Personalities | Adam de la Halle | Medieval Era | Classical

(A’-dam de la Al) c. 1250–1300
French Trouvère

Adam de la Halle appears as something of a Janus figure at the end of the thirteenth century, at once looking back to his forebears and forwards into the fourteenth century and beyond, and he composed works in amost every genre of the period, including monophonic and polyphonic songs and motets. He also wrote three plays with musical interludes and an epic poem, which is now incomplete.

Born in Arras, the centre of much trouvère activity, de la Halle was probably educated in Paris and certainly travelled widely in the service of noble patrons. One of the last trouvères, de la Halle’s monophonic chansons were a culmination of the trouvère activities of the preceding century and follow their traditions, although their melodies are considerably advanced in style for the age; his motets, based on plainchant tenors (lit. ‘holding parts’), are generally considered to be rather unadventurous. While the musical style of the polyphonic chansons (usually referred to as rondeaux but actually encompassing a variety of forms) is also relatively conservative, the idea of setting secular texts polyphonically outside the motet tradition was an entirely new one, and the poetic forms he used foreshadow those that began to arise in the next century. Le Jeu de Robin et Marion (‘The Play of Robin and Marion’) is the most famous of his three plays with music. While seemingly well ahead of their time (they are sometimes compared with the much later opéra comique), they are more in the tradition of narrative pastourelle poems, which had musical interludes – a tradition that continued in the dit form of the fourteenth century.

Recommended Recording:
Trouvères: Courtly Love Songs from Northern France, Sequentia (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

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