Colin Muset, itinerant poet and minstrel in the thirteenth century, is notable today for the originality in theme and versification which distinguishes him from the numerous poetic voices of the grand chant courtois of his time. The diatribes he composed against his patrons combined playfully with an exultation of love and epicurean appreciation of the pleasures of food and wine, even in a single song. Such complexity of theme introduced a non-aristocratic note to the lyric tradition, opening up musical and poetic space to permit a burgeoning of the personal within the generic.
His songs have been included in numerous anthologies since 1841 (date of Leroux de Lincy's Recueil de chants historiques français) and the first edition devoted entirely to his works was prepared by the great Joseph Bédier in 1912. In 2005 two new editions of his songs were released: one in Italian, edited by Massimiliano Chiamenti, and the other in French, edited by the scholars whose translations are under consideration here, Christopher Callahan and Samuel Rosenberg.
In addition to this admirably complete and sophisticated edition, with music, in the original Old French, Callahan and Rosenberg have prepared a slim companion volume in modern French translation of the 22 songs by Muset. The book of translations stands alone quite well, especially if the reader is more interested in poetry than music: the authors have done an excellent job of transforming the exhaustively informative 100 page introduction to the edition into an instructive, yet concise, 13 page introduction to the translations. The authors first piece together the few biographical details we have of Muset's career, and then follow with a brief description of the manuscripts which transmit his songs. Analysis of the "rhétorique colinienne" including treatment of his themes and versification (but with limited reference to music) complete the introduction. The authors refer readers to the volume of original texts and melodies for more complete analysis of the colinian rhetoric, metrics, thematics and especially music. This quote taken from the volume of original texts and melodies expresses the intrigue of the poet's work, as well as his name and its value as sign:
...muset désigne le joueur de musette et sa musique, mais il évoque les amusements musicaux et amoureux chers au fameuxflâneur qu'est le je poétique de Colin. Plus important, muse et muser sont pour notre poète des synonymes du chant et de l'acte de chanter. Nous pouvons donc reconnaître en ce nom héraldique l'incarnation du ménestrel de métier; en lui, nous approchons du signe par excellence, signifiant et signifié s'y trouvant parfaitement réunis. (Chansons: Texts et Melodies 13).
Such commentary is typical of the adept and perceptive consideration of Muset's songs in the hands of these scholars.
The songs have been translated into modern French with primary regard for meaning and style. The translators have not required reproduction in their translations of either rime or metric, but they are at times successful in retaining them. The translations themselves read fluidly and clearly, if not always melodically, and adhere for the most part to a line-by-line rendering which allows for easy reference to the original language. Indeed, while an opposing page edition which showed both the original language and the translation would have been an ideal mode in which to present these poems for scholars, the presentation of the songs without scholarly apparatus will certainly appeal more to students.
Some of the songs lend themselves more readily to translation than others, as would be expected considering the characteristically more concise nature of Old French when compared with modern French. The word play made possible by such concise language is almost always impossible to translate. The first song, RS 966, for example, loses much of its wordplay in translation and is best appreciated when read side by side with the original version. On the other hand, Callahan and Rosenberg do a nice job of avoiding excessively wordy translation, and thereby are able to retain much of the original work's tempo. Songs RS 74 and RS 972, for example, read in translation particularly well, the translation reflecting the song's rhythm and even retaining most of its rhyme. Certainly worthy of appreciation is the colinian tone captured in the translations: humor, anger, desire, and appetite maintain their power in the trouvère's lyrics.
These lively translations are a delight to read and render Colin Muset's poetry accessible to a wider audience of both scholars and students. Compactness and simplicity of presentation make the volume ideal for students, while combination with the larger edition offers scholars an invaluable resource for the study of Muset's work. Callahan and Rosenberg's work is indeed a valuable addition to the corpus of scholarship on lyric poetry.
See also: Colin, Muset, Christopher J. Callahan, and Samuel N. Rosenberg. Les Chansons De Colin Muset : Textes Et Mélodies. Paris: H. Champion, 2005.