Making and Using the Edition

BnF MS A f.16v (detail)

In these pages, we wanted to take the time to discuss issues of making and using our edition of Machaut’s music, highlighting some interesting questions, and giving further information as to what is out there but couldn’t be included in the printed version.

We arranged the discussion-topics according to general themes, but designed them also for individual use. Each topic presents one or more mini case-studies, which include specially edited scores presenting versions different from those in our printed edition and which are illustrated by newly commissioned sound-files demonstrating the audible effect of these different possibilities. We hope they will prove useful background information for anyone interested in Machaut: performers and researchers, amateurs and professionals. 

BnF MS A f.54v (detail)

It is generally accepted that no one translation can ever be exhaustive, and that the transition between languages involves both the loss of some information and the acquiring of notions absent in the original. These issues of translation apply not just to language but also to how we deal with cultural information, artifacts and other forms of expression. This is particularly pertinent when considering cultures with very different attitudes towards both writing things down and following written instructions. Modern and medieval musical cultures are just such a pairing. In the discussion below, we illustrate some of the challenges and explain our choices. Moreover, we aim to illustrate some of the questions faced by readers and performers engaging with any modern edition of medieval music by demonstrating how members of our group tackled them. We have divided topics according to the notion of the work, to the acts of reading and writing, and to wider cultural context.


Notion of the Work

It is widely acknowledged that the search for an Urtext in medieval music is problematic, since its contemporary writers, users and purveyors do not seem to have had the notion of a fixed version of a given work. Normally, this problem is confounded by the distance between composers and the manuscripts which transmit their works. In the case of Machaut, this is less of an issue: we have today a number of extant manuscripts of more or less authoritative complete-works collections, yet these collections transmit multiple versions of a number of his works. In choosing which versions to present, a case could be made to justify many of the different options. One may want to privilege the chronology of the different sources, presenting either first or last instances of transmission. The former would highlight MS C as the closest to Machaut’s original creative act, while the latter would take a combination of MSS F-G and E as representatives of the most re-worked and matured versions on offer. Alternatively, one may look for the source which offers the clearest readings. In this case it is likely that MS Vg would be chosen. Here, one has to hope that this clarity is due to scribal care and attention to detail in transmitting the author’s wishes rather than any interventionist attitude by which scribes may have reworked, amended, or uncluttered their materials as they saw fit in an attempt to make more sense of them. After much deliberation, we chose to follow MS A as our base source since much current scholarly research posits it as the most recent source that was produced in Machaut’s lifetime, and as likely the closest to poet-composer’s person. It is also the earliest manuscript to contain all of Machaut’s major literary works, which occupy the majority of volumes in our edition.

Still, the variety of versions on offer suggests that the presentation of but one of them and the dismissal of all others would give a false sense of unity to the oeuvre. The clearest cases of this problem can be found in those pieces which sport alternative voices in the various manuscripts. These will be discussed in section i. Most variants, though, are on a smaller scale and present a more complicated relationship between the sources. Whichever manuscript is used as base-source, at some point an editor will find themself in the position of having their chosen source at odds with all other concordances. While some conflicting readings can be understood as co-existing solutions or as a result of reworking, others are clear mistakes. Yet further instances could be understood either way, forcing us to examine our notion of 'an acceptable reading', and the possible disjuncture between this notion and parallel Medieval sensibilities. Such issues will be the domain of section ii. Section iii deals with a particular sub-category of variants, namely those pertaining to written-in accidentals. This issue is complicated by Medieval notational habits and features also in the 'Reading and Writing' section. Here, we concentrate on what is to be found in the different sources, and how they can be understood. Variants between and within the sources are discussed, as well as some cases where readings engender harmonic clashes. The last part of this discussion, section iv, bridges between the 'Notion of the Work' and the 'Reading and Writing' discussions and involves questions pertaining to rhythm and rhythmic signification. Here, some tensions between original and modern notational practices are explored, particularly where they are relevant to our understanding of the rhythmic content of the music. These tensions are most evident in works that include unnotated mensural changes or those that imply musical meter not directly related to notational needs. In such cases the editor is placed in the tricky situation of either giving information that is not there in the original, or supplying modern scores lacking the minimum amount of information required for their execution. The different solutions to this situation will be explored, demonstrating the reasoning behind the compromises we came to adopt.


Uri Smilansky

i. Scoring, Number and Identity of Voices

Within the Machaut manuscripts, much variety is on offer when considering differences in both the large-scale planning and the execution of musical song-settings. Once some technical aspects of the various manuscripts are considered, clear patterns emerge. A more or less stable tradition can be found in MSS Vg, B, A and G, which differentiate itself from both the early MS C and the later MS E.

The early MS C shows a number of features that distinguish it from the other sources. It presents a number of works that are scored for fewer voices than in later version, although its planners anticipated further voices to be added (these never were, even though space was left). This source has two layers of copying, the majority of the work having been executed by 1349, with the remainder completed in the mid 1350s. The empty spaces for voices which were appended to songs copied in the early layer were kept in later versions in the other MSS. For those songs copied into the later layer that had such additional space, this space was not transmitted to later MSS. Either new voices were added to them, or the space left for such potential additions removed (and with it, the doubt concerning the intended size of setting). Some later sources show continued circulation of materials in versions close to Machaut’s own, but many others demonstrate the variety of copies in circulation, with apparently both expanded and reduced settings available to scribes for transcription. This is most clearly shown in MS E, which seems to present both early versions and up-to-date reworkings (in some cases evidently having more than one exemplar for each song), hinting at various modes of circulation and performance-practice. To trace these patterns, I begin with a source overview, presenting the transmission of extant works either exhibiting competing versions, or with some tension between the space planned for them and the eventual execution of their copying. This is followed by an example of the transition of one work from the early tradition of MS C towards a more established tradition in the main group of manuscripts. Finally, I consider the changing characteristics of some of the many voice-additions found in MS E.

In our printed edition, this variety was deemed too important and potentially too informative to consign to mere verbal description. In order not to obscure the shape of the oeuvre in the main part of the edition, the variant readings are placed separately with the critical apparatus. However, all versions deemed different enough or independent enough from the main tradition that is represented by our base source (MS A) are transcribed there in full.

Uri Smilansky

1. Source Overview

In a discussion of scoring and the appearance of competing voices within any tradition, three possibilities arise. Some songs follow a process of amplification, with new voices added to older settings. Some are simplified, losing voices in later transmission. Others have alternative voices, with parts of the early setting removed and replaced by new material. When tracing these developments within Machaut’s output, one has to be aware of both the chronology of and relationships between the sources. These are, perhaps, most easily articulated for the extant manuscripts of the the central tradition produced during Machaut’s lifetime and, most likely, with input from the author: MSS CVg and A, with F-G tentatively appended to this group on account of the lack of clarity concerning the date of the copying of its contents (as separate from its decoration) and its apparent use of similar exemplar materials to the main group. There are other sources from within this timeframe, each left out for different reasons. MS W has lost nearly all its musical section over the centuries. The music in MS B is entirely derived from that of VgMS K was copied during Machaut’s lifetime, but contains only two musically notated works, and relied on different source materials for its copying. The contents of La134 and the lost Maggs rotulus do not offer versions substantially different from the main tradition.

The sources that post-date the author can be separated from this main tradition, but they do not together constitute a separate tradition. These include the complete-works source MS E, which is not far removed from the author and his time, but nonetheless offers glimpses of a different transmission tradition, and will be discussed separately. Of musical relevance are also Pm, a fifteenth-century selective copy of MS A that omits the vast majority of the older source’s music, and another later source – Pe – which contains the Remède de Fortune with musical interpolations. Machaut’s music is found also in many of the anthology manuscripts from around 1400, but these versions will only be considered as part of a discussion of his reception.

Following, is a list of large-scale, structural variants within the manuscripts discussed above, separated according to their affiliation to the main groups identified. Sources not specified do not have this kind of variant to report. It is worth noting that both works included in K appear in this table, thus indicating a different circulation pattern. Pm contains four musical settings, two of which mirror the main tradition (B31 and R7), and two do not (B23 and R9), making its direct link with MS A even more intriguing. Unless otherwise indicated (using ‘-’), all the other sources contain all the listed works. Other shortenings include ‘c’ for cantus, ‘t’ for tenor, ‘ct’ for contratenor, and ‘tr’ for triplum.

Work Majority setting MSS C, Vg(B), A, F-G MSS E, K, Pm
B3 c+t   E: adds ct
B4 c+t   E: adds ct
B19 tr+c+t   E: appears twice. 1: omits tr; 2: tr+c+t
B20 c+t   E: adds ct
B21 tr+c+ct+t A: omits tr  
B22 tr+c+ct+t C: c only  
B23 tr+c+t   E: adds ct; Pm: omits tr (c+t)
B27 c+t C: - E: adds ct
B31 c+ct+t C: - E: adds tr
B41 tr+c+ct+t   K: omits tr
B42 tr+c+ct+t C: c+t K: c+t
L1 c   E: has twice as much music (necessary)
R1 tr+c+t A: omits tr  
R7 c+t   E: adds ct
R9 tr+c+ct+t A: appears twice. 1: tr+c+ct+t; 2: c+t Pm: c+t
R10 tr+c+ct+t C: omits tr; adds alternative (later) ct  
R17 c+ct+t C: - E: omits ct
R18 c+ct+t C, Vg(B): - E: different ct
R21 - C, Vg(B), A: -  F-G: c+ct+t E: c+t
V26/29 c+t C: omits t  

Before looking into the patterns emerging from this table and highlighting a few specific cases, it is worth mentioning a relevant side-issue, namely, the presence of prepared space for additional voices which was subsequently left unused. The following table summarises these locations. It does not include instances where space was prepared for an entire song but no music entered at all. 

Work Position of prepared space Manuscripts where it is found
B3 tr C, Vg(B), A
B5 tr C, Vg(B)
B7 tr C, Vg(B), A
B10 ct C
B11 tr C, Vg(B), A
B12 tr C, Vg(B)
B22 t+ct C
B41 tr K
R7 tr C
R10 tr C
V22/27 t E
V24/27 tr Vg(B) [song not in C]
V27/30 t E

Both tables include items which can be explained by means of discrete phenomena. In the first table, all extraneous spaces in MS A were a result of lay-out problems encountered by the scribes or simple mistakes, and, therefore, do not seem to suggest circulation of alternative versions of the three songs in question. The added contratenor mentioned for R10 in MS C is a late addition, apparently unrelated to the initial creation of this source. In the second table, the empty staves added to B10 in MS C may well be an afterthought, filling up space that had been left for the expected - yet never written - strophes 2 and 3. As no voice-names or visual separation was incorporated into the tenor and contratenor of B41 in MS K, it is hard to judge whether the remaining empty staves were intended to house a triplum or not. Furthermore, three of the four mentions of MS C in table one (B22, R10, V26/29) and three of the eight (not counting B10) in table two (B22, R7, R10) refer to works found in its second layer of copying, which was less careful in its planning and execution.

Looking at the two tables with these caveats in mind, a number of patterns begin to emerge. Within the main group of manuscripts, a clear separation can be found between the early MS C and the other sources. Four songs which are later transmitted in a stable fashion gained voices after being copied into this source (B22, B42, R10 and V26/29). Otherwise, large-scale characteristics of the transmission are stable throughout the group, and no simplification process is in evidence. For a group of five older Ballades (B3, B5, B7, B11 and B12) the space left for a triplum generated an expectation that lasted for a number of years, since these Ballades continued to be copied with the additional space throughout the central tradition (except in the case of MS F-G, which decided to dispense with the empty spaces altogether, and, to some extent, in the case of MS A, which did so sporadically). It seems that the final shape of those songs copied late into MS C was revised before they got to be copied into the later sources. An example for this is discussed here.

The sources of the latter Machaut manuscript tradition present a more complex picture. Pm and MS K show a clear tendency towards simplification as both have fewer voice-parts for a number of their musical settings. This tendency is not found in Pe. As each of these three sources contains very few works, it is impossible to use them to delineate coherent trends. MS E presents a more complicated and interesting case. As a complete and impressive presentation manuscript, which was created not long after Machaut’s death and which belonged to an important patron with personal links to the author, it is rightly considered as a valuable Machaut source. As far as numbers of voice-parts is concerned, it presents amplified settings for seven works, in each instance with one new voice added to the more common setting (B3, B4, B20, B23, B27, B31 and R7). It also presents three pieces with a reduced number of voices, again, with one fewer voice each time (B19, R17 and R21, this last work has a concordance only with MS F-G). Additionally, L1 remains monophonic in MS E’s version but, uniquely, it received twice the amount of music than in the other sources. This is due to the structure of the text, where the first half of each strophe uses a masculine rhyme while the second half a feminine rhyme. While not affecting the syllable count, in practice an additional syllable is added to each line in the second half of each strophe, an addition that requires an adjustment in the musical setting. All other sources ignore this problem, leaving the substantial alterations required to the whim of the performer. Finally, the version of R18 in MS E has the same number of voice parts as in MSS A and F-G, but with a different contratenor than the one found in those other sources. A number of these cases are detailed further here. Commentators have identified two factors that may explain the variety in scoring.  Comparisons have been drawn between the MS E readings and those of the early MS C. Due to MS E's links with the author and keeping in mind the discussion of MS C above, it is possible that the ‘simplified’ versions may exemplify the early circulation of some works, rather than a choice to omit later additions. On the other hand, it was suggested that the compilers of MS E privileged the most current available version in circulation, most likely drawn from the world of performance. The differences between MS E’s versions and the ones in the older sources were argued to hint at the mostly lost habits of practical musicianship in the later decades of the century.


Uri Smilansky

2. Towards an Established Tradition

The most extreme case of both voice-addition and planned but unused space is B22, which transited from a minimal (but with space left for two more voices) to a maximal setting.

MS C:     Sound and Score     ¦      Facsimile

MS A:     Sound and Score     ¦      Facsimile

As can clearly be heard in the recordings, the two settings give rise to strikingly different results. The four-part version changes the expressive quality of the original melody: it gives the line a different harmonic colour, as can be seen in the very beginning where the cantus is harmonized as the fifth of the chord. Onther example is the beginning of the B-part. Here, the monophonic version highlights the importnace of the shortened line of the poem which opens this form-part by introducing the new sound E-flat in the setting of the important word of the line. It is made to inhabit a strong mensural point and fit with the natural stresses of the words. All this comes together to suggest it as an important contrasting sonority to the C and F of the first part. The polyphonic versions, though, undermines this reading through the use of F-sharp in the tenor and triplum, B-natural in the contratenor and E-natural in the triplum in the immediate surrounding of the cantus' E-flat. It does no longer feel like a shift in the  modal centre of the passage, but as demarkation through the use of dissonance and diminished intervals. The polyphonic version also emphasises different locations through the creation or avoidance of harmonic cadences, or the positioning of perfect and imperfect sonorities. In addition to the many points of emphasis suggested by the cantus melody, cadential progressions of different strengths (often combined with perfect sonorities) direct the ear towards bb. 5, 7, 12, 34, 36, 40, and 48. Some moments when the cantus line might by itself raise a cadential expectation are weakened through the avoidance of standard cadential counterpoint (for this, see here) or the insertion of imperfect sonorities. This occurs at bb. 13, 35, 38 and 46, as well as both ouvert and clos endings. Taken together, the musical moments of emphasis or de-emphasis created by the polyphonic structure work directly against the clear sentence structure of the monophonic version. This has the effect of an unresolved oscillation of emphasis between the polyphonic structure and the textual structure, making it impossible for both performer and listener to reach a resting point throughout the duration of any given strophe. There is one full cadence that matches the poetic line structure, appearing at the end of the B-part and before the refrain. While this cadence highlights the expected architecture of the ballade, the sonority arrived at is so clearly an ouvert sound that it cannot be taken as a resting point either. Finally, by highlighting, pre-empting or echoing rhythmic and melodic patterns, the new voices, which were added to create the four-part version, elevate such motifs from generic devices into structuring elements that characterise the song. Thus the basic melodic gesture of the cantus in b. 23 is used to open both the A- and B-parts of the triplum (b. 1 and 32), and appears also in b. 9, 10, 28, 37, 41, 48 and 49, thus pervading and unifying the whole song. The motif heralding the musical rhyme in the cantus (b. 29, 50) has its structural importance bolstered by opening both the start and refrain section of the contratenor (b. 1, 43).


Uri Smilansky

3. The Contratenors of MS E

Some of the new contratenors to be found in MS E are simple expansions of the materials already present to the point of being formulaic. As such, they join in with the harmonic, melodic and expressive gestures already embodied by the older voices. It is indeed easy to imagine such cases arising from a specific performance context, where a performing group adjusted a pre-given work to fit its members and working context. Such additions could be created and circulated orally, and would only have been written down when oral transmission was not adequate or possible. Luckily, the creation of MS E seems to have been just such a unique case.

An example of such a voice addition is the triplum to B31:

MS Vg:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

MS E:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The added triplum joins in with the repetition and exchange of melodic gestures and rhythmic ideas. As an example of the former, see the movement of the cantus presented once and echoed once in the A-part of this song (cantus b. 13, contratenor, b. 20), then reworked and repeated in accelerating speed to become a unifying motif in the B-part (cantus bb. 39, 44 and 55, contratenor bb. 48, 49, 53 and 59). Like in the example of B22 above, the new triplum opens all three sections of the music with this motif (sometimes with slight variation) highlighting its importance, and proceeds to repeat it in three other places, including in third-parallels with the cantus to amplify the motif’s original first appearance (bb. 1, 10, 13, 37, 52 and 54). A similar pattern can be seen in the triplum’s rhythmic behaviour: throughout the piece, the original setting sporadically introduces some syncopations, most commonly a short rhythmic pattern including an eighth-note rest followed by a quarter-note and an eighth note. These are expanded and elaborated into a recognisable characteristic of the song both at the end of the A-part and in the musical rhyme (bb. 23-36, 62-69). Thus, the shorter motif appears in bb. 4, 11, 21, 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 33, 35, 40, 62, 63, 64, 66, 68, and longer syncopations occur in bb. 1-3, 11-12, 14-15, 19-20, 25-27, 26-28, 28-29, 31-33, 32-34, 34-35, 45-46, 55-56, 64-66, 65-67, 67-68. The new triplum joins in, inserting the short rhythmic motif also into bb. 3, 7, and 18 and longer syncopations in bb. 20-21 and 46-47. Most instances of these occur within a short musical distance to the employment of these elements in other voices. The new voice closely follows the harmonic structure of the original, amplifying (but not pre-empting) all existing cadences. While unavoidably adding some harmonic friction, it does not introduce external sonorities which would change the overall colour.

The addition of a contratenor (as a third rather than a fourth voice) has a larger potential for changing the harmonic character of a given piece of music. Even a voice that remains very close to the old tenor, foreshadowing it both rhythmically and harmonically nearly always alters the emphasis and local direction. Here I will take R7 as an example:

MS A:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

MS E:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

In this song, for example, the progression towards octave-leap cadences (even if at times only partially realised) in bb. 5-6, 16-17 and 26-28 can be read as either a modernizing sonority, bringing the song to conform with more modern tastes, or as a subversive pitch, directing the ear towards an unfulfilled C tonal centre. Other places which can be said to introduce a new sound to the setting include the A in b. 10, the progression to a D sonority in b. 15, the destabilising imperfect sonority at the end of the A-part, and perhaps most strikingly, the weakening of the final cadence through the more likely use of B-flat and G (for this, and cadential progressions as a whole, see here). Also noteworthy is the contratenor bridge bb. 8-9, an effect common to a number of the MS E contratenors. The new contratenor composed for this song by Matteo da Perugia is discussed elsewhere. As it is set in a very low range, it changes the modal and harmonic character of large swathes of this song, even suggesting the possibility of a change to the final sonority by settling a fifth below the tenor cadence note.

A more interesting and perhaps more successful addition is the new contratenor of B4. In its two-part version, this song is already noteworthy as the only chanson employing red notation. In MS E, however, this is transformed into a rare case of notated mensural change. By itself, the cantus melody does not suggest the change.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The sequence in bb. 9-14 can be read in the manner of a hemiolia (reading the section in 2/4) starting at the beginning of b. 9. The tenor of the two-part version found in MSS C, Vg, B, A, and F-G indeed creates the 2/4 effect by transitioning to red notation here, but places a crotchet rest at the beginning of this bar, causing its rhythmic pattern to contradict that of the cantus, whichever way it is read. This, of course, matches and attracts attention to the word ‘estrange’ which sets the first appearance of this central rhythmic combination.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The tenor also propels the song forward by inserting a quick-moving ‘up-beat’ rhythmic figure every time a rest longer than a quaver appears in the cantus (as well as in b. 15, which has a rest in the repetition of the musical rhyme). It also strengthens the role played by the ‘short-long’ division of the bar prevalent in the texted parts of the melody. This rhythmic feel is generated not only through note-values, but also by the positioning of the underlay (b. 1, 5, 6, 8, 25, 27, 30 and 38). The positioning of stressed and unstressed syllables in the underlay can also perform a subversive rhythmical role. Following word stresses (matched by parallel movement leading to a unison), one can read the beginning of the B-part in 2/4, alluding to the effect that is so central to the setting of this song as a whole.

The version in MS E refines this further.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The underlay of b. 22-26 in MS E is adjusted so that the second note of the bar more or less consistently carries a stressed syllable, matching the pattern of bar 1 (‘biau-TÉ’, ‘dou-COUR’). This creates the sense of a temporary shift in the beat. In the same manner as the new voice added to R7, the contratenor here uses the octave progression in cadential and pseudo-cadential progressions (b. 6-7, 13-14, 15-16, 35-36 and 37-38); it also contributes to the propulsion of the work, with quick rhythmic movement supporting the tenor bridge in b. 7, and before the final arrivals of each of the three form parts.

The rest of the contratenor part tends towards long lines of stepwise motion, often placed in pitch underneath the tenor for relatively long stretches, giving it a melodic smoothness and harmonic importance that allows it to compete with the tenor rather than simply support and amplify it. The beginning of the B-part is most striking in this regard, with its slow stepwise descent covering a ninth, at the end of which it usurps the tenor role in the cadence to B-flat (b. 19-24). This makes the contratenor’s treatment of the rhythmic friction between cantus and tenor more interesting. While the rhythms of the last 9 bars of the A section match those at the end of the song in both the old voices, they do not share the length of the musical rhyme. The tenor repeats only the last four and two-thirds bars compared to the cantus’ nine, allowing the new contratenor more freedom of choice in its treatment of the sections in question. Interestingly, the new voice shadows the progression of the tenor in the first iteration of this rhythmic pattern (b. 9-12), but highlights the cantus grouping in the repetition (b. 31-6). This serves to underline the rhythmic tension on which the song seems to be based.

B23 offers a different perspective on the MS E contratenors.  Here, there appears not to have been a straightforward act of addition, or if there was, its results are rather questionable, and demand further explanation.

MS A:     Sound and Score (MS A)     ¦      Facsimile

MS E:     Sound and Score (MS E)     ¦      Facsimile

When looking at the new setting as a whole, the clashes between the old triplum and new contratenor can be hard to swallow: particularly the cadence at b. 11, as well as those of the A-part ouvert and before the refrain. In the first case, the old setting has a perfection which is destabilised by the new voice. The latter two had an imperfect sonority already in the original setting, with the new contratenor adding a normal perfect interval in relation to the cantus and tenor. In all three cases, one of these voices settles on the fifth degree of the sonority and the other on the sixth, resulting in a protracted second or seventh between them - precisely where a perfect point of arrival may have been expected. One must decide whether to maintain this four-part version, with these inherent problems, or to reject it and find another solution for the piece.

In defence of the four-voiced version, one can argue that this is given in the manuscript. And, even if we imagine an original user of this source having had the opportunity to hear the setting in MS A performed, he or she may not think this performed version more authoritative than that written in MS E. On the contrary: if the listener were aware of the kinds of practical adjustments music undergoes for performance, and, furthermore, had seen the MS E version written as it is as part of an impressive presentation manuscript, such a listener might surmise that the larger setting was closer to the composer’s intention. Indeed, the clashes appear between voices lower down the voice hierarchically. Even if not usually to this extent, four-part settings often include clashes as well as parallel progressions between contratenor and triplum. While such an experiment may teach us more about our sensibilities than on Medieval aesthetics, I would suggest that after some repeated listening, the ear gets used to the oddities of this version, and a return to a three-part setting can feel empty. Choice of instrumentation can also make a significant difference to how one experiences the piece. Playing the triplum and contratenor voices on plucked stringed instruments with a relatively quick decay allows the clashes to feel like a colouring in of the sustained sound of the structural cantus-tenor duet.

An alternative reading is to see this version in MS E as an amalgamation of two three-voiced renderings. There is evidence that other works in this source were a result of more than one exemplar, making such an assumption more likely. If this was the case, the second setting would have circulated more or less as in the example below. (No alterations were made to the cantus and tenor, even though it is likely that a two-version scenario would have lead to variants between these voices, too.)

