malheur me bat

23Jul08

I was feeling guilty about my carbon footprint as I drove four teenagers to the airport on the other side of London last night, so I decided to swing back via the Royal Albert Hall. Although five minutes late for the start of the late night BBC Prom concert, I was nevertheless admitted halfway through at 10:40pm on a £5 standing-room ticket.

It was a serendipitous opportunity for me to hear the world-renowned Tallis Scholars sing some Renaissance Franco/Flemish choral music by Obrecht, Ockeghem and Josquin Des Prez that was completely unfamiliar to me. You can listen too by going here for the next few days on BBC iPlayer.

Well what has this got to do with broken things, the putative subject of this blog? The answer is contained in the poetic words used in the middle piece to replace those lost in the mists of time. The music by Ockeghem remains, but with its title only, Malheur me bat, which might be described as the French opposite of “opportunity knocks”. It has not been sung in modern times, so the Tallis Scholars, under Peter Phillips, commissioned a modern French poet to pen something new. And here is a translation of that chanson for three voices (to be found 49 minutes in):-

Misfortune has struck me/battered me,

My heart is sad.

Joy has moved away,

My birds have all taken flight.

Sorrow lays me low.

I am the tree in the night that will not see the morning light;

That will not see the morning nor hear them sing in Latin.

Misfortune has battered me,

Sorrow lays me low.

Well, it doesn’t come much more knackered than that. And it was almost 3am by the time I got home. For someone who is making a point at the moment of observing a fairly strict sleep regime, this looks like a category error. But, as Steve McQueen said in The Magnificent Seven, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Listen and I hope you’ll agree that it was.

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