Early Music; New London Consort: Ars Subtilior Purcell Room, London
Coleman, Nick, The Independent (London, England)
Complexity has infrequently been a good end in music. Any form of creativity that states its own sophistication to the point where it becomes a theme of the work is righteously nailed for decadence and pointlessness. Think of "Progressive" rock. So Philip Pickett's latest extractions from the codices of late-14th century France and Italy were to be approached nervously.
In its own time, Ars Subtilior (or "the more subtle art") was regarded as work of absolute sophistication. It came billed last weekend on London's South Bank as medieval "avant-garde" music; music purposefully cultivated to advance the formal and notational precepts of the period and, perhaps, to idealise its composers' ability to do so: ars for ars' sake, in other words - a frightfully negligent notion in the late 20th century but a worldly, bordering on naughty, one in the time of Machaut and Dufay.
After all, the high medieval aesthetic thesis held that art should be a mirror and lens to God's creation in all its elaborate naturality, not a pander to Man's vanity, in all its appetites. So it is proper to consider Ars Subtilior in its historical context, which is high medievalism in decline. The late 14th century in western Europe was a period of governmental breakdown, brigandage, sectarianism and uprising; it saw the division of the papacy, the beginnings of the banking system, the beginning of the end of feudalism. Perhaps more significantly, it saw plague.
The quiet lutes, fiddle, recorder and soprano voice of the New London Consort did not describe a clashing world riven with …
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Publication information: Article title: Early Music; New London Consort: Ars Subtilior Purcell Room, London. Contributors: Coleman, Nick - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 9, 1996. Page number: 10. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.