Matthew Steel

title.none: Butterfield, Poetry and Music in Medieval France (Matthew Steel)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.033 05.01.33

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Matthew Steel, Western Michigan University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Butterfield, Ardis. Poetry and Music in Medieval France: From Jean Renart to Guillaume de Machaut. Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, vol. 49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xx, 375. $70.00 0-521-62219-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.33

Butterfield, Ardis. Poetry and Music in Medieval France: From Jean Renart to Guillaume de Machaut. Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, vol. 49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xx, 375. $70.00 0-521-62219-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Matthew Steel
Western Michigan University

The immense scope of the material covered in Butterfield's book requires a scholar of her talents, eminently knowledgeable in both medieval literature and music. Her dual talents emerged in print initially in her promising Cambridge dissertation, titled "Interpolated Lyric in Medieval Narrative Poetry" (1988), in which she examined the great quantity of so-called "refrains" and rondeaux inserted into medieval romances, plays, and other literary genres. Although much of her published scholarship since the dissertation has focused on medieval literature, she has managed, now as a Lecturer in English at University College, London, to publish a few articles that also contribute significantly to our musical understanding of medieval refrains and rondeaux. [[1]] Then in 2002, some fourteen years after the dissertation, as if guided by the cyclic nature of the rondeau form, she returned to it, publishing its sequel (the subject of this review), substantially updated, revised, and expanded.

The title of Butterfield's book is somewhat vague, and perhaps it can be misleading, suggesting that it is an examination of two huge and seemingly distinct repertories, poetry and music, over an extensive period in France that encompasses most of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In fact, her focus is primarily that of her dissertation, concentrating essentially on the intersection of French vernacular poetry and music particularly with regard to inserted lyrics. Following a mostly chronological path, she begins with Jean Renart's Le Roman de la Rose, the earliest known work with inserted lyrics (c. 1210), and traces this tradition through to Machaut's Remede de Fortune and Voir Dit (c. 1340s and 1360s, respectively). The aim of her present study is much broader than that of her dissertation and is not confined merely to an examination of the inserted lyrics. She also discusses the role of the great anthologies of troubadour and trouvère song, with and without musical notation, and even includes in the mix the religious contrafacts of Gautier de Coinci's Le Miracles de Nostre Dame. The heart of her thesis is that French vernacular song existed in a wide variety of contexts, sometimes several for a single song, and that it cannot be understood fully until it is examined within those contexts.

Butterfield is not alone in her premise about the importance of contextuality in medieval song. She acknowledges a certain dependence on, and inspiration from, the important scholarship of others, including Maureen Boulton, Sylvia Huot, Michel Zink, and Gregory Stone (curiously Stone does not appear in the Bibliography). [[2]] However, Butterfield exceeds these studies by investigating the dynamics and volatility of songs as they move from one context to another through time and by evaluating the impact that writing down songs has had on literary and musical forms and genres. In this regard, the "refrains" are the most numerous and most likely to appear in more than one context, and they tend to blur distinctions between literary and musical genres. These short phrases, aphorisms, and exclamations, what Butterfield calls "the fundamental building block of medieval song forms" (6), are near the very center of her research. [[3]] From there she questions the concept of a clear division between songs of high courtly register and those of low popular style, a notion championed most eloquently by Christopher Page. [[4]] With abundant evidence showing that both types of songs occur in settings alluding to sophisticated and wealthy social surroundings, she puts Page's polemic in doubt. Butterfield sees genre differentiation as a product of manuscript presentation, formal distinctions between song and narrative, and gender associations as well as by register and social differences. She also claims to be the first "to link a group of hybrid works geographically, and think through the aesthetic consequences of this association" (7) in her study of the musically and literarily vibrant city of Arras.

Of critical interest to Butterfield is the role of the manuscript, not only as a text but as a representation of a performance. When song is involved, especially when it is mixed with narrative as in so many medieval romances, it calls into question the performative nature of the text. A manuscript's mise en page has much to do with our understanding of a work's intended performance and reception. A case in point would be the presence or absence of musical notation. The scribe of Jean Renart's Roman de la Rose did not include music notation with the inserted lyrics, suggesting a familiarity with the oral event of performing these songs without the need of distancing his audience from that event with the artificial literary convention of musical notation. It is this textual collaboration between music and narrative and the literal and the oral in the manuscript sources that Butterfield addresses in Part I: Text and Performance.

