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 Female troubadour in the 13th century:

Condesa de Dia


by Karl-Erik Tallmo

  WHEN DORIS LESSING sets the mode for her last opus, "Love, again" (see review by Merete Mazzarella), it is with a little help from Cézanne. A poster with his "Mardi gras" hangs on the wall over Sarah Durham's word processor.
And when she sets the tone for this novel about love regained late in life, Lessing lets Sarah listen to a tape with music and lyrics by someone called Countess Dié - from eight centuries ago.
Ah, an old acquaintance not forgotten! This must be Condesa de Dia,  the mysterious Catalan female troubadour I read and wrote about in the late 70's.
Mostly, troubadours were men from southern France or northern or eastern Spain during the 12th and 13th centuries. They expressed themselves through gallant poetry, describing the joys and pains of courtly love. Names like Bernart de Ventadorn, Guiraut de Borneilh, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, Raimon de Miraval ... the list could continue with more than 700 names. The troubadours came from all social strata, and there were also a few women - the trobairitz.
Courtly love was merely a euphemism for adulterous passion, and the laudation of this way of life was probably perilous for a woman, especially a married one. And Condesa Beatrix de Dia was married.
Otherwise, very little is known about her. She probably lived in the late 12th or maybe the early 13th century in Catalonia in northern Spain.
When it comes to troubadour texts in general, there are some 2 500 texts preserved, but only about 250 melodies, mostly notated on four line staves, clearly indicating pitch but leaving rythmic interpretation to the qualified guesswork of contemporary musicologists.
A couple of Condesa de Dia's texts have been preserved, for instance "Estat ai en greu cossirier" (Into deepest trouble I was thrown) and "Ab joi et ab joven m'apais" (Upon joy and youth I thrive) . But only one text has been kept with  the music. This happens to be precisely the one Sarah Durham listens to in the novel:

I must sing, whether I will or not:
I feel so much pain over him whose friend I hold myself,
For I love him more than anything that is ...

Originally, those three lines reads thus:

A chantar m'er de so q'ieu no voldria,
tant me rancur de lui cui sui amia
car eu l'am mais que nuilla ren que sia

Maybe it is the recording by the group Hesperion XX, with the Catalan singer Montserrat Figueras, that Sarah has on tape. This album was released in 1979 in the Reflexe series ("Cansós de Trobairitz", EMI 1C 065-30 941 Q, today it is available on CD: EMI 763 41 72).
Through five stanzas of seven lines each plus a concluding couplet, Condesa de Dia laments her love for a perfect but hard-hearted man: "to me you are proud in words and deeds/ but you are amiable to everybody else ... what good is virtue and nobility, and likewise grace and beauty, but foremost my faithful heart." And she begs of him to let her know why he is so haughty: she cannot tell, is it pride or malice? - orguoills o mals talens.
Maybe these words bring on a memory of the past, or a premonition of Sarah's later encounters with an actor. The plaint of Condésa de Dia was too disturbing for Sarah Durham, Lessing writes on one of the first pages in the book.
"... Sarah switched the plaint off."

© Copyright Karl-Erik Tallmo.

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