CD A0308: La Cause est Amer

La Cause est Amer
Medieval Love Poems from Japan and the Low Countries

CD Cover: La Cause est Amer - QuadriviumLa Cause est Amer (the cause is bitterness / love), but the result is great delicacy and exquisite poetry: don't hesitate to treat yourself to an hour of courtly love in the company of ensemble Quadrivium. (P. Boquet, Chairwoman of Societe Francaise de Luth in Le Joueur de Luth, June 09)

Buy this album now    CD: £12.00 + p&p   


Artist profile & catalogue of works - Bill Taylor

Track Listing & Audio Samples

La Cause est Amer
Medieval Love Poems from Japan and the Low Countries by Quadrivium

1.  Se la face ay pale la cause est amer - Guillaume Dufay (1398-1474)
2.  Prenez sur moy votre exemple amouteux - Johannes Ockeghem (c.1410-1497)
The joy of newly discovered love
3.  Ai mite no (from : Vijf Nippon Waka) - Janpieter Biesemans (b.1939)
4.  Par le regard de vos beaux yeux - Guillaume Dufay
5.  Par le regard - Buxheimer Orgelbuch (c.1470)
6.  J'ay pris amours - anon
Parting at dawn
7.  Ariake no (from : Vijf Nippon Waka) - Janpieter Biesemans
8.  J'ayme bien celui qui s'en va - Pierre Fontaine (c.1390-1447)
9.  J'ayme bien celui - arr. Guillaume Dufay
Absence of the beloved
10. Nageki tsutsu (from : Vijf Nippon Waka) - Jan Pieter Biesemans
11. Le souvenir de vous me tue - Robert Morton (c. 1430-after 1479)
12. Le souvenir - Buxheimer Orgelbuch
13. Je ne fai tousjours - Giles Binchois (c. 1400-1460)
Doubting faithfulness
14. Nagakaran (from : Vijf Nippon Waka) - Janpieter Biesemans
15. Triste plaisir et douloureuse joie - Gilles Binchois
16. je requier a tous amoureux - Guillaume Dufay
Rueful grief
17. Omoi wabi (from : Vijf Nippon Waka) - Janpieter Biesemans
18. Tout a par moy - Walter Frye (fl. 1450-1475)
19. Tout a par moy - Buxheimer Orgelbuch
20. Vray dieu d'amours - Gilles Binchois
21. Se la face ay pale - Buxheimer Orgelbuch

Notes & Credits

Show All


"Se la face ay pale, la cause est amer" --"If my face is pale, the cause is love I bitterness". The double meaning of "amer" offers a medieval acknowledgement that Love is multi-faceted. Never simply just an enjoyable state, it can also induce anxiety, loneliness and grief. This chanson of Guillaume Dufay serves as both the title song and the theme of this recording, which presents 15th - century Burgundian chansons interleaved amongst modern settings of medieval Japanese verses.

The programme of this recording is comprised of five thematic sets. Each set addresses a different state of love, beginning with a waka from Janpieter Biesemans' suite Vijf Nippon Waka (2002), and followed by with a late - medieval chanson chosen to reflect the emotion evoked by the waka. Several of these chansons are also presented as intabulations, or instrumental arrangements.

The classic waka and courtly love
In the literature of medieval Japan, the anthology known as "Hyakunin-isshu", or the 100 poems by 100 different poets" holds an important place. The poems were collected by the nobleman Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241) and consist of 100 love poems written in the waka form. Not all of the poets' names have been preserved, but this poetry was written primarily by monks, rulers and nobility, both male and female. Of the five waka chosen by Biesemans, two are by women--Utaisho Michitsuna-no Haha, a lover of a prince-regent, and Taikenmon -in-no Horikawa, a courtisan from the emperor's court.

The waka form is extremely short and has a set number of syllables, comparable to the more modern haiku. It consists of 31 syllables in five lines following the pattern 5-7-5-7-7. In ancient aristocratic Japan, good taste in waka was a sign of high status and proper upbringing. Competitions for waka poets were held regularly, often in the spring under the blossoming cherry trees.

The waka frequently served as a means of secret communication betwen separated lovers, who often found themselves isolated in far-flung courts--as were their counterparts in the Burgundian courtly tradition of the 15th century. Furthermore, custom dictated that bride and groom should never gaze directly upon each other before their marriage, but many would recite suggestive waka to each other through the protective barrier of a screen, or with a fan held before the face.

