Jason Stoessel

title.none: Leach, ed., Machaut's Music (Jason Stoessel)

identifier.other: baj9928.0502.001 05.02.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jason Stoessel , University of New England,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Leach, Elizabeth Eva, ed. Machaut's Music: New Interpretations. Series: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music, vol. 1. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. xviii, 296. $120.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84383-016-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.02.01

Leach, Elizabeth Eva, ed. Machaut's Music: New Interpretations. Series: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music, vol. 1. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. xviii, 296. $120.00 (hb). ISBN: 1-84383-016-7.

Reviewed by:

Jason Stoessel
University of New England

The origins of this volume lay in the interdisciplinary conference entitled Guillaume de Machaut: Music, Text and Image convened by Margaret Bent and Elizabeth Eva Leach at All Souls College, Oxford, 28 June-1 July 2001. This collection of essays, some of which appeared in earlier versions at the conference, sets out to represent the breadth of approaches and wealth of ideas articulated at that conference and to encapsulate the significant growth in the analysis of this fourteenth-century composer's music. Several papers discuss identical material, but often reach different conclusions. This is an admirable trait, providing the reader with a dialectical framework for forming their own views (not even necessarily those of the contributors) on Machaut's works.

The volume opens with Virginia Newes' essay "Symmetry and Dissymmetry in the music of the Lay de Bonne Esperance (L18/13)" which proceeds from the stated premise that Machaut's lais operate as self-sufficient texts without music and that the music serves both to complement and subvert textual features. Newes argues that the progression of rhyming syllables typical of the lai form is complemented in the music of the Lay de Bonne Esperance by a shift of pitch centres/ambitus and the perceived embellishment of a short four-note melodic motif. Music serves to create its own symmetries by pairing stanzas through similar melodic phrases, while at the same time emphasising the character of individual stanzas through the internal repetition of characteristic melodic/rhythmic devices. Instances are discussed where enjambment of line ends in the poetry is subverted by musical phrase structures that create repose on the enjambed line end. There is, however, some evidence from Figure 1.3 (and musical settings of the rhymed couplets other formes fixes) that enjambment is not preserved in musical settings when it does not occur in the repeated rhyme scheme typically found in each stanza of the lai.

The next three chapters examine Machaut's Motet 3. Jacques Boogaart's "Speculum mortis: Form and signification in Machaut's Motet He! Mor/ Fine Amour/ Quare non sum mortuus (M3)" is divided into two parts. The first considers textual and intertextual elements of each voice of this work. He engages a slightly earlier essay on Machaut's Motets 2 and 3 by Sylvia Huot by arguing that another reading of the Triplum text is possible in light of perceivable literary influences of notably Onkes ne fut si dure departie by trouvère Thibault of Champagnes and the Roman de la Rose. Rather than Huot's reading of the Triplum text as a lament for a dead lover, Boogaart reads it as a complaint for the loss of the idea of love itself. His reading does not seriously undermine the parallel relationships between the triplum and tenor proposed by Huot, although it introduces a subtle conceit concerning love's death. In the second part of the essay, Boogaart ascertains through analysis of musical structures that Motet 3 contains not only coherent (though sometimes irregular) text-music relationships and long-term rhythmic structures beyond those readily identifiable isorhythmic structures. The most striking reading proposed by Boogaart concerns the pervasive presence of mirror structures and mors (death) in this motet, including one of the more sound explanations of the unusual thinning of textures witnessed at breves 17, 39 and 61 of this work.

