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


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