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


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