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

As with other settings of the time, it seems that the new contratenor of MS E was generated with reference to the tenor alone, applying a number of standard formulae regardless of the behaviour of the texted melody. These include prevalent use of stepwise sequencing (b. 9-10, 27-29, 38-40, 60-63); repetition (b.54-55); rhythmic ‘harmonic-filler’ motifs based on repetitive fifth leaps over a static tenor (b. 2-4, 7-8, 43-44, 49-50), and more direct rhythmic and / or melodic paralleling of the tenor (b. 1-2, 14, 23-24, 30-31, 33-34, 51-52 and 65-66). Together, these formulae cover half of the new voice. Such habits may hint at performance practice, by which an initially improvised contratenor was performed while reading – or having memorised – the tenor voice. Most of the time, this leads to perfectly satisfactory results, with some of the sounding dissonances being dismissed as accidental rather than essential (i.e., involving ficta, which are anyway not part of the basic harmonic system rather than with the combination of pitch-names and their behaviour). Examples for such sounding but non-structural problems are found in b. 15-16 and 19. At other times, harmonic problems may have been a result of a ‘wrong call’ by the contratenorista – harmonizing well with the tenor, but not with the cantus. This happens when the distance between the tenor and contratenor reaches a fifth, as in b. 3-4, 42, and 49, but is not overly problematic for the setting as a whole. Yet other dissonances clash with both original voices. At times it is possible to argue that a melodic gesture is the cause of such behaviour (as in the octave leap leading to b. 17, or the stepwise descent b. 45-47), while at others there seems no reason for a particular gesture (for example, at the beginning of b. 48). Instead of using bridges, this contratenor propels points of traditional arrival by inserting at times surprising imperfect consonances in relation to the tenor (see b. 7-8, 11-12, 15-16, 33, 36 and 58).

If the new contratenor was indeed the outcome of improvisatory practice using the tenor as an anchor, the same procedure and results were likely to have arrived at regardless of whether it was an added fourth voice or a replacement third voice.

The three-voiced setting still has its problems, but as we have seen, they are all relatively easy to explain and do not make the version unusable. While the amalgamation theory provides audibly more satisfactory outcomes, it does necessitate explaning why a four-voiced score occurs in MS E and how the materials upon which the scribes drew may have circulated. The source presentation may be due to a simple misunderstanding, or even a lack of interest in the audible problems of the four-voice version. Still, for a three-voice version to arise, either a two-voice version of this song had to be in circulation, or a process of reduction must have taken place. The little evidence we have on this issue is not conclusive. The circulation of Machaut works outside of his dedicated manuscript is discussed separately, but it does suggest that his attempts to control his materials did not prevent the circulation of conflicting versions.

Even within his set of dedicated manuscripts, the two-part version of R21 in MS E is very close to the cantus-tenor duo of this song’s one other copy in MS F-G, even though this version sports three voices. While some small variants do occur (most notably in the text placement and the repetition of one line in MS E), it is still possible for one version to have been a reduction of the other. MS E presents two versions of R17, a three-voice setting in the music section and a two-voice one integrated into the Voir dit. The smaller setting in the Voir dit has substantial enough differences from the transmission of this song elsewhere to suggest this is a separate, independent version, and not a simplification of the three-voice scoring.

The only case of conflicting settings of the same size, R18, suggests larger reworking and independent circulation rather than the simple act of substituting one contratenor for another.

MS A:     Sound and Score (MS A)     ¦     Facsimile

MS E:     Sound and Score (MS E)     ¦     Facsimile

While the cantus remains stable (the lengths of its long notes starting b. 4 and at the cadences of the two form-parts are contextual - for more on this and the question of Modus, see here), both tenor and contratenor change between the versions. The general contours of the voices remain the same, but both lower voices diverge substantially in b. 4-9, and then to a lesser extent towards the end of the piece. While the version of MS A maintains a sense of mirroring between the form-parts and projects large-scale rhythmic stability, the MS E version increases voice-independence and inserts additional syncopations which serve to project irregularity and disjuncture.


Uri Smilansky

ii. Variants: Revision or Correction; Mistakes and Intentionality

Machaut's complete-works manuscripts demonstrate a remarkable uniformity despite being complex in their production and content and having been produced over a period of around fifty years. Nevertheless, these manuscripts include a large number of local variants of different kinds which are on a more modest scale than the different combinations of voices discussed on the previous pages.

Since this is a large topic, it has been divided into a set of sub-discussions. These start with variants arising from the recopying of early, non-standardised versions of works into later exemplars that enjoyed a more stable circulation. This is followed by an examination of specific locations where variants cloud Machaut's putative original intention, resulting in problematic places with different readings and solutions. Next will be considered a number of small and most-likely unintentional variants whose reading, nonetheless, has a significant effect on the resulting versions. Then, the issue of variants arising from clear mistakes is discussed, including corrections made to versions within single source. Finally, thoughts are offered on the interpretation of variants: can we always tell whether they were made in error or deliberately?

This section does not include a separate discussion of variants in underlay and their effect. Examples relating to this topic can be found elsewhere on the website.


Uri Smilansky

1. Early, Non-standardised Versions

It is possible to interpret some variants as the result of a process of revision between subsequent sources. This, of course, is easier to perceive when new voices were added to the setting, and as with the discussion of that topic, most of these cases occur in the transition from the early manuscript MS C to the other collections. Such revisions are by no means universal. For example, Ballade 30, written after this breakpoint, is copied with the same mistake in its tenor voice in all four of its concordances. When revisions do occur, their reasoning does not always seem corrective.

The B-part of B12 can be taken as an example here.

MS C:     Sound and Score (MS C)     ¦     Facsimile

MS A:     Sound and Score (MS A)     ¦     Facsimile

It is possible that the prime reason for revising this section was the disposal of the parallel octaves between measures 51 and 52 of the older MS C version. Such progressions, though, appear elsewhere in Machaut’s two-part compositions where they did not cause revision, and the new reading only displaces the skeletal parallels by inserting a dissonance here rather than ‘improving’ the counterpoint. Indeed, the more remarkable changes, appearing at the beginning of the form-part, subvert the more standard counterpoint of the old version, inserting strong and protracted dissonances in b. 30-32. It is hard to believe contrapuntal probity was the reason for the changes here.

The new beginning of this form part is also a measure longer than its predecessor. Technically, one has to apply perfect Modus in order to read this song correctly. The longer reading, though, forces the tenor to contradict the perfection rules and keep the first longa in this section perfect, even though it is followed by a string of four breves. Editorially, modus grouping can be represented as follows:

MS C:     Score     ¦     Facsimile

MS A:     Score     ¦     Facsimile

The barring here makes it clear that the extra measure inserted in the later versions does not resolve a deficiency in the rhythmic behaviour of original, but destabilizes the regularity of the Modus groupings. To make the section work, b. 19 becomes too long. It is, of course, possible to interpret some rests as separation lines and force the music into regular Modus measures, but this requires inconsistent interpretation. When maintaining a regular interpretation of these lines as rests (for this song, if not for the entire oeuvre), the addition occurs at a cadence point, making it easy to incorporate the resulting irregularity in performance. Other problems in the later MS A score – an omitted note in b. 21 of the cantus and too long a rest (not represented in the edition) in b. 22 of the tenor – appear only in this MS and are unique errors of its scribe. They cannot be seen as an outcome of the revision process.

This example suggests that while some revisions may have occurred due to problems in the older version, many others are aesthetic rather than corrective, often replacing one usable version with another. Indeed, the alterations in B12 offer the analyst (if not the performer or audience) more rather than fewer difficulties.


Uri Smilansky

2. Problematic Places with Different Readings and Solutions

Within the central manuscript tradition, one encounters locations where no manuscript presents a clear and unproblematic reading. Such places are especially hard to resolve in a monophonic context, where voice-alignment and harmonic considerations are not present.

One such case is the beginning of strophe X of L19. The following diagram presents the readings in the different sources:

The only reading that can be fitted into the overall mensural pattern can be found in the musical repetition marking the middle of the strophe, where MS A omits the first rest (in brackets above), probably mistakenly. As it stands, this beginning requires either a mensural or conceptual adjustment. A strict reading of MS C requires the third bar of this section to be shortened.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

A strict reading of the other sources – exemplified through the version in MS E requires the first bar to be extended to include four beats.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The conceptual adjustment adopted for the edition – applied here on MS A – understands the first note of the strophe as an upbeat even though it is not notated as such. To compensate for this, the rest at the end of the previous section is shortened. This arrangement allows for the rest of the strophe to be read without problem.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

This kind of reading is further discussed in connection with un-notated upbeats here. For another case of all sources presenting unclear versions (rather than actual mistakes), see here.


Uri Smilansky

3. Unintentional Variants

Sometimes, it is hard to determine whether a variant is intentional or accidental, or even whether it would have been acted upon or ironed out in performance. Such questions are especially relevant when the changes are minute, but nevertheless crucial to the reading.

The actual notes of the A-part of V16, for example, are not disputed. Still, MSS C, A and G have a dot after this song’s second note, which is missing in MSS Vg, B and E. Other parameters such as spacing and underlay may suggest that the intention of at least some of the latter sources was to follow the reading of the former group. Still, strict adherence to the notational conventions would cause this small detail to result in very different readings.

MS A:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

MS E:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Interestingly, as the settings of the last two lines of text of this form-part incorporate both ‘long-short-long-short’ and ‘short-long-short-long’ rhythmic combinations, both readings of the song’s beginning can be naturally integrated into the rest of the work. Furthermore, the reading which is more likely to be erroneous (the one without the dot) offers better alignment between mensural strong-points and poetic stresses, as well as a more conventional starting point for line four of the text (b. 7, at the beginning of a brevis unit). While less likely to have been Machaut’s intention, a reader of this version would not have had any reason to suspect it was wrong. It is also worth remembering that while the odd historical occasion enabled two Machaut manuscripts to be found in the same library, these books were in all likelihood consulted independently and singularly, hence a reader would have been unlikely to have the opportunity to form an opinion as to their preferred version based on a variety of sources in the manner that we are today.

For a number of reasons, MS E is considered closer to actual musical practice than the other sources. This raises a number of interesting questions with regard to the reading of V16. It is possible that the scribe knew the intended musical result before noting this song down. In this case, the correct imperfection may have seemed so obvious that the appearance or otherwise of a dot would not have influenced this song’s reading. On the other hand, the tentative links of Vg and MS E to subsequent performance, combined with the likely intended use of MS B as an exemplar in the further circulation of Machaut’s work as written rather than heard artefacts, might together suggest the possibility of the incorrect version being performed more widely than the correct one.


Uri Smilansky

4. Mistakes and Corrections

As in the case of the dissemination of unintentional variants, it is clear that the availability of sources to compare readings would also be a central issue in the transmission of errors and their influence on practice. While a mistake in the transmission may be clear to us through an examination of all surviving sources, it would not have been so easy for medieval users to identify them (we can better appreciate this when we consider that we are faced with a similar situation when working with compositions transmitted in one source only).

An interestingly layered case of erroneous transmission is the B-part of V10. It is clear that for this song MSS Vg, B and E are directly linked, each source using its closest predecessor as an exemplar. Still, each source presents a markedly different reading.

Vg reproduces the standard and correct reading familiar from all the manuscripts outside this group.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

MS B made a number of copying errors, seemingly conflating the intended melody with that of the B-part of V7 (copied in the same position in the previous opening of Vg). The result is a rather messy hybrid, truncating the longer form part of V7 to fit more or less syllabically above the pre-copied text.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile:     Vg (V10)   ¦   Vg (V7)   ¦   MS B

Perhaps due to this lack of clarity, when the scribe of MS E came to copy his version, a few more changes were inserted, probably unintentionally.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile:     MS B   ¦   MS E

These three versions attest to the degree of variety possible even with direct copying. Interestingly, some reviewing evidently took place of the MS E version, as the second variant between it and MS B was subsequently removed (this involved the crossing out of a stem attached to the fourth note before the end of this section). This resulted in a more symmetrical division of this line into two mirroring rhythmic patterns, even though this does not match the text structure.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Both error and correction come together to produce a workable version, but one which differs markedly from Machaut’s original intention.

Pages are available with discussion on clear or interpreted errors.


Uri Smilansky

5. Error or Deliberate?

In comparison with his contemporaries, Machaut's works seem to suggest he was rather liberal in his use of dissonance. However, since his well-preserved oeuvre constitutes by far the most comprehensive source material we possess from his time, such a comparison is difficult: we cannot be certain as to how far Machaut really was exceptional in these matters, or whether the generally accepted conventions and the latitude they left for dissonance are insufficiently known to us. Alternatively, his exemplar may have contained errors that were taken over in all the manuscripts copied from it. In several of Machaut’s works such grave contrapuntal conflicts are found that they must be considered either as errors or as deliberate decisions to transgress the conventions, perhaps in some cases for the sake of text expression. A few problematic passages from the motets may serve as examples.

Let’s begin with a doubtful case:     Score 

In M3, bar 42, a dissonance d-c between triplum and motetus lasts for a brevis. It could be a mistake since collisions like this one are not very frequent in Machaut’s works; on the other hand, all the manuscripts contain it. Although for the modern ear such a long-lasting dissonance is hard to accept (and easy to “remedy”), theoretically, the clash could have been acceptable since both the upper voices are concordant with the tenor. The author of Quatuor principalia (John of Tewkesbury, active during the second half of the 14th century) permits dissonance in three-voice counterpoint under the condition that two of the possible three voice pairs are consonant.

M18 is an early work, probably composed in 1324-5 for the enthronement of Guillaume de Trie as archbishop of Reims in that year:     Score

In talea III, bars 51-62 present a very strange sound. The unexpected augmented sixth between tenor and motetus in bar 56-7 is particularly hard to explain, the more so since, just before, the upper voices are in unison above a rest in the tenor: nothing prepares us for this sudden tension. In the earliest manuscript, C, the g of the motetus has no mi-sign so that there the problem does not occur. Could the sharpening be a later addition, or did the scribe of C forget the sign; or is it a mistake that crept in later? If it is not a mistake, was the combination of g-sharp and b-flat meant as a double leading tone for a strong cadence on a? In that case the continuation is curious since right after it, in bars 59-62, an equally strong cadence on G follows, and then a weaker one on F. If one compares the passage with the opening of the piece (which has the same tenor notes) the cadences in the first talea are much more the expected ones, the last one on F being the strongest; the cadence succession in talea III is much more surprising. Clearly, then, the dissonance in bars 56-7 is a deliberate choice and must have been meant to shock. But for what reason? In order to make the following cadence on G all the more satisfying after the dissonant delay? The c-sharp in the triplum in bar 59 as a leading note for the next cadence also comes as a surprise. The tension caused by these sharpened notes contrasts strongly with the dominating motif of the piece, the triad c-e-g which sounds so vigorously at the opening of the motet, crosswise: ascending in the triplum, descending in the motetus and both times on the words Bone pastor. That same ascending motif is repeated at the second color entry in the motetus (bars 51-2), on the name of the ‘Good shepherd’, Guillerme, but its harmonic stability is immediately disrupted by the g-sharp in bar 56. Could it be explained as an attack on the bishop’s steadfastness which is praised in the motet and which would then be expressed by the energetic triadic motif? Far-fetched as this explanation seems, there may be a textual argument, since at the end of the triplum text the speaker prays God to give Guillermus ‘a stable dominion in place of this unsteady one’ (‘Stabile dominium Pro labili.’).

Even more problematic are the collisions in M5, a four-part composition:     Score

This motet is often supposed to be an early work written in emulation of a motet by Philippe de Vitry;[1] however, since the work is very subtle in its use of both musical and textual quotations, in its deceptive notation and its text expression, it might very well be a later work.[2]  Several clashes occur between the voices; was four-part counterpoint more permissive? Take for example bars 27-31: all the manuscripts have a c in the motetus which is dissonant with the contratenor’s D for a length of no less than two perfect breves; an emendation of the motetus to d (Ludwig’s solution) or to a (my suggestion) seems preferable. A little later (bar 30) the G of the tenor is overlaid with a G-sharp in bar 31 in the motetus (found in all the manuscripts except E); the severe dissonance, lasting for only a semibrevis, could only be solved by not holding the tenor note until the end. The tenor’s G cannot be sharpened as this borrowed voice is never to be altered to agree with an upper voice, it is always the other way round: the upper voices must adapt to the tenor. Such chromaticism as found here is extreme, however. A miscalculation is a real possibility but one could also think of deliberate transgression for the sake of text expression; the motetus text speaks about the ‘false lover who does not take heed of the god of Love’ whereas the lover in the triplum vows to do what is pleasing Good Love. Moreover two successive plicas in bars 31-2 of the motetus (not in all the manuscripts) emphasize this moment in the text.

Text expression, therefore, may sometimes serve as an explanation of otherwise unjustifyable dissonances, although this is difficult to prove, since no theorist ever dropped a word on such devices.

Some other cases are dealt with elsewhere on this website. M11 and the possible solutions for its contrapuntal problems appear in a number of discussions, but most extensively in relation to the application of editorial musica ficta.

M1, a model motet which not for nothing was placed first in the motet collections in all manuscripts also contains a model contrapuntal problem discussed under Voice hierarchy and structure.


Jacques Boogaart


[1] See Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Compositional Techniques in the Four-Part Isorhythmic Motets of Philippe de Vitry and his Contemporaries. New York: Garland, 1989, pp. 88-107.

[2] See Jacques Boogaart, ‘Encompassing past and present: quotations and their function in Machaut’s motets.’ Early Music History 20 (2001), pp. 56-86.


iii. Musica Ficta 1 – Understanding What’s There

The treatment of accidentals in medieval music has been a constant preoccupation of modern scholars and performers. It is problematic due not only to the medieval technique of notating accidentals, but also because such annotations were rarely made in full. It is commonplace for the reader to have to augment the written in accidentals with further inflections, and opinions vary greatly on how this should be done. This issue is discussed in a separate section of this website. Presented here are discussions relating to those inflections which are present in the sources. Even within this remit a number of separate issues can be indentified. These include questions pertaining to the very meaning of written in accidentals, occasions where discrepancies between sources in the application of ficta can be found, different signing of accidentals within one source where written out repetitions appear, and finally, cases of conflicting ficta, where what appears in the sources seems problematic.


Uri Smilansky

1. The Meaning of Written In Accidentals

Meaning in the written sign has a number of manifestations, none of which enjoys the support of a musicological consensus. As a result, they are only enumerated here, with ones approach to understanding them incorporated into the discussion of practical ficta addition from the editorial vantage-point. These manifestations revolve around the theoretical understanding of signs; the interpretation of their intention, and their durational implications.

There is no agreement concerning the theoretical construct represented by the insertion of a sign. Some read inflections as superficial manipulation of a single pitch, regardless of harmonic and contrapuntal context, while others understand inflections as changing the underlying modal fabric of a song, and therefore the interpretation of the inflected note’s surrounding, even if this change is temporal and short lived. The former view requires no background explanation, while the hexachordal interpretation of medieval modality is explained elsewhere on this site, where the implications of such concepts are also treated.

The quality of the instruction given by a sign is also problematic. A full gray-scale of interpretations is possible: does an inflection represent the inflexible assertion of the composer’s will as understood by the redactor and copyist of any one source? Does the flexibility afforded to the reader in adding further inflections stretch also to include the avoidance of written in accidentals? Do inflections placed at the beginning of a line have the same quality as those placed elsewhere in it? Personally, I would have thought that while a composer would not have bothered annotating an accidental he thought would be ignored in practice, we have enough knowledge of musical adaptation and personalisation to suggest performers took the freedom to do as they wish with their materials. The extremity of interventions such as changing the setting size, replacing or adding voices, or melodic ornamentation render trivial a decision to ignore a written accidental. While the specificity of ‘before the note’ inflection seems harder to contradict than a background key-signature, when a good reason is offered, both have the potential to be changed. It is also worth noting that specific inflections are quite often notated rather idiosyncratically. A sign can appear a long time before the note it affects, and some scribes (that of MS E, for example) seemed to have disregarded this technical feature of its exemplars and quite often adjusted the vertical position of the sign to match the note immediately following it, even when that makes no musical sense. On the other hand, it is common for key signatures to disappear when they are not needed, but this is by no means systematic. Occasionally, a sign will appear within a line, but with no effect. While this may well be a problem of copying, resulting from differences in the layout between the source and its exemplar, this is not always easy to demonstrate.

The question of the duration of a sign’s force is also open for debate. Here, a division exists between the actual force of the sign, and the interpretative extension of the musical gesture it suggests through the application of editorial ficta. It is clear that the theoretical conceptualisations discussed above have implications also for this question, and that the separation between the two aspects of a sign’s force may or may not have been consciously appreciated by either composer or medieval performer. The duration possibilities of an inflection are also explored here and here, where they are linked to other musical and expressive decisions. 

In the edition, we have decided to treat signs as if they refer to a single note (there are cases in the manuscripts where an inflection is repeated even in consecutive pitch-repetitions), and treat extensions of their effects as editorial additions, even when they seem obvious. Unlike Ludwig, we decided not to come up with a separate sign for inflections arising from an extension of a given sign, or indeed, of any other qualitative characteristic of editorial ficta. One exception to this rule involves some flats which are reproduced at the next line’s key-signature. When editorial extensions of such signs would have applied to all relevant notes until the end of the line in question, the inflection was interpreted as a key-signature change. Further details concerning our signing technique are given in the introduction to the music volumes.


Uri Smilansky

2. Discrepancies Between Sources

It is rare for any two sources to present the same set of accidentals in the same vertical and horizontal position. This is true even for sources which copied directly from one another, even though in those cases the degree of agreement is predictably higher. While changes are often minor and result simply from different orthographic habits, some are more substantial and can lead to a different understanding of the musical text. Monophonic compositions are particularly prone to such differences as the lack of counterpoint removes a significant criterion for standardisation. The following examples are taken from the second and seventh strophes of L7-6. The first presents a longer segment in which multiple differences in the notated accidentals change the modal atmosphere, while the second deals with more local inflection of just a few notes, which nonetheless result in a pronounced difference due to their outstanding melodic location.

A single musical iteration of strophe II of L7-6 lasts 11 longae (one longa per bar in the transcription. This equals a quarter of the lyrical strophe). When comparing the versions in MSS A and E, the former has no marks in the signature, while the latter has one flat. Furthermore, MS A sports five mi-signs in this section, while MS E has one mi-sign and one fa-sign, neither of which correlate to the locations of the signs in MS A. As a result, not only does the ouvert cadence settle on a different pitch in the two versions, the entire modal character of this section changes from G-Mixolydian in MS A to the more ambiguous F-Lydian in MS E.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile:     MS A   ¦   MS E

Moving on to strophe VII, the most outstanding element in this extract is the octave leap between its fifth and sixth bars (now signifying brevis units). It is remarkable that while MS A signals the leap should be performed between two B-flats, Vg explicitly calls for two B-naturals. While the overall modal context of the section is not changed, and both manuscripts agree on inflections before and after this location, the difference nonetheless changes the momentary colour of the melody, with the Vg version sounding more surprising and less stable than its MS A counterpart.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile:     MS A   ¦   Vg

Both sets of changes may be due to variants in the exemplars used, scribal intervention, influence of different performing traditions, or a combination of all three. While some sources tend to be more reliable than others or their creation closer to Machaut’s person, choosing between them is a luxury available to us but not to their original users. Furthermore, it is inevitable for elements of any choice made to come down to taste, personal preference and personal interpretative stance.


Uri Smilansky

3. Differences in Written Out Repetitions

A special case of inflection discrepancy can occur within a single copy and a single piece, that is, differences between written out musical repetitions. This is especially relevant in the Lais where many half-strophes incorporate their own ouvert / clos structure resulting in extended repeated sections, and in the monophonic Virelais, where most commonly the refrain and versicle are presented separately even though they both use the same music. The same issue, though, can also affect the musical rhyme of the Ballades which use this device. In these cases the given music is repeated as part of the structure, regardless of whether differences appear or not in the written out repetitions. This can lead the reader in two distinct directions. One would be to understand the music as non-text-specific, leading to a standardisation of the reading into a single, repeating version used for all relevant texts of a song. The other would cling to these differences as a sign of text-specific adaptation, present them in full, and recommend the insertion of further changes when new texts reuse the music in order to show the performers’ understanding of their meaning.

Most differences found in the sources tend to be small, and do not lend much information as to which concept is more appropriate. Still, on occasion the reading seems more explicit, and, if taken seriously, suggests the latter attitude should be given more weight than the former.

While some mistakes can still be found, the transmission of V10’s A-part is much more stable than that of its B-part. Nonetheless, the versicle copy of all sources but MS C lack some, if not all, the fa-sign indications which appear in the musically identical refrain. The Vg, B and E manuscript group even specify a mi-sign before the ‘b’ of this section’s sixth bar. A summary of these differences is shown here. The basic reading presents the version in MS C, with alternatives from other sources presented above. ‘(-)’ indicates the lack of an inflection in the sources specified, be that a specific inflection of a note, or the non-inclusion of key-signature accidentals. No editorial suggestions were added. 

Score     ¦     Facsimile:     MS C   ¦   Vg   ¦   MS B   ¦   MS A   ¦   MS G   ¦   MS E

The version in MS B is most consistent in the avoidance of B-flat. Following are the refrain and versicle from this source (appended by the beginning of the refrain again), demonstrating the different musical colour this variant creates, and the emphasis it receives due to the song’s structure.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile 

While not adopted in the example, an adventurous reader could strengthen the differences further and create authentic cadences to A by inserting G-sharp in bars 20, 26 and perhaps even 23.  

Was this an accident due to problems with the circulation of exemplars, or a specific choice to increase variety? If the latter is the case, is this a one-off occurrence or a rare surviving example of an un-notated but more or less common practice?

It is clear that similar differences in rhythm, melody or underlay patterns raise the same questions also in regards to other musical parameters. Even within the realm of pitch-inflection, the potential for insertion of interpretative editorial ficta discussed here complicates matters further.


