05.06.01, Haines, Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouveres

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Daniel O'Sullivan

The Medieval Review baj9928.0506.001


Haines, John. Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouverers: The Changing Identity of Medieval Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. Pp. xii, 347. ISBN: 0521826721.

Reviewed by:
Daniel O'Sullivan
The University of Mississippi

A passage near the center of this wonderful book encapsulates its importance: "The nineteenth-century reception of troubadour and trouvere song has been frequently surveyed, beginning in the nineteenth century itself. [...] [T]hese usually locate the earliest study of troubadour and trouvere song at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when music of the Middle Ages was supposedly rescued from oblivion" (157). In demonstrating the short-sightedness of this position, it is John Haines who has rescued from oblivion the history of troubadour and trouvere reception beginning in the Middle Ages, through the intervening centuries, and up to the present day. Haines' richly illustrated and painstakingly documented work is both delightful to read and provocative in its long view of troubadour and trouvere editing, interpretation, and performance.

Haines begins his history with troubadour and trouvere primary sources: the chansonniers. It is well known that a substantial gap of time passed, in some cases two centuries, between these songs' first performances and written preservation in their extant form. Haines quite correctly takes aim at the interpretative issues that arose from this gap and expertly discusses the ways that compilers, scribes, and performers sought to bridge the temporal and, in many cases, cultural divide between the songs they transmitted and their contemporary audience's worldview. Indeed, the tension between historical artefact and living tradition is a leitmotif in Haines' work, and he artfully analyzes how aficionados, both professional and amateur, have struggled between these two poles for the past eight centuries. In addition to his comments on the chansonniers, Haines also considers the role that the legendary vidas and other paratexts such as Raimon Vidal's Razos de trobar played in relating Occitan song to non-Occitan audiences in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

In his second chapter on the Renaissance, Haines discusses the creation of the simple, naive style marotique as well as the rise of interest among humanists in medieval music as part of the wider literary and cultural humanistic project on the antiquite francoyse. This dichotomous response to troubadour and trouvere would persist for centuries to come. On the one hand, Clement Marot was instrumental in creating a vision of the Middle Ages as naive, innocent, and idealistic by comparison to the aesthetically and socially complicated times in which he lived. On the other, alongside this more spontaneous and emotive reaction to the Middle Ages arose a more scholarly and antiquarian approach championed by, in particular, Jean de Nostredame and Claude Fauchet. These two authors continued to transmit legends such as Guilhem de Cabestanh's eaten heart and Thibaut de Champagne's love for Blanche de Castille. The latter was incorporated into the Grandes Chroniques de France, which leads one to consider how the trouvere art became incorporated into nationalistic concerns at a time when France and Italy wrestled over the question of vernacular poetics: Italian poets claimed the troubadours as their forebears, which provoked a response from French writers. The resulting debate on whether French or Italian was the rightful heir to Latin as the literary language of prestige became, at times, fierce. At the center of these nationalistic discourses, we find the figures of Roland and Amadis surfacing time and time again in contemporary compositions. Throughout the chapter, Haines makes the period and its lively debates come alive for the reader.

The third chapter on "Enlightened readers" might very well be the most surprising of Haine's book. Voltaire's characterization of the Middle Ages as an "age gothique" notwithstanding, several Enlightenment thinkers became engrossed in medieval music. Just as competing approaches in the Renaissance gave rise to an emotive style marotique and a scholarly antiquarianism, a similar multi-centered view of troubadour and trouvere song took hold during the Enlightenment. Proponents of scientific and rational inquiry turned their attention to medieval manuscripts: indices of primary were prepared and editions proliferated, one of the most famous being Pierre-Alexandre Levesque de la Ravalliere's 1742 work, Les Poesies du Roy de Navarre. Editors like Ravalliere grappled with the problem of presenting these texts to contemporary readers, which also concerned those wishing to perform this music. In this regard, one individual stands out for his interest in performing medieval music in a "modernized" style: Francois Augustin de Moncrif. Moncrif, less interested in erudition than good music, freely improvised, or to use Haines' word, "imagined" the medieval art of the troubadours and trouveres in ways that were more palpable to the eighteenth-century audience. The "Moncrifian" approach was marked by alterations of vocabulary, syntax, and melody that gave his imitations a kind of medieval "feel." In turn, and as is the case throughout the book, Haines supplies copious examples, tables, and facsimiles that both illustrate his points but also create for the reader a "feel" for the Moncrifian enterprise.

In chapters 3 and 4, Haines takes the reader over familiar terrain: the emergence of nineteenth-century philology in the wake of logical positivism, the nationalistic debates that ensued, and the perennial question of modal or mensural interpretations that persist today. This is not to say that Haines brings nothing new to light. In fact, this reviewer feels that scholars will appreciate especially his efforts to demonstrate how questions of rhythm arose long before Beck, Aubry, and Ludwig set pen to paper. His account of the wrangling among these three giants of medieval musicology as they fought over techical vocabulary and, especially, scholarly recognition among peers, proves to be as gripping a tale as any encountered in the manuscripts that these men scrutinized. Equally compelling is his ability to bring these concerns to the present and show how they remain of great concern to modern scholars like Hans Tischler, Hendrik van der Werf, Elizabeth Aubrey, and Christopher Page. Upon finishing the last chapter, one senses immediately that Haines has accomplished his goal: a genealogy of critical reception from the compilers of the thirteenth-century chansonniers to present-day scholarship has been achieved.

In his conclusion, Haines surveys the preceding chapters and anticipates a few objections that readers might raise. For example, he feels that readers might think that he spends too much time on the Enlightenment, a comment that this reviewer believes to be unwarranted. On the contrary, it is precisely in respect to the Enlightenment that Haines' contribution might be most appreciated. However, the author might overstate the newness of his position of the medieval chansonniers as representations of a certain idiosyncratic vision of the troubadour and trouvere art: Haines is not striking out boldly into new terrain as much as he is forging ahead on a trail that scholars have been blazing for at least the past two decades.

Students of troubadour and trouvere song, individuals and institutions interested in the history of editorial methods, and scholars of medievalism will find themselves well served by Haines' book. It is an admirable synthesis of myriad sources and masses of archival evidence that is well thought out, organized, and articulated.

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Author Biography

Daniel O'Sullivan

The University of Mississippi