In Chapter I, "Song and written record in the early thirteenth century," Butterfield argues against Paul Zumthor's theory that all medieval texts are inherently fragmentary and thereby incapable of conveying the temporal and gestural aspects of performance. [[5]] She sees in genre an attempt to specify the gestures and context of performance. Her examination of genre begins with a review of the prologues of early romances with songs, the romans á chansons. Jean Renart expresses the novelty and self-consciousness of the roman á chansons in his prologue to Roman de la Rose. He points out the mixing of the genres of song and story and says that the song texts call to memory the actual tunes. Butterfield sees the manuscript's lack of musical notation as confirmation of Renart's oral intent in the song texts. To include musical notation would make the songs a literate event. Butterfield brings into this discussion Gerbert de Montreuil's Le roman de violette, which is modeled on Renart's Rose, and Gautier de Coinci's Miracles as well as the anonymous Aucassin et Nnicolette. In all these works, musical performance seems to be more than a "metaphorical presence" (24) in the text. Gautier even claims to accompany himself on the viele.

The second chapter, "The Sources of song," is the longest of the book. Here, Butterfield traces and compares the manuscript trends for chansonniers and narrative genres. She notes that the courtly grands chants, the mainstay of Renart's lyric insertions, typically lack music notation and are rare in later romans á chansons. Curiously, music notation for grands chants in romances appears only for contrafacts such as those in Gautier de Coinci's Miracles. Butterfield also comments on similarities between chansonniers and romans á chansons observing that in both, music notation appears for only about one-quarter of the songs. There are even similarities in their layouts. She cautions against the notion that the presence of music notation implies a performance. Besides suggesting the orality of the song, lack of music notation for grands chants could stem from transcription difficulties. On the other hand, the thirteenth century saw a steady increase in notated refrains within romances. This, she reasons, is due to the refrains' shorter length and relative simplicity. However, when the refrains are associated with popular and dance songs such as the rondet de carole, it seems antithetical to their nature to be written down. Here, Butterfield reviews the longstanding debate, initiated between Alfred Jeanroy and Joseph Bédier, as to whether refrains are abbreviated versions of dance songs or if they are independent of any particular context. [[6]] She believes that refrains can stand on their own and draws on the fact that Renart seemed to distinguish between refrain and rondet de carole in Roman de la Rose. Further examination shows refrain texts to be a disjunctive element in rondets and suggests an "accidental relationship between a rondet and its refrain" (49). Butterfield portrays independent refrains as providing textual momentum, moving fluidly between speech and song and functioning as a connection between performance and description.

Part I concludes with chapter three, "The performance of song in Jean Renart's Rose." Renart's inserted grands chants are contrasted with the dance songs according to performance circumstances, including the gender of the performers, their social class, and whether the situation is private or public. Indeed, nearly all grands chants are given to the aristocratic male roles and almost exclusively in private situations. Conversely, the refrains and rondets are performed in public by the general company until the very end when the principal male, Conrad, joins in a rondet. Butterfield sees this as a transformation necessary to the plot. Left out of the discussion altogether is a private performance of a chanson de toile, a courtly song of a lower register associated expressly with women, that is given to the principal female, Lïenor. The narrow approach to song and plot, based on this single roman á chansons, seems weak and a bit too contrived to be a useful model for further analyses.

In Part II, "the boundaries of genre," Butterfield sets out to isolate and define the known genre of song and explores the interplay between various genre. This interplay is effected basically through the appearance and cross-referencing of the same refrain or refrain-type in various genres. Chapter four, "The refrain," recounts the types of songs employing refrains including chanson á refrain, chanson avec des refrains, rondeau, motet enté, and motet centon. She also notes the considerable variation in many refrain melodies as they appear in different manuscripts and generic contexts. [[7]] Chapter five, "Refrains in context," takes the refrain "Ainssi doit on aler/a son ami" and examines its appearance in six different works: two narratives, two motets, a rondeau, and a chanson avec des refrains. Butterfield exposes the degree of textual variation that occurs in refrains, which make it nearly impossible to separate individual refrains from refrain variants. In this study, she finds that refrains have a remarkable ability to "mediate between genres" (101). The refrain's ability to meet prescribed expectations for various genre shows it inherent adaptability. Chapter six examines contrafacta in the form of the chanson pieuses found in Gautier de Coinci's Miracles and elsewhere. A parasitic "genre," it resets secular songs with religious texts. Ironically, the very types of songs that Gautier eschewed, i.e. songs of farce and folly, caroles and pastourelles, he chose as models for religious contrafacts. Also in the contrafacts there is a liberal use of refrain citation which Butterfield sees as a deliberate attempt to popularize these songs.

