Margaret Switten

title.none: Aubrey, Music of the Troubadours (Switten)

identifier.other: baj9928.9704.001 97.04.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Margaret Switten, Mount Holyoke College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Aubrey, Elizabeth. The Music of the Troubadours. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. Pp. xxi, 326. $49.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-253-33207-9.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.04.01

Aubrey, Elizabeth. The Music of the Troubadours. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. Pp. xxi, 326. $49.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-253-33207-9.

Reviewed by:

Margaret Switten
Mount Holyoke College

It has been many years since a book on the music of the troubadours last appeared. As the author points out in her introduction, troubadour songs constitute one of the earliest vernacular repertories to be preserved and probably the most significant (xvi). But if the works of the troubadours continue to inspire scholarly discussion, that discussion is overwhelmingly centered on the poems. A study devoted to troubadour melodies is thus both timely and welcome.

After the usual prefatory material, the book begins with a chapter entitled "Historical Background," and then proceeds through discussions of "Transmission," "Poetics and Music," "Genre," "Form," "Style," and "Performance." The unifying thread throughout the discussions is provided by the art de trobar, situated within the general context of medieval rhetorical precepts. Careful attention is given to the complex relationships between melodies and poems. There is a bibliography, a general index, and a song index. The book is the fruit of many years of research; the information collected, sifted and made available to scholars will be very useful indeed.

For the reader of the book, a first question to arise is the nature of the intended public. With the exception of terms coined by the author ("intrinsic" and "extrinsic" variants), the initial glossary contains definitions of poetic but not musical terms. These definitions are generally correct, except the definition of caesura as a "syntactic pause in the middle of a verse of six or more syllables, most commonly found after the fourth syllable of a verse of eight to ten syllables" (ix). The caesura is both accent and pause; it regularly occurs in verses of nine or more syllables; if there are pauses in shorter verses, this is another matter and should not be confused with the regularly occurring caesura. The point is important because Aubrey considers the caesura a key to both versification and performance of troubadour song (135, 238, 252), neither of which can be correctly understood under her definition of the term. The chapter on "Historical Background" provides information about Southern France in the 12th and 13th centuries and about troubadours whose melodies have been preserved. Though we have here a classic case of "potted" history, the information could serve those unfamiliar with the period or with the troubadour repertory. From the prefatory material and the first chapter, then, one has the impression that the intended public could be characterized as specialists in music whose usual concerns do not include the troubadours.

Chapter 2 on transmission, moves to the heart of the subject. The author is well aware of difficulties inherent in the study of transmission when, in some cases, well over a hundred years separates the composition of a melody (so far as we can date the composition) and the notated version that has come down to us in manuscripts. We do not know and will never know how the songs came to be embedded in the chansonniers we have. Aubrey gives us a well-reasoned examination of the available evidence, reviewing and renewing the discussion about oral and written transmission. The detailed descriptions of the troubadour manuscripts containing music are particularly welcome: studies of individual manuscripts are desperately needed by both text and music scholars. The music manuscripts could perhaps have been placed in a larger context by reference to the work by John Marshall (The Transmission of Troubadour Poetry, London, 1975), or to the excellent article by William Paden in A Handbook of the Troubadours, ed. F.R.P. Akehurst and Judith M. Davis, 307-33 (Berkeley, 1995). The notions of "extrinsic variants" (differences between two concordant versions of a melody) and "intrinsic variants" (differences between repeated phrases or motives within a melody) are used to good effect to examine scribal habits.

Chapters 3 and 4, "Poetics and Music," and "Genre," turn specifically to the framing practices of the art de trobar. The first of these is short and prefatory, the second a substantial chapter that yields numerous new findings. One of its most refreshing features is the simple fact that Dante--far too frequently evoked in the study of medieval song, however important his work--is not mentioned. An effort is made to relate troubadour music to Catalan treatises more nearly contemporaneous with the songs, in particular to the 13th-century Doctrina de compondre dictats. This tactic does not eliminate the problem with such treatises: theorists were more interested in theory than in the practice of poetico/musical composition. Theoretical descriptions never quite match the songs. Moreover, the genres chosen for discussion are admittedly (86) those corresponding to modern terminology. It could have been useful to consider the designations the poets themselves gave to their poems which provide a rather different picture from what one finds in treatises. And further complications arise from the difficulty of assigning melodies to genres that are primarily poetic, a difficulty dodged in part by concentrating chiefly on what the author of the Doctrina says about the melodies. Specific genres are examined--canso, pastorela, planh, alba, descort--as well as the relationships of melody borrowing, function, and structure to genre. Sample songs are analyzed by emphasizing "parallels between the progression of the theme's arguments in the poem and the contours of the melody" (87). The idea here is that a complete melody (one stanza) may be considered a kind of microcosm of a complete song (several stanzas). The two components of the song move differently through time, the melody reaching completion early and then undergoing several repetitions, coordinated with the text's more leisurely pace. Of necessity, the analyses offered are brief and rather general, but they are at least not restricted to the first stanza, as is too often the case, and they contain fruitful insights.

