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Feast of the Pheasant, 1454

This week, we take a look at the extravagant medieval banquet known as the Feast of the Pheasant. Plus, a recent release by Ensemble Dulce Melos.

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The extravagant medieval banquet known as the Feast of the Pheasant was intended to kick-off a crusade.  Hosted by Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy, the celebration was nothing short of a spectacle, especially for its musical entertainments.

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 led the Pope to invite Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy to mount a crusade to take back the city from the Turks.  While no such crusade ever took place, there was plenty of intent not long after the acceptance of the papal invitation.

Duke Philip put on what was called the Feast of the Pheasant, a luxuriant banquet that culminated in resolutions being made by the Duke and other nobles.  Described in the memoirs of Olivier de La Marche, a live pheasant was brought in on which vows were taken against the Turks.

But before the vows came the entertainments, which included plays, jousts, dancing, and performing minstrels.

The chronicler La Marche was quite detailed in his descriptions of the entertainments that took place during the feast; some of them sounding a bit surreal, if not comical.  One in particular has a young boy riding atop a fake horse.  As they entered, the boy and the horse sang a duet composed by Gilles Binchois.  The song in question happens to be the only piece that still exists from the feast.

The manner in which the vows were taken at the feast is part of a tradition found in late-medieval France.  The voeux du faisan, or “oath on the pheasant” was in line with traditions of bird oaths.  Made popular in Jacques de Longuyon’s epic poem Les Voeux du paon, the ritual seems founded as a rite of chivalry.

La Marche went on to describe some of the more memerable music presentations at the banquet.

Picture it… there are three gigantic dining tables, two of which had very large centerpieces.  One was built to look like a pie and the other, a model of a church.  From within the pie, two dozen minstrels performed.  In comparison, the church contained bells, an organ, and a quartet of singers.  The were other musicians elsewhere, but perhaps none presented in such a peculiar and entertaining fashion.

Our new release of the week comes from the Naxos label.  Ensemble Dulce Melos performs selections from the Locham Song Book, the little-known song collection once owned by Wolflein von Lochamer in the mid-15th Century.  The songs are presented in both vocal and in varied instrumental arrangments, featuring baritone Martin Hummel.  Ensemble Dulce Melos is directed by Marc Lewon.

The music heard in this episode was performed by Ensemble Gilles Binchois.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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