Part III, "The location of culture," looks at the medieval city of Arras as a "nexus of different kinds of poetic production" (125). Chapter seven, "'Courtly' and 'popular' in the thirteenth century," attempts to establish a view of culture in Arras with all its social registers. Drawing on the work of modern scholars of medieval culture, Butterfield draws an analogy between the societal pairing of courtly and popular and that of narrative and refrain. In what seems almost cliché nowadays, she invokes the name and scholarship of literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, using his analysis of Lensky's song in Pushkin's Eugenij Onegin to effect a dense linguistic analogy to medieval composition. [[8]] Chapter eight, "Urban culture: Arras and the puys," continues with the cultural history of Arras. Much of the material here is taken from the standard histories of the city by Berger and Ungureanu. [[9]] Through shared refrains, Butterfield shows the regional web of connections between authors and the various genres of works involved. She reveals in these works how the refrains can either exploit the tension between courtly and popular literary registers or how they can even out the social differences. In what appears to be a mistake on page 149, Butterfield places a refrain, taken from the chanson de geste Audiger, in Le Jeu du Pelerin when in fact such a refrain occurs in Adam's Le jeu de Robin et de Marion. Indeed, Robin et Marion is the subject of chapter nine. A subject of intense research over the years, Adam's Robin et Marion is examined anew, tracing its refrains to other sources in which they appear with the intent of uncovering those elements of the pastourelle that Adam exploited. The "Jeu" is set against the background of political intrigue at the Neapolitan court of Adam's patron, Charles, Roi du Sicile. and offered as a sort of allegory of the events leading to the Sicilian Vespers.

Butterfield turns to the manuscript sources in Part IV, "Modes of Inscription." Chapter ten, "Songs in writing" is an examination of the physical aspects of the manuscript sources including the organization, the script, the music notation, the illuminations, and the borders. The results of her inspection of 231 manuscripts containing seventy- seven works are statistically represented in the book's Appendix (prepared in collaboration with Mark Everist). Here, the presence or absence of music notation is a major concern as is any possible indication that scribes knew they were copying a musical text. Chapter eleven is a detailed look at the unique "chantefable," Aucassin et Nicolette. This thirteenth-century work exists in one manuscript (BN fr. 2168, fol.70-80) and is the most direct of any narrative/music hybrid work in indicating the performance of its musical laisses. Butterfield crosses into the fourteenth century with chapter twelve, "Writing music, writing poetry: Le Roman d Fauvel in Paris BN fr. 146." This Fauvel manuscript is fascinating because it is the only major source of French polyphonic music in the first half of the century, and it introduces new genres: the sottes chansons and the fratras. The 55 refrains are all unique and they function as transitional agents and links between disparate elements.

A comparison of thirteenth and fourteenth century works is the focus of Part V, "Lyric and narrative." Chapter thirteen, "The two Roses: Machaut and the thirteenth century," looks in particular at Machaut's Remede de Fortune, confirming its widely recognized thematic references to the "other" Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, but insisting that it was Renart's Rose that was its exemplar for the relationship between narrative and lyric. Included in this lineage is Le Roman de Fauvel. Though the Remede resembles the thirteenth century romance, its purpose is much more varied than its thirteenth-century models; to a large degree it is didactic, introducing new fixed forms of polyphonic music with refrains and with a new type of music notation. Chapter fourteen, "Rewriting song: chanson, motet and dit," deals with the difficulty of describing the relationship between "narrative" and "lyric" when neither word seems to have had any currency in medieval France. Lacking this terminological distinction, medieval authors resorted to a host of different names to describe their lyric/narrative structures. Some designations are nominal while others, such as the dit and the salut, represent discernable formal distinctions. Chapter 15, "Citation and authorship from the thirteenth to the fourteenth century," highlights the problem of classifying refrains when, by the very nature of the genre, their original context is seemingly impossible to establish. They fail to fit the definition of a proverb and several refrain texts may fit one tune or several tunes may fit one text. Refrains are often constructed of clichés that can be reconstructed in numerous permutations. With these possible refrain formats in mind, Butterfield examines refrain treatment in five critical works: Baudouin de Condé's Li prison d'amours; Traduction et commentaire de l'ars amatoria d'Ovide; Nicole de Margival's Le Dit de la panthere d'amours; and Machaut's Remede de Fortune and Voir Dit.

