Lessons in Love Preview

January’s concert, Lessons in Love (click here for tickets and performance information), marks the third time that Les Délices has teamed up with Boston’s Blue Heron to present Medieval music in Cleveland. Late-medieval music is a second specialty for both Les Délices director Debra Nagy and Blue Heron director Scott Metcalfe. Les Délices first collaborated with Blue Heron in 2014 for “14th-Century Avant-Garde.” That program was such a success that we have continued to build on that work to bring Medieval music to Northeast Ohio audiences. The latest flowering of that partnership is Lessons in Love.

This concert returns us to the world of the Romance of the Rose. In this Medieval tale, the allegorical character Hope (Esperance) teaches us how to live ethically in a world that is not designed to assure human happiness. Rather than strive for achievements or possessions (which fickle Lady Fortune can quickly and unflinchingly reverse), Hope invites us to cultivate indifference. Instead of desire, we should accept the good things that have come to us without wishing vainly for things that are impossible.

The Texts

The Remede de Fortune by Guillaume de Machaut wears the influence of the Romance of the Rose on its sleeve. It is narrated by a young and rather inept lover, who finds himself commanded to read an amorous poem before the very lady who has, unbeknownst to her, inspired it. When the lady asks the young man to name the author, he is cast into utter confusion. Unable to speak (“I know for a fact that I’d have died on the spot!” he says), he retreats to a delightful park, where he sets down a Complainte against Fortune and her wheel. He goes on for thirty-six strophes. At this point, to his rescue comes “the most beautiful lady I’d ever seen, by my soul, excepting only my own lady.”

She is, in fact, not a mortal lady, but Lady Hope—Esperance. Hope counsels him how to understand the predicament he is in. Far from being a curse, it is a blessing, for Love has awarded him the most noble, beautiful, wise, and accomplished lady on earth as the object of his desire, and if he can acquire the correct insight into his situation, he can not only become wise, edified by the perfections of his lady and ennobled by his suffering, he can even be happy.

But, he asks, what of Fortune? “How can I defend myself against Fortune, because her game is to break a heart?” Ah, replies Hope, you must always remember that Fortune’s nature is to be fickle and mutable: “If she were constant and behaved reasonably, so that she were just and true to everyone, she would not be Fortune.” Accept this truth, do not trust in her, enjoy the benefits she may bring, find the good in what appears to be bad, and you will be happy. Good luck, bad luck—can you really tell the difference? She sounds a lot like a Zen master.

The Music

The music that accompanies this unexpected philosophy is also full of surprises. The 14th Century marked an intellectual high point when thinkers and artists from every discipline were exploring new ideas ÔÇô manipulating them, playing, pushing, and prodding to see just how far they might stretch. Composers responded by writing music that fearlessly explored rhythmic complexity and flirted with the limits of what is possible in performance. The results make for intoxicating listening!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this primer for Lessons in Love. You’ll have three chances in Northeast Ohio to hear the concert, and one chance in Columbus. Come immerse yourself in this sublime and surprising performance!

Purchase tickets at Les Délices.com for Northeast Ohio Performances
Thursday, January 16 at 7:30pm in Akron
Saturday, January 18 at 7:30pm in Lakewood
Sunday, January 19 at 4pm in Shaker Heights (Pre-concert conversation begins at 3pm)

Purchase tickets for Columbus Performance
Friday, January 17 at 8pm in Columbus (under the title Songs of Hope)

*Most of this post was adapted from writing by Scott Metcalfe and Debra Nagy