Uri Smilansky

4. Conflicting Ficta

In some cases, written in accidentals serve to create augmented or diminished intervals rather than to resolve them. While contradicting their primary justification and creating a problem for both modern and medieval theoreticians, there is no reason to believe such instances must be mistakes. Indeed, the system itself can be said to accommodate such conflicts more easily, at least according to some conceptualisations of it (see here for my personal approach). It is hard to judge, but it seems likely that medieval practitioners had fewer difficulties with such conflicts than many of their modern counterparts.

Melodic conflicts are relatively common, and their consecutive nature raises less resistance. Quick (if not direct) monophonic transitions between C-sharp and B-flat, for example, are examined as part of discussions of parts of L16/22 here and here. Cases where simultaneously sounding notes are inflected in opposite directions are a little less common. Still, the corruption of a non-perfect interval can be seen close to the beginning of B4 (also discussed here), where the augmented second E-flat/F-sharp is specified, and but one example for the augmentation of a perfect interval can be found in bars 53-54 of M11 (see also here), where the interval B-flat-/f-sharp is called for.

B4:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

M11:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

A more common procedure is for an inflection to appear only in one voice, creating a conflict with uninflected notes in one or more of the others. These instances constitute more of a grey area, as the possibility of adding editorial ficta to solve the conflicts created is also on offer, adding a layer of interpretation to the readings. The most common corrections of such conflicts occur when they appear as part of cadential progressions where only one leading tone is signed. The insertion of a second leading tone to create a full, double-leading-tone cadence avoids the resulting augmented or diminished fourth between the cantus and contratenor (on the medieval cadence, see here). There are many other locations, though, where the uninflected voices are likely to refrain from reacting to the inflected one. The four-part version of B22 includes a number of these instances.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Even within its first melisma, both the inflections provided cause problems with the other voices. The F-sharp added to the tenor in bar 4 creates a diminished fourth with the cantus’s B-flat and a diminished octave with the triplum’s F-natural. Neither voice is likely to change their readings: the B in the cantus is the first to appear after the signature indication, while in the triplum the note F is repeatedly emphasised as a central stable sonority in bars 1 and 3. Both partake in a descending melodic gesture meaning any potential sharpening would not to any resolution. The cantus is also unlikely to dispense with its signature B-flat in bar 6, this being part of a descent towards an F cadence. As a result, the inflection B-natural in the contratenor creates an augmented unison between the two voices. As melodic logic can easily be found to both the inflections (leading towards clear temporary goals), as well as to the resistance to reacting to them in the other voices, such conflicts become unproblematic in practice (for more on this song, see here).

Occasionally, inflections are so surprising that their validity may be called into question. This question is discussed with regards to a protracted B-flat/g-sharp sonority in M18 here, in respect of which it is still suggested that there are textual possibilities to understand (and keep) such readings.


Uri Smilansky

iv. The Notation (or Otherwise) of Rhythmic Structures

Questions pertaining to the notation of rhythm are not commonly as present in performers’ and scholars’ minds as are those relating to musica ficta. This is perhaps due to the less obvious need for edition-users to input their thoughts on the matter, even though one can argue that because the effect on an edition (and hence on analysis and performance) can be rather large, consideration of these issues should be more commonplace. Here too, little agreement is found between the different commentators. As a result, a number of problematic aspects of the music (at least when it comes to editing it) are presented with some more and some less controversial commentaries. These include the need for integrating un-notated mensuration changes into the reading of some works to make sense of their notation, the question of Modus in the songs and whether it should be applied as a metric unit if not necessarily a notational one, parallels for this problem in instances of irregular Tempus groupings, and the very act of choosing a mensuration for the transcription of notationally ambivalent cases including the possibility of un-notated upbeats. Some special cases are also examined that combine a number of issues.


Uri Smilansky

1. Un-notated Mensuration Changes

Notated changes of menusration are extremely rare in the Machaut manuscripts, and are restricted to the version of B4 in MS E and – in a less systematic manner – to the presentation of L5/6 and L6/7. There are other places in his oeuvre, though, that require mensural shifts. Perhaps the best known and most widely discussed case is that of the new triplum of R10.[1]

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Here, typical notational groupings are the only indication for the six mensuration changes appearing in a single iteration of the music, as well as to the requirement to begin performing this voice in a different mensuration from the older three voices. A complete performance of the song in Rondeaux form involves 26 mensural shifts in this voice, making it one of its central characteristics.

In interpreting R10 one is aided by its polyphonic context. Other cases do not afford such luxury and consequently remain more opaque. The monophonic V18, for example, has a number of interesting features, including a notated upbeat. In the score below the initial rest is put in parentheses as MS A - our base manuscript for transcription - uniquely fails to supply it.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

Relevant to the current discussion is the group ‘semibrevis, semibrevis rest, semibrevis’ at the beginning of the third line of text (transcribed as a series of dotted quarter-notes and framed by a rectangle in the score).

Notationally, the beginning of the song demands perfect prolatio (equating a semibrevis with a tertiary dotted quarter-note), and the underlay and groupings provided by the source strongly suggest coupling groups of three minime into units of six (resulting in an imperfect Tempus or 6/8 baring). The group highlighted, though, does not fit in with this structure, creating a visual and rhythmic dissonance with its surrounding.

A number of possibilities arise for interpreting this passage. The solution adopted by Ludwig and Schrade was to omit the rest altogether:    

Sound and Score

If this is deemed too extreme an intervention, it is possible to maintain the sign, reading it as a breath mark, or even correct it to a minima rest. The positioning of such a sign may be musically understandable, separating the cadence note from what follows, but the clear and precise underlay here shows it to appear after the first syllable of line 3 of the text, making this interpretation problematic:     

Sound and Score

Further, separation lines tend to be longer than a semibrevis rest, and occupy at least one full space of the staff. Considering the meagre sense of creating a separation here and the agreement of all sources on the inclusion of a rest, a different approach is called for. Now we arrive at the possibility of mensuration change.

The first possibility is to see this group as signifying a shift to perfect tempus (modern 9/8). One can then treat this measure in isolation, lengthening it while keeping the surrounding measures in the original tempus (a similar case of an extended measure was already presented elsewhere), or make a wholesale transition to the new mensuration, keeping it to the end of the form-part:

Sound and Score

The latter option seems less likely when taking into account the underlay pattern and the position of the line break. The double-perfect menusration is also relatively rare in comparison with others, especially in Machaut's monophonic virelais. More likely are changes of grouping such as those discussed above in relation to R10, that is, between the two mensurations divisible by six (3/4 and 6/8). As the perfect tempus imperfect prolatio (3/4) mensuration was generally more frequently used, it is not implausible to conceive of medieval readers shifting to it rather than to its perfect prolatio relation when confronted with this sign combination. The resulting reading is as follows:     

Sound and Score

It is possible to see this as a momentary change, but the rest of the form-part fits well within the new time-signature, suggesting it should perhaps be maintained. Indeed, this reading mirrors the change in underlay pattern at this point, and fits well with the melodic and rhythmic figures used. A reader would easily find his or her way back to the original mensuration both when repeating the section (between the versicle and the refrain) and when transitioning into the musical B-part (refrain to couplets), as both clearly call for the perfect prolatio within their first rhythmic gesture. Personally, this reading seems the most satisfactory.

A final option builds on what appears to be the mistaken omission of the first rest in MS A. In another discussion, I consider whether this is a problem or not for reading the song as beginning with an upbeat, but in a strict reading, the mistake allows for a straightforward reading in 6/8 to be mathematically viable:     


Such a reading would have to 'correct' the versicle music, removing the rest that appears at the beginning of that section. It also plays havoc with the alignment of the brevis units with the text underlay, the melodic contours, cadential points, and text stresses. If we consider it a viable reading based on this one single source, it may have considerable implications on our understanding of the hierarchy of meter-implying tools at Machaut’s disposal. Such a reading may suggest that subverting the mensural structure may be rather easy in practice.


Uri Smilansky

[1] See, for example, Rhichard H. Hoppin, ‘Notational Licences of Guillaume de Machaut’. Musica Disciplina, xiv (1960), pp. 13-27, esp. pp. 20-3.


2. The Question of Modus

When transcribing Machaut’s music into modern notation, the editor must make a choice regarding the rhythmic level of transcription—that is, the medieval note values Longa , Brevis, Semibrevis, and Minima must be translated into the modern whole note, half note, quarter note, and so forth. This translation process is complicated by the fact that in the course of the fourteenth century there was a shift in use of note values so that while at the beginning of the century music moved mostly in longae and breves with some semibreves, by the middle of the century music moved mostly in breves, semibreves, and the newly-invented minime. In medieval terms, the relationship between the longa and the brevis was called “modus,” brevis and semibrevis called “tempus,” and semibrevis and minima called “prolation.” So using medieval terminology, the question facing modern editors of Machaut’s music is: should the modern edition form the measure around the modus of the original notation, so that the longa is transcribed as a measure, or should the modern edition form the measure around the tempus so that a brevis fills the measure?[1] Machaut’s songs exhibit an ambivalence with respect to these note levels that is intriguing and not fully understood by modern scholars. The two previous editions of Machaut’s music grappled in different ways with the best way to transcribe the songs. Ludwig tended to choose modus level organization more often (in 20 ballades and 12 rondeaux, for example, roughly half of the polyphonic songs), while Schrade favored tempus level much more.

The question of modus organization is complicated, moreover, by the fact that in many cases Ludwig chose to transcribe songs with variable bar lengths, corresponding to what he perceived to be shifts between perfect modus and imperfect modus. In some cases, such as B12, it is clear that perfect modus organization prevails and both scholars transcribed the song at that level.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

That song has the peculiar feature that its refrain, Se je chant mains que ne sueil, appears also as the incipit of a chace copied into the manuscript Iv and of a ballette (without musical notation) in the manuscript Douce 308 (See further discussion of this work and its predecessors here. This line is also found in the motetus part of a motet in the Montpellier manuscript (no. 277)).  This song is in the older notation of the early fourteenth century, and clearly organized in major modus; the organization of the originating song seems to have governed Machaut’s choice of metric organization for the ballade. Here is its presentation in the cantus voice of B12, moving clearly in longs and breves:

In some cases, though, Machaut’s rhythmic organization seems not to fully partake of either perfect or imperfect modus groupings. In such cases, the editor has to determine which level to use following the layout of large-scale metric groupings, the placement of major cadences, and the text placement. Ludwig transcribed 33 songs using modus instead of tempus as the measure, and in 25 of these he used a variable measure length, alternating between imperfect and perfect modus. An example of this procedure is found in B23, whose B section is transcribed below following Ludwig’s barring:

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile


Anne Stone


Additional notes

It is easy to see the logic of Ludwig’s barring technique, but it also becomes apparent that the lack of notational constraints requires a problematic degree of interpretation, at least as far as the choice of which parameters to privilege when making barring decisions. For example, an argument could be made to rebar measures 21-23 in his transcription to follow a 3-2-2 groupings rather than the 2-2-3 groupings suggested. This arrangement fits better with the melodic and motivic behavior of the cantus, the pattern of the underlay, and the harmonic pattern of bar 23 and its relationship to the ouvert. The same can also be done at the beginning of the refrain, swapping over the arrangement of the first two bars.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

That I find such groupings more pleasing does not mean Ludwig was wrong to suggest his, only that both versions give an image of how we interpret the music rather than what information is given to us by the source.

Another example is considered in another discussion, where even the tempus level of organization is notationally ambiguous, and a host of other parameters are considered in order to choose between a number of possible transcriptions.

Remaining in the realm of modus, the “flexible modus” notion can be looked at from a different perspective. Put rather crudely, the “flexible modus” approach imagines Machaut as working within a system constructed upon the modus level, but which allowed un-notated changes between modus groupings, some of which are so subtle that agreement cannot easily be reached concerning their actual arrangement. As an alternative, one can suggest that while long phrases undoubtedly exist (as they do in all other music, regardless of how short the bars used to notate it), there is little reason to expect them to adhere to a theoretically conceived system, however flexible it may be. Instead, we can see Machaut as playing with phrase-length on a less tightly regulated rhythmic level, creating and breaking rhythmic expectations as an expressive effect in his compositional arsenal. The constant changes in B23, for example, can be seen as characterizing tool for the song, portraying Fortune’s changeability, or perhaps less specifically, creating the sense of instability and unease described by the singer.

The lack of stability on the modus level can be seen even in examples where musical organization using breves and longae undoubtedly prevails. B12 discussed above takes centre-stage in another discussion, looking at traces of revision of early versions of some works. While the notational characteristics of the song as a whole do not change between the versions, the regularity of the modus pattern is broken at the beginning of the musical B-part by the insertion of another brevis’-worth of music into the first musical phrase of the section.

A last example may seem even more surprising. L5/6 is a very interesting work, as it is one of two lais to contain explicit mensuration changes.[2]  Both indicated changes concern the quality of the tempus, resulting in a perfect tempus for strophes VIII-X, while the rest of the work operates in an imperfect tempus. The beginning and end of this work, though, operate in a relatively clear perfect modus, and there is even the occasional need to use perfection rules on that level (not until b. 41, though). This applies to strophe XII (which contains a transposed version of strophe I), but not to strophe XI, which has already reverted back to imperfect tempus. There is no sign, or indeed, any new notational input marking the change. It is left entirely to the musical sensitivity of the performer. It seems notationally significant to show changes in tempus groupings, but not those of modus groupings.

This pattern is even clearer in strophe II of this work. Earlier editions preferred maintaining the perfect modus (Ludwig even opted for maximodus for sections of this work, which compounded his barring problems), and therefore removed the rest at the middle of the strophe and accepted the unusual ending where the last bar of a form part does not mark the melodic, rhythmic or textual arrival at a structural end-point. Both used a larger reduction level for the modus sections, which for ease of comparison, I avoided here.


It is possible, though, to read this section as containing two insertions of two imperfect groups, after which normal service resumes.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

There is no need for a mensuration change or even a theoretical conceptualization for its existence. Rather it is the way the music behaves, even looks on the page, creating an audible surprise to attract attention to this location. Such a rare occurrence within a long and complicated work which pays special attention to mensuration shifts hardly merits the assignation of the whole song as belonging to a different type of theoretical construct. It just differentiates from the notationally stricter tempus level and the less regulated patterns of modus structures, at least within song composition (for another local notational case within a lai, which may, for a different theoretical reason, have wide-ranging implications for the work as a whole, see here).

Again, both this, and the “flexible modus” approach are conceptualizations designed to deal with notational and musical irregularities. Each has its advantages and draw-backs, and would fit different analytical and performance-related contexts.

In our edition, we have tried to avoid at least some of these issues by applying the general rule that barring level should follow notational need, while allowing for adjustments on a case by case basis when such a procedure leads to unsatisfactory results. L5/6, therefore, uses modus bars for its beginning and end, but changes bar-length silently in the location discussed above. Our version of B23 uses the tempus as the basic barring (and counting) level, but removing bar-lines when they would create a tie on a voice-by-voice basis.


This avoids over-cluttering the score and allows technical parameters such as the use of longer note-values or syncopation to be visually clear, while not privileging a single musical grouping. Each reader can find their own way to cope with (or relish) the irregularities of its phrase-structure. One mensural change that isn’t made obvious is the treatment of form-part endings. These are regularly marked by lines indistinguishable from rests (b. 52 in the B23 example). There are cases where these rests must be counted, as one of the voices provides a bridge to the next section, while at other times, a pause in all voices seems counter-intuitive, or works against the syntax of the text. To mark these places out, we maintained the rest, but compressed it with the cadence note into one bar, which is now longer than its surroundings. We hope this exceptional usage will attract attention to these locations, calling readers to make a choice as to how to understand them in their myriad contexts.


Uri Smilansky


[1] An exhaustive treatment of this issue is found in David Maw, “’Trespasser Mesure: Meter in Machaut’s Polyphonic Songs,” Journal of Musicology 21 (2004): 46-126.

[2] See Benjamin L. Albritton, “Moving Across Media: Machaut’s Lais and the Judgement”, in Deborah McGrady and Jennifer Bain (eds), A Companion to Guillaume de Machaut (Brill: Leiden, Bosto, 2012), pp. 119-39.



3. Irregular Tempus Groupings

A similar problem of signification versus intention can be transposed from the modus to the tempus level. Here, the number of semibreves in a given section does not always fit into a whole number of either perfect or imperfect breves. Some songs avoid the use of breves altogether, making the tempus division notationally irrelevant. This lack of strict notational requirement allows for the possibility that such works were conceived with no strict and consistent groupings of semibreves into larger rhythmical units. As a counter-argument, one can note that such works regularly fall into conventional tempus patterns (usually imperfect tempus groups) and suggest that as semibreves units are rather quick and are always described, literally, as part of a brevis constellation, using them as a counting level seems less likely. Furthermore, some songs with irregular semibrevis numbers do incorporate brevis units, forcing the reader to decide on a tempus relationship. One such song is V3, which has a brevis as its first note and a longa as its last. Still, its musical B-part consists of 11 semibreves for the ouvert and 13 for the clos. Furthermore, the ouvert has a semibrevis as its cadence note, meaning the final arrival in this form-part occurs on its eleventh semibrevis, but the clos offers a brevis at its end, meaning the final arrival here happens after twelve semibreves. With a normal reading, it is impossible to have both arrivals on a beginning of a tempus unit.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Earlier editions ironed this problem out by changing a few of the given rhythmic values:     


All three editions require either the insertion of at least one un-notated rest or an adjustment to the regularity of tempus beginnings. The only way to engineer both regularity and consistent arrivals on brevis beginnings is to count this section through. This would looks as follows:     


Mathematically and notationally (in terms of placing the upbeat at the beginning of this section), this is perhaps the best reading option, but it has far reaching implications on current thinking concerning beat and meter. While no consensus exists, some scholars have identified and built upon a metric understanding of the different mensural groupings, even to the point of privileging it over natural word-stress patterns and other musical characteristics. While all the versions presented require an adjustment in the regularity of tempus units, and therefore create problems for this claim, the read-through solution is the most troublesome. Applying the metric approach to this reading would cause the same music to be sung with different metric impulses when repeated regardless of its text or melodic behaviour. The alternative will have to admit that a host of musical parameters come together to form a metric pulse, including also melodic behaviour, rhythmic patterning, word-stresses, and so forth. Mensuration would play a large part in informing this patterning, as it creates the expectation for regularity, but it is not necessary to attach to it an intrinsic, active ability to assign metric content.


Uri Smilansky

4. Text, Meter, Mensuration Choice and Un-notated Upbeats

A number of discussions highlighted the possibility of un-notated upbeats. This arose in the contexts of complicated variants between sources, un-notated mensuration changes, and irregular Tempus groupings. The latter discussion presented different ideas about the relationship between Tempus groupings and meter. This question can arise also when there is no notational problem to solve, especially when the notation itself does not specify Tempus groupings. The much commented upon V33 is a good example. There is no problem transcribing it in imperfect Tempus, perfect Prolation (i.e., 6/8) adhering to the strict notational rules.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Notationally, though, the reader does not have to take the Tempus level into consideration at all, and can transcribe the song thinking only on the Prolatio level. This would result in a 3/8 barring, avoiding the question of the regularity or otherwise of the larger sentence structure.

Sound and Score

If one considers the concept of Tempus to be too strong to ignore, perfect groupings are also a possible choice, accepting a need to standardize final cadences and start new form-parts on a downbeat.

Sound and Score

The metric implications of this choice are obvious. They are particularly important here, as this song is presented as part of Fortune’s Remedy, which specifically describes it as a dance song. The very fact that the notation does not help us in this choice and that we are forced to look at other musical parameters for guidance weakens the notion of menusration as the sole, overriding identifier of meter. A few other musical parameters are on hand: structural, rhythmic, melodic and textual. It is clear that the functionality of the dance overrides any and all of these considerations, and it is unlikely that either active dancers or spectators were listening out for such parameters in real time. Still, it is not unreasonable to expect that the combination that works best with as many of them as possible was most likely the intended reading as adherence to such expectations make the song flow better, be easier to follow and become more memorable.

Structurally, the adaptation of the 6/8 and 3/8 meters align more lyrical line beginnings with beginnings of metric units. As the adoption of the 3/8 meter does not add to the alignment score (both align 6 out of the 10 lines used to underlay the first presentation of the entire music of this song), the longer grouping is more attractive in demonstrating this characteristic. The 9/8 reading, by contrast, aligns Tempus and lyrical line beginnings only at the openings on each form-part, where such an alignment is taken for granted. Conversely, the 3/8 grouping marks all the ends of lyric lines with a metric point, but as there are 10 line-endings and 32 bar-beginnings in this version, this is not a very impressive alignment rate. The 9/8 grouping marks 6 line endings (out of 12 bar beginnings), and the 6/8 groupings marks none (16 bar beginnings), not even the end of the two form-parts. Furthermore, the markings of the 9/8 version form a structural logic, marking the end of lines 1, 3, 5 and 7 of the 7-line refrain and lines 1 and 3 of each 3-line couplet.

Rhythmically, three elements can be defined for comparison, namely, longer points of arrival, end-points of protracted rhythmic acceleration, and repeated use of rhythmic combinations. Longer arrival points appear in the form of a perfect semibrevis (dotted quarter-note) or a semibrevis followed by a minima rest (quarter note followed by an eighth-note rest). These appear four times in the music: at the end of the 1st, 3rd, 7th and 10th lines of the text. As explored above, the last two of these points mark the end of the two form-parts. While the 3/8 and 9/8 options have a bar-beginning at all four points, the 6/8 has none. Long chains of minimae (eighth-notes) lead to the end of line 1 of the text, the beginning of line 6, and the end of line 8. While the Prolatio-only version marks all these spots, the perfect Tempus reading marks only the first and the last location (this being its first gesture in each one of the form-parts), and the imperfect Tempus option marks only the middle location. As far as rhythmic patterning goes, the quick movement at the beginning of the two form-parts fit well with the bar pattern of the 9/8 version. For the most part, though, it is perhaps the 6/8 option that is most useful. This manifests itself in the repetition of the rhythmic formulae in bars 3-6, the fitting in of the quick movement into two of its bars, and the rhythmic repetition in bars 9-10 and 14-15. The other two quick sections go against this barring. All these effects are diminished in both the 3/8 and 9/8 groupings.

Melodically, bar beginnings present the following outlines:     Score

While it is clear that the same importance isn’t given to every bar beginning, this is the first port of call in reconstructing a presumed skeletal modal map unto which the decorated surface is imposed. The reduction following 3/8 groupings does not help much, as it is very similar to the song’s surface. As there are often only two notes per bar, it is also easier to argue that the longer of the two should be taken into account, rather than the first. This would result in the following, smoother line, but which is still rather extended:     Score

When looking at the other two versions, it is perhaps surprising that the more selective option (9/8) presents a smoother line. The 6/8 version shows an outline that is unlikely to have been at the back of Machaut’s mind when composing the work. The fact that it does not align metric beginnings with the major cadences point further undermines the link between such an outline and modal feeling.

Textual considerations are perhaps the most natural and least abstract, as the text itself offers a natural grid with which the music can interact. While acknowledging the interpretative nature of this act, I highlight in green 20 places where a purely textual recitation of the song calls for some kind of metric impulse:


Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pene, desir,
Corps, et amour,
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,


Apart from the stressed end-rhymes, the distribution is far from even or regular. The following table copies the text three times colouring the syllables which appears at bar beginnings according to the three mensural arrangements discussed. Coloured green are stresses that match those of the natural speech-pattern and red represents stresses that go against it.

‘downbeats’ in 3/8  

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pene, desir,
Corps, et amour,
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,  

‘downbeats’ in 6/8

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pensée, desir,
Corps, et amour,  
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir, 
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,

‘downbeats’ in 9/8

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pensée, desir,
Corps, et amour,
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,

The 3/8 reading results in 32 bar beginnings as potential stress-locations. Still, it only matches 15 of the 20 natural stress-points, adding a further 17 counterintuitive stresses. The 6/8 version only has 16 potential stress-points, but their alignment with the natural speech rhythm is particularly poor. Only two syllables coincide, leaving 18 lyrical stresses un-marked and adding 14 ‘wrong’ word-stresses. The 9/8 version is perhaps the most convincing. While only 12 bar beginning appear, 8 match the natural stress-points. Six of the 8 were already discussed above as important structuring locations, ending lines 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10 of the text. While a further 12 textual stresses are subsumed, only 4 unnatural ones appear. It is, of course, clear that a singer is not obliged to stress every bar beginning or that he or she cannot stress syllables which appear at other positions. Still, as explained above, a greater match between the two parameters eases the task, and makes the reading more natural, especially in a dance movement where the physicality of the steps are likely to suggest greater importance to bar beginnings as stress-points.

In order to see how these various parameters come together, let us take the 3/8 version as a basis and be more selective about its stressing patterns according to the different criteria explored. Melodic considerations are most interpretative, and therefore are downplayed in this example. Taken into consideration were long rhythmic arrivals, ends of quick movement, word-stresses, and the first and last syllables of each poetic line. Ticks were used when there was no real reason to stress a bar-beginning, dashed bar lines appear where one parameter only suggests stressing a particular location, and full lines mark bar beginnings where more than one parameter suggests highlighting the next note:     Score

The result is not entirely regular, which, after all, was the point of not deciding on a constraining Tempus grouping in the first place. Still, a pattern emerges, by which many stresses appear tow bars apart, but in the middle of the bars of the normal 6/8 reading.

Finally we come to the possibility of un-notated upbeats. A strict 6/8 barring with half a bar upbeat looks like this:     Sound and Score

A quick revision of the parameters discussed above is needed in order to check whether this is in any way preferable to the versions already presented.

