03.05.15, Dillon, Medieval Music-Making and the "Roman de Fauvel"

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Nils Holger Petersen

The Medieval Review baj9928.0305.015


Dillon, Emma. Medieval Music-Making and the "Roman de Fauvel". Series: New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xiii, 304. ISBN: 0-521-81371-9.

Reviewed by:
Nils Holger Petersen
University of Copenhagen

Emma Dillon's book explores the employment of music writing in the manuscript, Paris Bibliothèque National de France fr.146. An enormous interdisciplinary breadth is brought to bear on the specific aim of interpreting "meaning" in the way the manuscript was designed. Dillon focuses on the interplay between words, musical writing and design, and the illustrations in the manuscript, with its famous version of the "Roman de Fauvel" as the central material. Dillon does not give a traditional account of a topic from medieval music history. She draws on a wide array of traditional historical, philological, musicological, and palaeographical disciplines but also on recent discourses as for instance New Philology. Her book places itself -- not so much by referring to such discourses as in its own scholarly practice -- as a work of interarts studies and of medievalism. I shall return to this at the end of my review.

A central theme concerns how to understand the presence of music writing in manuscripts not (primarily) designed for performance. The lyric-interpolated French romances of the thirteenth century (and later) are prime examples and are seen by Dillon as the most obvious models for this aspect of fr.146's version of Fauvel. Whereas the prevalent use of musical elements in romances -- songs are often used as lines of persons and thus form part of the narrative -- may be a feature of performative practices connected to such texts, the way pieces of music (of very different genres and styles) in fr.146 have been inserted into the earlier "Roman de Fauvel" does not generally seem to conform to such practices. In a number of cases, the verbal text of a music piece in the manuscript may be read as a commentary to themes in the narrative, in other cases even such connections have seemed hard to establish.

What seems to be the first version of the "Roman de Fauvel" -- preserved in a number of manuscripts -- was apparently written by a chancery clerk of the French royal household (identified as Gervais du Bus) around 1314 maybe as an exhortation or a satirical response to certain (probably contemporary) events in the court of King Philip "le Bel." The protagonist of the narrative, the horse Fauvel, seems to refer to Enguerran de Marigny, a counsellor to the king, who, during the Winter of 1314-15, was accused for abuse of power, arrested, prosecuted and executed. The uniquely preserved and much expanded version of the narrative which was copied in fr.146 (probably around 1317) has incorporated numerous songs into the earlier narrative and also added a second part. Dillon sees fr.146 not just as a compilation of texts which include the new and longer "Roman de Fauvel" (in itself more than twice the size of the earlier roman), but as a consciously (and carefully) designed entity. (The manuscript also includes a section of songs by Jehannot de L'Escurel and a verse chronicle of French history 1300-16, the chronique métrique).

The connections to the mentioned political events have been studied by numerous scholars since the nineteenth century as have the politico-moral uses to which the Fauvel narrative (in its various versions) was brought; the new version in fr.146 may very likely have been conceived as a royal admonition for King Philip V who ascended the throne in 1317. In recent years, scholarship has shed new light on the complicated materials, not the least since the publication of a complete facsimile of the manuscript in 1990 (edited by Roesner, Avril and Freeman). This was followed up by scholarship made possible by the new accessibility of knowledge about the manuscript, among this the Fauvel Studies edited by Margaret Bent and Andrew Wathey in 1998, a volume which in many ways may be said to constitute Dillon's point of departure (and to which she has contributed).

The expanded Fauvel version contains clues about its editor/compiler/re-writer, and whether the name indicated (on the much interpreted f. 23v) -- Chaillou de Pesstain -- is fictitious or real, or a collective name, recent scholarship, including Dillon, has been occupied with the question of authorial presence in the manuscript.

Through painstaking palaeographical work (also leaning on recent work by Joseph Morin) Emma Dillon convincingly establishes a scribal profile of the manuscript as a whole. This becomes a fundamental tool for her interpretation of its construction. She argues that one of the scribes (referred to as scribe C/E, since C and E before Morin's work were used as designations of what was considered to be two scribes) seems to have been supervising the copying of the manuscript and to have been at work at the "frames" of the sections. He seems to have had at least some responsibility for the composition and editing of the entire manuscript (152-72). By way of an intricate discussion of the index and its possible functions, the outcome of all this is the construction of a scribal figure who fits the assumed position of the earlier mentioned authorial figure of the rubric on f. 23v, messire Chaillou de Pesstain.

