Support and amplification

This refers to the tendency to heighten or give extra importance to elements already found in the music, or to apply formulaic tendencies also when the immediate context is not clear enough to trigger an automatic response. Such additions usually involve commonplace inflections, rarely exceeding B-flat, E-flat, F-sharp, C-sharp and the cancelation of written in inflections, be they part of a key signature or within the musical text. They occur when these notes participate in clear directional gestures, mark a high or low point of a phrase, or are incorporated into a gesture that is repeated often enough to gain the status of a structuring motif.

Within melodic direct gestures, additions tend to be made when the unstable notes in question are adjacent to the melodic goal. The tendency is to support the direction of travel and sharpen notes in an ascents while flatten notes in a descent. In an extract from L22-16 already discussed, such a progression was presented even though the added ficta went against the direction implied by the written in accidental. This addition would have been likely even if neither the written in inflections appeared.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

At melodic turning points the additions tend to work the other way round. Here the notes in question (B, E, F and C) are sharpened or flattened contrary to the direction of travel by which they are arrived at, and are made to become closer to the preceding note. The end of an ascent is thus marked by a flat and the end of a descent with a sharp. These gestures can have the inflected note as an end point (more commonly, the end of a descent), and do not have to include a melodic counter-movement. We have encountered cases in which such behavior was specified, or implied by the intervallic contour.

Score     ¦     Facsimile

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

In the first example, the long F in bar 13 of this extract, appearing as it does after a long descent and at the end of a structural unit (text line) was likely to be inflected anyway, even without Machaut’s intervention. This was, perhaps, done as an aid to the performer after the proliferation of other accidentals (and the various decisions they called upon him or her to take) in the few bars preceding this note. The inflection of the B in bar 15 can also be presented in terms of a melodic turning point, and without recourse to an even larger context. This is true also of the E in the second example, which may have been lowered anyway, even if the previous bar had begun with a B-natural rather than a B-flat.

Still, it is important to keep in mind that these are but tendencies and not rules or general guidelines. Over-application is likely to deflate their effect and meaning. From a modern performance point of view, this is especially pertinent for dealing with melodic turning points, as our ears are familiar with similar, later tendencies such as the fa super la rule in the Renaissance. Using too much such ficta can, therefore, easily become an anachronistic habit.

A case of motivic ficta addition can be seen in the version of R10 containing the second contratenor added to MS C at some point after its completion.

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Here, the written in chromaticism in the new contratenor at bar 33 suggests the cantus should join in with a cadential progression towards F, and therefore move swiftly from the E-flat at the beginning of the bar to E-natural on its second beat. The uniqueness of this progression could be taken as a defining characteristic of this version, and therefore could be reproduced in another two locations where strictly speaking that contrapuntal structure can accommodate equivalent candential progressions. This happens in bars 6-7 with the potential quick transition from F to F-sharp in the cantus and in bars 22-3 where the same pitches as in the later cadence are used. Such decision turns unusual behavior into a structuring motif highlighting the beginning of the work and the end of both its form parts. Without the unusual melodic transition in the contratenor as an initial spur, such additions would be rather unlikely (and, indeed, are not made in the other two versions of this song).


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."