Structurally, the upbeat version marks no line beginnings but compensates for this by stressing all 10 line endings (doing so with only 16 available bar-beginnings in comparison with the 32 of the 3/8 version). The consistent masculine rhyme used in this text makes this structural choice appealing.

Rhythmically, this version joins the 9/8 and 3/8 barrings in highlighting all four long arrivals in the song, and the 9/8 version in aligning bar-beginning with the end of the first and third chain of eighth notes (and the rhythmic pattern this creates), but not the middle one. It matches the other 6/8 version in its highlighting of rhythmic patterns, most notably present in the rhythmic repetitions of bars 3-5, 9-10 and 14-15.

The last two rhythmic repetitions also involve a melodic patterning, ending each form part with a double cadential figure which is aborted in the first attempt but completed in the second. Adding the melodic outline to those of the other versions still incorporates a surprise at the end of the A-part, but is generally smoother and incorporates more stepwise motion:     Score

As a potential melodic backdrop this makes the most sense.

Also the textual consideration is the most supportive here.

‘lyrical’ stress pattern 

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pene, desir,
Corps, et amour,
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir 
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,

‘downbeats’ in 3/8

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pene, desir,
Corps, et amour,
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,

‘downbeats’ in 6/8

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pensée, desir,
Corps, et amour, 
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,

‘downbeats’ in 9/8

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pensée, desir,
Corps, et amour,
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,

‘downbeats’ in 6/8

Dame, a vous sans retollir
Dong cuer, pensée, desir,
Corps, et amour,
Comme a toute la millour
Qu'on puist choisir,
Ne qui vivre ne morir
Puist a ce jour.

Si ne me doit a folour
Tourner, se je vous äour,
Car sans mentir,

It has by far the best alignment rate with 13 of its 16 bar beginnings highlighting a naturally stresses syllable. It misses out on only four lyrical stresses and adds but three ‘wrong’ ones, making it easy to adjust this basic structure for an even better match in performance.

Only the protracted minimae movement in bars 6-8 stand out as less natural in this reading. That only one such place appears allows a reader to consider it of special importance rather than force him or her to abandon the reading technique.

There are, of course, other musical parameters according to which the success or otherwise of a musical setting can be judged. According to all the parameters considered here, though, the reading which makes most sense of the musical setting is the only one which has no technical, notational justification. Is this a problem? I would suggest that there is no problem reading or consuming this song in any one of these versions. The careful listener would have already noticed that the same recording was used to illustrate all four barring techniques. One can easily listen to it while imagining a short meter, an imperfect meter both with and without an upbeat, a perfect meter, or an irregular meter. It is clear that a performer with an agenda can force one reading or the other, and that some readings can be destabilised by the choice of how long to wait between the form-parts. Still, the flexibility explored in analysing, consuming and performing this song may well suggest a similar approach also to its notational and theoretical conceptualisation.


Uri Smilansky


5. Special Cases

Machaut’s oeuvre contains many special forms of signification, only a few of which can be mentioned here. One signification issue involves the question of the strictness of application of notational rules in different areas and different times in his output. This issue is discussed elsewhere, but it may be noteworthy that many of the Virelais found in the early MS C often require common sense to prevail over perfection rules, while some of the Lais which appear first in Vg call for a strict application of the rules, resulting in long chains of syncopations. Still, the distribution of notational habits is by no means chronologically linear and other effects help to paint a different picture:

  • The technical device of coloration is used sparingly throughout Machaut’s works. In the songs, for example, it is found only in the early B4, presented in full in a different discussion. Interestingly, this song uses the resulting hemiolia effect rather liberally, matching it with ambiguous mensural groupings in the upper voice which can be read as either a weak 3/4 progression or a shift to 2/4, but arranged in syncopation relatively to the coloured tenor.
  • All cases of notated mensural changes in Machaut’s songs (excluding the version of B4 discussed above in MS E) appear in Lais  which are also already present in the early MS C.

This should warn us against a simplified view of such special usages being a late characteristic of a developed notational style following the gaining of experience.

A last example is also taken from an early work. L8/12 is notated on the Modus level (perfect Modus), with the quickest rhythmic value to appear being the semibrevis (not counting a couple of unhelpful additions in MS B in exactly some of the instances detailed below). While occasional groups of two semibreves are underlaid separately (mostly sharing the same pitch), most semibreves appear within ligatures as ornamented brevis-progressions. Still, on ten separate locations an unusual grouping of semibreves appears in one of two sign-combinations (taken from MS C):


The first arrangement often has a longa at its end instead of the brevis followed by a rest. The underlay pattern observable here is reproduced in all repetitions of both combinations (in the second variant, it is clear the last syllable should appear under the last note). Counting written out repetitions but not indicated ones, the first version occurs twice in strophe II (with a longa) and four times in strophe III (with a brevis and longa rest). The second variant appears twice in strophe I and twice in the musical repetition of strophe XII. Ten written iterations of a melodic gesture (or twenty heard ones) are still a minor effect in the context of the long Lai, but are nevertheless numerous enough to make them impossible to ignore. The consistent placing of the group of three separate semibreves in the weak midpoint of the Modus grouping and their incorporation into a melisma both suggest an ornamental character for this gesture. A number of notational solutions are available for these figures, depending on the approach of the reader and the traditions to which they link the style.

A more structural approach would suggest finding a mensural combination is which such a figure makes sense. For this, a perfect Tempus has to be adopted, at least for these strophes, if not for the work as a whole.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

While providing an interpretational context for the groups of three semibreves, this approach comes with its own set of problems. First, even its application only within the four strophes affected can be regarded as a disproportionately large effect standing in the way of the flow of all the other instances of semibreves grouped only in couples. One can circumvent this and apply the change only to the bars in question as a localized and short-lived shift:     Score

A notational problem still remains: If we imagine a shift in mensuration, we would expect the section involved to follow the perfection rules which apply in the new constellation, especially if the change is only for a short section. While the first version of this phenomenon when a brevis appears at its end can be easily read with an augmentation at the end of the group of semibreves, the second version (or the first with a longa last note) cannot, as augmentation has to occur in the middle of a line of semibreves and at the end of a group of 7 semibreves before a longa. Three different perfection rules are broken within this one bar. Still, this reading is visually easy to arrive at, following the ligature groupings. While such an approach can be found in the earlier Motet tradition, the reading of ligature groups as self-contained units marking perfection-points is more characteristic of the Italian notational tradition of the 14th century than the French one.

A more practical alternative would be to take the easiest way of reading the entire song as the rule (i.e., reading the tempus as imperfect), and apply some kind of exception for the groups of three. This exception can take many forms, and result in a shift of brevis-division or the un-notated introduction of a new rhythmic layer. The first option again has some support in the earlier Motet repertory, but even there it is hard to ascertain how common it was in practice. It manifests itself in triplets in the edition of these groupings, and are, therefore, more akin to an acceleration of the ornamental figures than the introduction of a new set of rhythms.

Sound and Score

It is perhaps noteworthy that only twenty years after the completion of MS C the Berkeley theorist suggested that not only 3:2 proportional relationships but also 4:3 divisions are everyday and unproblematic occurrences in practice, and are taken for granted by trained Parisian musicians.

An un-notated shift of rhythmic level can itself be governed by different guidelines. A more Italianate procedure would be to place the short notes at the beginning of the group:     Score

Perhaps a more appropriate approach would be to follow the notational principle ascribed to Philippe de Vitry, which calls for a group of three semibreves without stems to be interpreted as having decreasing durations:     Score

After all, Vitry was only a few years older than Machaut and one of the most celebrated musicians of the age. It is entirely possible the two met, especially if we believe Machaut studied in Paris, but even without the personal link, it would be surprising for Machaut not to have heard of the new musical theories and practices emanating from the circle of this well connected and famous master.

Both the above versions maintain the basic division of the brevis into two which seem to characterise the rest of the song. The former gives the impression of an ornamented brevis, while the latter sounds more like an ornamented group of two semibreves descending in stepwise motion – the most common melodic arrangement of such notes in this piece.

The choice of which solution to follow has also a practical side to it. As each one has a different duration for the quickest notes to be used, the speed in which the song is performed can affect the viability of adopting each different readings. A very quick performance may tend towards the ‘triplet’ solution, as the difference between slow and quick notes is relatively small and the transition can be rather smooth. A slow performance, on the other hand, could make the proportional aspect of this solution sound too composed and artificial. In order to retain the ornamental feel for these groupings, the Vitry-type reading may be to most practical as it incorporates the quickest relative note-durations of all the examples provided. The recordings presented here demonstrate that when performed as ornaments of limited local importance, the exact division and interpretation can become a rather academic (even if an important one) issue.


Uri Smilansky 

Reading and Writing

Having examined the different aspects of what is found in the sources, their discrepancies, and possible interpretations, I now turn to the kind of information they do not contain. Here one encounters the tension between any single reading and the picture arising from considering all surviving versions, especially given an historic context in which it is hard to imagine more than one version being present for consultation at any given time and place prior to the availibility of digital facsimiles. The exactness of the notation, coupled with the exactness of its application, have also to be kept in mind. How much flexibility should one allow for? On what grounds should the decision to intervene with the strict readings as provided be based? Finally, the question of musica ficta surfaces once again, this time regarding all those inflections which are not written in in any source, but are nonetheless expected as part of the understanding (and performance) of this style.


Uri Smilansky


i. Reading a Source, Reading an Oeuvre

When thinking about Machaut’s output as a unified oeuvre, a few issues should be kept in mind. We know, for example, that many sources have been lost through the ages, raising the possibility that we are missing important information, or have formed a misleading view of what is standard and what is unique in the transmission and circulation of Machaut related materials. It is also obvious that medieval readers would not have had the kind of immediate access to a plethora of manuscripts that is only newly available to us today due to the digitalisation and online presentation of a growing number of sources and codicological literature. While interested and well connected individuals with trained memories may have had the opportunity to consult a handful of different readings, there would often be no way of validating the precision of a given version, or assigning greater authority to one reading than to another. Aspects of this issue were already explored in relationship with variants and mistakes, and the following example can be fitted also into that context, especially as it draws upon a piece already discussed there. It is brought here as the differences shown are not the result of a single mistake but arises from a collection of small, acceptable and individually manageable changes. Furthermore, no source gives a clear and easy to follow version, making it hard to imagine what a medieval reader would have considered as the best option even if a comparison was possible.

Different interpretations of the rhythm of the A-part of V16 are discussed elsewhere. Its B-part has no rhythmic variation between the different sources. The differences that do occur appear in the underlay of this section and its clos cadence. In the comparison that follows, I tried aligning the underlay as closely as makes sense to the source. At times this is rather unclear, at which point I add ‘?’ to the syllables in question. Line breaks have been marked with a dashed line, and the pause signalling the end of the ouvert by a full bar-line.

Score          Facsimile:

MS C     ¦     MS A     ¦     MS G     ¦     Vg     ¦     MS B     ¦     MS E

These two parameters come together to muddy the structural relationship between the ouvert and clos. The versions of the clos section in MSS Vg, B and E are copied a third above those of MSS A and G. Third-transpositions are not uncommon, and usually result from a mistaken placement of a clef. MS C, though, complicates matters further, as it has the clos melisma in the low version, but places the cadence note on F rather than D, thus agreeing with the high version. While a bit more surprising, an F cadence is still acceptable in a D piece. In this particular case, it fits better with the higher range of this form-part, which is framed by a single f an octave above this cadence note close to its beginning. Before considering this section further, and excursion into some aspects of text underlay is necessary.

While the technique of copying first the text and then aligning the music above it was argued to allow for a greater accuracy in the text music alignment of fourteenth century music in comparison with later styles where the reverse took place, second text underlay is notoriously imprecise. The single leaf fragment of L3 contained in La134 is a good example. This is perhaps the earliest surviving copy of any of Machaut’s music, leading to the expectation it would have emanated from the composer, or at least be relatively close to either his original materials or a heard performance. Its second text underlay, though, is so bad it would have been easier to have it copied in prose after each strophe. It is regularly misaligned with the first text (and therefore, the music) over line breaks, and even across the single extant page turn. While the odd case of such behaviour occurs also in the complete Machaut collections, the underlay is generally better, and there are also a number of instances where differences between the arrangements of the first and second texts seem intentional. Such a case can be found in B34, where the version in MS A indicates the first melisma of the ‘Ne quier’ voice should isolate ‘d’Absalon’ for the first time round, and ‘Sanson’ at the repetition.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

The direct paralleling between the two figures seemed to have overruled the fact that one requires more syllables than the other.

Returning to the case of V16, the location of the ouvert is clearly marked in all sources and is underlaid logically, but no prompt is given as to where the clos ending should begin. This forces the reader to rely on the placement of the second text as the only, even if unreliable clue. As the comparison given shows, the discrepancies in second text placing begin already with ‘souffrir’ at the end of the third brevis unit of this form-part. MSS Vg and B are alone in paralleling the two text-lines. MSS A, G and E shift the second text to the next underlay position a couple of notes forward, and MS C pushes it yet another position forwards to coincide with the beginning of a new lyric line in the first text. The implication of this is that all sources apart from Vg assign a second text syllable also to the ouvert cadence note, suggesting it should be sung also on the repetition. While not impossible, this is a rather less common procedure in Machaut’s output (in the Virelais, it can be found also in V27/30 and V31/37). Furthermore, even if this was the intended reading, it is still badly notated. The other works that use this musical effect repeat the note that functioned as the ouvert cadence also at the beginning of the clos, thus making the duplication clear. Alternatively, collections like the Turin J.II.9 (the Cypriot Codex), where nearly all songs use this effect, writes the melody through, but with a fermata-like sign above the staff to indicate the first ending, thus avoiding the use of a stroke (which could be interpreted also as a rest). Reading this section in this way creates an octave leap between what was the ouvert note and the repetition of the clos if the high version of the clos is adopted, and a minor sixth leap if the lower version is taken. While both are usable, the former is perhaps more satisfactory than the latter. On top of the relative likelihood of the interval itself, the octave version also echoes the leap linking the ouvert with the second iteration of the B-part. It is easy to adapt the version of MS E into such a reading.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

This version pleasingly emphasizes ‘Diex’ on the repeated ouver cadence note. On the other hand, Vg is often the most careful source in terms of the alignment of text and music, suggesting its version should perhaps be privileged. It is not entirely clear in this case whether the copying route Vg to B to E is applicable in this case or not. While the three share some important variants, MS E avoids some variants unique to Vg and B, suggesting either self-correction or a more complicated derivation for the exemplar of this work. If the direct relationship was maintained, it was perhaps easier for the modern reader (if not the medieval one) to opt for the version of an ‘original’ rather than a ‘copy’. In any event, ‘correcting’ the second text underlay following the first text would be rather straightforward when reading from any of these sources.

Vg’s arrangement would suggest leaving out the ouvert cadence note in the repetition. Such a procedure is more common in Machaut’s Virelais, even though he usually maintains some kind of rhythmic or melodic parity between the two endings, which is absent here. Furthermore, using this reading with the clos melisma given in Vg results in a major seventh leap, which is not entirely satisfactory. This structure seems to fit better the low version of the clos, as can be heard in the following example, adjusted from MS A.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The replacement is surprising enough even when the leap is of a fifth. The problematic character of this passage can be seen in the way it has been treated by previous editors, both having adopted the low reading of the clos.


To me, this solution seems a bit over interventionist. Underlay seemed to have been decided upon following beginnings of Tempus groups and tone-repetitions, with little regard to the placing of the text in the sources. Now that original underlay has been dismissed as unreliable, no medieval indication of the length of the ouvert and the point at which one should jump to the clos remains, forcing the editor to look for some other basis for a decision. Looking at their editions, I surmise both Ludwig and Schrade opted for melodic logic in their solution, as the jump occurs at the latest point where the transition to the beginning of the clos can be understood as a standard medieval progression. Replacing the last two bars of the ouvert allows for the shift to happen in a cadence-like progression leading to the beginning of the clos. Under the same circumstances, it would have been equally justifiable to follow some other parameter. Privileging a structural symmetry, for example, would have perhaps suggested jumping even earlier, after the long ‘A’ of the fourth bar of the form-part. This would have allowed for the two endings to be of equal length and for the rhythm of the text declamation to be preserved between them.  

To sum up, even though differences can be within the expected range of scribal habits, they can cause important changes in the realisation of some works. As there is no indication that a mistake has occurred, there would have been no reason for a medieval reader to suspect something is amiss. Each version could have been taken as correct and authoritative, or at the very least, provide enough information for adjustments to be made leading to a usable version (not all of which are presented here). That even our ability to compare a considerable number of different sources does not allow us to reconstruct an original ‘best’ reading highlights the different procedures undertaken by modern and medieval readers. The more likely medieval procedure using one available source and making sense of its version as best we can seems to me more pleasing in such a case, and brings us closer to the problems encountered by the original users of these materials, as well as to the necessity to keep a flexible attitude towards their content.

Potential changes in both form-parts of V16 can result in wildly different informed and reliable performances depending on the source followed. There is every reason to believe this already happened in the Middle Ages, as the combination of the circulation of less authoritative materials and the need to constantly adapt works to changing contexts and performing forces would have pushed the limits of acceptability of readings. One can easily imagine Machaut oeuvre taking on different shapes and realisations according to place, time and performing tradition. This can even be seen in the modern performance tradition of his music, making the illusion of a reproducible single edifice suggested by the modern complete-works edition to be taken with many important caveats.


Uri Smilansky

ii. Notation and Exactness

The issue of notational exactness in medieval music is fraught with difficulty. On the one hand, the various notational systems of the fourteenth century were designed to be able to convey ever more complex rhythm is a precise manner. On the other hand, though, there is usage. Usage was always rather patchy, and depended on locality, intended readership and personal knowledge and ability. Furthermore, most notated sources were created to convey meaning rather than conform to any set of rules. As long as the content was understood by the intended users, even common and well established rules did not matter. Thus, personal collections are often more idiosyncratic in their application of notational guidelines, while professionally executed manuscripts were regularly expected to be understandable by readers removed from both the composers represented in them and the scribes which did the work. At the same time, professional scribes were less likely to understand the notational subtleties they copied, or, indeed, be particularly interested in the musical result (often leading to more mistakes), a situation less likely in the context of a personal collector/scribe.

To an extent, the Machaut manuscripts with music seem to combine the best of both worlds. They were all executed professionally, and number of which with a direct link with the composer (at least as the commissioner and provider of exemplars, if not through regular and intensive involvement in the actual production work). As a result, they are indeed remarkable in the degree to which they agree and the quality of the readings. Still, the vast majority of the first section of this part of the website, as well as the other parts of this section are dedicated to exemplifying contexts in which the notation of the surviving sources is intrinsically lacking in detail, inconsistent in its application and use, or requiring adjustment or the breaking of the notational rules in order to make sense.

While such problems are by no means unique to them, the monophonic Virelais are a useful group to look at here as they tend to be simpler and more regular (making it easier to reconstruct the original intention), and use a relatively narrow range of notational tools. On numerous occasions, it is possible to identify places where division dots are missing (one such case is discussed here), or the different perfection and imperfection rules are miss-handled, resulting in impossible or highly unlikely readings. Still, what counts as an unlikely reading in this context is often found as a supposedly intentional effect in polyphonic works. Indeed, Schrade’s edition was criticized for ironing out many syncopations which are notated consistently in all surviving versions. Strophe X of L12/17 is an interesting example here, as a notationally strict transcription of appears in the sources yields the following, rather unlikely melodic line:

Score     ¦     Facsimile

In the indicated polyphonic realisation of this line, though, the syncopation makes complete sense. They give the dense polyphonic texture a rhythmic vitality, as the syncopated passage (repeated further on in the strophe) passes from voice to voice, each time supported by more regular rhythms performed by the other singers.


While Ludwig’s edition presented the rhythms given here (he seemed to have had a change of heart about the interpretation of such combination at some point during his work), Schrade adjusted his reading of the notation, and interpreted the notation against the strict rules. The result is less satisfactory, both rhythmically and harmonically, as now the dissonances appear starker.


In the edition, we have generally tried to follow the notation as strictly as makes sense (explaining departures in the critical apparatus when they appear), but with some important caveats. In attempting to convey meaning, medieval scribes had other tools to make their intentions clear, some of which were so visually clear they could easily overrule the strict notational rules. This may seem strange to the modern reader, used as we are to the assignation of absolute single meanings for each sign that we see. In modern practice, each sign can be interpreted independently of context. Technically, we have to look ahead in our music only when approaching a page turn. Otherwise it is done only for expressive purposes. For performers using medieval notational habits where single signs can have a range of meanings according to their surroundings, looking ahead and reacting to larger visual formulae was an essential part of music reading. It was unavoidable in a much earlier stage of preoccupation with a given piece, a long time before one reached confident, expressive performance.

For example, the use of a relatively long rhythmic unit followed by one or more dashes (even if they are sometimes indistinguishable form brevis or longa rests) would have given manuscript readers the immediate visual queue for an important ending, probably of a form-part or even the work as a whole. The expectation for such a cadential point to be placed at the beginning of a mensural unit rather than one minim before or after it (in modern term, at the beginning of a bar rather than an eighth note earlier or later) could easily trump the application of strict perfection rules. The most important of these tools is the spacing and grouping of notes, and their relationship with the underlaid text. Once more, the visual queue removes the need for close observance of the rules. With a combination of spacing and the likelihood of the positioning of new syllables, the visual arrangement can easily show whether to imperfect a semibrevis or not, regardless of the appearance of a dot, or whether it is followed by a string of five, six, seven, eight, nine or more minime.

The less than systematic nature of such habits can make the modern reader rather uneasy. Nevertheless, there is little point in attempting to interpret medieval materials using a different attitude to rules and conventions than did those who originally wrote and read them. While the musical notation used in Machaut’s complete-works collections is to an overwhelming degree exact, this precision cannot rely on the abstract rules of notation alone. Our difficulties in understanding it is due to our loss of cultural knowledge (and the odd mistake) rather than to an inbuilt deficiency in its use. That different sources present different readings does not invalidate this point. Such differences can be understood as mistakes or caused by other problems in the transmission of materials and their interpretation by scribes, but as a result of the flexibility of the music. We have no guaranty that the same musical result was meant in all surviving versions (on the contrary, large-scale changes in setting makes this expectation untenable), or that there ever was an identifiable, singe, ‘correct’ sounding result to which all copyist – and by extension, audiences – aspired to. As is often the case with medieval music, we are force to transcribe, analyse and interpret it through a prism that cannot be entirely regulated any set of axioms. As researchers and performers alike, our task is not only to make sure we are looking through it in the right direction, but that our very prism is configured in the most conscious, responsible, knowledgeable and constructive way.


Uri Smilansky

iii. Musica Ficta 2 – Editorial additions: Understanding Melody and Harmony

The following method identifies different reasons for adding ficta, then different contexts in which its application is required, and finally some techniques of dealing with written in accidentals. It is highly personal and builds on my perception of the way fourteenth-century French music ‘works’, based on my experience as both musicologist and performer. It is not therefore presented as ‘truth’, an editorial consensus as to how ficta should be added, or even as an explanation for the way inflections were suggested in the edition.

Competing and contrasting systems of understanding, interpreting and manipulating the organization of pitch in late medieval music created a semantic mine-field when discussing this topic. Terms all too easily drag with them unhelpful connotations arising from modern usage, which can sometimes muddy rather than support discourse. It will, therefore, be necessary for me to start with a clarification of how I approach and use some common terms before broaching the subject itself. For clarity’s sake, therefore, I would like to recommend this section to be read in order rather than delved into sporadically. First come some thoughts regarding my understanding of the language of ‘modality’ in the context of (mostly secular) fourteenth-century composition and consumption of music. Following on from this, a few words are required on the medieval cadence. Now comes the main section of the discussion, presenting my personal guidelines for the addition of ficta. At the discussion's end, a single work was taken as a comparative case study where different applications of ficta, their reasoning and sounding effects are briefly analysed.

As a reading will make clear, entertaining the attitudes presented here very much problematises the role of the editor in suggesting ficta. My emphasis on interpretation, personal internalization and flexibility contrasts with the expected editorial requirement for authority, objectivity, faithful representation of original intention, and the presentation of a single ‘best’ solution. I have therefore moved some steps away from the traditional editorial role, and intentionally presented multiple versions with multiple explanations. It is clear that such an approach is not viable for the printed editions to which this entire discussion serves as a footnote.

The volumes dedicated to Machaut’s music include their own introductory explanation of signification and procedure relating to the addition of ficta. This was not possible in the volumes where literature takes centre stage but which nonetheless contain some music. In these, the following guidelines were adopted for presenting the original text:

  • Those accidental written into the staves are all and only those which appear in the MS A, matching its use as the basis of the current edition as a whole.
  • The horizontal locations of accidentals were modernized, so as to appear immediately before the notes affected.

In some cases, an inflection can appear quite a few notes before its audible effect becomes apparent. In some special cases, accidentals appear immediately after a note. When this happens it is commented upon in the critical apparatus. This procedure, of course, entails some interpretation, as it is not always clear which space the written in accidentals refer to, or whether they should be read as local inflections or a change of signature hexachord-constellation and thus the modal ‘field’.

