Melodic correction

Melodic corrections deal with the appearance of augmented and diminished intervals in both direct progression and as part of a melodic gesture. This is not to say that all such intervals should be eliminated, that composers didn’t use them intentionally, or even that ficta additions cannot create more of them. The following extract is perhaps an extreme case of explicitly notated augmentations and diminutions, but is by no means unique.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

Here we find direct B-flat : C-sharp progressions, and melodic contours filling in the diminished fourth C-sharp : F, augmented fourth B-flat : E and the diminished fifth G : C-sharp. Any editorial attempt at smoothing over the melodic tritones through the introduction of G-sharp or E-flat only serves to create new ones between the inflected pitches and D and A respectively. While many of these accidentals are not reproduced in the other concordances of this work, it seems that at least for the person responsible for the version of MS A, these difficult progressions were an integral part of the expression of this part of the work.

In a polyphonic context, melodic augmentation and diminution are particularly common in contratenor and triplum cadential progressions. The final cadence of the later, four-part version of R10 includes both cases, with an ascent from C to F-sharp in the triplum mirrored by a similar descent in the contratenor. If the inflections were not specifically indicated, they would surely have been added anyway by the performer.  

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Some corrections are rather straightforward. The following extract traces an exposed tritone which is rendered even more surprising by both stable sonorities that follow it.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

I would think it would be a natural reflex to add ficta here, eliminating the augmented interval and pointing downwards towards both D and G.

Sound and Score

It does not matter that the final cadence of this strophe, and indeed the piece as a whole, is also located on D but surrounds it with E-natural and C-sharp.

Other places, such as the following extract, are more ambiguous.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

The progression here seems to point clearly towards A. Without additional ficta, the B-natural in bar 52 stands out as going against this direction. The highpoint E even in this reading still grates against the signed B-flat at its beginning.

Sound and Score

If one reproduces the B-flat in bar 3, this becomes even more pronounced.

Sound and Score

Softening this outline by flattening the E is also problematic, as this creates a diminished fifth between the new E-flat and the A goal at the end of the phrase. In such cases I would privilege the interval created with the more stable pitches (A and E) and allow a ‘bad’ interval between one of them and the quick, unstable inflected note (B-flat) which quickly moves on.

This phrase is complicated further, as MSS Vg, B and E as well as the preceding copy of the written out repetition in MS A all indicate to insert a C-sharp at the beginning of bar 52. There is no absolute need to normalize the written out repetitions (see discussion here), but if this reading is adopted, it changes the relationships between the notes in this bar. Now the D sonority gains in importance and A is to a degree sidelined. There is no discussion of adding an E-flat at the high point of the phrase. Still, one has to decide whether to accentuate the pull towards D and away from A by maintaining the C-sharp also in the following descent:     Sound and Score     remain non-committal and cancel all inflections in it:     Sound and Score     or see the C-sharp as a momentary shock to the system which is counter-balanced by an immediate return to the B-flat and the leading towards A:     Sound and Score

This decision may remain a show of local preference, but will perhaps be more convincing if it was made according to an analysis of the text and its structure, or as part of a larger scale construction of musical sentences and points of emphasis. They may seem minute and unimportant in the context of a long Lai, but their accumulated impact can have a major effect on the character of the work as a whole. While the original performers of these works may have dedicated very little thought to such matters, our loss of the intuition they would have used forces us to construct a more artificial solution, or teach ourselves to remain flexible according to the expressive context.


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."

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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."