Les Witches - Fortune My Foe


At Court and Cauldron: The Music of Les Witches

The King of Denmark leaps to a galliard. Lords and ladies revel at a masque in the courtly theater of Renaissance England. Ophelia sings a love song. The cauldron bubbles. The criminal and the persecuted, en route to the gallows, sing “Fortune my Foe,” a melancholy, beautiful tune which has become an early music hit. It is the title tune of this CD — music of Shakespeare’s time, brought to you from France by Les Witches.

On harpsichord, lute, violin, and recorder, Les Witches recreate this music with invention and sizzle. We cannot know exactly how the music was originally performed. It made its way around Europe, its itinerant existence hastened when Queen Elizabeth decided to ban independent musicians. Lyrics changed regularly, ballads became dances, and courtly music became country music (and vice versa).

Les Witches also presents music from the masques. This theater music offers surprising rhythmic and instrumental variation but still wears a courtly cloak. The most vivid surprises are saved for the anti-masques, when furies, witches, satyrs, and nymphs stun the status quo.

With the furies’ stormy arrival, we are not in court anymore. A fierce recorder and violin trill connects their dance to the preceding masque. The atmosphere intensifies as the recorder bends tones, the violin converses enigmatically, and tempos change unpredictably. Several times, the music pretends to morph into a lively dance, but not for long, and finally ends with another dissonant trill.

Excitement continues as “The Second Witches Dance” follows “The Nobelman.” A dainty opening is suddenly interrupted by violin and recorder trills that welcome the witches. You will marvel at what magic the recorder, which you may have last encountered in fourth grade, can make in the hands of a master! The witches depart with a merry jig, making way for the good-humored “Satyrn Dance.”

Gentle ballads and courtly masques set the stage for The Nymphs Dance. The nymphs come forth rhythmically, accompanied by a lovely, extroverted violin melody. The plaintive, liquid recorder brings mystery, inviting the violin to offer its own questions. Another noble masque prepares the way for a groaning, creaky introduction to the “The First Witches Dance.” Composed by Robert Johnson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, this music was used in the original staging of Macbeth. The witches exit with another jaunty jig.

This is authentic music to accompany ancient lore. It offers us a chance to discover and savor the sounds, energy, and mischief of witches of old.


Dorothée Barth performs on both violin and recorders. Her music essays have been published in the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia. Her website resides at www.flutesoffancy.com

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