As the introduction to the volume explains, a decision was made not to take into account or present accidentals appearing in other manuscripts when adding editorial ficta to the music integrated into the text of Fortune’s Remedy. All editorial accidentals found in that volume, are, therefore, part of my suggestion for an at least partial performance-oriented solution. The ficta suggestions offered above the staff tend to remain within (but are not exclusive to) the realm of the ‘automatic pilot’ additions described here. More contentious, personal-taste-based additions are all placed in parentheses. These include those inflections that may require additional thought, awareness or decision-making, inflections “missing” in written out repetitions, or locations where fluidity and variety might be considered appealing. Within each group, no differentiation is offered for the reasoning behind the suggestion. This, hopefully, can be deduced by a reader who is familiar with my approach.

As I attempted to refrain from editorial over-involvement or over-interpretation, and avoided the formulation of hard and fast rules for the addition of ficta, it should not come as a surprise that my suggestions are not always consequent, and can be considered incomplete by some and overly intrusive by others. I will consider this approach the most successful if it encourages users of this edition to consider and formulate their own thought-out and historically informed taste and ficta-adding procedures, allowing them to ignore my editorial suggestions altogether.


Uri Smilansky

1. The language of 'Modality'

I use ‘modality’ here as a useful alternative to ‘tonality’, even though the topic is historically and historiographically much more complex. I use the term to denote the assignation of relative importance to specific locations within the note-field (or collection of pitches) of a piece, marking out central, secondary, peripheral and irrelevant sonorities in the context of a work. Late medieval ‘modality’ in this sense is much more flexible than ‘tonality’ even though by this stage of its development patterns of usage and expectation-based frameworks have been formed. These are referred to as ‘tonal-types’ in the professional literature.

The use of terms such ‘note-field’ is particularly pertinent to medieval theory. The system of musica recta and musica ficta took as its basis the assignation of a finite and specific collection of pitches as conducive to music proper. Originally, these formed two octaves and a sixth, from G an eleventh under middle C to E a tenth above it, using only “white notes” and B-flat in the upper two octaves. During the 14th century this was extended a bit on both sides. The selection was governed through the combination of hexachords, each consisting of six notes maintaining a strict intervallic formula of tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone and identified (in ascending order) by the names ut : re : mi : fa : sol : la. These began on G in three octaves and C and F in two. The G or ‘hard’ hexachord consists of the notes G : A : B-natural : C : D : E, the C hexachord uses C : D : E : F : G : A, and the ‘soft’ F hexachord includes F : G : A : B-flat : C : D. The names derive from the shape – and therefore, quality – of the B in medieval notation in the F and G hexachords (modern notation still represents this difference, with the sign for flat being a rounded miniscule letter ‘b’ and that for sharp and natural deriving from an angular version of the same letter), and the circumvention of the discussion of its characteristics in the C hexachord.

This is not to say that medieval musicians and theorists refused to acknowledge that pitches outside this selection existed. On the contrary: even the sanctified corpus of liturgical chant included pitches not included in this collection, forcing there to be a regulated procedure for exceeding it. What is important here is that the system is conceptually finite rather than open-ended, and that it didn’t include octave-correspondence. Combining the first appearance of each kind of hexachord – G/C/F – into a ‘note-field’ for a song would result in the inclusion of B-natural in the lower octave and a B-flat in the upper. When a B-flat under middle C is signaled in the signature, this is generally what is meant, not that all B in all octaves should be lowered. While inflecting the lower octave may prove to be necessary, it cannot be taken for granted. I would suggest that at this time and place in music history, signature accidentals offer a voice-specific indication of the specific combination of hexachord used in a certain part of a piece rather than offering a notion of a ‘key’. While many ficta “corrections” are likely to result (see discussion of harmonic considerations below), it is possible for voices to share a range, but operate within separate overall ‘note-field’ systems. Within one song, one voice can incorporate B-flat into its basic system, cancelling it when necessary, while another can have a B-natural in its basic constellation, flattening it when appropriate.

In order to generate notes other than those on the Guidonian hand, all that had to be done is to construct hexachords on locations other than F, G and C. As the intervallic relationship within any hexachord has to remain stable, starting a hexachord on D requires the use of an F-sharp and B-natural above it. Similarly, starting one on B-flat implies a later use of E-flat a fourth above. For clarity’s sake, each new note-name is defined in relation to the hexachord for which it is the only addition to name is affiliated with hexachord within which it is the single new deviation from the already familiar note-field. Thus, E hexachords are affiliated with the ‘creation’ of G-sharp, even though it requires also the use of F-sharp (more simply derived by a D hexachord) and C-sharp (more simply derived by starting a hexachord on A). As a notated G-sharp implies an operational E hexachord, it is highly likely that such a sign would automatically suggest also the use of F-sharp and perhaps C-sharp if they appear in the close vicinity. The newly manufactured note-name always occupies the third degree of the hexachord (mi) when sharpening and the fourth degree (fa) when flattening, this being the only location on the hexachord where consecutive notes are a semitone rather than a tone apart. The names of the signs used to indicate sharpening and flattening – fa-sign, mi-sign – were derived from this characteristic. Technically speaking, they mean “perform the note in question as if it was a mi to the note directly above it (or a fa to the note directly below it), that is, only a semitone away from it, rather than a tone, as is the norm”. The separation between notes available by their own right (i.e., appearing on the Guidonian system) and fictitious ones that need to be manufactured out of Guidonian notes in order to exist supplied the tags musica recta for the former and musica ficta for the latter. Strictly speaking, all notated accidentals affecting notes other than B fall into the ficta category as well as the unwritten additions (which affect B as well). While written and unwritten inflections may well require different treatment, it is not obvious the separation between them is as absolute as modern practice suggests. As part of this discussion, I will also mention the possibility of avoiding also of specified inflections.

Hexachord combinations imply certain ‘modal constellations’. Each combination points towards certain sonorities as more or less stable points of arrival. This results in a reduced variety of ‘modalities’ for the composer to interact with and manipulate. ‘Pointing’ occurs according to the ease by which hexachord combinations allow for the formations of cadences in different locations (on the medieval cadence, see here), both in terms of the availability of perfect intervals with which to ‘harmonize’ the point of arrival and the ease by which they allow for strong arrivals. While more details will be given bellow, a few simple examples can illustrate this point.

For a pitch to be considered a good candidate for a strong arrival, it had to be possible to approach it in stepwise motion, using a semitone from one side and a whole tone from the other. C, F and E, for example, form natural candidates for strong arrival-points in a non-inflected context. B-natural is also surrounded by such a constellation, but as the basic system includes F-natural and not F-sharp, it is impossible to harmonize this pitch with a fifth without resorting to ficta. Harmonic considerations, therefore, rule it out as a central point of arrival, at least in polyphonic settings. In a context that incorporates a B-flat, C loses its obvious structural position, and A gains in importance as a potential cadence point. The direct arrival potential to F and E is less affected by the inclusion or otherwise of B-flat, but it does nonetheless make a difference through the availability or otherwise of a pure fifth above the cadence note and the ease with which this fifth can be arrived at. Two more locations were in common use as they harmonize the pure fifth both above and below them regardless of the use of B-natural or B-flat, and require the addition of only one ficta note in their approach. These are G and D, which require the addition of transitory F-sharp and C-sharp respectively.

Some hexachord combinations are more useful than others, and as a result became more popular. This had to do with the musical and stylistic requirement to identify at least two central sonorities as contrasting arrival points in more or less any piece. These are commonly referred to by their French terms, using ouvert for the open-ended cadence and clos for the final sonority. As a result, a manageable number of tonal types gradually came into existence, creating expectations of modal behavior (for an example of an unusual combination and the resulting high level of editorial ficta necessary, see Ma dame ma coungie douné discussed in a different context here). Once a type was chosen, changes in the combination of hexachords, through the use of written in accidentals or the spontaneous addition of ficta, served either to strengthen the preparation and effect of the available central sonorities, or to confound expectations and create a momentary (or indeed, protracted) new modal and hexachordal constellation.

In my opinion, it is not surprising that medieval theorists stuck to debating hexachords when describing ficta. After all, hexachords were part of the basic musical terminology learned by schoolboys learning to pray, and had the specific relevance as the explanation for the difference in use and sound of B-natural and B-flat. Furthermore, the same terms were used by the same theorists also in describing the basic modal theory as applicable to chant and liturgical use. In that context, accidentals which exceed the strict application of the eight Church Modes (and their in-built, unwritten instruction for Psalm-singing) are usually viewed as problem to be solved rather than an inherent flexibility in the system to be used for expressive purposes. Furthermore, most theoretical teachings present the basic, systemic form of musical theory, and are geared towards offering an access point to the abstractions of the musical world rather than towards practical music-making by hardened professionals.

It is important to note that while joint origins and terminology result in a degree of overlap, my application of ‘modality’ in the context of newly composed music of the middle and late fourteenth century differs from the kind of modality inherent in the system of the Church Modes. Still, I would imagine that in practice, musicians were not likely to have been over technical in this context. A D-centered ballade, for example, would more likely be referred to as operating within a (perhaps extended) D-Dorian world, even if it included C-sharp and G-sharp which are not a part of the Church Mode of that name. The alternative, describing it as a D-based work using a combination of Hard-Natural-Soft-Natural-Hard hexachords with the odd transition to hexachords beginning on A-la-mi, E-la-mi and a-la-mi-re, would perhaps be technically accurate but rather cumbersome and unhelpful.

I also find it unsurprising that direct chromatic transitions were not allowed by the theorists (with the notable exception of Marchetto da Padova, who asserts it should be applied for harmonic reasons in the Italian style of the time). After all, this prohibition routinely appears as part of the basic teaching of the liturgical system of music, and not as a stylistic guideline for newly composed materials. As newly composed works incorporate passages which anyway go against the grain of the basic hexachordal and modal system, and which offer unusual interpretational problems to the performer, the possibility of direct chromaticism does not seem to me entirely out of the question (see further discussions here and here). As far as I am concerned, a practiced user can manipulate hexachord syllables to understand and perform any melodic combination which is useful within a medieval context. As learning hexachords and mutating between them was the first step in musical education for centuries, all educated medieval performers would fall into this category. Mutating between hexachords is, of course, easier with some melodies than with others. Some progressions fit more naturally with the character of the system, while less usual ones require a higher degree of forethought and planning. Just as with the accommodation of unusual harmonies within later tonal thought, none can be ruled out as impossible. In this context, it would only be natural for beginners to follow theorists’ advice and stick to one hexachord for as long as possible, but I see no reason to assume the same attitude was maintained by, let’s say, a practiced contratenorista.


Uri Smilansky

2. The medieval cadence

Late-medieval cadences can be defined as a strong step-wise arrival at a stable sonority using a semitone in one direction and a whole tone in the other. In monophonic works, this dictates the available pitches surrounding points of arrival. In a polyphonic context this translates into minor thirds collapsing into a unison and major sixth opening into an octave. Both arrivals are often ornamented by combining the note of the ascending voice with the adjacent note below it, arriving at the final sonority via a melodic jump of a third. In a monophonic context it is not essential to reach both sides of the main note to create a cadence. In a polyphonic context, a full, complete cadence has the tenor descending towards the final and the cantus ascending towards the octave above. If a contratenor is present, it would ascend (stepwise) towards the fifth in the middle, and a triplum would usually recreate the contratenor progression an octave higher to the fifth above the cantus. There are other techniques of arrival at a perfection (unison, octave, fifth, or a combination of some or both), some of which requiring ficta, but those can be extrapolated from the main formula.

There are two possibilities for placing cadential arrivals: authentic and plagal. Authentic arrivals have the ascending voices move by a semitone and the descending one by a whole tone. Plagal cadences use the opposite combination, with the rising voices moving a tone and the falling one a semitone. By the late fourteenth century, it is very common for final, clos cadences to be authentic, and for intermediate, ouvert cadences to be arrived at using plagal progressions. On top of the structural differentiation, this may suggest that even though both types were considered full cadences, the authentic version was considered stronger than the plagal one. Cadences, though, do not have to be complete or full. Weakened cadences can be constructed in a number of ways, including the displacement of arrival sonority by a rest, introduction of unexpected sonorities, shortened leading sonorities or lack of preparation. Here, only the non-fulfilment of the ficta expectation will be discussed further (see discussion below).


Uri Smilansky

3. Guidelines for the addition of ficta

The decision of whether or not to add ficta, or even whether to follow the written-in accidentals, can range from reconstructing the intuitively obvious to the complex application of external, interpretative agendas. In what follows, I try unravelling the way I approach some of these processes, breaking the procedures down to their basic components, exemplifying them using Machaut’s oeuvre. These thoughts are presented as a practical manual, not for the universal application of ficta, but for obtaining enough initial knowledge and confidence to make decisions and stand by them. Like all such manuals, it only offers a point of departure, or a basis upon which further thought, consideration and fine-tuning should be applied.

I have divided the discussion into two parts. To begin with, the Automatic Pilot section centres on the more technical elements of ficta addition. Such inflections could be added spontaneously in real-time performance without resource to a score. The second part concerns issues which involve a higher degree of interpretation and creativity. These could also be changed within a performance situation, but relate to external reasons for distributing ficta, as well as to contexts where the more basic approach of the first section is not deemed sufficient.


Uri Smilansky

a. The "Automatic pilot"

This part of the discussion focuses mostly on local issues upon which individual performers can make decisions in real-time, without necessarily having to consider a larger context. This is not to say that such additions can be easily regulated, or that performers and scholars agree on how and where they should be found. Indeed, they too are open to interpretation, with different choices having the potential to affect the meaning of a piece. They are separated here as the main reason for inclusion is technical rather overtly interpretative or ideological.

Some additions (or indeed omissions or a decision to refrain from inflecting) rely on modal context. Other additions can be seen as extension of obvious additions and involve the duplication of given accidentals or working back from cadences. Yet other cases involve implied accidentals added to notes close by to written inflections but not directly affected by them. Some additions require taking voice function and polyphonic cadence formulae into consideration. The final two sections involve musical correction and adjustment, one following melodic considerations, the other harmonic ones.


Uri Smilansky

Modal context

Different modal constellations suggest different likelihoods of ficta additions. Make sure you are aware of the central sonorities of the piece, and the melodic approaches to them dictated by the hexachord-signification (modern key-signature). As most additions of ficta destabilise the inflected note in the approach to a more stable one, it is less likely to inflect notes central to a work’s modality. This is especially relevant when other, more auxiliary notes are also available for manipulation. For example, the choice of ficta used in approaches to D will be different if the context is a D-piece or a C-piece, even before considering whether the C-piece has a flat or two in the key signature. The D-piece context is more likely to call for C-sharp emphasizing strong arrivals at the central sonority of the work. In the context of a C-piece, it would be a rather extreme decision to manipulate the pitch of the central sonority of the work, and D arrivals are anyway likely to be part of a softer ouvert progression. Both these considerations would suggest avoiding C-sharp and opting for E-flat instead.

A concrete example can be seen in an extract from L22/16, presented here with no editorial additions.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

This is the first ouvert cadence of the piece, with the written out repetition ending on G. Already here, the question as to whether to add ficta or not can be seen as entirely interpretative, relying on the sensitivities of the performer and the effect he or she are trying to create.

In this extract, for example, it is possible not to add any ficta at the end of this section, thus avoiding drawing attention to the ouvert arrival. Still, as this is the first strophe of the song and its modality is still being established, it may be deemed conducive to aid the ear in orientating towards the main cadential goal at play. The immediate melodic context of this example can accommodate the use of B-natural and G-sharp as strengthening tools for this cadence, especially after the earlier indications to use C-sharp and F-sharp. Other factors, though, may make an interpreter avoid this solution. The extract also contains an indicated B-flat and uses the notated sharps and the leap of a fifth to mark G and D as important modal locations. A larger modal context also shows G as a final arrival point of the musical repetition, making the G-sharp option rather less likely. In this larger context, it can be argued that a plagal progression involving B-flat gives the listener an audio-cue for an ouvert rather than a clos sonority, thus highlighting its structural position.

Once B-flat was opted for, the strength of the audible cue depends on the degree of its application. A number of these possibilities are explored in the examples given below, stretching back to the application of the F-sharp in the second part of the extract. Again, as long as the choices are made within a consistent frame-work and have performative consequences, many different versions are valid.

To complicate things further, a performer with a particularly developed structural sensitivity may look even wider when deciding how to inflect this cadence. A peculiarity of many of Machaut’s Lais sees the last strophe replicating the music of the first strophe but transposed a fifth higher. This is the case in L22/16 from which the extract is taken. Its final combination of ouvert and clos sonorities is therefore E and D respectively, rather than the A and G of the first iteration of the music. Our perhaps overly sensitive performer may decide to hint at this modal transformation by going against the grain of the first strophe and destabilizing the traditional cadential roles in it, reverting back to the B-natural and G-sharp option, or avoiding ficta altogether. While seeming rather analytical to the newcomer, all the options presented above can rely purely on the intuition of a performer acquainted with the work and the style within which it operates. They can, therefore, be said to follow its technical characteristics even when the definitions of what these characteristics are remain rather nebulous.

As this example shows, it is important to remember that the modal constellation can change within a single piece, and that Machaut used this effect within his music. But two more examples are En amer a douce vie (B41, discussed further in the contexts of cadence formulae and harmonic adjustment) which shifts to a flatter modal constellation in its B-part, and De petit po (B18) which begins both form parts in the same modal combination but has a shift towards more flats during the second half of each one of them.

Another element to keep in mind when choosing cadential ficta is the distance of specific accidentals from normal usage. When cadencing on E, for example, an authentic cadence structure would demand F-sharp and D-sharp to be used. D-sharp is a rare beast in the fourteenth century, and its use would need some extreme justification in terms of the immediate context. In the vast majority of cases, the plagal F and D would be more likely candidates for marking a cadence on E, even in pieces where F-sharp are a commonplace occurrence. Similarly, cadences on C will tend to use the authentic B-natural and D rather than the plagal B-flat and D-flat even in works with two flats in the key signature. As a result, I would contend that the choice of where in the Gamut to notate a piece (as well as its transposition if it has multiple versions) affects the likelihood of the addition of different inflections. Two versions of a song, copied once in F with consistent B-flat and once in G with consistent F-sharp are likely to lead to different ficta solutions, even if the notated intervallic and harmonic relationships remain the same in both. The inherent instability of B versus B-flat, for example, may well have led performers of the G copy to construct a plagal cadence to A. Such a progression would have been very unusual when using the F copy, as it would have required the insertion of A-flat as ficta. For a plagal effect in the F version, A would still have been the most likely point of arrival, placing it on the third rather than the second degree of the scale. This state of affairs can be even more confusing to modern readers as the lack of a stable pitch in the Middle Ages could theoretically have resulted in both such potential versions starting on the same sounding frequency.


Uri Smilansky

Duplication of given accidentals and working back from the cadence

Written-in accidentals usually signify a single idea in a specific context. They can, therefore, refer to a single note, or be extended for the duration of a larger melodic or harmonic ‘gesture’. As a result, the duration of the effect of any given sign is unstable, becoming, again, an interpretative matter. It is also possible for a new sign to annul the validity of the previous one, or imply adjacent inflections.

A number of these issues (as well as melodic considerations which will be discussed further on) can be explored in the extract from L22/16 already presented.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

The reader has three notated accidentals for which to decide on length and effect. There is no problem assessing which notes the inflections refer to. The first question to be asked is whether the effect of a sign survives the introduction of a new, to an extent contradictory one. I would suggest this is rather unlikely. In this context, maintaining the C-sharp in the third bar of the extract would either call for the cancellation of the B-flat or for a rather unusual melodic progression (on these, see here). It seems more likely to understand the B-flat as cancelling it. Without the B-flat, a singer seeing only the C-sharp and the following F-sharp may well be tempted to keep the B natural and sharpen also the C in the third bar of this extract. The inflected B-flat does not lead and is not resolved anywhere, suggesting to the reader that the melodic gesture to which it refers can be extended to include the next bar and the B found there. After the directly inflected F-sharp one reaches a crossroad. The next phrase (from bar 5 of the extract on) starts with a melodic gesture linking F and B, finally settling on an open cadence on A. One has to decide on three elements: the relationship of this phrase with the previous one; what to do about the potential melodic tritone, and how strong the cadential arrival at the end of the phrase should be.

As a first, basic solution, it is possible to understand each notated accidental as cancelling the previous one and lasting until the next, or until the end of the phrase. This version would maintain the F-sharp from bar 4 into bar 5, which also resolves the tritone problem. It is common for inflections not to be repeated in tone-repetitions. Indeed, in a culture where obvious inflections do not have to be notated, it would be surprising to find such indications repeated. As the cadence on A is an ouvert, it can be kept weak without much controversy.

Sound and Score

If a stronger cadence is preferred, the B in the penultimate bar can be flattened (it is possible to inflect only the very last of these, but as it is so short, this was not reproduced and recorded especially here).

Sound and Score

One can go even further, flattening also the B a bar earlier, creating a longer sense of cadential progression, as well as a melodic symmetry between the descent from D via B-flat to F-sharp in the first phrase to the corresponding ascent in the second. In this reading, it is possible to think of all the flats as the result of the indicated inflection at the beginning of the extract, regardless of the later introduction of a F-sharp. The two inflections then send ‘mixed cadential messages’ which get resolved only once ouvert / clos structure of the strophe becomes apparent.

Sound and Score

An alternative approach, however, can choose to separates the two text lines, seeing the first group of four bars as an open-ended and un-resolved phrase leading in the direction of G, and the second four as a new, separate phrase preparing an arrival on A. This can, perhaps, be done in the repetition, where a comma marks the transition between the poetic lines. One could then avoid any ficta additions in bar 5 and make a transition from F-sharp to F-natural. To avoid the tritone and mark the shift to A, all the following B are likely to be flattened.

Sound and Score

Melodically this is more controversial, but as the interpretative justification for this procedure is the intentional separation of the two sections, the chromaticism should not be considered a part of a single melodic gesture. Each of these interpretations is technically valid, and makes different demands on the performance of this section. Choosing between them is an interpretative matter which will be discussed further on.


Uri Smilansky

Implied accidentals

The theory behind implied accidentals was already explained above, and involves the understanding of inflections as part of a complete hexachord rather than the manipulation of a single pitch. Most commonly, this involves the mi-re relationship when sharps are added and the fa-ut relationship with flats, but other possibilities exist. In other words, hexachordal thinking would suggest a sharpened note to be approached from below by a whole tone (and not an augmented tone), and a flattened note should be supported by a pure fourth below it (rather than a diminished one).

In practical terms, such occasions appear when a written in inflection is at odds with the key signature, or when the sign clearly applies to a more distant note in the cycle of fifths (which, in the medieval theoretical and tuning system, is not a cycle at all but an open-ended spiral). Thus an ascending stepwise progression with an indicated C-sharp is likely to call for a B-natural, regardless of the key signature, and a G-sharp in a cadential progression to A is likely to call also for the raising of any F that appear as part of it. An example for the latter procedure can be found in the third bar of the cantus of B4 in its MS E version.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The case with flattening is a bit more ambiguous. Hexachordally, a signed E-flat calls for a B-flat below it. The one above it exceeds the limits of the hexachord, and falls, therefore, under a different category (most likely, melodic correction). Here, modal context should also be taken into consideration. When the phrase is directed towards C, a diminished fourth between E-flat and a leading B-natural is not so problematic, perhaps even expected. When the progression leads to D, G or indeed B, it is more likely B-flat will work better.

A case of a likely diminished fourth progression can be seen in the opening gesture of the B-part of the cantus of B22. The melodic leading to C is so strong here that it is likely to keep a B-natural also in the monophonic version of this song, where the cadential support of the other voices is not available.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

For an occasion where a signified E-flat was deemed enough to indicate the final cadence should be placed on B-flat rather than on B-natural can be found in the end of the tenor of B42, even though the melodic progression from one to another is not entirely direct or very quick, and it was felt necessary to specify both high and low B-flat on previous appearances.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

While the hexachordal view is tempting, other readers would consider the same corrections to be pure melodic adjustment. Here the interpretation is both musical and of medieval theory. For more on melodic corrections, see here.


Uri Smilansky

Voice function and polyphonic cadence formulae

To recap, a full, standard polyphonic cadence of the middle and later fourteenth century is basically a three-part affair. It has an ‘authentic’ and a ‘plagal’ version, both witnessing the stepwise expansion of a combined major third and major sixth towards a combined fifth and octave. The authentic form sees the tenor descending by a tone and the cantus and contratenor ascending by a semitone, while the plagal form has the tenor descend by a semitone and the other two voices ascend by a tone. By the later fourteenth century, it is very common for final, clos cadences to be authentic, and for intermediate, ouvert cadences to be arrived at using plagal progressions.

In a two-part setting the contratenor function is removed. In a four-part setting the contratenor progression is doubled by the triplum and octave up, which is the same progression expected for this voice if it rather than a contratenor appears in a three-part setting. Examples of this kind of progression can be seen and heard in many of the extracts presented throughout this section of the website.

As can be surmised from these patterns, it is important to take into consideration both the general function and the local behavior of the voice to which unnotated ficta is being added. In the context of a D piece, for example, arrivals at an A sonority for a cantus and tenor performer are likely to be part on an unstable progression if not the work’s official ouvert sonority. As a result, they may well expect a plagal arrival, and the use of G and B-flat. Within the same piece, contratenor arrivals on A are likely to form part of clos cadences, moving towards the fifth a strong sonority. As such, the expectation for an authentic cadence is strong, which will in turn calls for G-sharp (to match the expected sixth E/C-sharp between tenor and cantus) and perhaps also F-sharp as part of its melodic preparation.

