model for the preceding carol, and a delightful piece in its own right. The original text about Miss Lucy, here omitted in the interests of seasonal propriety, is full of highly-charged ribaldry.

Dison nau à pleine teste --
The original song on which this carol is based, "Il est jour, dit l'alouette," recounts the sorrows of a teenage girl married to an old man "qui ne sait, qui ne veut faire la chosette, qui est si doucette."

Nouvelles, nouvelles --
Both the melody and the text are notated in Nicholas Martin's carol book. The tune appears to be related to the modern English-language carol, "The First Noel."

Près Bethléem -- Paris becomes Bethlehem and the kind blacksmith (gentil marechal) becomes a kind shepherd in this reworking of a delightful four part chanson by Passereau.

Sur le mont de Sion --
Versions of the beautiful Renaissance melody "Sur le pont d'Avignon," on which the carol is based, survived until modern times in French folklore. The tune is perhap of mediterranean origin -- it appears in Spanish songbooks of the sixteenth century as "Con que la lavare."

Agnus dei --
Excerpted from a mass cycle which was in all probability part of the repertoire at the Sainte Chapelle, this "Agnus Dei" creates an extraordinary, intense polyphonic web in five parts, unusual in its density for French music of the time, around the motifs of the popular song.

O l'heureuse journée --
The manuscript source, from the cathedral of Avignon, gives the text and the melody. For the last strophe, we have composed a four-part setting based in part on the well-known "Belle qui tient ma vie," whose melodic structure resembles the opening phrase of this carol.

Venez ouyr la trompette --
The text, a paraphrase of familiar scriptural passages, also recalls some salient images of the opening Sybil's prophecy. The melody, recalling the English-langage carol "Deck the Halls," appear in the original print; it has been reconstituted by us in four parts, in the style of the period.

The program notes are © by Joel Cohen

1 Oyez Seigneur comment parla music : Gregorian ("Conditor alme") (The Sybil's Prophecy) text: Anonymous, 16th c.
2 O oriens, splendor lucis aeternae Gregorian
3 Kyrie "Lejour de Noel" : Gregorian("Fons bonitatis") II. Christmas Week in Beauvais, ca. 1200
4 Anonymous: Lux Hodie -Orientis Partibus
5 Quem vidistis pastores
6 Alle, resonent omnes ecclesia
7 Magnum nomen domini Lux optata claruit,
8 Virgo gemma virginum
9 Quando decet honore
III. To the Virgin
10 Ave regina celorum Gilles Binchois (d. 1460)
11 In tua memoria Arnold de Lantins (fl. 1431)
12 Magnificat Guillaume Dufay (1400-1474)

  • IV. Noel, Noel
    13 Noe, Noe Antoine Brumel (ca.1490)
    14 Noe, noe, magnificus est rex pacificus Claudin de Sermisy (ca.1490-1562)
  • V. A Renaissance bouquet of carols and dances
    15 Conditor en français Anonymous, 16th c.
    16 Chantons Noel, menons joyeuse vie music: Pierre Certon (d.1572)
    17 Bransle de Bourgogne Adrien le Roy (ca. 1550)
    18 Or vous tremoussez, pasteurs de Judée music: Anon (15th.c)
    19 Et d'ou venez vous, Madame Lucette? Anon. (ca. 1500)
    20 Bransle de Bourgogne Claude Gervaise (ca. 1550) Bransle double
    21 Disons nau à pleine teste music: Claudin de Sermisy text: Laurent Roux (1582)
    22 Ronde and Saltarello Tilman Susato (d. 1561)
    23 Nouvelles, nouvelles Nicolas Martin (1556)
    24 Pres Bethléem dans une estable music: Passereau (ca. 1540) text: Jehan Bonfons (ca. 1555)
    25 Sur le mont de Sion Anon. (ca. 1600/) Sur le pont d'Avignon Claudin de Sermisy
    26 Dona nobis pacem Pierre Certon (from the "Missa sus le Pont d'Avignon")
    27 O l'heureuse journée Anon. (Avignon, ca. 1600)
    28 Bransle de Champagne Claude Gervaise
    29 Venez ouyr la trompette Nicolas Martin
    30 Bransle de Champagne (reprise) Claude Gervaise

  • Noël, Noël: some press clippings from the Camerata archives

    An extremely rich recording, procuring constant enchantment on repeated hearings. Once more, the intelligence of Joel Cohen and his musicians ravishes us. The voices are superb, among others those of Anne Azéma and Nicholas Isherwood are of radiant beauty...Certainly the best CD available in this repertoire.
    Compact (Paris)

    This CD...moves to the top of my list this year. Performed with infectious spirit and informed style...all the music, familiar or not, begs to be heard over and over again....a beautifully informed, carefully ordered, thoroughly enjoyable presentation.
    CD Review (USA)

    A constellation of performers who form a coherent group, working towards a common goal... A recording that can be listened to as though it were a concert, an interpretation that warms the heart. Joel Cohen is thus confirmed as one of the rare champions of medieval repertoire, still under-represented on compact disk.
    Diapason A very attractive program...full of pleasures.
    Femmes d'aujourd'hui (Paris)

    Joel Cohen, as usual, turns out to be a marvelous guide..Voices and instruments alternate harmoniously; Joel Cohen makes them sing forth with suppleness, expressivity, and natural quality. His are refined musicological skills, joined to an instinctive flair for the world of vocal sound. Here, then, is something quite other than a banal collection of tired warhorses. Something to talk about the whole year long.
    Répertoire (Paris)

    Those who are not yet acquainted with Joel Cohen's ensemble have no idea what they are missing. Every one of his recordings is a feast, and the feast this time is Christmas...As usual, the interpretation is of exceptional quality, with superb voices, and also -- something that is rare when foreigners sing in our language -- diction that is generally perfect.
    Present (Paris)

    Full of finesse and humour, a contrast with the usual cliches of the season.
    Telegramme de Brest

    Bravo!...for every style period Joel Cohen has found the right accent...An ideal recording to celebrate Christmas in music.
    Centre Presse

    Four centuries of (French) Christmas celebrations, and we owe them to an American, Joel is the savor of our countryside.

    The performances are full of life and formal perfection. Noël!
    Le Meridional (Marseilles), December 10 1989