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


***********************STOP PRESS!!!!!!!!************************

The Complete Poetry and Music of Guillaume de Machaut Volume 1 is out now!!!!

Volume 1: The Debate Poems is now available in print.

You can also enjoy the entire volume online via the Middle English Texts Website.

Edited and translated by R. Barton Palmer, with art historical commentary by Domenic Leo, and musical commentary by Uri Smilansky, the volume contains  Le Jugement dou Roy de Behaigne, Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre, and Le Lay de Plour.




The Ferrell-Vogüé Machaut Manuscript

Full colour facsimile with introductory study by Lawrence Earp, Domenic Leo and Carla Shapreau. Preface by Christopher de Hamel

"It is a vast manuscript of royal luxury, 390 leaves of parchment, 314 mm. by 220 mm., illustrated with 118 enchanting miniatures by a workshop of court illuminators led by the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy.They include pictures of gothic chivalry and romance, with mythology and natural history. Music is included on 235 pages of the manuscript, with almost the entire corpus of the ballades, lais and motets of Machaut, as well as his great polyphonic setting of the Mass, the four-part Messe de Nostre-Dame.The manuscript has never before been photographed in its entirety or reproduced in colour."

"Vol. 1 introductory study (225 pages colour/mono), vol. 2 facsimile (789 full colour pages) on 150gsm matt art paper. Full size reproduction, hard bound in buckram, presented in hard slipcover."

Available now from DIAMM Publications.

The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut by Yolanda Plumley

Available now from Oxford University Press

"Presents the first detailed exploration of citational practices in the song-writing tradition of fourteenth-century France. The first monograph-length study on the Ars nova chanson with new evidence about the emergence of the new polyphonic chanson. Provides new evidence about the circle of poets and composers who engaged with Machaut and created a new style of poetry and song. Explores little studied collections of lyrics and songs of the period and provides fresh insights and perspectives on Machaut's works."