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:     

Score

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.

Score

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.

Score

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:     

Score     

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:     

Score

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
(upbeat)

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):

                             or                  

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