12.09.23, Peraino, Giving Voice to Love

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Bradford Lee Eden

The Medieval Review 12.09.23

Peraino, Judith A.. Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self-Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xxii, 346. ISBN: 978-0-19-975724-4.

Reviewed by:
Bradford Lee Eden
Valparaiso University

There are quite a few studies available on the music of the troubadours, the French and Occitan love songs of the twelfth through fourteenth centuries. What distinguishes this particular study from its predecessors is a unique blend of literary and musicological research that explores in detail over 250 songs from the surviving repertoire. The methodology used to break out the subtle structure of the songs by the author exhibits a knowledge of literary conventions in order to expose the personal self-expression on the part of the texts, and to bring out the musical conventions along with the composerliness of the genre.

The Introduction provides the breakout of previous research on this topic, while setting up the concept of self-expression in troubadour music and lyrics. The subtle use of words such as cor (heart), cors (self), and boca (singing mouth) by Folquet de Marselha (fl. 1178-95) in one of his songs illustrates the depth and blending of text and language that appears throughout much of the troubadour repertoire, a triangulated relationship of love, self, and song which the author plans to document and detail. There is an intense juxtaposition of monastic asceticism and almost raw desire in both the music and the lyrics that have survived, and the author describes the historical and modern research upon which she bases her own hypotheses. Each chapter of the book is meant to expose different ways that the personal, subjective voice of the troubadour, that self- proclaimed I, appears throughout the surviving repertoire.

Chapter 1 explores tornadas and refrains in troubadour music, the terminating lines of a lyric where structure and form break down to allow changes of voice from the traditional to the personal. The author focuses on these turns and returns throughout her study, illustrating temporal, theoretical, and musical examples as evidence of self-expression. In particular, one manuscript from the surviving trouvere repertoire contains numerous examples of these juxtapositions: trouv. M. Its contents bridge two centuries, with both northern and southern melodies, songs, and chansons, mixing forms, genres, notations, and monophonic and polyphonic layers. The author breaks apart numerous tornadas from this manuscript, focusing on the back and forth between the conventions of troubadour and trouvere lyrics and the emergence of personal self-expression by the end of the fourteenth century.

Chapter 2 goes a step farther into trouv. M, examining the concepts of disruption and lateness in the emergence of the descort, a new addition to the repertoire that provides conflicts in sound and words. There are only four Occitan descorts that survive with music, and they are late additions to the trouv. M manuscript. Lais and chansons that have been added after the Occitan descorts in trouv. M show that this new direction begins an acceleration rather than a decline in the trouvere musical tradition.

Chapter 3 is divided into two distinct sections. The first section discusses the transmission over time by scribes of the repertories of Thibaut de Champagne and Adam de la Halle in the trouv. T manuscript. The second section examines the conscious revision by later scribes of three strophic chansons by named trouveres using the descort influence described in the previous chapter.

Chapter 4 goes deeper into the trouvere repertoire and examines a sub- genre known as motet ente (grafted motet), monophonic motets that are a combination of single-voiced and multi-voiced songs. Their refrains are very complex mixtures of personal and traditional emotions, in effect becoming aural equivalents of the polyphonic motets. The author provides a detailed listing of these motets in the surviving manuscripts in Table 4.1. She then dissects a number of these songs; Example 4.2 and Table 4.3 illustrates one of these complex relationships in the rondeau Prendes I garde. As a three-part motet in the Montpellier Codex of the same time period, the full effect of numerous voices and turning phrases is apparent; as a monophonic motet in the trouvere repertoire, the descort innovation can be seen influencing the complex voicings and phrase turns. Understanding the motet ente in the development of the hybrid voice in the trouvere repertoire is uniquely and distinctly detailed and dissected in this chapter.

Chapter 5, then, tackles a question that has perplexed musicologists for decades: in an era of polyphonic motets, why did Guillaume de Machaut write his virelais as monophonic pieces? Twenty-five of Machaut's thirty-three virelai are in a single voice format; they comprise the second largest genre of his surviving compositional career. Both the virelai and the lai were on their way out of the repertory during Machaut's lifetime, yet he spent a considerable part of his musical and poetic skill composing these monophonic songs. The reason, now that one understands the complex development of the tornadas and descorts in the trouvere repertoire, is the power of voicing, disruption, and expressiveness that could be engendered through the hybrid gendered exploration that Machaut was able to achieve and indeed bring to its dramatic height during his lifetime. The author compares this journey not to a circle but to a spiral staircase: medieval musicians able to incorporate their own self-expression and voice within the confines of the courtly lyric tradition in a way never before documented.

The author has dissected and disassembled a large amount of the surviving trouvere repertory, in order to document and prove the subtle depth and breadth of self-expression that the lyrics and music interweave throughout the centuries of interest. In addition to the research itself, a companion website is available which provides access to performances and expanded transcriptions of the works discussed in the book, many of which are specially recorded using high production standards, many for the first time ever. Various indices and an extensive bibliography round out this wonderful new examination of a unique and expressive medieval repertory, which will only engender more discussion and research in the coming years.

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Author Biography

Bradford Lee Eden

Valparaiso University