In Chapter 3, Alice V. Clark provides several observations concerning relationships between Machaut's Motet 3 (M3), his 22 other motets and motets by his contemporaries in terms of tonal and isorhythmic characteristics. Clark's essay should perhaps be read first among this group of three essays on M3 as it highlights features--such as the use of a truncated fourth talea and the thinning of texture at breves 17, 39 and 61--which are treated at greater length in the surrounding essays. Thomas Brown's following contribution sets out to explore the premise that M3 is a failed (or corrupted) emulation of an earlier isorhythmic motet with which it shares similar (but, one would have to observe, hardly identical) melodic and rhythmic traits. The subsequent argument is an impressive display of analytical, text-critical and paleographic techniques which focus, among other things, upon the unusual contrapuntal language found in breves 71-76 and the existence of a rhythmic variant in the two manuscripts closely connected to Machaut during his lifetime (MSS Vg and A). Yet, despite the presence of these tell-tale signs of a troubled transmission (if not composition), Brown wisely concludes that a proposed reconstruction of M3 would in fact subvert and destroy many of the exceptional qualities which contribute to the apparent intrinsic worth of this work. As such, this chapter presents a sobering lesson to editors and researchers of early music, highlighting the traps into which we can so easily fall by failing to examine our untested and superfluous assumptions against a necessary toolbox of methodologies and artistic/textual criticism.

Chapters 5-7 focus upon Machaut's renowned Mass of Our Lady. Kevin Moll's contribution adopts, however, a considerably broader scope by examining compositional textures and processes in the liturgical music of Machaut and his contemporaries. A taste of the fruit of Moll's detailed engagement with Franco-Flemish sacred polyphony, this chapter examines the nature of 4-part works from that repertory in the time of Machaut. Proceeding from the observation that 3-part liturgical compositions demonstrate two predominant musical textures (consisting of either two higher voices, each construed contrapuntally in relation to a lower voice, or a self-sufficient duet of a high and low voice to which a second low voice is added), Moll proposes that several 4-part works be evaluated as a combination of both 3-part compositional strategies. To test this hypothesis, Moll turns to a Credo (no. 40) in the Apt MS. Moll engages the earlier discussion of this work by Reinhard Strohm who proposes that the two upper voices in Apt 40 wer composed first in relation to the low Tenor voice and that the low Contratenor voice was composed last in relation to the Tenor only, disregarding the resulting "counterpoint" with the existing upper-voice. Moll proposes instead that Apt 40 began as a "proto-framework" consisting of a consonant Tenor-Contratenor, from which was extracted a single voice solus tenor. Two upper voices were added to this derived voice, after which the two lower voices were restored and the solus tenor presumably discarded. Moll supports his argument by providing examples from Apt 40 which appear to rely on the transfer of tenor function to the contratenor as lowest voices. Moll's discussion depends upon Margaret Bent's earlier paper "Some factors in the control of consonance and sonority" in which she argues that the solus tenor is a residue of compositional process in 4-part isorhythmic motets from the late fourteen and early fifteenth centuries. Significant, however, from the perspective of Moll's research is the proposal that this mode of composition already existed in the mid-fourteenth century. Somewhat problematic to Moll's argument, on the other hand, is the absence of soli tenores for Apt 40 and Machaut's Kyrie (which is briefly discussed).

Margaret Bent's contribution, Chapter 6 "The 'Harmony' of Machaut's Mass", focuses on the non-isorhythmic portions of the Gloria and to some degree the Credo sections of Machaut's Mass. The article, however, also constitutes a defence of analytical methodologies (based on contrapunctus or discant theory) employed in analysing vertical structures in medieval polyphony made in the face of recent criticism by advocates of ostensibly post-modernist methodologies. While Bent to some extent argues for a rapprochement between historicist and post-modernist agenda by favouring the goal of recreating medieval music's "sense as text," her statements championing historically-based research (80) are welcomed in light of the recent onslaught of research based around what Bent refers to as "the sensuous and sounding aspects of modern realizations." In analysing the Gloria of Machaut's mass, Bent demonstrates that the prescriptions of two-part (dyadic) counterpoint set down in medieval treatises also pertain to the counterpoint of each other voice in relation to the Tenor. But Bent carefully notes exceptions and calls for further empirical investigations that might clarify the contrapuntal techniques of Machaut and his contemporaries beyond those documented by general theory.

