4. Conflicting Ficta

In some cases, written in accidentals serve to create augmented or diminished intervals rather than to resolve them. While contradicting their primary justification and creating a problem for both modern and medieval theoreticians, there is no reason to believe such instances must be mistakes. Indeed, the system itself can be said to accommodate such conflicts more easily, at least according to some conceptualisations of it (see here for my personal approach). It is hard to judge, but it seems likely that medieval practitioners had fewer difficulties with such conflicts than many of their modern counterparts.

Melodic conflicts are relatively common, and their consecutive nature raises less resistance. Quick (if not direct) monophonic transitions between C-sharp and B-flat, for example, are examined as part of discussions of parts of L16/22 here and here. Cases where simultaneously sounding notes are inflected in opposite directions are a little less common. Still, the corruption of a non-perfect interval can be seen close to the beginning of B4 (also discussed here), where the augmented second E-flat/F-sharp is specified, and but one example for the augmentation of a perfect interval can be found in bars 53-54 of M11 (see also here), where the interval B-flat-/f-sharp is called for.

B4:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

M11:     Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

A more common procedure is for an inflection to appear only in one voice, creating a conflict with uninflected notes in one or more of the others. These instances constitute more of a grey area, as the possibility of adding editorial ficta to solve the conflicts created is also on offer, adding a layer of interpretation to the readings. The most common corrections of such conflicts occur when they appear as part of cadential progressions where only one leading tone is signed. The insertion of a second leading tone to create a full, double-leading-tone cadence avoids the resulting augmented or diminished fourth between the cantus and contratenor (on the medieval cadence, see here). There are many other locations, though, where the uninflected voices are likely to refrain from reacting to the inflected one. The four-part version of B22 includes a number of these instances.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Even within its first melisma, both the inflections provided cause problems with the other voices. The F-sharp added to the tenor in bar 4 creates a diminished fourth with the cantus’s B-flat and a diminished octave with the triplum’s F-natural. Neither voice is likely to change their readings: the B in the cantus is the first to appear after the signature indication, while in the triplum the note F is repeatedly emphasised as a central stable sonority in bars 1 and 3. Both partake in a descending melodic gesture meaning any potential sharpening would not to any resolution. The cantus is also unlikely to dispense with its signature B-flat in bar 6, this being part of a descent towards an F cadence. As a result, the inflection B-natural in the contratenor creates an augmented unison between the two voices. As melodic logic can easily be found to both the inflections (leading towards clear temporary goals), as well as to the resistance to reacting to them in the other voices, such conflicts become unproblematic in practice (for more on this song, see here).

Occasionally, inflections are so surprising that their validity may be called into question. This question is discussed with regards to a protracted B-flat/g-sharp sonority in M18 here, in respect of which it is still suggested that there are textual possibilities to understand (and keep) such readings.


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."