The French-Italian writer, Christine de Pizan, stands at the center of this CD, an uncommonly interesting,
versatile and creative personality whose life in Paris around 1400 was marked by the whims of the goddess
Fortune, with extraordinary ups and downs.
Christine de Pizan, today known above all as the author of The Book of the City of Ladies (1405) was both
author and ‘publisher’ of her own works, but was not exactly a composer. The inspiration to put her life and
works to music stems from the fact that one of her ballades, Dueil angoisseus (“Anguished grief”), a poem
about solitude and melancholy, was in fact put to music by her Flemish contemporary, Gilles de Binchois
In all probability there were numerous other works of Christine put to music which have not survived. For
this reason our task has been to apply the principle of contrafactum, substituting one contemporary text for
another which had already been put to music. This approach – recycling already existing elements, either
melodies or texts in order to create a new work – was widespread in the music of the late Middle Ages and
Renaissance. The next step was to determine how Christine herself would have composed her own ballades
– a term derived from the Italian ballata or “dance tune” – with a musical accompaniment in mind, for they
were destined for a noble public in the circle of the French queen Isabelle de Bavire, born as the imperial
princess Elisabeth von Bayern from the House of Wittelsbach-Ingolstadt.
The boundaries between text and music, especially with ballades, were extremely open. It fits the
progressive orientation of her thought that Christine radically re-casts the ideals of the troubadours‘ courtly
love from a female perspective, all the while skillfully relying on the popular poetic genres of her day, such
as ballades, rondeaux and virelais. For this reason we chose to put her love poems to the music of melodies
that had already been popular almost a century before her time and with which she was perhaps familiar.
Putting together this CD proved to be an enormous challenge for the Ensemble, because it was a question
not only of perfecting the musical styles, deciding on the musical arrangements and then interpreting these
in the VocaMe’s emblematic sound, but also of establishing a body of texts which offered representative
insights into Christine de Pizan’s poetry.
This latter task took place in close collaboration with the Christine de Pizan specialists Margarete
Zimmermann, Earl Jeffrey Richards and Gisela Seitschek who teaches Romance Languages and Literatures.
Michael Popp · Translated by Earl Jeffrey Richards