Alton and Jeffery – Bele Buche e Bele Parleure

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Bele Buche e Bele Parleure by Jeannine Alton and Brian Jeffery is a manual that I published in 1976 in conjunction with Jeannine Alton, a lovely lady who was my tutor in French philology when I was an undergraduate at Oxford. I saw that singers didn’t know what to do about the pronunciation when confronted with medieval and Renaissance French music, so I did something about it.

Bele Buche e Bele Parleure shows you how to speak or sing medieval and Renaissance French. The reviewer Laurence Wright in 1978 in the review which you will find at the foot of this page hit the nail on the head when he wrote that some of the philological details are debatable (“approximate” is the word that I used) but that nevertheless “the musician can be confident that use of the book will result in a pronunciation which is perfectly defensible, and sounds convincing”. Indeed, I’m sure that it is all philologically arguable but at least this book gives you something defensible and practical to work with when you sing (or speak).

The copies which we send out are in good condition, but as they are now almost fifty years old they sometimes have slight defects.

The title

“Bele buche e bele parleure” is a phrase from a medieval French romance, if I remember correctly: “She had a beautiful mouth and spoke beautifully”).

The soundfile

At the same time as I and Jeannine wrote the book, I also put together spoken and sung examples so that users of the book could actually hear the sounds, and I made a cassette which I had duplicated (over in Miami) and have been selling it ever since; but now I have had it digitized and the soundfile as mp3 is now available here on its own page. You might like to listen to three of the tracks here, taken from the soundfile:

La Chanson de Roland, the opening lines:

 

Carles li reis, nostre emperere magnes,
Set anz tuz pleins ad estét en Espaigne…
Norman, early 12th century. Spoken.

 

Avez point veu la Perronelle (spoken):

A strophic song whose words and music are both anonymous. About 1490.

 

Avez point veu la Perronelle (sung):

 

First Bele Buche e Bele Parleure sets out the pronunciation of French vowels and consonants from 1100 to 1600. Provençal is included. Then the same information is given in the form of a chart so that for any given text, the state of French pronunciation at that time can be seen at a glance.

Then come the examples which are in the soundfile of 35 minutes, in which twelve medieval and Renaissance French examples from between 1100 and 1600 are spoken, and six also sung in musical settings of their own period, with pronunciation of their own time. The examples include an extract from the Chanson de Roland, a poem by Bernard de Ventadorn, a scene from the Jeu de Saint Nicolas by Jean Bodel, and poems by Adam de la Hale, Machaut, Ronsard, and Du Bellay.

The sung examples were chosen because they were all readily available in modern editions, and they are performed with an ensemble of singers and instrumentalists.

Each poem or extract is accompanied in the book by a modern English translation and by explanatory notes on the content, language, metre, and music.

The performers in the soundfile are the reader Derek Coltman, and the singers Richard Apley and Anthony Bremner countertenors, Brian Burrows and Charles Corp tenors, and Anthony Ransome baritone. The instrumentalists are June Baines tenor viol, Michael Laird cornett, Roger Brenner alto sackbut and Peter Harvey bass sackbut.

Bele Buche e Bele Parleure has 79 pages and it was first published by Tecla in 1976 at a size of 8 x 5 inches.

This book is now available here from Tecla in printed form from this page, and also in digital as also are the spoken and sung examples in the soundfile which back in those old days I issued on a cassette: that cassette has now been very well digitized by Stanley’s in Percy Street London (Stanley’s are very very good! BJ)

Here is a review from Early Music volume 6 issue 4, October 1978:

“Bele buche e bele parleure, a guide to the pronunciation of medieval and Renaissance French for singers and others

JEANNINE ALTON and BRIAN JEFFERY

Tecla Editions, London, 1976. Clothback £5.60, paperback £3.00, accompanying cassette £3.75 plus VAT.

[These prices are, ahem, somewhat out of date now. Also, as you can see this book is now available here from Tecla in digital form, and so are the spoken and sung examples in the soundfile.]

Here is the review:

“Anyone who likes early music to sound authentic will appreciate the importance of pronouncing song-texts correctly. The problem until now has been that books on pronunciation were written for philologists rather than musicians, and the latter had few easily accessible sources of advice (such as the note by Alan Robson on 16th-century French in London Pro Musica PCI). Here at last is a book which explains how to pronounce French from 1100 to 1600, plus medieval Provençal and two medieval French dialects, Picard and Norman (but not, alas, the French of the court of Henry VIII). The price may seem high for a slim 80-page volume [ahem. BJ], but brevity is in this case a virtue, for it saves the bother of wading through lengthy tomes [Yes indeed. BJ]

The musician will find this book a mine of information provided (i) that he already has a good knowledge of how modern French is pronounced and (ii) that he has the patience to learn the phonetic symbols and work carefully. If you are in any doubt about your ability on either score, then you are strongly advised to get the cassette as well. [The cassette has now been digitized and is available here. BJ]

The book is divided into three parts. The first part explains how to pronounce the various sounds. Information is presented clearly and succinctly, which may disappoint the philologist (for many points are much more debatable than the book implies) but will please the musician who wants simple, straightforward advice. At all events, he can be confident that use of the book will result in a pronunciation which is perfectly defensible, and sounds convincing.

