‘O foll amor’: the music in the Ausiàs March Songbook

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‘O foll amor’: the music in the Ausiàs March Songbook

09/10/2021

This beautiful invocation to folia, to the madness of love, fills the streets of Valencia today, October 9, as part of a municipal advertising campaign that invites us to remember Ausiàs March on the occasion of the Valencian Community Day.

The poetry of Ausiàs March (1400-1459) is unanimously acclaimed as the highest literary expression of the Valencian Golden Age. The life of the poet coincides with the reign of Alfonso V of Aragon, “the Magnanimous.” During this period, the flourishing commercial activity and the economic enrichment of the population lead to population growth and a greater dedication to culture, which is also favored by the interests and personal tastes of the monarch. Advancing the humanist spirit, the court encourages artistic creation, which coexists here with the expression in Romance language derived from the troubadour tradition.

The troubadour presence of Provençal origin in the Crown of Aragon had been favored by geographical proximity, political relations, and linguistic affinity. This allowed the assimilation of poetic forms and expressions, which will be consolidated into a model whose survival extends beyond the decline of the troubadour movement itself.

This influence is clearly manifested in the work of Ausiàs. In it we find the description of a practice by which this type of lyrical creation was endowed with musical accompaniment, although frequently the composition of the verse and its melody converged in the creation of the same troubadour, poet and singer at the same time (“Singers with melody sing, troubadours dictate”, XV).

One of the main functions of troubadour poetics was to offer a chronicle of events and feats far away in time or space, especially in exaltation of the value of the monarch under whose auspices this repertoire was born. The historical or narrative witness vanishes in the work of Ausiàs, which announces the powerful sound of the horn (“From this brave one a great horn sounds“, LXXII) in praise and proclamation of the virtues” of those who do well “in the face of tyranny and the vices of power (“In great failure is the world of poets to beautify the deeds of those who open well7, 72).

The musical reference coexists in the pages of the Song book with philosophical or moral reflections. Thus, the song is revealed as an expression of desire in Ausiàs, and even the beasts shudder when they hear the “sweet song” in the roar of the deer or in the loving chirping of herons, crows and nightingales (“The red deer is roaring in the woods, and they are roaring with sweet singing”, LXIV). At the same time, Ausiàs appeals to understanding in the face of the madness of the dancer who, following the instrument, becomes intoxicated in the unbridled movement and without measure (“e co.l dancing continues to the instrument e shows well to have little feeling if for a while dance roast boiled”, VIII).

However, it is the lyrical function that predominates in the Song book, which delves into the love theme invoking the troubadours who write about love and suffer its misfortunes (“Of this will the troubadours write, and, by this, mortal pain touches to them”, LXXXVII) and, at the same time, showing a certain distance from the topic of courtly love. The author himself criticizes the style of the troubadours who, “in their ardor, transgress the truth” (“Leaving aside the style of the troubadours who, out of warmth, transcend truth“, XXIII) in favor of a more pure poetic, faithful to the authenticity of the intimate emotion in which becuadros and flats function as a metaphor for the exaltation of loving joy in the face of its reserved restraint (“cantar no deu ab alegre becayre, mas ab bemols alegria constrényer”, LVI).

The pages that make up this Song book they display the magnificent expression of longing and passionate love with which Ausiàs knew how to build her mother tongue into a universal language of feeling.

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