…And another new beginning

“For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make”

It’s been two years since we relaunched Ensemble Tramontana with a programme called Parlement of Foules, inspired by Chaucer’s poem of the same title in which the birds gather on St Valentine’s Day to choose their mates, with a bit of trouble. Now we celebrate by posting about a video of ours that’s also on a theme of love and its problems and also includes a bird – in fact, a version of the same piece was part of the aforementioned programme.

In that year of 2019, we went on to perform several other programmes (see our Calendar page), with arrangements made for more in 2020 . . . and then the pandemic hit. Well, what to do when we couldn’t venture into the same room with each other or our audience? It took a lot of experimentation and unexpected problems, but we came up with the following lockdown-style video posted on YouTube in October 2020, in which each of us recorded separately and Eszter edited our lines together and added visual elements. She chose a piece that seemed straightforward to start the video project with, but even so, it turned out to be more complicated than we would have liked! More on that after we tell you about the piece. 

by William Cornysh (1465-1523),
lyrics attributed to Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 – 11 October 1542) 

A robyn gentyl robyn
tel me how thy lemman doth
and thow shal know of myne

my lady is vnkynde I wis
alac why is she so                                       
she louyth another better than me
and yet she will say no

I can not thynk such doubylnes
for I fynd women trew
In faith my lady lovith me well                    
she will change for no new

Source: The Lyrics of Henry VIII/A robyn gentyl robyn, Cornish (Wyatt)

Notes on the piece


In texts this old, most words are spelled in strange ways, some words have fallen out of use, others mean different things today, and punctuation and capitalisation can be inconsistent. So, here’s a glossary of the less obvious words, from the Middle English Compendium:

  • Robyn: ‘the personal name Robin, a familiar form of Robert: (a) as a designation for a robber, vagabond, or lowly person; (b) in phrase: joli ~, a designation for a carefree man.’ Notably, there are variants of the text talking to ‘joly Robyn’
  • Gentyl: As in ‘gentleman’
  • Lemman: ‘a loved one of the opposite sex’ 
  • I wis: usually interpreted as ‘I know’, but according to some sources this form is a corruption of the original ‘iwis’


This song is from the Henry VIII manuscript, which was a sampling of music performed in the royal court, with some pieces attributed to the king himself. According to some sources, the original text (and maybe the tune) might have been adopted from a popular song – in any case, there are different variants of the text in other manuscripts, some with extra verses to create an extended dialogue. The dialogue seems to happen between two courtiers, the speaker and ‘Robyn’ (probably in the ‘carefree man’ sense of the word). However, we felt the need to bring in an actual robin as a voice of reason, both in image and in sound – the loudest bird in the recording (which Eszter made) happens to be a robin.

Behind the scenes

Charming and simple, Ah Robyn  seemed to Eszter the perfect choice for a first attempt at home recording – doable comfortably by one person on one size of viol. Yet, half of the fun in making music is the communication and collaboration, so she soon got Esha involved, and we were going to record the same setting we used before. However, the project evolved even further after we finally checked the manuscript . . . and found that it indicated four voices, rather than the three we were used to. Oops, it’s such a well-known piece, how were we not aware of this? But now that we know, why not attempt a four-part version? And finally, why not include two singers to represent the arguing courtiers?

That was when it dawned on us that this was a great opportunity to reunite the founding members of Ensemble Tramontana. When we had relaunched, we were no longer all in London and some of us were involved in other projects or life changes (update to follow), so we had been drawing from a pool of performers, but now we could include even our most distant member, Rie, who had moved back to Japan. Alas, that wasn’t to happen this time: Rie lost her voice shortly before she needed to prepare for an audition, so she had to opt out in the end . . . but in exchange, we ended up with two Louises!

Making audiovisual recordings of ourselves was a whole new journey with a steep learning curve to climb. We started by using smartphones. Where to put the phone that was close to eye level for the least distortion or wasted space, yet showed both left hand fingers and right hand bowing for the viols and also picked up the sound well? Aha, maybe we have to record video and audio separately, and with a better microphone. How to get the right lighting and background? Facing a window with some kind of blank wall or green screen behind each of us, but it’s not always possible to record in the daytime to catch the light. The back camera on a phone is better than the front camera, but how to see what we’re picking up on the video – OK, maybe rig up a mirror on the other side of the phone. How to get the viols to look in the direction of one of the Louises when she says something surprising – choose marks on the wall to look at, but that’s hard because they’re mirrored from where we’d expect, oops. And while the viols are doing everything else, can they manage to glance back toward the robin when it starts to sing?

We’re now hard at work on a series of videos with a very different theme. We’ll let you know when those come your way!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Judith


    1. Esha Neogy

      Thank you!

  2. Sharon Roberts-Yuen

    I’m impressed by the story of this performance’s creation. Without that, I would have thought that you hired some tech company to put it together. I love the performance and the entire blog. ((PS I’m writing blind since there is not enough contrast between the background and the font color. )

    1. Eszter

      Thank you! (And now that I tried responding, I see what you mean by ‘writing blind’ – we’ll fix it as soon as we find what setting we need to change.)

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