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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Uri Smilansky


Fortune's Child

Out now on the Hyperion websiteFortune's Child is the most recent recording of Machaut's works from the Orlando Consort. As Fabrice Fitch of Gramophone notes, "five volumes in, Hyperion’s Machaut series shows no sign of running out of puff." Complimenting their performance, Fitch says "the Orlandos project and enunciate Machaut’s French so well that one rarely reaches for the printed text" and he is particularly impressed by Angus Smith's interpretation of 'Dou mal qui m'a longuement'. He further remarks, "as with previous volumes, the programming of this series is deeply impressive."

A Burning Heart

CD Cover Image for "Machaut: A Burning Heart" by the Orlando Consort

Available now from the Hyperion website, the Orlando Consort's latest CD, A Burning Heart, is already receiving critical acclaim. Blair Sanderson, writing for AllMusic.com, describes the Consort's singing as "wonderfully evocative and full of medieval atmosphere." While Brian Wilson, for MusicWeb International, declares: "I doubt...if either Chaucer or Chrétien could have imagined anything better than the singing on this and the other Orlando Consort Machaut recordings."


***********************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 Dart of Love

Available now from the Hyperion website, The Dart of Love is second in a series of recordings by the Orlando Consort of Machaut's music. It has already received critical acclaim:

The Orlando Consort perform these works with matchless purity of tone and clarity of diction. (Limelight, Australia)

The programme is nicely varied in mood and scoring, ranging from four-voice ballades and motets to a single-voice virelai, and every combination in between … a thoughtful essay by Anne Stone makes audible sense of the many connections between the pieces on this valuable, impressive recording. (Gramophone)

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."



New Voir Dit CD

Available now from the Hyperion website.

This new CD from the acclaimed Orlando Consort showcases songs from Machaut's Livre dou Voir Dit (‘Book of the True Tale’). The recording was inspired by collaborative work between our project team and the Orlando Consort who have been trialling the new edition being produced. You can watch a video of the consort discussing their recording on YouTube.

It has already received critical acclaim: David Fallows for Gramophone writes:

To my ears, this is a dream team, with the enormously experienced Donald Greig and Angus Smith alongside ...Matthew Venner and Mark Dobell, who display the most magnificent articulation of the texts alongside the understanding of the lines gained from their senior colleagues...always dead in tune, always beautifully balanced...the unforgettable track here is Angus Smith performing the 'Lay de Bon Esperance', over 20 minutes of unaccompanied solo singing...He's terrific.