Finally, Part VI, "The new art," questions the validity of the term "Ars nova" as applied to the fourteenth century because it overlooks a strong dependence on musical and literary developments from the thirteenth century. Chapter sixteen, "The formes fixes: from Adam de la Halle to Guillaume de Machaut," compares the polyphonic rondeaux of Adam to the fixed refrain forms of Machaut. Butterfield sees the differences mainly in terms of text setting with Adam's being syllabic and Machaut's melismatic. Here, Butterfield's limited view disregards the needs of the radically different musical syntaxes in the two repertoires. Among the intervening connections between Adam and Machaut, she includes Roman de Fauvel and several other text-only works. Perhaps Butterfield's most provocative statement in the entire book is that Adam's polyphonic rondeaux should not be seen as polyphonic settings of dance songs but as the result of his experiments with refrains in the polyphony of his motets. She reasons this by comparing Adam's motet and rondeau settings of the same refrains. In the Epilogue, Butterfield quotes the opening of Deschamps' well known eulogy on Machaut in order to challenge the widely accepted notion that Deschamps was marking the end of an era when the art of music and poetry could be conjoined successfully in one writer. She thinks that this interpretation is too simplistic and that it is based on a conventional, and probably faulty, perception of the increasing role of literacy in the late Middle Ages. She points out that literacy never replaced the art of performance. An ever-changing relationship between poetry and music, narrative and lyric, continues on to the present.

Ardis Butterfield has produced a wonderfully insightful work, based on impeccable scholarship, and written in a lively and engaging fashion. It is intended for those who are familiar with medieval musical forms, medieval narrative genres, and the manuscripts of both repertories. However, generalists should find it accessible, especially with the glossary that she has provided. Specialists in narrative with lyric insertions will find this to be an invaluable resource.


[[1]] Most notable are "Repetition and Variation in the Thirteenth-Century Refrain," Journal of the Royal Music Association 116 (1991): 1-23; "The Language of Medieval Music: Two Thirteenth-Century Motets," Plainsong and Medieval Music 2 (1993): 1-16; and "The Refrain and the Transformation of Genre in Le Roman de Fauvel," in Fauvel Studies: Allegory, Chronicle, Music, and Image in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale MS français 146, ed. by Margaret Bent and Andrew Wathey (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 105-59.

[[2]] M. N. M. Boulton, The Song in the Story: Lyric Insertions in French Narrative Fiction, 1200-1400 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993); Sylvia Huot, From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987) and several other monographs; Michel Zink, Roman rose et rose rouge: Le Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole de Jean Renart (Paris: Nizet, 1979); and Gregory B. Stone, The Death of the Troubadour: The Late Medieval Resistance to the Renaissance (Philadelphia: Univeristy of Pennsylvania Press, 1994).

[[3]] According to the standard catalog, Nico van den Boogard's Rondeaux et Refrains du XIIe siecleau debut XIVe (Paris: Klincksieck, 1969), there are more than 2000 refrains and rondeaux with around 500 notated melodies.

[[4]] Christopher Page, Voices and Instruments of the Middle Ages: Instrumental Practices and Songs in France 1100-1300 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

[[5]] Paul Zumthor, La Poesie et la Voix dans la civilisation medievale (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1984), 68.

[[6]] Alfred Jeanroy, Les Origines de la poesie lyrique en France au Moyen Age, 4th ed. (Paris: Champion, 1965) and Joseph Bedier, "Les plus anciennes danses françaises," Revue des deux mondes 31 (1906): 398-424.

[[7]] For this purpose, all transcriptions are borrowed from Maria Fowler, "Musical Interpolations in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century French Narratives" (Ph.D. diss. Yale, 1979).

[[8]] Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. and trans. by Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).

[[9]] Roger Berger, Litterature et societe arrageoises au XIIIe siecle: Les chansons et dits artesiens (Arras, 1981); Berger, Le Necrologie de la confrerie des jongleurs et des bourgeois d'Arras (1194-1361), in 2 vols. (Arras, 1963; 1970); Marie Ungureanu, La Bourgeois naissante societe et litterature bourgeoises d'Arras (Arras, 1955).