4. M11 as comparative case study

Jacques Boogaart is in charge of producing the volume of Machaut motets for our new edition. Explaining the thought-process behind his ficta suggestions for M11 he offered the following explanations:

Sound and Score     ¦     Facsimile

Although this seems to be a simple motet, yet it is the one where the scribes disagree most in their ficta prescriptions and where one finds the most mistakes in rhythm. One of the problems in this piece is that repeating motifs require different application of ficta in different context.

First of all the tenor. As a song melody it more or less ‘wants’ C-sharp in ascending and C : B-flat in descent, even though uncertainty remains.

Sound and Score

Whereas all the manuscripts agree in having a mi-sign in b.13 and no signs in the rest of the phrase, this is different at its repeat in bars 91-93. How should one sing bars 14-15: D C-sharp B A or D C B-flat A? At the repeat, all sources have a mi-sign before the C, with MS C and A adding to this another mi-sign before the B. The other sources all indicate B-flat, either as part of their signature (MSS G, B and E) or specifically within the staff (Vg). I have now chosen the version of MS C and A which results in differences between the repetitions; I suggest this can be explained by the text: the sweet lady is hard on the lover, about which he complains and fears to die (the seemingly final cadence in the middle of the piece, bars 46-50) but in the end he obediently accepts her harshness. Still, one could also reason the other way round and sing in the ‘hard’ B (B-natural) the first time round and the ‘soft’ B (B-flat) in the second, justifying this by the readings of MSS Vg and G).

In b. 34 of the tenor most manuscripts have B-flat which should be repeated in b. 46. In b. 53 all sources have B-flat against the F-sharp of the triplum. This could be tried in my opinion; Machaut loves to steer the counterpoint in difficult directions, and the opposition between ‘doleur-plaisir’ in the texts may justify this reading here.

The inflection in bars 81-84 of the motetus was taken as a model for ficta addition in the similar melodic progressions in bar 21 of the motetus and bar 5 of the triplum. Bars 47-48 were treated as a cadential progression, causing the F to be raised. In the following bar, most manuscripts have an E in the triplum, which sounds totally wrong. Only MS G offers a D as an alternative. Personally, I find G to be the most logical and best sounding correction, but as it is not justified by any source, this reading was not adopted in the score. In b. 59 most existing recordings sing B-natural in the tenor and triplum; I stick to the B-flat which appears in the tenor of all the sources and lower the B of the triplum.

A difficult section appears in bars 73-75 of the triplum: to be consistent with the beginning of the piece (b. 21) one should lower the B here, but then a conflict with the E and F-sharp of the tenor and the B of the motetus occurs. Also difficult are b. 91-93: the motetus’ motif occurs often without the need for ficta, but would miss-sound now against the tenor’s C-sharp. It has, therefore, been adapted.

I do certainly not pretend that this is the solution for this work. Several possibilities should be tried out, and I will love to hear the results.”

As a user of the edition, this still does not explain all the editorial suggestions. As the preceding discussions make clear, these may have different reasons, and changes of approach or taste can result in a slightly changed set of ficta additions without necessarily being more or less valid than those provided in Boogaart’s edition.

In preparing the following version, I imagined myself to be an independent user of this edition, without direct access to Boogaart's thoughts apart from the description presented above. Eager to make the music my own, I took on his comments, but adjusted the application of ficta according to my personal aesthetic preferences. 

Sound and Score

The differences in our approach are not large, and much of the work remains the same. Still, some passages are treated differently in the two versions. While allowing unusual sonorities to appear, Boogaart seems more sensitive to vertical alignment. In comparison, I tend to privilege linear melodic progression and allow for more dissonance between the voices. It seems that I tend towards shorter gestures when determining the length of validity of a written sign.