Personally, I recommend keeping both components of cadence structure in mind also in contexts such as this. Even if a B-flat was signified in the key signature, I would suggest a contratenor or triplum arrival to an A via G-sharp as part of a strong D cadence should take B-natural to be part of the same gesture and treat it as part of their cadential ficta. Especially when playing from parts, I would consider melodic cadential progressions such as B-flat : A : G-sharp : A to be very counterintuitive. If the first B-flat is indispensible or notated specifically, this can be a sign that the following G should not be inflected, weakening the approaching cadence. Such effect are treated below, but an interesting cases of such a procedure could be seen in the two three-part versions of R10 found in MS C, or the new contratenor given to R7 in MS E. In R10, the later contratenor added at the bottom of the page follows normal expectations and can easily accommodate a G-sharp as part of the ouvert cadence at the middle of the song (no B play a part in the progression).

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

It is interesting that the original contratenor, which is maintained in the later, four-part version of this song, specifies a B-flat as part of this progression. This surprises the ear and ‘forces’ a weakening of the ouvert cadence, creating the sense that the music has to continue directly into the B-part.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The opposite is found in R7. Here, the original two-part final cadence is a completely standard progression between cantus and tenor. The added contratenor of MS E behaves in the expected contrapuntal manner, but weakens the cadence through the insistence on B-flat and the implied G-natural. This is further highlighted by the likely performance of B-natural and C-sharp in the cantus while the B-flat in the contratenor is sounding.

MS A:   Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

MS E:   Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

 As basic behavioral guidelines, the combination of cadential expectations and common modal frameworks suggest the following patterns:

  • The cantus is likely to add more sharpening ficta in cadential progressions and more flattening ficta in other places.
  • The tenor tends to add relatively few extra inflections, and these tend to be flattening towards open cadence.
  • The contratenor (or triplum) is likely not only to have many additions, but also to use the most varied inflected pitches. Especially common are sharpenings a fourth below (or fifth above) cadential progressions in the cantus.

Even while maintaining the standard contrapuntal cadential relationships, manifestations of full cadences can vary greatly, as melodic elaborations and rhythmic play can cause the actual full leading sonority to be very short. In the following extract, taken from B41, the tenor and contratenor progress in a regular, stable way towards the cadence at its end. The early arrival on the triplum to its leading note and the late, ornamented arrival of the cantus, pepper the progression with some strong dissonances, such as brief sounding E-flat/g/d/f-sharp on the second beat of the second bar.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Still, musicians hearing the progression and seeing the direction of travel of their voice would have no difficulty in adding the necessary F-sharp (and maintaining the B-natural after hearing an E-flat in the tenor) for the full cadence. Looking ahead at the direction of travel is especially pertinent to the medieval context as manuscripts presents the voices separately rather than in score. This also gives yet another reason to have strong expectations for the way your voice is likely to behave in a polyphonic context.

It is not obligatory to create a full cadence at every possible opportunity. Indeed, some works do not use the standard cadential progressions even in their final cadences. Still, when the notes allow, one is perhaps expected to strengthen arrivals at major resting points such as the ends of musical sections, or before a particularly strong cadence within a form part. Allowing for some cadences to remain partial can give different strengths to different arrivals and amount to another tool in a performer’s expressive and structuring arsenal. When doing so, the efficacy of this tool with its strong audible consequences should be kept in mind. There are a number of techniques for weakening cadences. Some involve the substitution of cadence notes with rests, supplying an unexpected sonority in place of the cadential perfection, or using a non-standard melodic progression to get to the cadence note. While present in many of the examples given, these are not relevant to the current discussion. As far as the addition of accidentals and ficta are concerned, weakened cadences involve the avoidance of one or both of the leading tones (semitone progression) presented as part of a full cadence above. At times, weakened cadences are explicitly notated. More often, the lack of notated accidentals in the source leaves the readers with a weak cadence which they can leave as it stands or add ficta in order to strengthen. It is, of course, also possible for ficta additions to weaken a cadence that is notated as a strong one in the source, or to change the strength of arrival between repetitions.

The different options are demonstrated by another extract from B41, taken from two different sources. This is the first ending of the A-part, complete with ouvert cadence on D (in the context of a C piece), and has four cadential progressions. These point towards the beginning of bars 8, 10, 11 and 12 of the song. The progressions towards b. 8 and 11 fulfill the melodic criteria for full cadences (even though the triplum avoids the cadence note in b. 8). The progression to b. 10 is more complex. It can be read either as a C cadence in which the tenor and contratenor swap voices and the triplum avoids its standard progression, or as a combination of two duets, the cantus and contratenor leading towards C and the triplum and tenor towards G with both higher voices avoiding melodic fulfillment through the insertion of a rest (triplum) or an unexpected sonority (G rather than C in the cantus). The ouvert arrival sees a normal progression (even if very quick) in the tenor and contratenor, but with the cantus doubling the contratenor and the triplum taking on the traditional cantus final note D, but avoiding the melodic progression via C.  This phrase allows for varied decisions to be taken about the required strength of these cadences.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The version in MS A does not have flats in the key-signature. Instead, the first B7 in the cantus explicitly weakens the first cadential progression, even though both contratenor and triplum are instructed to create the lower leading tone by performing F-sharp. It seems clear that the triplum should raise also the second F of the bar, as it is also part of the leading figure to G. The cantus’ return to B-natural in b. 9 strengthens the pull towards C, matching the F-sharp in the tenor and emphasizing the surprising transition to G instead. Its repetition in the next bar is then fulfilled with the arrival on C at the beginning 11. As this is so close to the ouvert ending, I have decided to weaken this cadence, maintain F-natural in the triplum and contratenor and leave it with only one (upper) leading tone. The cantus’ signaled B-flat in this bar leads to the final A sonority of the ouvert and should be repeated a couple of notes later. Here again I kept the cadence week (as suggested by its extreme brevity of its rhythmic preparation), and avoided the possibility of adding an E-flat in the tenor. The structural clarity of final cadences of the different form parts is usually clear enough also when weakened, and doing so can help bind together  sections that are very often syntactically connected.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The version in MS C has a B-flat in the signature of the cantus. In this case, it is rather tempting to fulfill the cadential expectation in b. 8 and add a B-natural as ficta. Its return to B-flat for the rest of the extract points more clearly towards its eventual arrival on the ouvert A, muddying the cadential progression to b. 10 and weakening further that of b. 11. As compensation, I added the E-flat in the progression to b. 12, making the final cadence of the section stand out from all the previously unfulfilled cadences.

Together, these two extracts demonstrate the five sonority possibilities of cadential progression: full authentic cadence (double leading tone); full plagal cadence (lower leading tone); two single leading tone cadences (upper only and middle only); and no leading tone.


Uri Smilansky

Melodic correction

Melodic corrections deal with the appearance of augmented and diminished intervals in both direct progression and as part of a melodic gesture. This is not to say that all such intervals should be eliminated, that composers didn’t use them intentionally, or even that ficta additions cannot create more of them. The following extract is perhaps an extreme case of explicitly notated augmentations and diminutions, but is by no means unique.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

Here we find direct B-flat : C-sharp progressions, and melodic contours filling in the diminished fourth C-sharp : F, augmented fourth B-flat : E and the diminished fifth G : C-sharp. Any editorial attempt at smoothing over the melodic tritones through the introduction of G-sharp or E-flat only serves to create new ones between the inflected pitches and D and A respectively. While many of these accidentals are not reproduced in the other concordances of this work, it seems that at least for the person responsible for the version of MS A, these difficult progressions were an integral part of the expression of this part of the work.

In a polyphonic context, melodic augmentation and diminution are particularly common in contratenor and triplum cadential progressions. The final cadence of the later, four-part version of R10 includes both cases, with an ascent from C to F-sharp in the triplum mirrored by a similar descent in the contratenor. If the inflections were not specifically indicated, they would surely have been added anyway by the performer.  

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Some corrections are rather straightforward. The following extract traces an exposed tritone which is rendered even more surprising by both stable sonorities that follow it.

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I would think it would be a natural reflex to add ficta here, eliminating the augmented interval and pointing downwards towards both D and G.

Sound and Score

It does not matter that the final cadence of this strophe, and indeed the piece as a whole, is also located on D but surrounds it with E-natural and C-sharp.

Other places, such as the following extract, are more ambiguous.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The progression here seems to point clearly towards A. Without additional ficta, the B-natural in bar 52 stands out as going against this direction. The highpoint E even in this reading still grates against the signed B-flat at its beginning.

Sound and Score

If one reproduces the B-flat in bar 3, this becomes even more pronounced.

Sound and Score

Softening this outline by flattening the E is also problematic, as this creates a diminished fifth between the new E-flat and the A goal at the end of the phrase. In such cases I would privilege the interval created with the more stable pitches (A and E) and allow a ‘bad’ interval between one of them and the quick, unstable inflected note (B-flat) which quickly moves on.

This phrase is complicated further, as MSS Vg, B and E as well as the preceding copy of the written out repetition in MS A all indicate to insert a C-sharp at the beginning of bar 52. There is no absolute need to normalize the written out repetitions (see discussion here), but if this reading is adopted, it changes the relationships between the notes in this bar. Now the D sonority gains in importance and A is to a degree sidelined. There is no discussion of adding an E-flat at the high point of the phrase. Still, one has to decide whether to accentuate the pull towards D and away from A by maintaining the C-sharp also in the following descent:     Sound and Score     remain non-committal and cancel all inflections in it:     Sound and Score     or see the C-sharp as a momentary shock to the system which is counter-balanced by an immediate return to the B-flat and the leading towards A:     Sound and Score

This decision may remain a show of local preference, but will perhaps be more convincing if it was made according to an analysis of the text and its structure, or as part of a larger scale construction of musical sentences and points of emphasis. They may seem minute and unimportant in the context of a long Lai, but their accumulated impact can have a major effect on the character of the work as a whole. While the original performers of these works may have dedicated very little thought to such matters, our loss of the intuition they would have used forces us to construct a more artificial solution, or teach ourselves to remain flexible according to the expressive context.


Uri Smilansky

Harmonic adjustment

On top of the harmonic element of cadential progressions, harmonic adjustments work in much the same way as melodic ones, but in the realm of the vertical interaction between the voices rather than horizontal logic. Here too it is helpful to remember the medieval habit of notation in parts rather than in score. It is clear that some degree of forward planning and pre-preparation was important for any performance just as it still is today, and that this resulted in each performer having a good idea of what is about to happen next at any given point. Still, this notational characteristic has implications on the way music is learned and memorized, and suggests a culture in which the reaction to what has just been heard within the ensemble is more common than adaptations to what may or may not happen in another voice in the future.

As with the melodic corrections, some adjustments are straightforward.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

In this extract, the triplum has ample time to realize the contratenor is holding a protracted F-sharp to make sure its passing note chimes with its surroundings, even though there is no melodic reason for the addition. At other times, the immediate preceding information should be ignored in favor of a larger picture, or indeed, the melodic pattern.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

In this extract, a sensitive tenorista may notice the contratenor’s B-natural in bar 45 – which suggests a progression towards C – and would be tempted to keep his or her following B at the beginning of bar 46 natural as well. This, though, will clash with both cantus and triplum, create a tritone leap (or snowballing ficta), and a rather less likely plagal cadence at the end of the piece. Flattening the B solves all these problems, and is melodically more satisfactory. As explained when previously looking at this section, it can also be seen as implied by the preceding E-flat.

Judging whether to follow audio cues or ignore them can be a delicate task. When no obvious correction is required or an internal logic can be found for the reading adopted, I would recommend privileging individuality and melodic considerations over score-based adaptations. Again, this can be seen part of the medieval musical set-up. As the materials available to a performer were more likely to be linear than horizontal (be that in each performer’s memory or on the page), melodic consideration seem likely to carry more weight than harmonic ones. In many cases, following a sufficiently strong and clearly oriented melodic ficta logic leads also to satisfactory harmonic results, with any resulting clashes resolving themselves in an understandable manner. 

Such an example can be seen in the extract from B41 already discussed for its dissonant nature.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The clear cadential progression to C in all voices would guide the ear through the strong dissonances of bar 22. These include the simultaneous transition from E-natural to F-sharp in the triplum and from F-natural to E-flat in the tenor, as well as the rather long tritones between the C-natural of the cantus and the F-sharp of the contratenor and triplum. Similar progressions can include direct augmented unisons or octaves between the descending tenor and the voice or voices ascending towards the fifth. In this instance, such a clash is only avoided by the unusually long leading tone of the triplum. A more regular approach (three dotted quarter-notes using the same pitches) would also have been acceptable here, resulting in a protracted E-flat/E-natural clash with the tenor.

A sub-set of adjustments which depend on reactions to harmonic context involve the choice between different setting-sizes or voice-identities for a single work. It is clear that as audio queues are newly given, changed or omitted, the behavior of the stable voices can also be altered. Specific examples are discussed also in the section dedicated to these changes, as well as in relation to motivic addition of ficta, and voice function and cadential progressions.  


Uri Smilansky

b. Interpretation and creativity

This section spotlights changes in ficta that do not rely on the application of theoretically codified concepts to purely musical analysis of the works in question. Instead, it presents changes that amplify existing tendencies in the music or are inserted due to other expressive or technical parameters such as the work’s text, or the instrumentation chosen for its execution. As much of the theoretical codification work is retrospective (both in terms of medieval theorists trying to regulate usage and modern researchers attempting to reconstruct it), this kind of approach can be seen as central to the original attitudes of musicians to their materials. It can even be argued that practical medieval musicians were likely also to approach all the more technical aspects of ficta adding presented above as amplification or a full reading of their given materials, which are inevitably reliant on external forces such as a performance’s context and function.

The section is divided further to discuss inflection designed to support and amplify effects already present in the music, ficta additions reliant on textual links or the need for variety, the treatment of intentionally difficult passages, inflections justified only by personal taste (which I named "Because I like it"), and finally, ones that appear following various technical issues.


Uri Smilansky

Support and amplification

This refers to the tendency to heighten or give extra importance to elements already found in the music, or to apply formulaic tendencies also when the immediate context is not clear enough to trigger an automatic response. Such additions usually involve commonplace inflections, rarely exceeding B-flat, E-flat, F-sharp, C-sharp and the cancelation of written in inflections, be they part of a key signature or within the musical text. They occur when these notes participate in clear directional gestures, mark a high or low point of a phrase, or are incorporated into a gesture that is repeated often enough to gain the status of a structuring motif.

Within melodic direct gestures, additions tend to be made when the unstable notes in question are adjacent to the melodic goal. The tendency is to support the direction of travel and sharpen notes in an ascents while flatten notes in a descent. In an extract from L22-16 already discussed, such a progression was presented even though the added ficta went against the direction implied by the written in accidental. This addition would have been likely even if neither the written in inflections appeared.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

At melodic turning points the additions tend to work the other way round. Here the notes in question (B, E, F and C) are sharpened or flattened contrary to the direction of travel by which they are arrived at, and are made to become closer to the preceding note. The end of an ascent is thus marked by a flat and the end of a descent with a sharp. These gestures can have the inflected note as an end point (more commonly, the end of a descent), and do not have to include a melodic counter-movement. We have encountered cases in which such behavior was specified, or implied by the intervallic contour.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

In the first example, the long F in bar 13 of this extract, appearing as it does after a long descent and at the end of a structural unit (text line) was likely to be inflected anyway, even without Machaut’s intervention. This was, perhaps, done as an aid to the performer after the proliferation of other accidentals (and the various decisions they called upon him or her to take) in the few bars preceding this note. The inflection of the B in bar 15 can also be presented in terms of a melodic turning point, and without recourse to an even larger context. This is true also of the E in the second example, which may have been lowered anyway, even if the previous bar had begun with a B-natural rather than a B-flat.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that these are but tendencies and not rules or general guidelines. Over-application is likely to deflate their effect and meaning. From a modern performance point of view, this is especially pertinent for dealing with melodic turning points, as our ears are familiar with similar, later tendencies such as the fa super la rule in the Renaissance. Using too much such ficta can, therefore, easily become an anachronistic habit.

A case of motivic ficta addition can be seen in the version of R10 containing the second contratenor added to MS C at some point after its completion.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Here, the written in chromaticism in the new contratenor at bar 33 suggests the cantus should join in with a cadential progression towards F, and therefore move swiftly from the E-flat at the beginning of the bar to E-natural on its second beat. The uniqueness of this progression could be taken as a defining characteristic of this version, and therefore could be reproduced in another two locations where strictly speaking that contrapuntal structure can accommodate equivalent candential progressions. This happens in bars 6-7 with the potential quick transition from F to F-sharp in the cantus and in bars 22-3 where the same pitches as in the later cadence are used. Such decision turns unusual behavior into a structuring motif highlighting the beginning of the work and the end of both its form parts. Without the unusual melodic transition in the contratenor as an initial spur, such additions would be rather unlikely (and, indeed, are not made in the other two versions of this song).


Uri Smilansky

Textual links and variety

On a few occasions already, different solutions were offered for a single passage. There is no obligation to choose one option and commit to it in every performance and every repetition. In some circumstances, variety can be valued for its own sake, allowing performer to change between (considered) solutions within a single performance or between them. There are many occasions where written out repetitions carry different accidentals, and while this doesn’t necessarily mean the intention was for the same line to sound differently, one cannot rule this out. As editors though, we are obliged to raise awareness of such difference, and suggest (at least in parentheses) standardization.

Perhaps the best justification for change between repetitions is the possibility to look for a new text/music relationship in each one. As was discussed with regards to an extract from L22-16, different ficta choices can follow differences in syntactical groupings when the music is repeated with a different text. Strength of cadences can also be affected by the need to give more or less importance to the word or phrase which underlays it; important words can at times be signalled out by one-off inflections, and mood can be created by manipulating the modal clarity or changing its characteristics. Without specific relevance to the text this kind of use of ficta can quickly descend towards the gimmicky. With it, it can sensitively enhance expression.

While planning these changes, it is once more essential not to fall into the trap of anachronism. For example, it is worth keeping in mind that word-painting is not a common concept in medieval musical expression. While some songs with naturalistic imitation were evidently very popular, this is not the all encompassing characteristic of style we are used to from later periods. Another important element is the modern tendency towards a reflexive association of flats with sadness and sharps with happiness. This is often then carried forward into the interpretation of ‘major’ and ‘minor’ sonorities. This, again, is not part of the medieval thought-pattern, and should not be taken as stylistic and expressive shorthand. It is more common to attract attention to words or lines through unusual phenomena or the degree of understandability of the text. The former technique is more relevant for the use of ficta, as both an unexpected inflection and a heightened sense of resolution after less surprising additions draw attention to these locations within a larger context.

The opposite procedure, of explaining unusual origianl ficta through a consideration of the text which is appended to the notes it affects, is considered further in some of the discussions of motets. With their coupling of a single text with a through-composed melody, this genre can perhaps be seen as a natural home for such interpretations. See discussion of M1 here, or of M3, M18 and M5 here.

Another instance from L16-22 is discussed immediately below as text amplification is used to work through an intentionally difficult passage.


Uri Smilansky

Intentionally difficult passages

Many works include passages which cannot be ironed out to conform to normal expectations. Some pieces even take such difficult progressions as central, repeated motifs, making it clear that they are an intentional compositional device, especially as very often it would have been easily to avoid them if the composer so wished. This is especially clear in a monophonic context. In such difficult passages even the most sophisticated of ‘automatic pilots’ may lose its way, and other ways of deciding on a reading and internalizing their meaning has to be found. While being expressive devices not necessarily tied to the use of ficta, they can be affected by the way ficta is applied to them. Finding the “best” solution and sticking to it, even in a relatively straightforward case like the following extract, may again not be the most effective strategy.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

While it might be enough for the performer to know that this is a difficult (and therefore potentially important) location, and to try smooth it over in performance, the ambiguity of the passage can be treated also as an audible effect. As with earlier examples, the choice of ficta in this extract depends on structural interpretation. Furthermore, changing the location of the audible surprise inherent in the notated tension between C-sharp and B-flat can change the importance given to the words which are set to each location. Thus, a performer who wants to separate ‘A cuer pensis’ from ‘Regret et devis’ and stress ‘Regret’ as a central sentiment, can opt for C-natural above the syllable ‘Reg-’.

Sound and Score

 In the repetition though, the list-character of the text may cause a performer to want to keep the two text lines closer, stressing the last word in each. Here, the first C-sharp would anyway mark out ‘esperis’, the inflection could then be maintained also for the next note, smoothing the transition from one line to the next, and the notated B-flat – and the audible surprise maintaining it entails – highlighting the word ‘paradis’.

Sound and Score

Different interpretations, or perhaps the setting of the other two texts to which this music applies, may call for a direct continuity and the avoidance of a sounding surprise. In this case, one option would be to perform all three C’s sharpened and avoid the B-flat altogether.

Sound and Score

A second option would ignore the C-sharp and maintaining the B-flat.

Sound and Score

In the first option, the line is dramatically unified through the juxtaposition of the initial F and the subsequent extended C-sharp and the low point B-natural. The second option is flatter, and perhaps more suitable for a less involved text. In either of these two versions the ambiguity suggested by the notation can perhaps find some other performance-related outlet in the execution of this section.

There are other possibilities, of course, depending on the way previous points of discussion are applied. If, for example, augmented melodic progressions are accepted and new signs are not taken as cancelling old ones, it is possible to maintain C-sharp throughout the extract as well as performing the specified B-flat. In my eyes this is a rather is problematic reading, but under specific circumstances, one that may be allowable for exceptional expressive needs.

IIn the polyphonic context, the temptation for over correction and standardization can be very strong. When making decisions about such problematic cases, one should, again take into consideration their wider context. A number of examples of understandable case of conflicting ficta have already been mentioned in other contexts. As an example of strong structural considerations which affect cases of problematic ficta notation, one can look at b. 119 of M1.  

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The notation indicates the performance f-sharp in the triplum against an F in the tenor. Locally, it is easy to avoid the clash by infecting also the tenor, especially as its next note (after a rest) is a G, and the motetus is holding an A which, together can act as a leading cadential sonority. The generic context, as well as structural elements of this specific work, warns against this option. This motet uses a liturgical melody for its tenor, and as with all such motets, the authority of the chant melody generally meant its pitches should not be manipulated. This piece takes the tension between F and G cadences as a structuring tool which mirror its textual concentration on opposition and duality. This location marks the culmination of this harmonic interplay. Avoiding the clash would, therefore, not only grate on the religious sensitivity prevalent in its original context, but diminish the structural construction and expressive effect of the work as a whole. This work is discussed in much more detail here.


Uri Smilansky

Subtracting ficta

Written in accidentals are obviously part of the medieval text. Still, a number of sections of the first discussion of musica ficta demonstrated how unstable they are between or even within our surviving sources. With many inflections, we cannot be certain as to their link with Machaut’s original intentions. There comes a point, therefore, where we can legitimately inquire as to the extent to which we disregard accidentals provided in the original.

To an extent, this is not such a substantial departure from the procedures described up to now. While adding flats and sharps generally appear on a neutral background, adding naturals imply the avoidance of a given instruction, be that in the context of the duplication of a specific inflection or in the context of a key-signature accidental. Furthermore, one preceding discussion presented the possibility of attaching inflections to specific texts, and changing them (i.e., ignoring given accidentals) when the same music is set to different words. Another signalled the possibility of interpreting intentionally difficult passages as queues to the performer which can, at times, be ironed out (again, through the avoidance of some given signs) in practice. Similar justifications of avoiding specified inflections can be found in other context, such as the intentional weakening of cadences. While a reason should be found, it seems ignoring what is there is not such a controversial possibility after all.

Some would go as far as to say that the actual musical text (itself not immutable, as ornamentation and improvisation habits attest) does not include accidentals at all. Those signs given are then put at the same level of authority as those suggested by editors (which are rarely, if even, universally accepted). They can, therefore, be easily ignored without much worry.

As the effect of accidentals can be so great, and a large degree of consensus between sources still not that uncommon, this seems to me a bit too extreme a view. I see no reason not to include such pitch-changes as part of the medieval composer’s expressive arsenal, even if the performer’s expressive tool-kit includes also the possibility to disregard or alter them.


Uri Smilansky

"Because I like it"

In these various earlier discussions I attempted to detail the conventions and guidelines of ficta addition (and detraction) as I perceive them, some less controversial than others. As I tried to make clear, the ‘rules’ are not clear-cut enough to allow for any kind of consensus regarding this topic, among performers, editors or researchers. As an underlying notion, I would suggest coming up with a version you like is a good point of departure. This though, should not be taken as a relativist whim. Before sole reliance on taste can be taken as an acceptable procedure much aural and aesthetic retraining has to be undertaken. Our inherited habits and instincts can be adjusted according to our best knowledge of a foreign past. When applying this to the issue of ficta, retraining has to be undertaken in a number of different directions:

  • The ear has to be taught to accept, understand and follow a rich and layered alternative to the functional harmonic language most trained, Western musicians are used to
  • The eye has to learn to instinctively recognize and react to the different cadential formulae of each and every voice-function.
  • The brain has to adjust to a more flexible relationship between the written and the performed, and react automatically to the sound constellations central to medieval modality and polyphony but unused since.

In five words: the reformulation of our expectations.

Causa pulchritudinis – ‘inflections for the sake of beauty’ – featured in some of the very earliest medieval discussions of this topic, but this is not an invitation to a free-for-all. Some understand this term to relate only to cadential ficta additions (as opposed to interval correction), but even a wider interpretation cannot operate within a stylistic void. Rather, it is a challenge for us to internalize the music: as we are forced to think, experiment, consider and make decisions over the music, it becomes our own, individualised and personal. Each reader, therefore, would be expected to come with their own version. Whether such a version concurs with others or not is less important, as the goal is not being different. While many versions have the potential to be valid and enjoyable, no music can tolerate every conceivable kind of treatment. For the reader him/herself, any one point of time allows only one reading to feel correct or indeed viable, even if another conclusion is reached the next day.