Some problems arise, however, with presentation and documentation. I was not able to find a statement of policy governing transcription of melodies and establishment of texts and translations. One assumes that Aubrey transcribed the melodies; one further assumes that, in the absence of indication to the contrary, she also established the texts and made the translations. There are infelicities of translation,e.g. in Bernart de Ventadorn's "Can vei," "mort m'a e per mort li respon" is translated by "she has ended me and I answer her with an end" (91). There are errors in text underlay to the music: in that same song, line 5, "enveia.m ve" is given as "envei mave"(90). In the discussion of this song, reference could have been made to the analysis by Susan Willoughby, Dan McCabe, and Matthew Steel (in The Medieval Lyric: Anthology I, ed. Howell Chickering and Margaret Switten, South Hadley, 1988, 64-5) which includes most of the major points made here. There are also cases where a translation is taken from a published edition but placed with a different text, e.g. Marcabru's pastorela (97) and Aimeric de Peguilhan's descort (107), with consequent discrepancies between text and translation. In general, if one uses a published translation, it is preferable also to use the text of which it is a translation--or at least warn the reader specifically that the translation does not go with the text as given. Marcabru's pastorela shows a further discrepancy in spellings between the text that accompanies the music and the text as it is subsequently laid out, although both are presumably from ms. R (97). The deceptive uniformity of the note forms presented in the musical example might have been tempered by the acknowledgement that, given the illegibility of the manuscript, it is impossible to know in all cases whether or not there are stems attached to the notes. And the analysis of this pastorela leaves much to be desired. The song does not, of course, correspond to theoretical treatises: it is the first known vernacular pastorela; there is none other quite like it. One learns with some surprise that we have here a "peasant subject matter" (82) discovering with relief later (96) that at least the "courtly idiom" has been recognized. The interpretation of stanza XII is puzzling: the shepherdess does not agree to the lord's advances (96). And the structure of the melody (which does not exactly mirror the structure of the poem as is claimed) is diagrammed ABABCCD on page 96 and ABABB'B'C on page 149. Both of these diagrams are valid; it would be useful for the reader to learn why from a more sophisticated musical analysis than is given here or from references to other studies offering such analysis. The many excellent points in the chapter on genre could have been strengthened by examination of a few songs in depth and by more careful attention to presentation and documentation.

Chapters 5 and 6 treat the related questions of form and style. The section on poetic versification gives some sense of the complexity of the subject, but is scarcely comprehensive. Discussion of musical form depends heavily on charts and graphs. To the author's credit, she indicates clearly the insufficiency of graphs (145-6), and uses the graphs to good advantage; but one longs for more direct contact with melodies and a better sense of melodic movement than the letters and figures provide. Most of the considerable information in this chapter is tabulated. The breakdown of formal structures by manuscript is very useful (147). The breakdown by chronology is helpful, too, but ultimately brings little that is new; the thrust of the argument carried by the charts is that "there was a clear move toward regular repetition structures from the first to the last generations" (173). There are perceptive remarks on tonal centers and contours, as they relate to form. Aubrey is certainly correct to distinguish troubadour song from church music and church modes. Nonetheless, even if the troubadours did not strive "to design their melodies in accordance with the systemic norms of the modes" (176), some melodies do give a strong sense of "mode." Moreover principles of differentiation and dynamic contrast embedded in certain aspects of the modal system can be used to good advantage in the analysis of troubadour song (reference might have been made to the article by Leo Treitler in Models of Musical Analysis: Music before 1600, ed. Mark Everist, Oxford, 1992). That said, the principles of melodic analysis enumerated (176) are entirely appropriate and skilfully applied. There is also an important general discussion of motivic construction (184-94). But here again, specific analyses are sketchy and could have been enriched by reference to other studies that approach the concept in slightly different ways: Bruno Stablein's 1966 article in Acta Musicologica "Zur Stilistik der Troubadour- Melodien," 38:27-46, for example, or Nicolas Ruwet's "Methodes d'analyse en musicologie," newly translated by Mark Everist in Music Analysis 6(1987): 3-36, or my work on The Cansos of Raimon de Miraval: A Study of Poems and Melodies (Cambridge, MA, 1985), where I offer an analysis of Miraval's "Ben aia.l messagiers" with greater attention to detail than is offered by Aubrey on page 192. The emphasis placed on motivic construction by Aubrey is entirely justified, and her brief examples do demonstrate the pervasiveness of the technique.

The thrust of Chapter 6 is again to establish chronological development, this time of musical style as related to, yet differentiated from, poetic style (203). Since elements already treated with respect to form and structure-- repetition, contour, motivic construction--are now joined to interval content and texture as "constituents of musical style" (202), there is a certain amount of repetition, and one does become a bit lost in the myriad examples. Fortunately, there is a good summary of findings (234-6) that guides the reader's understanding, points out a certain regularization parallel to the development of structural features, and judiciously warns against imagining that conclusions one can reach in this domain can be set in stone.

The concluding chapter on performance sums up the various problems involved in recuperating a repertory whose performance traditions have been irretrievably lost. The major theses are ably reviewed. As more and more scholars-- philologists and musicologists--become attuned to the notion that troubadour song is in its essence a vocal construct and not a written artefact, that it was surely first an aural and not a visual experience, the insights provided by this book on the various aspects of troubadour melodies can guide both renewed understanding and appreciation of troubadour songs.