In chapter 7, "Machaut's Mass and sounding number," Owen Rees evaluates linear structures in the isorhythmic sections of the composer's mass. In particular, Rees discerns structures based on three and four units (principally those of pitch and duration), with a special emphasis on the respective additive and multiplicative products of these terms, 7 and 12. The author seems to be aware of inherent problems with his study's methodology and defends it by appealing to mathematical probability, although the very issue of the music's ternary-based notation system remains largely unaddressed especially in relation to the numbers 3 and 12. (We must agree with Margaret Bent's comment reported in footnote 29 that seven, however, is wholly inconsistent with this music's notational system and therefore remains significant.) One problem that has constantly dogged studies of a proportional, numerological and/or gemetric nature is the actual counting of notes: it is especially apparent that the final notes of sections of Machaut's Mass are notated in their original sources, including those close to Machaut, in variable durations. It seems difficult to discuss the intention of the composer in instances like the one found at the end of the Christe in Machaut MS B where the final note is written as a long in the contratenor voice and as a maxima in the tenor voice. Rees does not account for this variation in the original notation (documented, for example, in the critical notes of Leech-Wilkinson edition of Machaut's Mass [1]) by always counting final notes in every section as longs. Similarly, there is a suspicion of artificiality (97) in the addition of durations of different sections which were separated in the order of service from one another to produce what is considered a significant number. However, in the analysis of individual sections of the mass, Rees provides much insight by looking at and beyond isorhythmic structures to highlight internal symmetries and significant musical events illustrating the presence of 7 and 12. Concerning whether these compositional strategies were perceived by the contemporary audiences (either consciously or subliminally), Rees is appropriately ambivalent.

Chapters 8 and 9 are connected by their discussions of Machaut's Ballade 12. In the first of these two, Elizabeth Leach proposes that Ballades 11 and 12 are a related pair that originally occupied the numerical midpoint of an early collection of Machaut's ballades. Her discussion of these two ballades centres on their significant number of similarities (in terms of contrapuntal syntax, text-music relationships and intertexts), but it also emphasises their differences, especially the contrasting portrayals of the poet-composer as a joyous servant of love and sorrowful servant of the court. In the following chapter, Anne Stone takes the well-known instance of a quotation in the refrain of Ballade 12 (also a significant aspect of Leach's essay), but adopts a thoroughly new reading of this process. By proposing that the quotation informs the remainder of the rondeau's rhythmic conception, Stone invites the reader to observe a paradox between textual meaning and what the composition's notation conveys. This notion of notational self-reflexivity in Ballade 12, but without the paradoxical relationship between text and music notation, is extended by considering Machaut's "mirror composition" Rondeau 14 (Ma fin est mon commencement), the unusual original notation and text of which are keys to its performance. The shift from oral- to text-based cultures in shaping the music of the fourteenth century is increasingly being recognised by current scholars, and Stone's essay is yet another important contribution to this investigation.

Chapters 10 and 11 again form a pair: both consider Machaut's ballade Honte, paour (B25). The first of the pair by Jehoash Hirshberg, entitled "A portrayal of a lady who guards her Honour (B25)", the author, following in the footsteps of Sarah Fuller [2], adopts a performative approach in the analysis of this work, incorporating observations from recent recordings of this work with historically informed analysis. This essay also engages, following Fuller and Thomas Brothers [3], in active criticism of systematic approaches developed by Peter Lefferts and extended by Yolanda Plumley [4]. Thankfully, the editor has invited Peter Lefferts to respond in part in the following essay (which also highlights the unique tonal behaviours of B25) to those criticisms which have effectively centred on the perceived prescriptiveness and inherent generalisations which reside in Lefferts' broad taxonomies. Lefferts readily contextualises his research in terms of a continuum of stylistic analysis by asserting that it seeks to represent (rather than prescribe) normative aspects of a repertory against which the more original or unique aspects of individual works can be evaluated. (Plumley's earlier research largely vindicates this view.) Rather than being prescriptive, Lefferts rightly concludes that his taxonomies are empirical, and that individual behaviours can only act to refine and temper its generalisations. There are aspects in the transmission of B25 which are commonly found throughout the fourteenth-century polyphonic repertory that Hirshberg foregrounds as criticisms of Lefferts' system. The scribal variance in the writing of "signatures" and the very concept of signatures is an aspect of the transmission of that repertory that remains problematic in the context of Lefferts' system of tonal behaviours. Another aspect that needs particular attention is the notion of transposition. While Lefferts counters Hirshberg's charge that his system admits the transposition of the gamma-ut by replying that it is rather the transposition of relationships within the gamma-ut that occurs, I am not actually convinced that this view is free from notions of the fixity of pitch. Both authors are aware of the instance of a gamma-ut beginning on F below Gamma rather than Gamma (G) itself discussed by Berkeley Anonymous in 1375. Contemporary statements like these and the several instances of extraordinary hexachord signification in later fourteenth century works remains to be fully evaluated and discussed in light of the existing findings by scholars such as Bent [5] before firm conclusions can be drawn.

