Beatrice De Dia: A Chantar; Western Music's Link To Classical North Indian Music

History & Background

Comtessa De Dia, also known as Beatriz De Dia (c.1160-1212), was a trobairitz located in the Bordeaux region of France. She was one of the most celebrated of the women trobairitz. The known surviving trobairitz (woman troubadour) were a relatively small group of women composers who belonged to the class of nobility. Their greatest output was between 1170-1260. It is suggested that 32 female compositions are survived with estimates ranging from twenty-three to forty-six.

An ancient biography shows a possible marriage to a Guillem de Poitiers but there is no surviving record of a Guillem de Poitiers. Since Poitiers seems to have been one of the first, main centers for troubadour song writers, the information makes sense as a possible living location.

Later, troubadours extended their traveling range from the Atlantic coast south of Bordeuax in the west of France to the Italian Alps in the east. Beatriz De Dia was also the possible daughter of Count Isoard II of Dia. This correlation also makes sense since all known women trobairitz of the time were from a class of nobility.

Women seemed to have held an elevated power according to the songs which were written about them from the male aspect in spite of the apparent historical of the feminine aspect. The poetry seemed to exalt the women as something extraordinary. Trobairitz held a special place in songwriting and shows a willingness on the male aspect to consider the female perspective. This willingness also seems to point the way to a certain amount of male / female collaboration and co-mingling of ideas and shared passions for the development of the song form.

Known composed songs from Comtessa de Dia are a tenso and four cansos, of which one, A chantar m'er de so qu'eu no volria still survives. This is the only extant melody and verse by a woman trobairitz. The original lyric is about the expression of love for another woman which, in a homophobic society, would suggest a lesbian encounter. In a songwriting surviving society it would suggest a set of strong universal writing skills which cross the gender barriers allowing free interchange of male and female roles.

Music and Lyric

According to a well known troubadour of the time, Folquet de Marseille, “a verse without music is a mill without water”. In De vulgari eloquentia, Dante stated that the cantio (chanson) ‘is the action or passion itself of singing, just as lectio is the passion or action of reading’; poetry is a ‘rhetorical fiction musically composed’, and a chanson ‘nothing else but the completed action of one writing words to be set to music’.

The music is of Arabic descent judging by the phrasing similarities, inflection, interpretation and form. Arabic music was descended from the music of North India. It was brought north by the Indian sufis, later known as gypsies in european terms. The sufis were traveling philosophers who struck out to experience the world. Their primary source of income form traveling town to town was their music. They carried the Phrygian and Dorian scales and a highly developed, researched understanding of music. It is quite possible derivative forms of this music found its way into the early works of the troubadours by way of the crusades and interaction with the Byzantine Empire. Since the troubadour music was stylized and of an improvisational and interpretive nature, it seems natural to equate a strong assimilation in this direction.

A Chantar, Form and Style

Comtessa de Dia’s form and singing style found in A Chantar (To Sing), lends itself to western analysis as well as eastern interpretation. The compositional tonality is D dorian and set as a standard repeating ||:AB Coda:|| form. This can further be broken down to an ||:A1B1:||CDB1 form followed by a D.C. Full chorus repeats are interjected with sung verse and instrumental variation. The vocalist has improvised liberty with nuance and inflection, depending upon technical ability and region, through each full chorus. The melody has distinct, implied harmonic cadences with the ending phrase notes on re (E) mm 1, 3 and do (D) mm 2,4. Standard accompaniment was apparently with flute although hand percussion and string instruments may easily have served the purpose just as well.

The standard classical North Indian form consists of ghat (a) main melody, munja (b) melody extension or answer in lower register, and entera (cd) melody in higher register. Improvisation are then taken mainly on the ghat and to a lesser extend the munja.

Interpretive form:

Overall: A = mm 1-4, B = mm 5-6, Coda = 7

Song Form:

A1 = mm 1, 3

B1 = mm 2, 4

C = mm 5

D = mm 6

B1 = 7

Indian Form

Gat = mm 1

Munja = mm 2

Entera = mm 5-6

Munja = mm 7

In summary, A Chantar is a troubadour song from the female perspective. According to a writing by Marianne Shapiro, with “the displacement of a male lyricist with a female lyricist...she has posited herself as suppliant and her lover as recipient, thus reversing the two polar humilities and triggering a movement of both male and female polarities towards a center and neutralizing her domination through her femaleness.”

The melodic aspect and its influence to the Arabic/North Indian traditions may also have been secured through ties with the byzantine empire and French Crusaders returning home. Either way, Available recordings and traditional folk music suggest a strong regard for improvisation and light accompaniment. By today’s standard, the surviving melody is easily transferable into most modern idioms requiring knowledge of eastern melodic phrasing technique and modern harmony.