Uri Smilansky

Technical issues

It is important to remember that ever since the first performances of this music, practical consideration of availability and context played an important part in shaping performances. These include not only the availability of music, but also of personnel and instruments, as well as the goal of the performance and degree of attention given to it by its public.

With specific regards to the discussion of ficta, some instruments have notes which sound substantially better than others, and during playing, some note-combinations are impossible to execute. As with singers, this may be a simple question of a restricted range, but when ficta is introduced (and especially if combined with transposition) problems can become more complicated.

For example, the location of open strings and the techniques for their manipulation can have substantial effects. In an extract from M1, for example, it was deemed conducive to have a Lute playing the triplum part. It also transpired that the whole piece was to be sung a tone down, resulting in a two-flat key signature.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

We have extremely little information concerning the way instruments were set up and tuned in the Middle Ages, but for the particular instrument used, quick E-flat : F transitions are particularly uncomfortable. This was not deemed a problem as virtually all E-flat in the recorded extract (F in the score) were sharpened either explicitly or editorially. The only E-flat to be asked for appears at the very end of the section, where the triplum avoids joining the other two voices in a cadential progression towards E-flat (F in the original), and leads to G (i.e., A in score) instead. While it may have been preferable to hear an E-flat in the triplum as preparation for the tenor’s cadence note, and the only specific musical excuse for raising this note is a rather tenuous attempt to avoid a tritone with the motetus (this note creates a seventh with the tenor anyway, so a dissonance is unavoidable), it was not considered important enough to be worth the technical trouble and its potential implications on sound and line. This is not laziness on the part of the player, just practical thinking. It would have been possible to hide this issue by adding also two F-sharp (inflect the surrounding G in the score) to this bar. This would have strengthened the contrapuntal rift between the triplum and the other two voices at this point, and would preempt the following entry on a strong octave G (notated A). Especially as the recorded extract stopped before this next entrance, this was deemed too strong an intervention.

While opinion about Harp-tuning differ, it is common to tune it in a way mirroring the basic Guidonian hand, i.e. treat it as a diatonic instrument with an additional string for B-flat in all but the lowest octave. Tuning-in accidentals demanded by a specific work’s key signature is not a problem, as long as the signature is stable (hence there being no problem with recording the M1 extract with two flats). Adding to the chosen note-field is more difficult. Some say this was impossible, but at least modern if not historical practice allows the shortening of a string by pressing it firmly against the upper frame of the instrument before plucking it, and maintaining the pressure for as long as the note sounds. This gives the performer greater melodic flexibility, but can change the sound-quality of the notes involved and raises the risk of moving the brae-pins which create the buzzing sound of the instrument. Furthermore, some contexts make this impossible to execute. Reasons for this include the need for both hands to be used for plucking, the appearance of two consecutive but not adjacent notes requiring manipulation, or cases where the string which is to be shortened is already sounding, making the adjustment audible. The latter two elements appear in the extract recorded from Matteo da Perugia’s Se je me plaing for a different discussion.

Sound and Score

The recording only illustrates this song’s A-part, ending with its ouvert cadence. The contratenor’s progression here (played on the Harp) involves a leap from E to a notated A-flat before a resolution to G. To avoid the diminished interval, an editor may well suggest to use E-flat here, especially as it forms part of the cantus progression towards this cadence. Technically, doing this would require the shortening of both the D and the G strings simultaneously in preparation for this passage. Three problems rule out doing this in practice. The distance between the two strings is too great to apply sufficient pressure to both at the same time. The lack of time to transit from pressing one to pressing the other makes it impossible to do so consecutively. The note before this phrase was a D, which is still resonating when the E-flat should be played. Preparing the inflection would, therefore, become audible, either through the application of pressure to a sounding string or through the need to stop the vibration short in order to prepare the next note. The potential ficta E-flat was, therefore, avoided, with the version recorded inflecting only the specified note A-flat.

In all likelihood, regular performing teams would not have had to face many of these problems, as instruments would have been set up specifically to much the needs of one kind of music and a small number of co-performers. Still, as musician travelled often and had to adapt to new, sometimes one-off playing circumstances, such issues could easily have arisen also in the Middle Ages.


Uri Smilansky

4. M11 as comparative case study

Jacques Boogaart is in charge of producing the volume of Machaut motets for our new edition. Explaining the thought-process behind his ficta suggestions for M11 he offered the following explanations:

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Although this seems to be a simple motet, yet it is the one where the scribes disagree most in their ficta prescriptions and where one finds the most mistakes in rhythm. One of the problems in this piece is that repeating motifs require different application of ficta in different context.

First of all the tenor. As a song melody it more or less ‘wants’ C-sharp in ascending and C : B-flat in descent, even though uncertainty remains.

Sound and Score

Whereas all the manuscripts agree in having a mi-sign in b.13 and no signs in the rest of the phrase, this is different at its repeat in bars 91-93. How should one sing bars 14-15: D C-sharp B A or D C B-flat A? At the repeat, all sources have a mi-sign before the C, with MS C and A adding to this another mi-sign before the B. The other sources all indicate B-flat, either as part of their signature (MSS G, B and E) or specifically within the staff (Vg). I have now chosen the version of MS C and A which results in differences between the repetitions; I suggest this can be explained by the text: the sweet lady is hard on the lover, about which he complains and fears to die (the seemingly final cadence in the middle of the piece, bars 46-50) but in the end he obediently accepts her harshness. Still, one could also reason the other way round and sing in the ‘hard’ B (B-natural) the first time round and the ‘soft’ B (B-flat) in the second, justifying this by the readings of MSS Vg and G).

In b. 34 of the tenor most manuscripts have B-flat which should be repeated in b. 46. In b. 53 all sources have B-flat against the F-sharp of the triplum. This could be tried in my opinion; Machaut loves to steer the counterpoint in difficult directions, and the opposition between ‘doleur-plaisir’ in the texts may justify this reading here.

The inflection in bars 81-84 of the motetus was taken as a model for ficta addition in the similar melodic progressions in bar 21 of the motetus and bar 5 of the triplum. Bars 47-48 were treated as a cadential progression, causing the F to be raised. In the following bar, most manuscripts have an E in the triplum, which sounds totally wrong. Only MS G offers a D as an alternative. Personally, I find G to be the most logical and best sounding correction, but as it is not justified by any source, this reading was not adopted in the score. In b. 59 most existing recordings sing B-natural in the tenor and triplum; I stick to the B-flat which appears in the tenor of all the sources and lower the B of the triplum.

A difficult section appears in bars 73-75 of the triplum: to be consistent with the beginning of the piece (b. 21) one should lower the B here, but then a conflict with the E and F-sharp of the tenor and the B of the motetus occurs. Also difficult are b. 91-93: the motetus’ motif occurs often without the need for ficta, but would miss-sound now against the tenor’s C-sharp. It has, therefore, been adapted.

I do certainly not pretend that this is the solution for this work. Several possibilities should be tried out, and I will love to hear the results.”

As a user of the edition, this still does not explain all the editorial suggestions. As the preceding discussions make clear, these may have different reasons, and changes of approach or taste can result in a slightly changed set of ficta additions without necessarily being more or less valid than those provided in Boogaart’s edition.

In preparing the following version, I imagined myself to be an independent user of this edition, without direct access to Boogaart's thoughts apart from the description presented above. Eager to make the music my own, I took on his comments, but adjusted the application of ficta according to my personal aesthetic preferences. 

Sound and Score

The differences in our approach are not large, and much of the work remains the same. Still, some passages are treated differently in the two versions. While allowing unusual sonorities to appear, Boogaart seems more sensitive to vertical alignment. In comparison, I tend to privilege linear melodic progression and allow for more dissonance between the voices. It seems that I tend towards shorter gestures when determining the length of validity of a written sign.

Thus, while Boogaart suggests maintaining the F-sharp throughout the first line of the triplum, joining the three notated accidentals into one musical gesture, I took a narrower approach, seeing the perfection at the beginning of bar 2 as the end of one opening gesture, the second sharp as an open ended gesture that is rendered obsolete by the introduction of a B-flat in bar 5, and only the third F-sharp signalling the beginning of the cadential progression towards bar 10 (and, therefore, applying also to the two F in bar 9). Similarly, I allowed the motetus to lapse back into C-natural already from bar 2 onwards. I was tempted by pre-empting the C-sharp of bar 9 and signalling it already in bar 8 as Boogaart did, since the parallel cadential progression seems so strong here. Still, as I knew the performers involved in the recordings were likely to offer a minimalist interpretation to the effect of the plica attached to the previous note (or, indeed, ignore it completely) I decided to avoid creating a direct tritone leap and make the motetus join the cadence only later, where the infliction is notated in the original. This is not to say that such leaps are out of the question. Indeed, this voice has a notated instance later on in the piece (b. 68-9). For me, it is still a different thing to include such progressions in the music and execute them in performance than to add them more or less spontaneously while reading a fourth leap in your part. As a result, Boogaart’s version of the first 14 seconds or so of this work is smoother and more clearly directional, while mine is less certain, rocking back and forth with only short bursts of directional tension.

The next point to discuss is the correction of bar 48. Here again, correction seems the most likely course, and both Boogaart’s suggestion and the version given by MS G make perfect sense. As the original reading is not dissonant, and can be said to highlight the midpoint of the piece and its textual importance as explained in Boogaart’s commentary above, I asked for the MS A reading to be maintained here. It certainly stands out, which make the choice of whether or not to retain it not between ‘right and wrong’, but between the different techniques and strengths of emphasis in marking this location out.

The section with the most differences between the two versions is the last page of the edition. The same underlying differences cause the divergence, but this time small initial changes cause a snowballing effect which changes a longer section of the work. In order to harmonize bars 70 and 73, Boogaart has to maintain F-sharp and B-natural. To avoid melodic augmentations, this forces the raising of all F and B for bars 70-6 in the triplum, which causes the sharpening also of the F in bar 71 of the motetus. While the F-sharp in the triplum can be explained as protracted cadential preparation and that in the motetus as an elongation of the effect of the previous accidental, it is hard to do so for the next set of ficta suggestions. The B-flat in the triplum in bar 81 are clearly designed to align with the B-flat of the motetus, with the creation of a melodic augmented second deemed a fair price to pay. The situation in bar 89-91 is even more complex. As G-sharp was deemed necessary in the motetus as a counterpart to the C-sharp of the tenor, F-sharp was added as part of the motetus’ approach (b. 90). This led to the addition of F-sharp also to the triplum in bars 89-90, even though there is no melodic or cadential reason to do so.

My version accepts the diminished octaves in bars 70 and 73, removing all the F-sharp from bars 70-76, and B-flat in the triplum (a C-sharp was added to bar 75 of the motetus as part of cadential arrival in the next bar). In bar 81, it was again deemed more natural to keep B-natural as part of a progression to C-sharp, accepting the resulting diminished octave. The retrospective additions in bars 89-91 also become unnecessary if the diminished interval at the end of the section is allowed. Now motetus and triplum behave normally, and it is only the tenor who breaks the mould and creates the problem (to which the listener rather than the editor has now to react). As with bars 73-75 of the triplum, bar 91 of the motetus is allowed to echo the earlier motifs without ficta getting in the way of the repetition.

There are, of course, other options even within the few sections discussed. Some leading to G could be added in the triplum by singing F-sharp in bar 71, or one clash avoided by avoiding F-sharp in both motetus and triplum in bar 90. The result of the comparison, though, is that while choices differ, in practice audience attention is attracted to the same locations even if through different means. The important part is the use of ficta choices in the service of expression, a musical characteristic which includes many other varied parameters. Even when listening to these examples, it soon becomes clear that the overall effect of this motet depends on many more elements than the external interpretation of ficta. Furthermore, the final decision is always a momentary one by the performer of each line, who can overrule any editorial argumentation. As astute listeners would have noticed, the tenor voice executes C-natural and B-flat in both versions of bars 92-93, even though Boogaart’s interpretation follows the manuscript indications more closely and calls for C-sharp and B-natural. As frustrating as this may be to the editor who invested much time and effort in constructing a coherent interpretation of ficta choices, the final responsibility lies with the performer who presents his or her internalized version to the public in real time (or recording).


Uri Smilansky

Cultural Context

No aspect of musical production and dissemination can exist within a void. Machaut’s activities and their resonance were informed and shaped by both general prevailing cultural currents and his more specific circumstances. It would be impossible to trace even the outlines of a complete cultural system here, and it is possible to read most of the discussions presented as touching upon some elements of culturally-specific understanding.

This section takes the notion of cultural context in two different directions. The first looks at some general medieval notions of musical composition (and by implication, performance and consumption), namely techniques of musical structuring and their hierarchical implications. The second concentrates on more individualistic cultural exchange and referencing, zooming in on Machaut’s specific location within a wider cultural sphere and the relationship of his work with those of other practitioners. 


Uri Smilansky

i. Voice Hierarchy and Structure

The genre in which the hierarchic structure of the polyphonic fabric is clearest is certainly the motet. Since its origin in the early thirteenth century, the motet was traditionally constructed departing from a borrowed melody with its words which, rhythmicized in large values, served as its lowest part, the tenor. In most motets this melody was a melismatic fragment from Gregorian chant. Such is also the case with Machaut’s contributions to the genre; in three works only did he use a secular song as basis, thereby following another thirteenth-century tradition which otherwise had no follow-up in the fourteenth. The tenor is not the only borrowed material; also in the upper voices, called motetus and triplum, verbal citations are often found, usually from thirteenth-century songs though normally not together with their melody as in the tenor. All these citations point to the fact that the motet was an intellectual genre: to unravel the deeper meaning of the work one had to recognize the quotations in the first place, next to understand their context and the reason why they were chosen, and thirdly to apprehend how they are used in their new context. Only the literate had the necessary culture to appreciate these references to the past.

Machaut’s works in this genre are transmitted exclusively with their music (with a small exception, his motet about Fortune, M8, which appears in one peripheral source as text only); this is unlike the other lyric genres where usually both versions with and without music appear in the manuscripts. It is an indication that text and music were considered to be inseparable in the motets.

The choice of the melisma that, with its text, was to serve as the tenor depended on the pre-defined subject of the work, usually a problem of some kind. Remarkably, Machaut always found a fitting melisma, having the right words and a melody which permitted the composition of a polyphonic work. This is not as obvious as it may seem: the melisma had to offer possibilities for cadences and certainly for a satisfying closure. Not any melodic fragment will do, and Machaut must have known the Gregorian repertoire extremely well to make the choices we find in his works. Most but not all of his tenors have been identified; of the identified ones it is amazing how well not only the words but also the original context fits the subject and how each melody permitted the composition of an exciting piece of music.

Machaut’s original corpus of motets consisted of a series of 20 pieces, all but one for three voices and probably all finished at a fairly early stage, to which in the late 1350s three four-voice motets were added. Typical is his preference for subjects of courtly love and for the French language whereas his contemporaries more often chose political or ceremonial subjects with texts in Latin. In six of Machaut’s 23 motets, including the late ones, comparable subjects are dealt with, indeed in Latin. In the majority of his works, however, a parallel is drawn between the religious plane of the biblical world evoked by the tenor and the courtly world in the newly composed upper voices which each present the problem in a different manner or from different angles. This parallel can give rise to very different interpretations, depending on how much weight one assigns to each of the two spheres.

M1, Quant en moy/Amour et biauté/Amara valde, was probably meant as an exemplary work: in all but one of the main manuscripts this work is placed first, and in his ordering of his works per genre Machaut always placed a special work in the front position. Its texts as well, namely in the triplum, indicate a beginning. It may therefore serve as an illustration of the hierarchic structure of the motet.  The following discussions do not attempt to offer a complete interpretation of the piece, but rather illustrate selective characteristics of its hierarchical structuring, both as a representative of the motet genre and as relevant to its specific theme.[1]

The discussion is divided up into consideration of the choice and combination of text typifying the motet genre, the process of creating order using different musical parameters, illlustrated using M1, and the structuring use of counterpoint in this piece to highlight the central ideas of its text. Appended to the various explorations of this motet is a short overview of the differences in attitude to structure and hierarchy in the songs compared with the motet genre.

As reading through these discussions will make clear, M1 presents a reflection on the idea of perfection and the difficulty to reach it: perfection as a mensural idea; perfection in the sense of fulfilment as a goal of love and as the acceptation by the beloved; perfection as an ideal of comportment to strive after for a lover who wants to ‘perfect’ himself. This makes M1’s place at the head of the series of motets a well deserved one.

Not in all Machaut’s motets is the hierarchical structure as clear-cut as in M1; often the upper voices are more similar in movement, although the motetus is always slower than the triplum. In M11, the only other motet in which the lover addresses himself directly to his lady and which has a secular song for its tenor, the three voices are closest in movement, suggesting a greater degree of intimacy (this work is taken as a case study for the addition of ficta here). In other works the voices are more divergent, as when the tenor moves in maximodus, the very large values of maximae and longae, e.g. in M3. The prolatio level is the most formulaic and thus the least varied and interesting in rhythm; interesting problems of mensuration occur mainly in the larger values of tempus and modus. In this respect the motets differ from the songs where the modus level is often less important and rhythmic complications are found on the level of tempus and prolatio. M20, built on a rondeau and moving mainly in values of tempus and prolatio, is the exception, with some interesting rhythmic complications on the prolatio level. This work forms the transition between the genres of motet and song; in the earliest manuscript C it closed the series of motets. Interestingly, apart from M1, this motet alone has perfect mensuration overall. Thus in its original concept Machaut’s series of 20 motets began and ended with a motet in exclusively perfect values, suggesting that at least in the motets the traditional qualitative distinction between perfect and imperfect mensuration, whereby imperfect values were felt to need completion, was still in vigour.


Jacques Boogaart

[1] For a more extensive discussion of M1 with sometimes different interpretations and conclusions, see Alice V. Clark, ‘The Motets Read and Heard’, in Deborah McGrady & Jennifer Bain, eds, A Companion to Guillaume de Machaut (Leiden: Brill, 2012), pp. 185-208.


1. Creating a Constellation of Texts

M1 is based on a melisma from a chant belonging to matins of Holy Saturday, the day of expectation before Easter.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

Easter is the most important day in the Christian year, the celebration of the fulfilment of human salvation by Christ’s resurrection. The melisma itself, by its text Amara valde derived from the prophetic books of the Old Testament, points even further, to that ‘great and very bitter’ Day of Judgment that will come, on which the human soul will be accepted or refused by the supreme Judge. Thus the tenor evokes mixed feelings of expectation, joyful in the awaiting of the fulfilment of Easter, fearful when thinking of the final acceptance or refusal on the Day of Judgment. In the French texts of the upper voices the problem is also acceptance or refusal, but now of the lover by his lady.

Motet 1 Texts and Translations

In the motetus the lover vows to love ‘perfectly’ and asks his lady for grace, but on the express condition that it will not impair her honour. Since a lady of honour must never confess her love openly, this implies that the lover will have to wait endlessly for the fulfilment of his love. In the triplum the lover has just fallen in love for the first time and is uncertain about the outcome of his courtship, but also here he is kept waiting and must serve faithfully with only a faint hope of his love being fulfilled in the future. This makes him exclaim, sighing, that ‘amer’ (to love) is ‘amer’ (bitter), a classic wordplay in courtly poetry; the sound and signification of those words correspond with that of the tenor word ‘Amara’ which is so similar in sound to ‘Amare’ (to love). Thus the motet deals not only with the beginning of love but also with its possible outcome, its ‘perfection’. Waiting for fulfilment and striving for perfection are the feelings which the three texts have in common, but in opposed ways, positive and negative, as a fundamental tension.


Jacques Boogaart

2. Ordering through mensuration and range

After the choice of the basic melisma, called the color of the motet, the work was, musically speaking, as yet formless. By the rhythmicization of the color, in this case containing 30 notes, the composer gives a form to his motet; the resulting tenor constitutes ‘its bones’, as the theorist Johannes de Grocheio called it around 1300. On this foundation the upper voices are built.

A clear hierarchy exists in the movement of M1, which is at the same time a historical one. 

The tenor has the largest values, longae and breves, the oldest note types with which the whole development of mensuration began in the organum of the early thirteenth century; this mensuration level is called modus.



The motetus adds semibreves to these, such as appeared in the later thirteenth-century motet on the level of tempus.




The triplum also contains the most recent values of the fourteenth century, the minimae, on the level called prolatio (the motetus, too, has minimae but only six). 



Exceptionally, all the mensuration levels are perfect, i.e. ternary: the longa is worth three breves, the brevis three semibreves and the semibrevis three minimae (usually the mensural levels are mixed, with perfect modus, imperfect tempus and perfect prolatio being the most common combination). In the transcription these values are usually reduced by 4, i.e. the longa is transcribed as a whole note, the brevis as a half note, the semibrevis as a quarter note and the minima as an eighth note.

To make this element easier to follow, the following extract presents a different timbre for each voice, emphasising the tenor and therefore the way the other voices refer to it.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

When the tenor melody has been sung completely, a change in movement takes place: its melody is repeated but thrice as fast. This is the result of the so-called diminution: the original values, longae and breves, are replaced by the next smaller ones, breves and semibreves and thus the tenor’s movement becomes three times quicker.

Typical for motets from this time is their structuring in rhythmically fixed patterns, called taleae which are strictly identical in the tenor, less strictly so in the upper voices; the tendency is that the later motets have more such identical patterns in the upper voices than the earlier ones which may have very little of it. This is usually called isorhythm,[1] and it is found mainly in the larger values and in the hockets (a technique where notes in one part coincide with rests in another and then quickly are exchanged. A relatively slow use of this technique was included in the example above, b. 22-4). Especially in the diminution sections of a motet such hockets and isorhythmic patterns are more frequent. A few motets are pan-isorhythmic or nearly so, i.e. that each talea is isorhythmic in all three voices (M15 and M13 are examples of this development).

In M1 the 30 color notes are divided over six taleae of five notes and two rests each (see first facsimile extract above).

Sound and Socre

Recurring rhythmic patterns in the upper voices do occur, but only when two tenor taleae are combined the isorhythmic construction of the upper voices becomes clear; the audibly most obvious signs of it are the slow hockets mentioned above which appear in the 22nd to 24th measures of each double talea, and marked in the poems by very short verses of two syllables. Thus the motet consists of three double taleae of 36 breves and three diminished ones of 12 breves, adding up to the symbolic number of completeness and stability, 144. These taleae correspond with the strophic form of the upper voice texts. The increase of intensity by the tenor diminution can also be seen in the texts, where, from this point on smaller strophes appear.

In intervallic structure a motet is also hierarchically built, although less strictly so. Generally the tenor proceeds in small intervals like seconds or thirds, with the occasional leap of a fourth or a fifth. In the four motets where a contratenor is added (M5 and 21-23) it stays in the same register and is set in the same large time values as the tenor, but usually has larger intervals and leaps. The motetus sings at a distance of, generally, a fifth above the tenor, but may range from unison to an octave above the tenor. On special occasions, though, it can rise above the triplum or descend below the tenor. The triplum sings mostly at an octave above the tenor but may descend to a fifth or even less above it or rise to an octave plus fifth. Whereas the triplum usually follows the tenor in a gradual melodic movement with only few leaps, the motetus is often the unruly voice, jumping to and fro in very large leaps and register changes, and in some cases causing conflicts.  


Jacques Boogaart

[1] For a qualification and relativation of the term Isorhythm, introduced only at the beginning of the twentieth century, see Margaret Bent, ‘What is Isorhythm?’, in David Cannata [et al.], eds, Quomodo cantabimus canticum? Studies in Honor of Edward H. Roesner. Middleton WI: American Institute of Musicology, 2008: 121-43. 


3. Tension through counterpoint

Exemplary as it is in structure and mensuration, M1 also contains an exemplary contrapuntal problem. In the tenor melisma tension exists between the notes F and G, the basic notes of the soft and hard hexachords.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

They form a polarity which is played out in the course of the motet. Machaut may well have manipulated the melisma a little in order to enhance this opposition since no existing chant source has a melody which is identical to the color of the motet; especially in the middle part, notes 11-20 (talea II), Machaut’s version is rather different and shows more opposition between the soft and the hard hexachord.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

In the undiminished taleae the emphasis on F and G is more or less in balance (F is the final of taleae I and III, G of talea II) but in the diminution section the tension between the two poles becomes stronger by a preference for cadences on G, first in bars 110-4 in the motetus, then in the triplum in bars 118-21. In bar 119 where the tenor cadences on F the triplum even sings a dissonant f-sharp leading to g in the next bar. As a general rule tenors, and especially liturgical tenors, are not to be inflected, so the tenor’s F must stand, against the f-sharp in the triplum. The conclusion is that Machaut deliberately steered the music into a clash at this point, perhaps as a parallel of the word folettement (‘foolishly’) in the text; the word is also highlighted by its ‘wrong’ accentuation ‘fòlettèment’ whereas elsewhere in this motet the text declamation follows the natural accents. The growing tension in the counterpoint between G and F has a meaning for the text but also purely musically it can be explained as a play with two poles of contrapuntal attraction in order to create musical tension. In bars 133-4 the two even succeed each other in parallel octaves. Towards the end of the piece the attraction of G becomes still stronger and from bar 140 the listener expects a final cadence on G, so that the following real cadence on F has the effect of a surprise. Thus in this work there is not, as has been shown for several other of his motets, a gradual reinforcement of the final towards the piece’s ending.On the contrary: the closure on F comes as a surprise. Interpreting the opposition of the soft and hard hexachords as a parallel with the pun amer-amer in the texts, this surprise may well have meant as: in the end the sweet (soft) tastes bitter (hard).