Thus, while Boogaart suggests maintaining the F-sharp throughout the first line of the triplum, joining the three notated accidentals into one musical gesture, I took a narrower approach, seeing the perfection at the beginning of bar 2 as the end of one opening gesture, the second sharp as an open ended gesture that is rendered obsolete by the introduction of a B-flat in bar 5, and only the third F-sharp signalling the beginning of the cadential progression towards bar 10 (and, therefore, applying also to the two F in bar 9). Similarly, I allowed the motetus to lapse back into C-natural already from bar 2 onwards. I was tempted by pre-empting the C-sharp of bar 9 and signalling it already in bar 8 as Boogaart did, since the parallel cadential progression seems so strong here. Still, as I knew the performers involved in the recordings were likely to offer a minimalist interpretation to the effect of the plica attached to the previous note (or, indeed, ignore it completely) I decided to avoid creating a direct tritone leap and make the motetus join the cadence only later, where the infliction is notated in the original. This is not to say that such leaps are out of the question. Indeed, this voice has a notated instance later on in the piece (b. 68-9). For me, it is still a different thing to include such progressions in the music and execute them in performance than to add them more or less spontaneously while reading a fourth leap in your part. As a result, Boogaart’s version of the first 14 seconds or so of this work is smoother and more clearly directional, while mine is less certain, rocking back and forth with only short bursts of directional tension.

The next point to discuss is the correction of bar 48. Here again, correction seems the most likely course, and both Boogaart’s suggestion and the version given by MS G make perfect sense. As the original reading is not dissonant, and can be said to highlight the midpoint of the piece and its textual importance as explained in Boogaart’s commentary above, I asked for the MS A reading to be maintained here. It certainly stands out, which make the choice of whether or not to retain it not between ‘right and wrong’, but between the different techniques and strengths of emphasis in marking this location out.

The section with the most differences between the two versions is the last page of the edition. The same underlying differences cause the divergence, but this time small initial changes cause a snowballing effect which changes a longer section of the work. In order to harmonize bars 70 and 73, Boogaart has to maintain F-sharp and B-natural. To avoid melodic augmentations, this forces the raising of all F and B for bars 70-6 in the triplum, which causes the sharpening also of the F in bar 71 of the motetus. While the F-sharp in the triplum can be explained as protracted cadential preparation and that in the motetus as an elongation of the effect of the previous accidental, it is hard to do so for the next set of ficta suggestions. The B-flat in the triplum in bar 81 are clearly designed to align with the B-flat of the motetus, with the creation of a melodic augmented second deemed a fair price to pay. The situation in bar 89-91 is even more complex. As G-sharp was deemed necessary in the motetus as a counterpart to the C-sharp of the tenor, F-sharp was added as part of the motetus’ approach (b. 90). This led to the addition of F-sharp also to the triplum in bars 89-90, even though there is no melodic or cadential reason to do so.

My version accepts the diminished octaves in bars 70 and 73, removing all the F-sharp from bars 70-76, and B-flat in the triplum (a C-sharp was added to bar 75 of the motetus as part of cadential arrival in the next bar). In bar 81, it was again deemed more natural to keep B-natural as part of a progression to C-sharp, accepting the resulting diminished octave. The retrospective additions in bars 89-91 also become unnecessary if the diminished interval at the end of the section is allowed. Now motetus and triplum behave normally, and it is only the tenor who breaks the mould and creates the problem (to which the listener rather than the editor has now to react). As with bars 73-75 of the triplum, bar 91 of the motetus is allowed to echo the earlier motifs without ficta getting in the way of the repetition.

There are, of course, other options even within the few sections discussed. Some leading to G could be added in the triplum by singing F-sharp in bar 71, or one clash avoided by avoiding F-sharp in both motetus and triplum in bar 90. The result of the comparison, though, is that while choices differ, in practice audience attention is attracted to the same locations even if through different means. The important part is the use of ficta choices in the service of expression, a musical characteristic which includes many other varied parameters. Even when listening to these examples, it soon becomes clear that the overall effect of this motet depends on many more elements than the external interpretation of ficta. Furthermore, the final decision is always a momentary one by the performer of each line, who can overrule any editorial argumentation. As astute listeners would have noticed, the tenor voice executes C-natural and B-flat in both versions of bars 92-93, even though Boogaart’s interpretation follows the manuscript indications more closely and calls for C-sharp and B-natural. As frustrating as this may be to the editor who invested much time and effort in constructing a coherent interpretation of ficta choices, the final responsibility lies with the performer who presents his or her internalized version to the public in real time (or recording).


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

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