Until quite recently, the classic 100 waka were routinely memorized by every cultivated Japanese, and were even used in an educative card game. Although the poems in the collection date from the 7th to the 12th century, the card game has its origins in the early Edo period (c.1620) and is still popular today in Japan, especially during the New Year festivities.

Biesemans'Vijf Nippon Waka

Five of the waka are central in this programme, which examines different states of Love : the joy of newly discovered love, parting at dawn;absence of the beloved; doubting faithfulness; and rueful grief. They were selected and set to music in 2002 by the Flemish composer Janpieter Biesemans for Quadrivium's instrumentarium of voice, lute, harp, psaltery and recorder. Although Biesemans scored the suite for western instruments, his compositions capture the delicate yet intense character of Japanese traditional music.

Biesemans says about his Vijf Nippon Waka: "Through my artistic endeavours I come in contact with other cultures. My curiosity about these cultures stimulates me to absorb something of their artistic spirituality. I feel compelled to translate this into my own artistic expression. In this way I have already composed in nine different cultural-languages, whereby the Japanese waka with its special poetic form presented a unique challenge. II experience each language as its own instrument, with its own specific rhythm and sound-colour."

Formes fixes in the 15th century repertoire of the Burgundian court.
French 15thcentury court chansons were composed upon poems set in the, then very popular, formes fixes. These poetic forms used fixed rhyme schemes and set patterns of repetition. Within this genre, the rondeau gained the foremost place, outpacing the ballade and the virelai in popularity. A rondeau employs the scheme ABaAabAB, where capital letters signify the refrain lines, and lower-case letters indicate musical repetitions with different words.

Prominent poets were Charles d'Orleans, Christine de Pisan and Alain Chartier. Courtly love was their main theme and their lyrics were often melancholy in character. The musical settings of these poems  did not use much word painting --but relied for their expression on the associative power of the words in combination with the particular quality of their melody and counterpoint. Chansons of this period are typically in three voices, with a sung superius and two accompanying voices: a tenor and contratenor, the latter of which is structured so as to complement and fill in around the tenor part.

The late-medieval chansons in this programme are all taken from the repertoire of the Burgundian court under Philip the Good (ruled 1419-1467). This powerful duke added the regions of Holland, Brabant and Hainault to his realm. When he transferred his court from Dijon to Brussels, Lille, Ghent and Bruges, the cultural centre of gravity moved with him.

The acquisition of the prosperous Low Countries gave him the means to indulge in a level of arts patronage to a degree that was unknown at that time. His court wa a cosmopolitan, French-speaking centre, including many poets, musicians, composers and painters of international repute. Many of the singers/composers of his court chapel were born and educated within the Burgundian borders; instrumentalists were recruited from all over Europe.

Se la face ay pale, le cause est amer, the title song of our programme, is an early work of Guillaume Dufay(1398-1474) from the 1430s, written in the form of a ballade equivoquee. In this verse-form, the lines end not with rhymes, but with identical final syllables, often with disparate meanings. Although Dufay is respectfully referred to as capelanus (chaplain) of Philip the Good, it is unlikely that he had a regular position at Philip's court. Nevertheless, many of the manuscripts associated with the Burgundian court are filled with his compositions. Par le regard, for example,one of Dufay's most widely known chansons, is found in more than 15 preserved manuscripts.

Pierre Fontaine (c.1392-1447) was listed in 1403 as a choirboy in the court chapel of Philip the Bold (ruled 1363-1404). After a period in northern Italy and Rome he returned in 1430 to the Burgundy court. His compact, dance-like chanson, J'ayme bien celui, was provided with an alternative countertenor, possibly by Dufay.

Gilles Binchois (c.1400-1460) is often mentioned in the same breath as Guillaume Dufay. Although less universal than that of Dufay, his music gained renown for its elegant style and its tender melancholic quality. The characteristic melody of Triste plaisir is completely in harmony with Chartier's poem. Binchois remained at Philip the Good's court from 1430 until his death.

Tout a par moy is possibly a late work of Binchois but is most often ascribed to Walter Frye (fl. 1450-1475). Whether this English composer actually worked on the Continent or not is still unknown. Whoever the composer may have been, Tout a par moy was one of Europe's most beloved and widespread chansons during the second half of the 15th century.

The same is true of Le souvenir by Robert Morton (c.1430-after1476). This Englishman was a member of the ducal chapel under Philip the Good and later under Charles the Bold from 1457 until his death. The flowing melodic style of Le souvenir and Tout a par moy, and the capricious unpredictability and liveliness of the countertenor, are characteristic of the generation of composers after Dufay and Binchois.