There are some omissions in the section on French, notably the diphthong ue (as in fueil, duel) which was pronounced [ʊɛ]—possibly [ʏø]—down to about 1200, and then [œ]. Its nasal counterpart (as in buen, tuen, suen) was pronounced [ʊɛ̃], then [ɯɛ̃], usually becoming [ɯɑ̃] by the 13th century. It would also have been helpful to explain (i) that o in some early spellings (e.g. corage, loer) was pronounced [ʊ] as in the later spellings courage, louer; (ii) that the pronunciation [e] or [ɛ] for feminine e in initial syllables persisted down to the 16th century, e.g. sera could be pronounced as in modem Italian, and could rhyme with plaira in both its syllables; (iii) that there was a widespread vogue for pronouncing oi (as in bois, joie) as [ɛ] in all words, not just the few mentioned in the book. Singers are recommended to try this pronunciation, as it was fashionable at court, and sounds elegant.

Part II is a quick-reference chart summarizing the advice given on French in Part I.

Part III consists of 12 texts, as recorded on the cassette, with translations and notes. This section is less directly suited to the needs of the musician. For example, the texts include extracts from the Chanson de Roland, whose music is lost and whose language is archaic and unlike anything the singer is likely to meet, and from the Jeu de Saint Nicolas, which has no music either. Also, the notes tend to digress into literary aesthetics: this would be easily forgivable (after all, it is an excellent thing to remind us that songs are poems whose words can be enjoyed as much as their music) if the information on their pronunciation were more comprehensive, e.g. it should be explained that umbre can rhyme with sombre because it is a latinized spelling of ombre. [Remember, the title of the book says that it is for singers and others! BJ]

The cassette is not only instructive, but pleasant to listen to. Derek Coltman reads the texts with clarity and vigour, and six of the songs are also performed with music. Inevitably, there are mistakes and inconsistencies, and the singers occasionally lapse into those neutral sounds which make all languages indistinguishable, and make historical pronunciation pointless. On the other hand, there is a refreshing rendering of the popular song Avez point veu la Perronnelle in which the words are crystal clear—an excellent example of how a singer can use good pronunciation to make the performance more satisfying [You can hear Avez point veu la Perronnelle and two other tracks free here. BJ].

LAURENCE WRIGHT”

Other reviews:

“Old Occitan [the language of the troubadours], with its crisp consonants and rolled r’s, is a fine language for singing, and singers who wish to learn it can get excellent help from Bele buche e bele parleure by B. Jeffery and J. Alton (London, 1976), a singers’ guide to early forms of French and Old Occitan. The usefulness of the book is greatly increased if you buy the accompanying cassette; there you will find Be m’an perdut lai enves Ventadorn – a song by one of the most famous trobadors, Bernart de Ventadorn – read in full” (Christopher Page on the troubadours)

“I’m sure my student will benefit from it. I know I got a great deal of good from my book and tape.” (from someone who bought this book and tape)

THE EXAMPLES IN THE BOOK AND ON THE CASSETTE

The book and the soundfile include twelve examples from between 1100 and 1600. There are extracts from an epic and a play, while the rest are poems which were set to music in their own time. These have been chosen because their musical settings are all readily available in modern editions.

Each poem or extract is accompanied in the book by a modern English version, and by explanatory notes on the content, language, metre, and music.

The soundfile includes all twelve examples spoken with the original pronunciation, and also six of them sung in musical settings of their period.

The performers in the soundfile are the reader Derek Coltman, and the singers Richard Apley and Anthony Bremner countertenors, Brian Burrows and Charles Corp tenors, and Anthony Ransome baritone. The instrumentalists are June Baines tenor viol, Michael Laird cornett, Roger Brenner alto sackbut and Peter Harvey bass sackbut.

The twelve examples in the book and in the soundfile are as follows.

1) La Chanson de Roland. The opening lines; the death of Roland; parts of Charlemagne’s lament on the death of Roland. Norman, early 12th century.
Carles li reis, nostre emperere magnes,
Set anz tuz pleins ad estét en Espaigne…
Spoken.

2) Be m’an perdut lai enves Ventadorn
A song with words and music by the troubadour Bernard de Ventadorn. Provençal, about 1180.
Spoken, and then parts sung.

3) Part of a tavern scene from the miracle play Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas by Jean Bodel. Picard, about 1200.
Or bevons plus, si parlons mains (Let’s drink more and talk less)
Spoken.

4) On parole de batre et de vanner
An anonymous motet about having a good time in Paris. Francien, about 1260.
Spoken.

5) Dieus soit en cheste maison
A Christmas song with words and music by Adam de la Hale. Francien/Picard, about 1280.
Spoken and then sung.

6) Amours, et ma dame aussi
A rondeau with words and music by Adam de la Hale. Francien/Picard, about 1280.
Spoken.

7) Plus dure qu’un dyamant
A virelai with words and music by Guillaume de Machaut. About 1350.
Spoken and then the first section sung.

8) Je ne suis plus telx que soloye
An anonymous rondeau which was set to music by Dufay. About 1430.
Spoken.

9) Avez point veu la Perronelle
A strophic song whose words and music are both anonymous. About 1490.
Spoken and then sung.

10) Nous sommes de l’ordre de Saint Babouin
A strophic song whose words are anonymous and which was set to music by Compère. About 1500.
Spoken and then the first stanza sung.

11) La nuyt froyde et sombre
Two stanzas of an ode by Du Bellay, which were set to music by Lassus.  1549.  Spoken and then sung.
La nuyt froyde et sombre
Couvrant d’obscure ombre
La terre et les cieux,
Aussi doulx que miel
Fait couler du ciel
Le someil aux yeux.

12) Amour et Mars sont presque d’une sorte
A sonnet by Ronsard. 1560.
Spoken.

 

WeightN/A
Version

Paperbound, Clothbound, Cassette

ISBN

Paperbound – ISBN 978-0-9502241-3-8
Clothbound – ISBN 978-0-9502241-2-11
Cassette – ISBN 978-0-948607-49-3