"Because I like it"

In these various earlier discussions I attempted to detail the conventions and guidelines of ficta addition (and detraction) as I perceive them, some less controversial than others. As I tried to make clear, the ‘rules’ are not clear-cut enough to allow for any kind of consensus regarding this topic, among performers, editors or researchers. As an underlying notion, I would suggest coming up with a version you like is a good point of departure. This though, should not be taken as a relativist whim. Before sole reliance on taste can be taken as an acceptable procedure much aural and aesthetic retraining has to be undertaken. Our inherited habits and instincts can be adjusted according to our best knowledge of a foreign past. When applying this to the issue of ficta, retraining has to be undertaken in a number of different directions:

  • The ear has to be taught to accept, understand and follow a rich and layered alternative to the functional harmonic language most trained, Western musicians are used to
  • The eye has to learn to instinctively recognize and react to the different cadential formulae of each and every voice-function.
  • The brain has to adjust to a more flexible relationship between the written and the performed, and react automatically to the sound constellations central to medieval modality and polyphony but unused since.

In five words: the reformulation of our expectations.

Causa pulchritudinis – ‘inflections for the sake of beauty’ – featured in some of the very earliest medieval discussions of this topic, but this is not an invitation to a free-for-all. Some understand this term to relate only to cadential ficta additions (as opposed to interval correction), but even a wider interpretation cannot operate within a stylistic void. Rather, it is a challenge for us to internalize the music: as we are forced to think, experiment, consider and make decisions over the music, it becomes our own, individualised and personal. Each reader, therefore, would be expected to come with their own version. Whether such a version concurs with others or not is less important, as the goal is not being different. While many versions have the potential to be valid and enjoyable, no music can tolerate every conceivable kind of treatment. For the reader him/herself, any one point of time allows only one reading to feel correct or indeed viable, even if another conclusion is reached the next day.


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."