Instrumental arrangements

While the chief sources of these chansons are the chansonniers, the often beautifully illuminated song manuscripts, many have also come down to us in instrumental sources. One of the most important of these sources is the so-called Buxheimer Orgelbuch, a hefty manuscript from the second half of the 15th century, containing instrumental versions of the chansons notated in tablature. These intabulatenor voices in their original form, while the top voice is ornamented in instrumental fashion with rhythmic and melodic figures in faster note values. This was known as the technique of diminution, and was widely used by instrumentalists, not only organists, but also players of wind-, bowed- and plucked-instruments.

The remaining compositions on this CD are songs performed on instruments. Some of them comment on the current love story as told by the female lover's songs; others represent the male lover's sentiment as from a distance. The lyrics of these compositions have been condensed into a synopsis.

Historical Instruments
The characteristic feature of 15th century recorders is their straight, cylindrical bore which gives the instruments their very pure, transparent sound colour. The organetto, also known as the portative organ, was originally small enough to sit on the player's lap, or on a table. Most had lead pipes and a button-type keyboard, and the bellows were pumped with the musician's non-playing hand. Both Dufay and the Italian composer Francesco Landini arw portrayed with this costly and sensitive instrument.

Of the soft-sounding instruments, the harp and the lute took pride of place. The harp was considered an instrument of the high-lettered class. The typical gothic harp was fitted with bray pins, tiny wooden pegs which held the strings into the soundbox and lightly touched them, causing them to buzz. In English, this "bray" harp was so-named because people thought it sounded like a donkey! Nevertheless, this is the harp which is so often played by musical angels in late-medieval Netherlandish altarpieces. As the 15th century progressed, the lute gained in importance. When the plectrum technique was gradually replaced by a finger-tip technique, making polyphonic music playable on the lute, its popularity rocketed. Both the lute and the gothic harp were strung with gut.

A psaltery differs from a harp in that the strings are parallel to the soundboard, going across one or two bridges. Psalteries were often strung with fine wire strings, and came in many forms: trapezoidal, with a curved frame, square, etc.

Ellen Delahanty studied voice with Jessica Cash in London. She received her Master in Music degree in recorder and Historical Performance at the Manes College of Music in New York, and furthered her recorder studies with distinction at the conservatoires of Utrecht, Leuven and Antwerp. She specializes in early vocal repertoires as a soloist and as a member of the ensembles Quadrivium and Sospiri Ardenti. She regularly appears as a teacher and performer at early music festivals in Europe and the USA.

Willem Mook studied the lute at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, with Toyohiko Satoh, and the Sweelinck Conservatory of Amsterdam, with Anthony Bailes, and musicology at the State University of Utrecht. In addition to his activities as a lute teacher and performer, both as a soloist and in ensemble, he is an avid researcher, and has specialized in the performance of musical sources of the period 1400-1650. He currently performes in duos with Paulien van der Werff, soprano, with Harry van Berne, tenor, and with Peter Adema, poetry reader, and is a member of the ensemble Voix et Cordes. Mr.Mook has an extensive lute teaching practise in his hometown Haarlem and in Deventer.

Bill Taylor is a specialist in the performance of medieval and renaissance European harp music, as well as the ancient harp music of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He is one of very few players investigating these repertoires on medieval gut-strung harps, wire-strung clarsachs and renaissance harps with buzzing bray pins. He has performed with several ensembles in the US, including the Folger Consort, the Newberry Consort and Hesperus. Now based in Scotland, Mr Taylor regularly performs and records with Canty and Coronach. He teacher privately, offers classes through Feis, Rois, And frequently teaches and performs at festivals in the UK, Europe and the US.

After finishing his studies at several conservatories in Flanders with honours, Geert Van Gele went on to co-found the Flander's Recorder Quartet. For 10 years he performed and recorded with the Quartet in Europe and both North and South America. Along the way he won several important international competitions. He is regularly invited to give masterclasses. As a soloist he is admired as much for his interpretations of Bach and his performances of early Italian baroque music as for his mastery of contemporary recorder literature--repertoires which he has all recorded on CD.

