Chester Biscardi riffs on a 12 Century takedown poem

Tenzone (Italian), or Tenson (Occitan) -- a dispute or a debate. In Chester Biscardi's work, the debate is entirely musical, between two flute players. And Biscardi's musical debate is aristocratic, with nothing of the vulgarity we see in the Dante's tenzone with Forese.


Robert Dick and Keith Underwood, flutes
Robert Weirich, piano

The form originated with the Occitan poets, who exerted a considerable influence upon Dante.

Below is Dante's takedown of Forese. Does it remind us of reality TV and rap music more than anything else?

Early Tenzone by Dante


Anyone listening to Bicci, aka Forese’s
Wretched wife coughing
Could be forgiven for thinking she’d spent the winterIn the North Pole.
In the middle of August she’ll have a cold;
Imagine what she’s like the rest of the year!

And sleeping in stockings doesn’t do her much good,
What with that short blanket of hers.
Her cough, her cold and all her other misfortunes
Aren’t just the complaints of old age,
But are due to the deficiencies she suffers in bed.

Her mother wails on (and with good reason),
Saying ‘Alas! If she’d only had just a modest dowry,
I could’ve married her off to Count Guido!’

You’ll go and make yourself chokeYoung Bicci, gorging yourself on all that game,
But your penchant for loin steak is riskier still,
Since the creature’s skin will return to avenge its flesh;
So you’ll end up a jailbird at San SimoneIf you don’t skip town:
But if you do refuse that tough morsel,
Then you won’t be able to afford even that.
Yet I hear tell that you have a certain quickness of hand,
Which, if true, you can use to gain back your losses
When an opportune moment arises;
So for now, don’t concern yourself withYour debts; it’ll only get in the way of your laziness;
Yet remember: the Stagno boys did meet a sticky end…

Young Bicci, son of God knows who (I’d have to ask your mother)
You’ve stuffed so much down your throat
That now you grab from others, too.
Anyone with a wallet is wary of you,
Clutching it close when they see you approach,
Saying ‘This guy with the pockmarked face,
He’s a notorious thief, everyone knows.’
And somewhere, your father lies in his sorry bed,
Worrying that you might get caught,
Though you are to him as Christ was to Joseph.
Of Bicci and his brothers, I can attest
That in their blood bond of delinquency,
They are apt husbands to their wives.


By Ezra Pound (From “Contemporania”)

WILL people accept them?
(i. e. these songs).
As a timorous wench from a centaur
(or a centurian),
Already they flee, howling in terror.
Will they be touched with the truth?
Their virgin stupidity is untemptable.

I beg you, my friendly critics,
Do not set about to procure me an audience.

I mate with my free kind upon the crags;
the hidden recesses

Have heard the echo of my heels.
in the cool light,
in the darkness.