Jacques Boogaart

4. Hierarchical order in the song

Even when songs contain pre-existing materials, these are most commonly reserved for single locations rather than as an underpining device streatching the entire length of the work. As a result, the songs do not have an established melodic basis, internalised by composer, performer and audience upon which to implement the kinds of processes applied to Chant in the motets. Structuring tools such as a degree of isorhythmic behaviour or the use of hockets do sporadically appear in the songs, but in drastically reduced frequency.

Most typically, only one voice carries a text, and textless voices do not offer any kind of implied texts as do the motet tenors. This changes the hierarchical designation of a work’s basis. In the motets, the (unordered) tenor is the only voice which has an independent meaning separate from the others through its performance as chant. In the songs, the only voice with the potential for being appreaciated independently of a polyphonic texture is the texted cantus (there is later evidence of use of some song tenors as dance accompaniment, but in such a functional shift one may ask whether any of the original meaning of the song is transferred onto the melody’s new use).

In this new hierarchical constellation, it does not make sense to order the central voice into a slow moving, regular rhythmic pattern as this would get in the way of the text declamation. Instead, it is the text structure that dictates the form, both in terms of the large-scale combination of repeating form-parts, and the common mirroring of musical phrases with lines of text. These, though, do not prescribe an exact length, as the speed of declamation is not constant, and melismas of different lengths can be inserted, most commonly at the beginning and / or the end of poetical lines.

In polyphonic settings, the second voice in the hierarchy is always the tenor. As with the motets, it tends to move more slowly and regularly than the cantus, and to the most part its total range sits a fifth lower than that of the texted melody. By aligning itself with or subverting the phrase structure and cadence locations of the cantus, it comments on and supports the melody. In providing a harmonic structure it can highlight and weaken points in the melody of the upper voice, bolster the expectations it creates or build surprises undermining the cantus. Whatever the setting, the contrapuntal duet between cantus and tenor has to be correct. Even when the tenor is in the middle of the harmonic texture, the interval between it and the cantus should be consonant. Only on very rare occasions would the tenor and a contratenor swap roles.

The addition of a third voice can involve either a triplum, moving in the same range as the cantus, or a contratenor, sharing the range of the tenor. Earlier three-part settings tend to incorporate a triplum, while the second part of the fourteenth century saw the establishment of the contratenor as the standard third voice. Both these voices can be more flexible in their rhythmic, harmonic and melodic behaviour, and offer a second layer of commentary on the central duo. In such constellations, the tenor tends more often to support the cantus and the third voice to destabilize the structure, but the degree to which each voice sticks to this expectation is one more tool in the composer’s arsenal of individualising a setting. Four-part settings incorporate both contratenor and triplum.

For other typical behaviour patterns of the different voices, see the discussion of their roles in medieval cadence formulae.


Uri Smilansky

ii. Reference and Evolution

Understanding Machaut’s place within a cultural continuum is an extensive and complex task. The discussions here focus on but three aspects of his interrelationships with his surroundings. First, a consideration of the way Machaut made use of his musical and poetic heritage will place his activities within a cultural framework. Following this, I examine the circulation and transformation of his music as it passed outside his control, showing contemporaneous attitudes towards his output. Lastly, other practitioners’ use of Machaut’s output as their own musical and poetic heritage will be examined through tracing Machaut quotations in later music.


Uri Smilansky

1. Machaut’s Heritage

There was a long-standing practice of borrowing within the vernacular lyric tradition of thirteenth-century France, and, for all their innovations, composers of the Ars nova, like poets of the time, continued to infuse their works with citations and allusions. Machaut was no exception, and his fixed-form poetry with and without music, as well as his French motets, illustrate his particular penchant for crafting new material around existing elements.

Tracing citations and allusions across late medieval French lyric poetry and music proves a valuable methodology on a number of counts. Pinpointing borrowings can enlighten us about the compositional process, showing how an author crafted his work around existing elements; it can lend tantalising insights into how poets and composers engaged with works by peers or predecessors, and how they endeavoured to engage their listeners or readers. Sometimes citational relationships throw up surprising results, linking poets or composers from different milieux, or distant in time or geography. This can inform us as to the repertory known and meaningful to individual poets, composers and their audiences at specific times and places. In other words, they can provide clues about transmission and circulation of works, and about their reception. This can be especially valuable where it fills in the gaps of the surviving manuscript sources, which are patchy for the fourteenth century, especially up to and including Machaut’s lifetime.

It is perhaps no surprise that Machaut should have integrated borrowed material within his French motets. The motet was a citational form par excellence, since it was traditionally built upon borrowed material placed in its lowest part (the tenor. For more on the structure and structuring process see here). Usually, this material derived from the chant, but French-texted motets from the thirteenth century were sometimes built on existing rondeaux and often feature myriad quotations of popular lyric tags (‘refrains’) in their upper voices. The tradition of composing motets upon secular monophonic songs lingered on into the fourteenth century. Machaut’s Lasse! Comment oublieray (Motet 16) was apparently devised around a late thirteenth-century chanson de malmariée from the Douce chansonnier (Oxford Bodleian, MS Douce 308), Pourquoy me bat mes maris? (the music of the chanson is not extant). It seems very probable, too, that a borrowed song was the starting point for composition of his Dame, je sui cilz (Motet 11). The tenor part of this work carries the incipit ‘Fins cuer dous’ and is redolent of an early monophonic song although it has not been identified with an extant work.

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

The tonal language of this (presumably borrowed) melody infuses the motet: the upper parts repeatedly echo the characteristic inflected progression heard prominently in its opening phrase, and this reiteration results in a melding of the soundworld of the motet with that of the burgeoning Ars nova polyphonic chanson, which Machaut did so much to develop (for more on this work, see here).

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

Machaut’s ‘fixed-form’ lyrics, notably his ballades, rondeaux and virelais, are especially rife with quotations. Like his motet texts, we find enclosed within them many references to the texts of old songs by the trouvères. His songs, too, exhibit this citational impulse in their texts. It was noticed long ago that Machaut’s early polyphonic ballade Pour ce que tous me chans fais (B12) shares textual material with three other works. Its Refrain text, Se je chans mains que ne sueil, echoes the opening lines of two later thirteenth century works: a motet from the Montpellier codex (Montpellier, Bibliothèque Inter-Universitaire, Section Médecine, H196), and a ballette from the Douce chansonnier. There’s no obvious similarity with the music of the motet to suggest Machaut derived his music from there. The music of the ballette doesn’t survive but it seems likely this was the source of Machaut’s inspiration. First, a considerable number of matches link the repertory of Douce ballettes with motets from the Montpellier codex and with early fourteenth-century songs, suggesting these works, believed to have originated in Metz, were well known in Paris; Machaut himself quotes other items from the Douce collection in a number of other early songs and motets. Second, a canonic chace believed to be by Denis Le Grant, master of the chapel of Charles V (whom Machaut surely knew) evidently lifted the shared line from here, since its own closing line matches the second line of the ballette; using borrowed material to frame a work to give this ‘sandwich’ effect is very typical of 13th-century motets and it can also be witnessed in various kinds of 14th-century songs and lyrics.

Ballette 22 (Douce chansonnier)

Ballade 12, Machaut

Chace, Denis le Grant[?] (Iv)

Se je chans moins ke ne suel,
C’est por ceu c’on ne puist mie
Savoir de coi je me duel
Ne keile est ma malaidie,
Fors celle an cui signorie
J’ai vescut tot mon aei.
Or voille amors que servie
De moi puist estre a son grei.

Que par son tres dous acuel
Et par sa grant cortoixie
M’ont a ceu menei mi eul
Ke mes cuers l’ait ancherie,
Si ke dou tot s’umelie
Mes cors a sa volantei.
[Or voille amors que servie
De moi puist estre a son grei.]

Ja n’an partirai mon vuel
De li servir sans boidie,
Car sa biautei sans orgoil
Me sait espireir aie
Et me destrent et me lie,
Si ke je me rans outrei.
Or voille amors que servie
De moi puist estre a son grei.










Pour ce que tous me chans fais
De dolereus sentement,
Et pour ce que ne chant mais,
Repris sui de meinte gent.
Mais qui vraiement saroit
Ce que mes las cuers reçoit
Pour ma dame au dous accueil
Ja mais ne me blasmeroit
Se je chant mains que ne sueil.

Car pour amer onques mais
Si tres dolereusement
Ne fu nuls amis detrais
Com je sui; car, vraiement,
Langue raconter a droit
Ne cuers penser ne porroit
La dolour que je recueil,
Pour ce m’est vis que j’ay droit,
Se je chant mains que ne sueil.

Mais endurer ce grief fais
Me fait ma dame plaisant,
Quant ne puis, n’en dis n’en fais,
Plaire a son viaire gent.
Ce tient mon cuer si estroit
Qu’assés miex partir vaudroit
En je que vivre en tel dueil.
Dont nuls blasmer ne me doit
Se je chant mains que ne sueil.








Se je chant mais que ne suelh
De la simple sans orguelh
Ou j’ay mis toute ma cure
En yver par la froidure,
C’est pour l’amour des faucons
Que j’ay si biaus e si bons
A voler par la riviere;
Que riens nulle n’ay si chiere
Cume d’aler y sovent
Quant l’air est cler, sans grous vent.
Alons y, compains tres dous,
Les oysiaus sont si de sous;
Ho or tot coy,
Ho, je les voy;
Ho, gités, getés!
Ou vous les perdés!
Huo, huo, houp,
Huo, hou, houp,
Huo, hou, houp,
Hareu! Il s’en va.
Hau, ha hau, ha hau, hau,
Hau, ha hau, ha hau!
[. . .] bon gré Dieu.
Hou, ha hau, ha hau,
Hou, hou, ha hau, ha hau,
Houp, hou, hou, hou!
Levés li!
Hau, ha hau, ha hau, ha ha!
Mort est, or raissons
Nos faucons.
Hau hau, ha ha, hau!
Biaus dous compains, retornons,
Puis qu’a voler ne trovons
[Plus d’oi]siaus en cest pais,
De cues que si avons pris;
Fer[e] a ma dame present.
E se je ne les present
Plus a ma loyal amie,
C’est pour ce que ne puis mie.


 The chace seems also to have drawn on the musical setting of these two borrowed lines. These passages feature long rhythmic durations that are commensurate with an older musical style and they contrast with the lively style of the rest of the chace. The quotation of the Douce ballette, a serious love-lament, was doubtless intended to inject another layer of humour into the playful chace, which goes on to present a remarkable evocation of the sounds of the hunt (not part of the recorded section), which echo through its three voices.

Sound and Score

Machaut, too, perhaps sought to overlay his ostensibly serious lament with a layer of irony by evoking the chace, as well as the older ballette: whereas his own narrator no longer sings because of his lady’s disdain, the narrator of the chace sings less of his sweetheart because he prefers to go hunting when the weather is fine (B12 is discussed in a different context here).

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

Machaut’s game likely also involved summoning to his audience’s minds older works an older tradition of ‘singing less than before’, in particular, the Douce ballette. The suspicion that Machaut knew this old repertory is reinforced by Machaut’s next two musical ballades in the manuscripts: his B13 shares two lines with a rondeau from the Douce chansonnier, while the opening of his B14 echoes that of another ballette. 

Whether musical borrowing were involved in those cases is not clear but it seems likely it was in B15. The textual incipit of B15, Se je me pleing, je n’en puis mais, echoes that of Ballette 185 from the Douce chansonnier (Se je me plain, j’ai bien raison). We might suspect that Machaut also borrowed the Refrain-text of B15, Ma dame m’a congié donné, because this also appears as the Refrain of his ballade without music, Helas! Mon cuer, bien le doy pleindre (Lo111). Moreover, the musical setting of this text in B15 sits rather uncomfortably within the tonal context of the rest of the song. Although Machaut’s Refrain melody elaborates motivic material heard earlier in the song, thus providing a sense of unity, the final cadence onto low G sounds oddly inconclusive and creates an unorthodox tonal mismatch with the clos ending of the first musical section and thereby disrupts our expectations.[1]

Sound and Score    ¦    Facsimile

This subsequent history of quotation involving this song is considered further here.


Yolanda Plumley

[1] More detailed discussion of various of these case studies can be found in Yolanda Plumley, The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut (Oxford University Press, 2013)


2. Reception and Identity of Machaut’s Music

Assessing the wider reception of Machaut’s musical works is a rather problematic task. Not only is the survival of source materials irregular and patchy, with very few French music manuscripts surviving other than Machaut’s own collected works, but a distinction could be made between those who collected and copied this music and the activities of practicing musicians who would have incorporated sections of his oeuvre into their repertoires. While circulation and promulgation patterns of written copies and memorized music may well have intersected on occasion, there was no intrinsic need for them to do so. Still, as the clearest indication of at least some kind of circulation can be drawn from the diffusion of copies of Machaut’s music outside of his immediate surroundings, this evidence will be concentrated upon in the current discussion.

Clearly, knowledge of Machaut’s work can be attested to through other means than the appearance of whole works elsewhere. One such strand of evidence, namely, the practice of quoting his texts, music or both in new setting, is considered in the following discussion.

While new appearances are still being discovered, our current knowledge of musical concordances for Machaut’s works is summarized in the following table. Some of these sources survive in a very fragmentary state, which makes commenting on their contents difficult. Other versions are entirely lost to us today, but are attested to by a surviving original index (trém), a nineteenth-century copy (Str), or a twentieth-century photograph (Maggs)




The circulation of **** out of a sum total of 149 musical works (counting Mass movements individually) may seem like a small percentage, and can be taken as an indication that interest in Machaut’s music was limited outside it’s original context. On the other hand, this would still be the largest body of polyphonic music by any French composer of the fourteenth-century. The lack of other complete-works collections make it impossible to calculate a percentage of works in free circulation for anyone else, and the fact that these **** make a sum totla of **** appearances makes the list even more impressive. Some of the independently circulating songs were integrated in what Reinhard Strohm dubbed the “international repertory”, and are of the most widely copied works in the repertoire.[1] The fact that only three songs are ascribed correctly to Machaut, and that only in a single source is also explicable from context. The source in which these ascriptions appear (Ch) is the only source in this group to regularly ascribe the work of French composers. ModA supplies many ascriptions, but (with one or two exceptions) only to composers of Italian origins. Most other sources in the table above give very few or no ascriptions in the copying layers where Machaut’s works were to be found. The wrong ascription of three of the most popular songs of the time to Machaut in Str may suggest that even when actual knowledge of his compositions was ropey (none of the three works by him in this source are correctly ascribed), the name itself conveyed a sense of respectability and authority. It is as if the compiler of scribe thought to themselves: ‘these songs are so well known and popular, they must be by that Machaut person, him being the most famous composer name that comes to mind’. It may well be that some manuscript compilers were not aware of the authorship of the Machaut songs they possessed, but this does not diminish from the fact of circulation and collection, and the high rate of borrowing and quoting from Machaut's songs suggest an high degree of appreciation of these works even when their author may not have been known.

The question of musical identity was already considered as part of the discussion of alternative scoring withing Machaut’s collected works manuscripts. In that context, the variety of available versions was taken as testimony to the different attitude of our medieval fore-bearers to this issue. Further intensification of this difference results from the clear division between a distant composer and those responsible for the new input found in some of the concordances presented above.

Some scoring decisions were doubtlessly the result of the availability of materials. From the version contained in most copies outside Machaut’s own collections, it seemed clear that R7 had a wider circulation in the three-part version presented in MS E than in the two-part version contained in all the other dedicated Machaut manuscripts. While the division between MS E and the rest may direct us to question whether the new voice is by Machaut or not, a medieval collector presented only with the three-part setting had no reason to doubt its integrity or faithfulness to the composer’s intentions. Other changes, like the reduction of the scoring in the version of B18 found in Pr, may be due to a change in function, or simply the needs of a specific performing ensemble. All the works presented in that collection appear textless and in two voices, suggesting an intentionality behind the pattern.

Other changes may have been accepted as authorial, or, if recognized as new, may have been considered not to interfere with the original work. One such case could be the new contratenor present in the version of B22 is PR, which differs form the one presented in the Machaut manuscripts.




The two voices inhabit the same range and share some behavioral patterns. The only technical reason I can find for the replacement may be the decision to avoid the written in accidentals Machaut’s contratenor contains, but this could have been achieved much more simply by local changes, or by avoiding them while mainaining the original voice contour. Alternatively, perhaps the contratenor part became illegible in a circulating copy and required rewriting without access to an authorial copy. Even more prosaically, a change in personnel within a performing group may have led to a new contratenorista having to supply a voice him/herself without the guidance of their predecessor, with this version eventually being perpetuated in writing. Whatever the history behind it, its inclusion does not overly infringe on the unity and character of the piece.

Yet another group of reworked compositions show a much stronger compositional hand, and therefore, and awareness of the change in character. The versions of the two songs appearing in diminuted intabulations in Fa are so different from their original that it sometimes takes a deep knowledge of the original to even recognize the song model from the new version.




Even with the loss of the text, the reduction to a two-part scoring, the likely change of speed, and the ample ornamentation, there is no indication that the composer of the new version considered his efforts to be more than an adaptation of known works to his immediate needs. The likely function of the works contained in this source as practical, instrumental time-fillers within a liturgical, Italian, fifteenth-century context can explain all these changes without demanding an intentionally subversive or interventionist impulse behind them. The conscious effort to make something new, revise or change the essence of the old songs were probably secondary considerations, if they at all came into the mind of the musician responsible for the arrangement.

In the last example, though, the notion of a new, self-conscious ego operating upon an existing musical artifact is unavoidable. ModA includes two works with the incipit Se vous n’estes. Towards the end of its earlier layer (fol. 34r), the song is copied in two-parts in a secondary position, occupying the last three staves of the page left empty by the anonymous Virelai Je la remire sans mensure. Hidden within the second layer of this source is a single voice with the indication Cont[ra]tenor Se vous nestes par mon guerredonnee (fol. 5v), similarly occupying the last two staves of the page left over by the piece above, this time, the cantus of a Credo setting, most probably by Matteo da Perugia. On grounds both structural and musical, it is generally accepted that this too is by Matteo. Together, the two appearances can combine into a new three-part setting for this song.




It immediately becomes obvious that there was little attempt made to bridge the gap between old and new. Matteo uses extended leaps, chromaticism and augmented melodic progressions typical of his normal style, making no attempt to parody the style of the original song, written more than half a century earlier. He also chose to place his new contratenor below the old tenor rather than the more common procedure of making the two voices share a range, with the tenor occupying more lowest sounding notes than its counterpart. This decision forces the new contratenor to undermine more of the sonorities suggested by the old, structural duo, rather than act as an amplifying harmonic filler as does the MS E contratenor (at least for the most part). The artificiality of the addition is, of course, bolstered by the separate presentation of the contratenor voice. There is no pretense it forms part of an original, unified setting. Matteo takes this point even further by supplying three different ending possibilities for his new voice, presented consecutively in the manuscript. Such a procedure is otherwise unheard of. All three endings are highly unusual and avoid traditional cadence progressions. The first does lead to the standard location of the contratenor, namely the fifth between the structural duo’s octave. It does so, though, via a specifically notated chromatic progression G : G-sharp : A. The second ending option leads to a unison with the tenor and parallel octaves with the cantus, and involves the specified diminished fifth leap G : C-sharp. The last version for the final cadence, which was recorded in the extract above, is perhaps the most controversial. Here the contratenor leaps an octave downwards towards its final note, which is placed a fifth below the tenor. This changes the modal character of the final sonority of the song transferring importance from D to G. This effect echoes the beginning of the song, where the tenor harmonizes the cantus’ initial presentation of D as its modal center with the lower fifth G. In this third option, the new voice begins and ends on the same, extremely low pitch, highlighting further this mirroring effect. For me, the overall effect of Matteo’s contribution is of a subtle construct in which both his and Machaut’s musical identities remain intact and unbending, but are placed in dialogue bridging the decades, stylistic changes and indeed geographic affiliation that separate them.

For another case of the construction of a stylistic gap through Matteo’s use of Machaut’s music, see his quotation technique discussed below.


Uri Smilansky


3. Quoting Machaut

The transmission of Machaut’s songs outside the complete-works manuscript tradition both during and shortly after his lifetime is surprisingly limited. Only 11 of his 122 songs appear in the large repertory manuscripts copied in Europe at the turn of the fifteenth century such as F-Ch, PR, and ModA. And by around 1430 Machaut’s music seems to have disappeared from circulation.[1]

A previous discussion includes a table containing the evidence we have for copies of his works circulating outside his collected works manuscripts. It is noteworthy that with the exception of two attributions in F-Ch (one slightly mangled), his songs circulated anonymously in an age where composer attributions were important. Many composers who are today far less well known than Machaut were named in manuscripts that did not bear an attribution to Machaut. From this we must conclude that his fame did not extend far outside the French royal and ecclesiastical circles that employed him.

Despite the anonymity of the circulation of his songs, there is evidence that his works were known and respected by at least a small number of composers of the next generation. This is revealed by a number of cases in which his texts and music are quoted in later songs. An interesting complex may be highlighted surrounding two Ballades, B15 and B23 (B15 is also discussed in relation to Machaut’s heritage, while B23 appears also as part of the discussions of the new contratenors in MS E, and of rhythmic organization of the modus level).

B15:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

B23:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Matteo da Perugia, a singer at the duomo of Milan in the early fifteenth century and composer of more than 20 surviving songs, composed a ballade whose incipit, Se je me plaing de fortune, quotes two songs of Machaut—the textual incipit from B15 (Se je me pleing je n’en puis mais), and the text plus music of the cantus and tenor of the opening of B23 (De Fortune me doi pleindre et loer).

Sound and Score

This double quotation, in which the new song’s entire first line is composed of juxtaposed Machaut incipits, suggests a highly pointed reference, in which the poet knew the works of Machaut and his reputation. Interestingly enough, each of those ballades is quoted elsewhere by anonymous later composers. The text and music of the ballade Ma dame m’a congie donné are fashioned by reversing first line and refrain of B15: the text and music of B15’s refrain becomes the first line of Ma dame, while its first line with its music, Se je me plaing je n’en puis mais, serves as that ballade’s refrain (For more borrowings involving the line Ma dame m'a congie donné see here).

Sound and Score

The same procedure obtains in the anonymous Dame qui fust, which uses text and music of B23’s refrain as its opening line, and B23’s opening line as its refrain.[2]

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

It is remarkable that these two ballades were subject to such a density of reuse, and suggests a pattern of transmission that is lost to us today.

The ballade Phiton, phiton, beste tres venimeuse by Magister Franciscus similarly engages with both text and music of a Machaut ballade, B38 Phiton le mervilleus serpent. The first three breves of music are quoted exactly in all three voices, and the text of the new ballade recasts the subject (the mythological serpent slain by Apollo) so that the “venomous” python serves to glorify Phebus, the sobriquet of Gaston Fébus, count of Foix.

B38:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Phiton, phiton:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Other evidence of the circulation of Machaut’s works outside the surviving manuscripts comes with a few other pieces. The Italian abbot Antonello da Caserta made the only surviving setting of a Machaut text in his three-voice ballade Beauté parfaite [Lo140], a text not otherwise known outside the Machaut manuscripts.[3]

Sound and Score

And the anonymous rondeau Rose sans per (Apel FSC 3, no. 274) shares so many features of Machaut’s R10, Rose, lis, that it is hard to escape the conclusion that it is informed by knowledge of its musical setting: the opening is identical, and like R10, Rose sans per juxtaposes perfect tempus minor prolation in the cantus (3/4 in modern equivalent) with imperfect tempus major prolation in the tenor (6/8 modern barring) throughout. It might do a bit of one-upmanship in that the contratenor is in imperfect tempus imperfect prolation (2/4), so that three different mensurations sound simultaneously.

R10:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Rose sans per:     Score


Anne Stone

[1] See Lawrence Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, A Guide to Research (Garland, 1995), pp. 53-72.

[2] For more about this song’s relationship to B23, see Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Fortune's Demesne: The Interrelation of Text and Music in Machaut's 'Il m’est avis' (B22), 'De fortune' (B23) and Two Related Anonymous Balades,in Early Music History 19 (2000), pp. 47-79.

[3] See Anne Stone, “Machaut Cited in Modena,” in Yolanda Plumley, Giuliano Di Bacco and Stefano Jossa, eds. Citation, Intertextuality and Memory in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 2011), pp. 170-189.



Yet another example:


Another case where a quotation may point to a more modest acknowledgment of modeling a new song on the work of a master, rather than a self-conscious adaptation and manipulation of an old work into a new meaningful context, can be found in the replication of the text and music of the last line of the refrain of Machaut’s R7 (musical B-part) as the refrain of the anonymous ballade S’espoir n’estoit qui me donné confort. Unlike Antonello da Caserta’s transplantation of Machaut’s text into a new musical style, or Matteo da Perugia’s created tension between the style of the old quotation and that of the rest of the song which hosts it, special care was taken to integrate the quote into its surroundings, with rhythmic and melodic elements from the quoted material shaping the setting as a whole.

R7:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile 

S'espoir n'estoit:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile (not primary source for current edition)


Uri Smilansky