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


***********************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."