Duplication of given accidentals and working back from the cadence

Written-in accidentals usually signify a single idea in a specific context. They can, therefore, refer to a single note, or be extended for the duration of a larger melodic or harmonic ‘gesture’. As a result, the duration of the effect of any given sign is unstable, becoming, again, an interpretative matter. It is also possible for a new sign to annul the validity of the previous one, or imply adjacent inflections.

A number of these issues (as well as melodic considerations which will be discussed further on) can be explored in the extract from L22/16 already presented.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

The reader has three notated accidentals for which to decide on length and effect. There is no problem assessing which notes the inflections refer to. The first question to be asked is whether the effect of a sign survives the introduction of a new, to an extent contradictory one. I would suggest this is rather unlikely. In this context, maintaining the C-sharp in the third bar of the extract would either call for the cancellation of the B-flat or for a rather unusual melodic progression (on these, see here). It seems more likely to understand the B-flat as cancelling it. Without the B-flat, a singer seeing only the C-sharp and the following F-sharp may well be tempted to keep the B natural and sharpen also the C in the third bar of this extract. The inflected B-flat does not lead and is not resolved anywhere, suggesting to the reader that the melodic gesture to which it refers can be extended to include the next bar and the B found there. After the directly inflected F-sharp one reaches a crossroad. The next phrase (from bar 5 of the extract on) starts with a melodic gesture linking F and B, finally settling on an open cadence on A. One has to decide on three elements: the relationship of this phrase with the previous one; what to do about the potential melodic tritone, and how strong the cadential arrival at the end of the phrase should be.

As a first, basic solution, it is possible to understand each notated accidental as cancelling the previous one and lasting until the next, or until the end of the phrase. This version would maintain the F-sharp from bar 4 into bar 5, which also resolves the tritone problem. It is common for inflections not to be repeated in tone-repetitions. Indeed, in a culture where obvious inflections do not have to be notated, it would be surprising to find such indications repeated. As the cadence on A is an ouvert, it can be kept weak without much controversy.

Sound and Score

If a stronger cadence is preferred, the B in the penultimate bar can be flattened (it is possible to inflect only the very last of these, but as it is so short, this was not reproduced and recorded especially here).

Sound and Score

One can go even further, flattening also the B a bar earlier, creating a longer sense of cadential progression, as well as a melodic symmetry between the descent from D via B-flat to F-sharp in the first phrase to the corresponding ascent in the second. In this reading, it is possible to think of all the flats as the result of the indicated inflection at the beginning of the extract, regardless of the later introduction of a F-sharp. The two inflections then send ‘mixed cadential messages’ which get resolved only once ouvert / clos structure of the strophe becomes apparent.

Sound and Score

An alternative approach, however, can choose to separates the two text lines, seeing the first group of four bars as an open-ended and un-resolved phrase leading in the direction of G, and the second four as a new, separate phrase preparing an arrival on A. This can, perhaps, be done in the repetition, where a comma marks the transition between the poetic lines. One could then avoid any ficta additions in bar 5 and make a transition from F-sharp to F-natural. To avoid the tritone and mark the shift to A, all the following B are likely to be flattened.

Sound and Score

Melodically this is more controversial, but as the interpretative justification for this procedure is the intentional separation of the two sections, the chromaticism should not be considered a part of a single melodic gesture. Each of these interpretations is technically valid, and makes different demands on the performance of this section. Choosing between them is an interpretative matter which will be discussed further on.


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."