Having constructed an editorial authority behind the manuscript, Dillon proceeds to discuss "meaning" both in its composition as a whole and in individual juxtapositions of words, musical writing and illustrations. All of this is quite involved. The account is learned but always with clear aims to produce interpretations of the manuscript and very often gives surprising and interesting viewpoints. Dillon provides perspectives based on solid information and analytical tools from a number of different disciplines; of all this I can only take up certain themes and questions in the following:

One basic idea behind the book is that musical writing may not necessarily have been made with sounding performance as the goal (especially 29-61 and 216-25). However, I was slightly surprised that Dillon (referring to a number of experts concerning various aspects of music writing at the time, Margaret Bent, Susan Rankin, and Rebecca Baltzer among others, as well as to broad accounts of music philosophy and ethnology, primarily Bojan Bujic) does not consider the important work of Leo Treitler (and others) on the origins and functions of the earliest European music notation (except for listing one of Treitler's publications in the bibliography). Treitler could have offered a fundamental support to this part of her argument: musical notation does not seem (even from the outset) to have been produced solely with performative aims. At one point Dillon refers to a passage from Franco of Cologne's Ars cantus mensurabilis to indicate that he wished to extend a theologically based comment to "the way the notes look on the page." However, the quoted passage simply states that there is no graphical difference between the twofold 'longa imperfecta' and the threefold (and, through its reference to the Trinity, perfect) 'longa perfecta' and nothing more (51-52).

Dillon's interpretations interest me as "readings," but to what extent do they reflect authorial intentions in the fourteenth century? Dillon understands the opening and ending blank folios of the manuscript by reference to medieval number symbolism (the number five in conjunction with the medieval cult of the Five Wounds of Christ, 178-81 and 188-91). She establishes a context for this by interpreting the opening complainte and its possible relations to the motet Aman novi / Heu Fortuna / Heu me in the second part of the Fauvel narrative (183-88). However, constructing an interpretation on building blocks of other readings may bring interesting results, but weakens the connection to a historically underpinned knowledge. Dillon reads the complex of verbal text and music on f. 45r (the close of the roman) as a statement by Chaillou staging the end of his scribal and authorial activity as his own "crucifixion." The layout of the musical notation in combination with multilayered textual (and musical) references to wine drinking form the interpretative basis for this using the crucifixion illustration on f. 43r and the biblical passion narratives as the context. The layout of the musical writing on f. 45r (notably the position of the last musical line) is read by comparing it to a common design in thirteenth-century crucifixion illustrations where Adam holds up a communion chalice to catch the blood from the crucified body of Christ (201-15). Dillon here (and elsewhere) points to ways in which the manuscript can be understood to let elements of medieval church rituals resurface in complex ways through its layout. But the question of the fourteenth-century intentions remains open.

Dillon argues in creative and stimulating ways. She takes the graphical and material sides of book production serious, also as objects for interpretation. Her discussion of the nineteenth-century scholarship of the "Roman de Fauvel" (122-46) contributes to the study of medievalism. Her interpretations of the manuscript belong to what Paul Ricoeur and André LaCocque have called the foreground of the text: the reception of the fr.146. Whether they correspond to the "original" intentions is a different question. Dillon often distinguishes carefully between modern suggestions and interpretations and authorial intentions. But there are cases where such distinctions are blurred (190 and 215) or where they disappear as the argument evolves. At the very end of the book, Dillon refers to a conjecture by Leo Schrade that Guillaume de Machaut may have been responding to the lai Pour recouvrer alegience in his Lay Mortel (278-79). She points out that nothing is known about the owners of fr.146 prior to the beginning of the fifteenth century and makes it clear that we are dealing with a hypothesis based on readings of the two songs. However, on p. 280 she refers to Machaut's "citation" of the Fauvel lai, and on p. 282 at her conclusion, Machaut's song has become just "one witness to the traces left by the manuscript on its flight across the centuries".

This is not a major point in itself, but it raises the methodological question why it should be necessary to claim one's readings as historically intended. The foreground of the complicated manuscript is important enough in itself to justify Dillon's book. Scholarly readings may, I believe, be of interest without being established as authorial intentions. They may point to structures and features in and around the text in question (as Dillon's always do). Claims to authorial intention and (or) historical factuality, when not substantiated solidly, may ultimately question the constructions of meaning by undermining confidence in the argumentation. I see Dillon's book as an example of medievalism and of modern reading practice: a continuing construction of a medieval manuscript, not in terms of historical factuality, but in terms of contributing to its foreground. With Dillon's use of modern discourses (Foucault and the New Philology), why appeal to ideas of historically true interpretations?

By way of conclusion: I have learned a great deal from this book. The weaving together of different discourses and interpretational strategies is impressively enlightening. But is there a divergence between what the book has done (a fine achievement in itself) and what it in some places seems to claim that is has done?

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Author Biography

Nils Holger Petersen

University of Copenhagen