Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

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Composer Biography: Beatriz de Dia (c11400-c1200)

Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Also Countess of Dia, Comtess de Dia, and Beatritz Pretty much all the press goes to male composers, but every now and then, a woman sneaks through their line of defense. One of these was Comtessa Beatriz de Dia. She was a troubadour—or rather a trobairitz which is the name for a female troubadour. Troubadours were, for the most part, of noble blood, but were perhaps third (or fourth, etc.) sons (and a few daughters) and not expected to inherit the family castle or join the priesthood. This left them with considerable funding and a lot of free time on their hands. Playing a musical instrument was considered suitable employment for the long and languorous hours, and a few found themselves wandering among various estates, entertaining as they went. It was also popular at the time (12 th through 14 th centuries) to woo the mistress--married or otherwise—of the castle you were visiting, and the vast majority of troubadour songs are about this kind of courtly—and unrequited—love. Every now and then, just as there were women troubadours, there were married noblewomen willing to stray for the sake of a little romantic poetry. Husbands looked the other way just as the wives were expected to look the other way about their own dalliances. Beatriz was the wife of Guillem of Poitiers (dates unavailable, but possibly the grandson or great-grandson of Guillem IX, 1071-1176, the earliest of the troubadours whose works survive), and, it seems, that Beatriz was the lover of the most famous troubadour of all, Raimbaut d’Orange (1146-1173). In most contemporary documents, Beatriz is known only as the Comtessa de Dia, but she was likely the daughter of Count Isoard II of Dia (dates unavailable), which is north of Montellmar in southern France. The names of these towns seem to have changed, but if Montellmar is the same place as Montelimar, it’s about 90 miles south of Lyon and halfway between Toulouse and Turin (Italy). A town called Die is about 60 miles east of Montelimar. <shrugs> These could just be towns with similar names and in about the same place as the troubadours hung out, though. I’m totally guessing. It was fashionable at the time to write the lives of saints in biographies called vitas. Troubadours found that appealing and wrote secular versions, called vidas. Some friend or relative wrote these things, and the details can’t be verified, because things may have been told in a more flattering way than was accurate. This makes it entirely possible that Beatriz is a fictional character, according to one source. Regardless of whether she was real or fantasy or whether anything known about her is true, her shadowy figure reveals a lot about the women troubadours and their lovers through her poetry. There are five pieces attributed to Beatriz, one of which is a tenso (debate). Incidentally, most of the songs attributed to trobairitz are argumentative. (History is written by the victors, and men have been the ones documenting music until the 20 th century, for the most part. If you could slough off all your bad moods to the losers in a battle, wouldn’t you?) At any rate, of the five pieces, only one has music associated with it, A chanter m’er de so qu’eu non volria. This is a canso of five strophes plus a tornado, with each strophe having the musical form ABABCDB. The music was preserved in Le Manuscrit du Roi, collected by Charles of Anjou (1226-1285), the brother of Louis IX (1214-1270), and containing over 600 songs, most composed between the 12 th and 13 th centuries. Music notation was a slippery thing (for more about this, read The History of Music Notation) at the time, and whoever wrote down Beatriz’ surviving piece wrote it in tenor clef, as if a man would sing it, even though the pronouns that reveal gender are unequivocal. Let’s look at it! A Chantar m’er fe so qui’ieu non volria (translation by Meg Bogin) Of things I’d rather keep in silence I must sing: So bitter do I feel toward him Whom I love more than anything. With him my mercy and fine manners are in vain, My beauty, virtue, and intelligence. For I’ve been tricked and cheated as if I were loathsome. There’s one thing, though, that brings me recompense: I’ve never wronged you under any circumstance, And I love you more than Seguin loved Valensa [hero and heroine of a lost romance] At least in love I have my victory, Since I surpass the worthiest of men. With me you always act so cold, But with everyone else you’re so charming. I have good reason to lament When I feel your heart turn adamant Toward me, my friend: it’s not right another love Take you away from me, no matter what she says. Remember how it was with us in the beginning Of our love! May God not bring to pass That I should be the one to bring it to an end. The great renown that in your heart resides And your great worth disquiet me, For there’s no woman near or far Who wouldn’t fall for you if love were on her mind. But you, my friend, should have the acumen To tell which one stands out above the rest. And don’t forget the stanzas we exchanged. My worth and noble birth should have some weight, By beauty and especially my noble thoughts, So I send you, there on your estate, This song as messenger and delegate. I want to know, my handsome noble friend, Why I deserve so savage and cruel a fate. I can’t tell whether it’s pride or malice you intend. But above all, messenger, make him comprehend That too much pride has undone many men. There are recordings of this: Studio der Frühen Musik on the album “Chansons der Troubadours” Hesperion XX on “Cansos de Trobairitz” Clemencic Consort on “Troubadours, volume 2” French Anonymous on “Medieaval Banquet” Montserrat Figueras on “Demina Nova: Canco—Estat Ai En Greu Cossirier” Elizabethan Conversation, Andrea Folan, and Susan Sandman on “The Medieval Lady” Giraut de Bornelh on “Troubarouds/Trouveres/Minstrels” Catherine Bott on “Sweet is the Song: Music of the Troubadours & Trouvères” Martin Codax on “Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman—Lover, Poet, Patroness, and Saint” It’s important to note that this isn’t just the only piece to survive by Beatriz. It’s the only piece by a trobairitz to survive with the musical notes. The rest of her poems were set to flute music, according to the vita. Her usual subject matter includes optimism, praise of herself and her true love, and betrayal. In one poem, Fin ioi me don’alegranssa, she makes fun of the alusengier, a person known for gossiping, comparing those who gossip to “a cloud that obscures the sun.” East-German Irmtraud Morgner (1933-1990) uses Beatriz as the subject of a whole historical novel series. I’ve read one of them, and it’s a pretty tough read, waffling between historical fiction, magical realism, and stream of consciousness. Some are available in English, but most are in German.


“The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers,” edited by Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel. The Macmillan Press Limited, New York, 1995. “Women in Music,” edited by Carol Neuls-Bates. Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996. “Women Making Music, The Western Art Tradition, 1150-1950,” edited by Jane Bowers and Judith Tick. University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1987. “Women & Music, A History,” edited by Karin Pendle. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2001. “Music in the Medieval West,” by Margot Fassler. W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2014. “A History of Western Music,” by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2010.
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