Janpieter Biesemans (born 1939). After finishing his studies at the Lemmens Institute and the Antwerp Conservatory, Biesemans founded the ensemble Consortium Antiquum in 1964 and dedicated 23 years to the interpretation of early music. He began composing in 1980, and now has over 100 opus numbers to his credit. Now retired from teaching, he taught chamber music at the Antwerp Conservatory, and is Director Emeritus of the Akademie voor Muziche Kunsten in Meise. Under his impulse, the "Werkgrop Kunstonderwijs" was founded to defend the rights of the students of Flemish part-time arts education.


The Instruments of Quadrivium
Recorders : G and F alto in Pythagorean tuning from a set of six with cylindrical boring, based on late-medieval examples. Builder :Bob Marvin, Maine, USA, 2000. Tracks 3,5,7,10,14,17,20.

Organetto : soprano instrument based on the painting 2The Mystical Marriage of St Catherine" by Hans Memling (1479). Builder :John Brombaugh, Oregon, USA, c.1980. Tracks 1,8,12,15,19,21.

Harp : 24 gut strings and brays, based on the painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1505-10). Builder :Rainer Thurau, Wiesbaden, Germany, 1987. Tracks : 1,2,3,4,5,6,10,11,15,16,17,18,19,20,21.

Late-medieval psaltery : 19 brass strings. Builder : Lynne Lewandowsky, Vermont, USA. 1989. Tracks : 7,8,9,14.

Late-medieval 5-course lute : gut strung alto instrument, based on the fresco "The Triumph of Venus/April" by Francesco "The Cossa (c.1470). Builder : Carel Huiskamp, Velp, NL, 2002. Tracks: 1,3,6,7,8,10,11,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21.

Early-renaissance 6-course lute: gut strung tenor instrument, based on an example by Georg Gerle (Innsbruck c. 1530). Builder : Carel Huiskamp, Velp, NL, 2001 .Tracks :2,13.

Early-renaissance 7-course lute : gut strung bass instrument, based on the anonymus Flemish painting "The Prodigal Son" from the circle of Jan Cornelisz, c. 1535. Builder : Martin de Witte, Den Haag, NL, 2006, Tracks :9,12.     

Recording : Kattenberg, Borgerhout (BE), 2008-2009
Production, editing & mastering : Geer Van Gele
Research and notes : Willem Mook, Bill Taylor
Design : Hans De Cock
Our special thanks to : Janpieter Bisemans, Wakana Takai and Masako Honda

This recording is issued by Kattenberg Recordings, Kattenberg 43, 2140 Borgerhout, Belgium
View our catalogue at


Album Information

Title:     La Cause est Amer
Artists: Quadrivium
Instruments:     Voice, Recorder, Harp, Lute
Genre: Late Medieval Music
Format: CD
Our Ref: A0308
ISBN 8 715440 004663
Label: Kattenberg Recordings
Year: 2009
Origin: UK

Artist Information & Contact Details


Photo of QuadriviumQuadrivium is an ensemble specializing in late-medieval music, particularly the Franco-Flemish repertoire of the 14th- and 15th centuries. This refined and complex repertoire is brought to life via a specialized medieval instrumentarium. The ensemble brings a deep level of understaning and intuitive emotional interpretation to the music, while ensuring historical correctness under the watchful eye of musicologist/lutenist Willem Mook.

In medieval times, the Quadrivium represented the four ‘higher’ arts (arithmetica, geometrica, astronomia and musica.) The ensemble Quadrivium unites four colors of the medieval musical palette: voice, (Ellen Delahanty), recorder, (Geert Van Gele), harp, (Bill Taylor), and lute, (Willem Mook). With their unique historical instrumentarium, Quadrivium charms the audience with a wide array of delicate instrumental colors, typical for the early polyphony of the middle ages and early renaissance.

The ensemble’s first CD appeared in 2009, presenting their succesful concert program ‘La Cause est Amer’. In this program, medieval love poems from Japan, composed for Quadrivium by Belgian composer Janpieter Biesemans, are paired with medieval art songs from the Low Countries. Building on this success formula, Quadrivium is planning its next program with music from Spain, coupled with music set to a poem of Jorge Manrique, also by Biesemans. For this program, the ensemble will be expanded to feature tenor Jan Van Elsacker as well as a vielle player (tba).

Learn more about Quadrivium -

or the members, by following the links to their personal websites:

Ellen Delahanty -

Bill Taylor -

Willem Mook -

Geert Van Gele -

Also from Bill Taylor / Geert Van Gele

Available from Creighton's Collection:
Click images for further information
Compact Discs
Click for details Click for details Click for details  
Greensleeves La cause est
Notes of Noy,
Notes of Joy