In Chapter 12, Jane Flynn compares Machaut's Ballade 31 De toutes flours with its instrumental intabulation in Codex Faenza with a view to discerning structural elements of the original 3-part song replicated or adapted in the 2-part instrumental redaction. The essay is particularly informative in its extension of Marie-Louise Göllner's research in which it is observed that Machaut creates new, complex musico-poetic relationships in his polyphonic settings. Similar strategies are adopted by the instrumental arranger which both emphasise aspects of the original (or model) as well as act as newly-imparted internal referents. Also insightful is Flynn's observation that the upper-staff line in the intabulation is not consistently based upon the Superius voice of the model, but also selectively incorporates features from the Contratenor voice when contrapuntal and rhythmic momentum resides in that voice. The remainder of the essay continues the comparative exercise by evaluating the essential dyadic counterpoint of the song and its intabulation. By this means, Flynn concludes that the intabulation represents a simplification of the song-model, retaining and/or emphasising structural aspects such as cadences, while at the same time reducing some aspects (especially melodic gestures) of the original to more uniform gestures over the course of the work. The methodology adopted by Flynn is beneficial to our understanding of responses to Machaut's music at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Further investigation of Codex Faenza's intabulations and their models in a similar manner will surely lead to a greater understanding of how fourteenth-century music was received.

Chapter 13 is provocatively entitled "Machaut's balade Ploures dames (B32) in the light of real modality." In it, Christian Berger once again sets out his unique reading of medieval notation which argues for the imposition of Gregorian chant modality in conjunction with an unprecedented reading of manuscript accidentals upon the notated polyphonic music of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. For the most part, Berger does not effectively address the valid criticisms of Fuller [6] (but see footnote 11) concerning his interpretative strategies to which I refer the reader. However, a short remark is warranted concerning Berger's adoption of Charles Pierce's concept of sign as symbol and its application to so-called manuscript accidentals. To read manuscript accidentals as symbolic is surely to depart from a central aim of culturally informed analysis, as it disregards the conceptual framework within which contemporary theorists constrained accidentals, if not the very significance that they attributed to them. This is not simply the theoretically prescribed correspondence of accidental signs to only one of two syllables (mi or fa) within the hexachord, but the Aristotelian ontology central to the theory and practice of musical notation. While essential representation and accidental occurrences as a result of imparted differentia are predominantly a feature of rhythmic notation of the fourteenth century, music theory and notation suggest that relative pitch accidentals act as differentia in relation to the essential gamma-ut (whether with or without more prescriptive "signatures"). This flies in the face of Berger's reading that proposes certain accidentals actually cause no change in the essential structure of the gamma-ut. How then, for a music historian interested in reconstructing the cultural "webs of significance," can Berger's reading of manuscript accidentals be reconciled with other manifestations of culture present in the writings of contemporary music theorists? The short answer is: it cannot.

