La vida de Culin

Recently, a friend asked if I would help with a project.

My  friend is hosting a ball next year that has a super-cool theme: All of the dances on the dancelist will be dances performed to tunes that also have lyrics. (In other words, they’re dances, but they’re also songs.) And they’ll all be performed by a choir. There was a similar dance this summer that went very well, so he’s planning next summer’s reprise.

He asked me to write a singable translation for a 15th-century Italian dance called “Vita di Cholino”, which is danced to the song “La vida de Culin”. I happily agreed. However, it wasn’t as straight-forward an assignment as I’d assumed…

To begin with, I had to actually go and get the sheet music from the library. *sigh* I know, how lazy can I be, right? But to be honest, most of the time I can find what I need by Googling. Not this time — although there are many examples of dance music for “Vida di Cholino” online, as well as plenty of recordings of “La vita de Culin”, I quickly realized that the dance and the song do not have the same number of measures. Various recordings online reconciled this in different ways. I wanted to take a look at the original before I made a decision about how to solve this problem.

Once I found the original music, making the transcription was quick and easy. Writing the singable translation took a lot more time. The rhyme scheme is a little unusual:

Verse Melody Rhyme Scheme
3 A CBeB
4 B eDHI
6 B ADHI**

* Verses 1 & 5 are identical.

** The last two lines of Verses 4 & 6 are identical.

The rhyming lines are so far apart (particularly the “e” rhymes) that at first, the listener may not notice them. In fact, my friend and I had some discussion over whether we should just assume some of the rhymes were coincidences and ignore them totally, particularly where adhering to the rhyme scheme led to awkward phrasing in the translation. For now, I’m sticking to the original rhyme scheme, but I may update it after more discussion.

So for now, here’s my singable translation.

Here’s a recording of the tune, if you’d like to hear it:

It’s a catchy tune, isn’t it?

However, I still hadn’t achieved the goal yet, which was to write something that could be used at the singing ball. Singing the original piece won’t work for two reasons: 1) The song has six verses (or three verses with two parts each, depending on how you want to think about it), but the dance only has five verses. 2) The ‘A’ melody of the song — and each verse of the dance — has 14 measures, but the ‘B’ melody of the song has only 12 measures.

For the dance version, I decided to remove verse 6, since it has many similarities to verse 4, and I added two measures to the ‘B’ melody, extending it to 14 measures. (Well, 15, because I added a measure of rest to breath before the next verse.) Here’s the result.

And here’s what the dance looks like. (Though, full disclosure, I’m not a dancer and I don’t have the least idea whether these people are doing it right. :/ )

Key Facts

  • Date: 1480s
  • Composer/Poet: Anonymous
  • Manuscripts: Cancionero Musical de Montecassino
  • Original Language: Italian
  • Genre: frottola
  • Form: ababab

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