Nancy van Deusen

title.none: Prions en Chantant: Devotional Songs of the Trouveres (Van Deusen)

identifier.other: baj9928.9806.003 98.06.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Nancy van Deusen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Epstein, Marcia Jenneth, ed and trans. Prions en Chantant: Devotional Songs of the Trouveres. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Pp. x, 340. $50.00(hb) $18.95(pb). ISBN: ISBN 0-802-00840-2 (hb); 0-802-07826-5 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.06.03

Epstein, Marcia Jenneth, ed and trans. Prions en Chantant: Devotional Songs of the Trouveres. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. Pp. x, 340. $50.00(hb) $18.95(pb). ISBN: ISBN 0-802-00840-2 (hb); 0-802-07826-5 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Nancy van Deusen

Marcia Jenneth Epstein's Prions en Chantant: Devotional Songs of the Trouveres is divided into two sections, the first interpretatory, in which she deals with the manuscript sources of the trouvere songs as visual records, the trouvere devotional songs in the context of popular culture, texts, and music. There is an appendix attached to this section containing notational forms, several pages of end notes and a bibliography. The second section, entitled The Songs presents an introduction to the edition, explaining her editorial principles, a list of songs and a parallel edition with notation that is close to that contained in the sources on the left with transcriptions into more easily- recognizable modern notation on the right. This outlay is useful for comparing forms of medieval notation with a more modern rendition, and is presented clearly, without clutter of any kind. The edition section constitutes the majority of the 340 pages comprising this publication, that is, 240 pages in all, and, in my opinion, is also the more worthwhile feature of the book.

It is the 70 or so pages of interpretation with which one can take issue, and I have chosen a few of the many instances of what seem to me to be a combination of inadequately-explained, uncritically-accepted terms and categories, a confusion concerning her possible readership, as well as factual error. Further, her footnote apparatus is inadequate. The writer makes unfounded statements, without indicating the source of her information, or the thought process she has followed in order to arrive at her conclusions. In the interest, perhaps, of making her work accessible to a non-academic readership, she has avoided using the conventional means of documentation one has at one's disposal, compromising her statements for both what might be considered to be a lay readership, i.e. performers who are not necessarily trained as musicologists, and specialists who have a background within the area of the sources and texts she is exploring. A few examples of these features follow.

At the onset of the interpretatory section, Dr. Epstein refers to secular chansonniers to which devotional songs have been appended, without stating what she means by secular, nor what she means by 'appended' -- whether she is referring to the use of vernacular language instead of Latin, or to the fact that these songs have no recognizable liturgical place -- an implied contrast to a concept of sacred she has also failed to define. Do the devotional songs form an appendix, and if so, how does one know this? The statement is surprising in view of the fact that boundaries between sacred and secular, especially in the vernacular song, are admittedly blurred, that the notion of the secular in the thirteenth century must at least be explained, as it differs so radically from an intuitively, uncritically-accepted concept of the secular at the end of the twentieth. I am taking issue with an uncritical attitude toward issues and catgories that seem to me to pervade her interpretatory remarks, an indication, perhaps, of a lack of sophistication concerning the issues with which she is dealing.

There are curious juxtapositions of her assumption that she is dealing with a knowledgeable, specialist readerhip, together with pedantic explanations of what, to that readership, would be obvious. She gives a table of square notational forms in an appendix A (which divides her interpretatory remarks from the edition) thus making allowance for a reading audience that would have had no acquaintance whatsoever with the most easily- read notation -- the note-forms of which not only proliferated over the continent of Europe during and after the thirteenth century, but they were to be taken up, as well, into early published sources. These are also essentially the note-forms used in the missals and graduals as well as other books for the mass celebration published during the course of this century. Her inclusion therefore indicates that she is appealing to a group of readers -- perhaps performers -- who have had absolutely no introduction to medieval notational systems of any kind. At the same time, she assumes that her readership will know about families of manuscripts, and what manuscripts N, O, and P should reveal, referring them to background reading from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the German and French languages (for example, Eduard Schwan, Die altfranzoesische Liederhandschriften, Berlin, 1886, and Jean Beck, ed., Le chansonnier Cange, Philadelphia, l927). In other words, the writer appears to expect a specialist's knowledge of the sources from a reader who at the same time has not had any acquaintance whatsoever with the notation within these sources. The concept of families of manuscripts, at any rate, is a problematic concept, but also utterly incomprehensible for the uninitiated to manuscript lore.

Square notation was also not, as she writes, standard in the mid-thirteenth century, rather, there is a good deal of evidemce that it originated in Paris, ca. 1230-1240. But square notation would not appear nearly all over the continent of Europe, thus becoming truly standard, until considerably later, to be taken up, as I have mentioned, into early printed graduals, missals and other books used for the mass and office liturgies. Marcia Epstein has studied the sources she has directly used for her own work, but, apparently, does not possess a knowledge, generally, of the notational forms used within these sources. She also writes of correct mensural usage (p. 4) for mid-thirteenth century notation without any apparent first-hand knowledge of other sources that could, in their notational usage, form counterparts to the manuscript she is describing. Again, a clear division between the mensural/polyphonic and the non-mensural/monophonic categories is our, that is, late 20th-century division, not a division one finds in the thirteenth century, rather, a blurring of distinctions, with several shades of mensural (some indications of rhythmic differentiation) combined with non-mensural compositions even on a single manuscript page. (There are several examples of this, as well as a discussion of the range of problems associated with coincidental use of both types of notation in van Deusen, N., The Harp and the Soul: Essays in Medieval Music, New York, l989.)

As one continues, one learns that the devotional songs were included in an essentially oral culture and one wonders, if this were so, why were the pieces notated at all. What purpose was served by notation is not a question that is either cogently taken up or answered. Finally, the question of transmission. The author states that tropes entered late medieval liturgical music in the form of text added to the wordless melodic passages, called melismas, which occurred in some types of plainchant. Actually, it appears to have been just the converse; that is, tropes are included in some of the earliest manuscripts that are still extant, and the earliest instances of some melodies, for example, for melismas of great responsories, are texted, whereas later versions are included without text. Later, although still not in the late Middle Ages, that is, during the twelfth century, there is a noticeable decline in tropes, especially the category that is most frequently labelled tropus or tropos -- the tropes of the Proper of the Mass. Again, as in the case of her statement that trope was any sort of rhetorical decoration, and that it is the same concept -- and could have come from the same word -- as trouvere or trobar -- need substantiation, since both points of view cannot be immediately, and without further clarification, accepted. Most often, there is no indication of how she has come to her point of view, nor does she give us the source of her information. Unfounded and unsubstantiated statement again indicate the curious blend of assumption, lore from general music history texts written by authors who were not specialists in medieval music and who had not themselves studied medieval manuscripts, and dependency upon what she may assume her readership already knows and accepts.

The edition, as I have indicated, constitutes the primary value of this book. I took her editions to my class of graduate students from mixed backgrounds and special interests -- in musicology, interdisciplinary medieval studies, church music, and performance, and tried them out on them -- with success. They could read the notation easily, although one regrets that the medieval edition did not retain the clefs customary within this notation -- the combination is disorienting -- and the modern notation is at times unnecessarily complex, distorting the engaging simplicity of the songs. In general, the comparison between the facsimile-style and the more familiar notation was a fruitful one, and they could, as Marcia Epstein states at the close of her introduction, "get acquainted, experiment, live" with them (p. 71).