Jennifer Bain's contribution to the volume, Chapter 14 "Balades 32 and 33 and the 'res dalemangne'" is a stylistic comparison of these two works and an evaluation of Machaut's statement in his Le voir dit that B33 (Nes qu'on porroit les estoilles nombrer) was composed "a la guise d'un res d'alemangne." Despite their similarities, Bain identifies distinct tonal behaviours in these compositions: B32 oscilates between C and D tone centres, while B33 is D-centric. In considering B33, Bain provides a motific analysis of this work. (Unfortunately, Bain's labelling of motifs in Figure 14.3 has been omitted so it is not entirely clear as to the extent of each motif). In considering what constitutes the "res d'alemangne" in B33, Bain follows Leech-Wilkinson [7] who suggests that the composer might have sought to emulate German wind-bands. Aspects which support this view are the D-centric tonality of the B33 which would permit a drone and the motif repetition that might represent a factor of German oral traditions. As such, Bain concludes that B33 hints at an oral tradition of instrumental music-making in Germany earlier than has hitherto been proposed.

In Chapter 15, William Peter Mahrt considers the use of feminine and masculine voices in two monophonic virelais: Se mesdisans (V15) and Loyaulte weil tous jours (V2) respectively. By examining that which Mahrt refers to as mode, not in the ecclesiastical sense, but according to melodic behaviours in secular composition, strategies for the rhetorical analogy of music with text are proposed. In V15, the confidence of the feminine voice and her success (in remaining virtuous) is paralleled by the clear melodic direction and text declamation. On the other hand, in V2 modal direct and character is obscured so that the music acts to emphasise rhetorically the failure of the male lover. Mahrt suggests that this artful conjoining of music and poetry by Machaut in the ars nova idiom set an insurmountable obstacle for poet-musicians after Machaut.

Mahrt's conclusion acts as a bridge to Chapter 16 "The marriage of words and music: Musique naturale and Musique artificiale in Machaut's Sans cuer dolens (R4)" in which Yolanda Plumley examines the relationship of text and music in R4 and R20. Plumley's point of departure is the statement in Eustaches Deschamps' L'Art de dictier (1392) wherein the poet portrays a dichotomy of poetry (natural music) and poetry set to music (artificial music), but also states that music can enhance poetry. Plumley observes that Deschamps' dichotomy, although inherited from John of Garland, differs from that present in Machaut's Prologue which sees the alliance of poetry with rhetoric. In turning to R4, Plumley proposes that melodic, tonal and contrapuntal features appear to compliment the text rhetorically. But she intentionally casts some doubt on these conclusions by observing that Machaut's later R20 Douce dame tant come vivray appears to be modelled on R4, at least tonally and structurally, suggesting the correspondence of lyric and music is not as close as it might at first seem. Plumley attempts to vindicate Machaut's approach by suggesting that the particular reworkings of melody and rhythm in the subsequent rondeau are responses to the poetry. On the other hand, Plumley is perhaps too hasty in diminishing the use of similar structures in both works. Rhetorical models in the classical sense were prescriptive, and that Machaut reused an earlier model that must have required some effort to create suggests that he found the formula to be particular effective--perhaps so effective that the more recent text was composed with the earlier rhetorical model in mind.

In Chapter 17 (which also appears in French in an earlier publication [8]), Daniel Leech-Wilkinson returns to Machaut's Rose, lis (R10). While maintaining the staunchly post-modernist stance adopted in his earlier essay on this work [9], Leech-Wilkinson sets aside the essentially outdated methodologies proposed in his earlier article in favour of an assessment of recorded performances of this work: one using voices only by the Gothic Voices and another employing voices and instruments by the Waverly Consort. As Leech-Wilkinson admits, the techniques employed in his analysis of the stated recordings is not new, but were pioneered by R. Cogan. Leech-Wilkinson's use of vowel phenomenology bears an uncanny resemblance to W. Slawson's Sound Color (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), although the latter is not concerned with the qualities of vowels in Machaut's French. By mapping performances to spectrograms, Leech-Wilkinson provides a set of visual cues that correspond to the progression of syllables in a performance as distinguished by greater or lesser degrees of the presence of musical formants as a function of tone colour. Leech-Wilkinson proposes that the tone colour created by the singing of syllables actually contributes to and enhances other musical elements in the performance. This cannot be denied by the attentive listener of these recordings, but the relationship between tonal characteristics and musical perception is a complex one that is not addressed in this essay. Leech-Wilkinson is correct in assuming that much of the all-vocal tone colour resides in the lyric, although further research needs to occur before any conclusions concerning composers' control of these qualities in relation to purely musical elements are accepted.

