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Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales

Ref: CDG1081

27 tracks 59 min
Click here to preview trk 2

Chaucer's world in words and music

The exuberant world of Chaucer's pilgrims is captured in extracts from the Proloque to the Canterbury Tales, intermingled with atmospheric music of the period: songs, dances and instrumental pieces which complement the rhythmical language of the master poet.

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The Canterbury Tales: A pageant in words and music

Read by Margaret Howard, Bernard Palmer, David Bellan and Martin Souter

The characterful and colourful world of Chaucer's pilgrims is captured in extracts from the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, intermingled with atmospheric music of the period: songs, dances and instrumental pieces which match the fascinating musical language of the great master poet.

1 Music: Summer is icumen in
2 Prologue
3 Music: La Manfredina
4 The Knight
5 The Squire
6 The Yeoman
7 Music: Bourgogne Brawle
8 The Prioress
9 The Friar
10 The Merchant
11 The Clerk
12 Music: Sanctus - Henry V
13 A haberdasher and a carpenter…
14 The Cook
15 The Sailor
16 Music: Ductia
17 The Physician
18 The Wife of Bath
19 Music: Saltarello
20 The Parson
21 The Plowman
22 The Miller
23 Music: Ductia
24 The Summoner
25 The Pardoner
26 Music: Danse royale
27 Prologue

Here begins the Book of the Tales of Canterbury

When April with his sweetly falling rain
has pierced the drought of March in field and plain
And bathed each root with liquid that has power
To wake the sap and generate the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage) -
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.
Befell that, in that season, on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to start upon my pilgrimage
To Canterbury, full of devout homage,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all.


This programme is an unusual combination of the words of Chaucer with music from his period, including, where possible, music for his specific musical references in the text. The music is mainly anonymous. 'Summer is icumen in' is a famous Middle English text, with a very fine medieval tune. The other pieces are dance music from Europe and the British Isles of the period, except for the 'Sanctus', which was composed by the English King Henry V, probably in the early fifteenth century. It comes from the Old Hall manuscript, a large collection of music for choir. The manuscript was gathered together in the early years of the fifteenth century for use in the chapel of Henry V's brother, Thomas, Duke of Clarence, who died in 1421.

Chaucer's text has been rendered into modern English for this recording. The original was written in a version of 'Middle English', but as far as possible the rhyme schemes of that mellifluous poetry have been retained. We were anxious to match the sonorous atmosphere of the original in our choice of text and in our method of recording. Each character in the tales is brilliantly described in Chaucer's Prologue, from the 'perfect, gentle' knight to the more unusual summoner and pardoner. Many typical occupations - and preoccupations - of Chaucer's period are described, and a whole society of people takes shape in our minds as we listen. Although some of their occupations are not common now, it is still clear that the people of Chaucer's world were not that different in many respects from ourselves, and our lives six centuries later! Chaucer's words bring each character to life, and we hope that you will enjoy hearing about them and that our musical additions will further increase your enjoyment of this magnificent poetry.

Bernard Palmer, programme devisor
Martin Souter, executive producer


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