3. Irregular Tempus Groupings

A similar problem of signification versus intention can be transposed from the modus to the tempus level. Here, the number of semibreves in a given section does not always fit into a whole number of either perfect or imperfect breves. Some songs avoid the use of breves altogether, making the tempus division notationally irrelevant. This lack of strict notational requirement allows for the possibility that such works were conceived with no strict and consistent groupings of semibreves into larger rhythmical units. As a counter-argument, one can note that such works regularly fall into conventional tempus patterns (usually imperfect tempus groups) and suggest that as semibreves units are rather quick and are always described, literally, as part of a brevis constellation, using them as a counting level seems less likely. Furthermore, some songs with irregular semibrevis numbers do incorporate brevis units, forcing the reader to decide on a tempus relationship. One such song is V3, which has a brevis as its first note and a longa as its last. Still, its musical B-part consists of 11 semibreves for the ouvert and 13 for the clos. Furthermore, the ouvert has a semibrevis as its cadence note, meaning the final arrival in this form-part occurs on its eleventh semibrevis, but the clos offers a brevis at its end, meaning the final arrival here happens after twelve semibreves. With a normal reading, it is impossible to have both arrivals on a beginning of a tempus unit.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Earlier editions ironed this problem out by changing a few of the given rhythmic values:     


All three editions require either the insertion of at least one un-notated rest or an adjustment to the regularity of tempus beginnings. The only way to engineer both regularity and consistent arrivals on brevis beginnings is to count this section through. This would looks as follows:     


Mathematically and notationally (in terms of placing the upbeat at the beginning of this section), this is perhaps the best reading option, but it has far reaching implications on current thinking concerning beat and meter. While no consensus exists, some scholars have identified and built upon a metric understanding of the different mensural groupings, even to the point of privileging it over natural word-stress patterns and other musical characteristics. While all the versions presented require an adjustment in the regularity of tempus units, and therefore create problems for this claim, the read-through solution is the most troublesome. Applying the metric approach to this reading would cause the same music to be sung with different metric impulses when repeated regardless of its text or melodic behaviour. The alternative will have to admit that a host of musical parameters come together to form a metric pulse, including also melodic behaviour, rhythmic patterning, word-stresses, and so forth. Mensuration would play a large part in informing this patterning, as it creates the expectation for regularity, but it is not necessary to attach to it an intrinsic, active ability to assign metric content.


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."