The final contribution to the collection by Karl Kügle, Chapter 18 "Some observations regarding musico-textual interrelationships in late rondeaux by Machaut," consists of a comparison of 4 later rondeaux (R13, R15, R19 and R21). Kügle concludes that these four rondeaux share several textual and musical patterns which betray a compositional method utilising stock formulae and conventions, or a compositional matrix as he terms it. Based upon those conclusions, Kügle poses 5 further questions. His response to the third question concerning the connection of a musical matrix to a given text is perhaps the most resonant in the context of the preceding essays by Plumley and Mahrt. Kügle suggests that whatever associations appear in relation the text, music matrices and structures in their own right might have informed the creation of lyrics.

By its very nature, this volume does not set out to examine the canonicity of Machaut's music although it acts in many instances to reinforce its status through the assumption of its uniqueness and ingenuity in the absence of anything comparable. On the other hand, several contributors are clearly concerned with broader cultural issues that can begin to situate Machaut in both place and time in a manner that is more accurate than has hitherto been entertained. Such is the case with Anne Walters Robertson's Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) (the publication of which, as Dr Leach notes in the preface, occurred as the present volume was in press) and Arlt [10], and surveys of the reception of Machaut's music by Earp, Leech-Wilkinson and others[11]. That said, the collection of essays is immensely thought-provoking and should be present on the shelves of any institution teaching and researching the music of the late middle ages.


[1] Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. Machaut's Mass. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.

[2] Fuller, Sarah. "Tendencies and Resolutions: The Directed Progression in Ars Nova Music." Journal of Music Theory 36, no. 2 (1992): 229-258.

[3] Fuller, Sarah. "Exploring Tonal Structure in French Polyphonic Songs of the Fourteenth Century" in Tonal Structures in Early Music, edited by Cristle Collins Judd, New York and London: Garland Publishing Inc., 1998: 61-86; Brothers, Thomas. Chromatic Beauty in the Late Medieval Chanson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

[4] Lefferts, Peter M. "Signature-systems and tonal types in the fourteenth-century French Chanson." Plainsong and Medieval Music 4, no. 2 (1995): 117-47; Plumley, Yolanda. The Grammar of 14th Century Melody: Tonal Organization and Compositional Process in the Chansons of Guillaume de Machaut and the Ars Subtilior. Outstanding Dissertations in Music from British Libraries. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1996.

[5] Bent, Margaret. Counterpoint, Composition and Musica Ficta. Edited by Jessie Ann Owens, Criticism and Analysis of Early Music. New York and London: Routledge, 2002: 7-10.

[6] Fuller, Sarah. "Modal discourse and fourteenth-century French song: A 'medieval' perspective recovered?" Early Music History 17 (1998): 61-108.

[7] Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel and Palmer, R.B., eds, Guillaume de Machaut: Le Livre dou voir dit. New York and London: Garland, 1998.

[8] Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. "ÇRose, lisÈ revisité." In Guillaume de Machaut 1300-2000, edited by Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet and Nigel Wilkins, Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2002: 53-69.

[9] Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. "Machaut's Ros, lis and the Problem of Early Music Analysis." Music Analysis 3, no. 1 (1984): 9-28.

[10] Wolf Arlt, "ÇMachaut in ContextÈ," in Guillaume de Machaut 1300-2000, ed. Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet and Nigel Wilkins, Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2002: 147-162.

[11] Lawrence Earp, "Machaut's Music in the Early Nineteenth Century: the work of Perne, Botté de Toulmon, and Fétis," in Guillaume de Machaut 1300-2000, ed. Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet and Nigel Wilkins. Paris: Presses de l'Université de Paris-Sorbonne, 2002: 9-40; Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance, Musical Performance and Reception. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.