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13.04.11, Fritz, La Cloche et la Lyre

13.04.11, Fritz, La Cloche et la Lyre

La cloche et la lyre: Pour une poétique médiévale du paysage sonore is the second book of a two-part study on medieval soundscapes that Jean-Marie Fritz began with Paysages sonores du Moyen Âge: Le versant épistémologique (Honoré Champion, 2000), in which the author studied the epistemology of sound in medieval texts. Fulfilling his promise to publish a second study on the aesthetics of medieval soundscapes (announced in the introduction of Paysages sonores), Fritz's La cloche et la lyre was well worth the wait. Meticulously organized, elegantly written, and extensively researched, Fritz's study of the "soundtrack" of medieval vernacular texts offers new perspectives on the aesthetics of sound and the history of the senses and perception in the Middle Ages.

The title of the book is a reference to the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer's concept of soundscape (translated as paysage sonore) and to the French historian Alain Corbin's Les cloches de la terre: Paysage sonore et culture sensible dans les campagnes au XIXe siècle (Albin Michel, 1994). Although Fritz's analysis focuses primarily on medieval literary texts composed in langue d'oïl, Fritz broadens the scope of his study by including medieval works on music, history, philosophy, and theology. He discusses ancient authors, as well as modern ones; and his corpus includes texts in English (The Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), German (Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival and Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan und Isolde), Italian (Dante's Commedia; Boccaccio and Petrarch are also well represented), and Occitan (the troubadours), in addition, of course, to numerous works on music, rhetoric, philosophy, and theology written in Greek and Latin. This inclusion of representative works from different periods and regions of medieval Europe broadens our view of the medieval soundscape and offers new insights that will interest philosophers, anthropologists, historians, musicians, and literary scholars alike.

In his introduction, after a brief discussion of soundscapes in Joyce and Proust, Fritz explains that the medieval soundscape is comprised of both sound objects and a perceiving subject (9). Fritz's analysis of the medieval soundscape does not involve simply a history of sound and how it develops over the course of the Middle Ages (with new developments in technology and urban development); rather, it is an aesthetic history of the senses that focuses on how the subject perceives these sounds and represents them in literary texts. Therefore, Fritz's approach does not focus on the medieval text as performance, utterance, or music (what Fritz identifies as an "external" study of sound (13). Instead, Fritz concentrates on sound as it is represented within the medieval text and how the medieval author's organization of sounds within a text creates a desired aesthetic effect.

Fritz's study is organized in three parts, with each part containing three chapters. The first part, entitled "Ecarts (Stylistique)," analyzes stylistic differences across genres (Chapter one, "L'horizon du genre"), centuries (Chapter two, "L'horizon du siècle"), and authors (Chapter three, "L'horizon de l'auteur"). In order to accomplish his comparative study of sound across genres, Fritz creates three categories of sound to be studied: voices of nature, musical instruments, and human sounds. These three types of sound are based on scholastic reinterpretations of categories laid out by Boethius in De musica, whose distinction between the music of the world, of instruments, and of man is, Fritz affirms, foundational throughout the Middle Ages (15). In his study of genres in Chapter one, Fritz analyzes representations of sound in the lyric, the chanson de geste, and romance. The lyric of the troubadours and trouvères, which is dominated by the shepherd's flute, birdsong, and the singing of the poet, contrasts sharply with the blaring of horns and trumpets, the cries of battle, and the noise of war found in the chanson de geste. The chanson de geste is the privileged genre of clamor and the hammering of sword on shield; the lyric prefers the single singing voice and asceticism. Because romance is a "genre ouvert" (70)--an open genre--it is able to incorporate the fracas of the epic and the austerity of the lyric.

In Chapter two, Fritz studies the impact that new technologies, such as the cannon and the clock, and new instruments have on medieval authors. Using medieval texts to show the sonorous effects of cannons on the battlefield and clocks in the palace of Charles V and the belfry of Valenciennes, Fritz argues that, although these new inventions significantly altered the medieval soundscape, these changes are due much more to the evolving sensibilities of medieval authors than to the invention of new technologies or urban development. In studying the evolution of the medieval soundscape, Fritz argues, we learn more about the auditory perspective and subjectivity of the medieval author than the world he or she inhabited.

In Chapter three, Fritz studies the role the individual author plays in the composition of the "score" of the medieval text (150). This chapter, perhaps more than any, will appeal to scholars interested in literary subjectivity. Studying the lyric, the chanson de geste, and romance, Fritz shows how some authors diverge from the auditory conventions of their genre. Marcabru, Bertran de Born, and Colin Muset stand out, each in his own way, as innovators of the medieval soundscape. The authors of La Chanson de Guilaume, Aliscans, and Aspremont are all remarkable for the auditory effects of crescendo and decrescendo they create in their representations of the battlefield. In contrast, Chrétien is remarkable for his use of silence in his romances.

In "Lieux (Topique)," the second part of La cloche et la lyre, Fritz explores the medieval soundscape in descriptions of people and places (Chapter four, "Portraits et paysages"), the hierarchical and directional associations of "low" and "high" sounds (Chapter five, "Son et espace: Le haut et le bas"), and the association of sound with distance and the unknown (Chapter six, "Son et espace: Le proche et le lointain"). In Chapter four, Fritz discusses the primacy of sight in the medieval imagination: beautiful places, faces, and spaces are all described visually in medieval texts. Although the trouvère sings of his lady's beauty, her voice is hardly heard. Her voice remains distant, and is rarely ever described. When it is described, "sweet" seems to be the predominant adjective; but the sweetness of the lady's voice frequently evokes the image of the siren: seductive, tempting, and lethal (161). The voices of the heroes of romance are seldom described, except in the Roman de Troie of Benoît de Sainte-Maure. Certain sounds have strong associations with the locus amoenus or the locus terribilis--with Paradise or Hell. The auditory commonplaces associated with the soundscape of the locus amoenus are birdsongs and the murmuring of water. The soundscape of the locus terribilis is made up of antithesis and absence: the owl takes the place of the nightingale and the murmur of water is replaced by torrential rivers. There are no flowers, grass, or birds--only snow and a wintry landscape (182). These topoi are frequently employed and amplified in representations of Hell and Heaven: Hell is a place of noise, cries, moaning, and the gnashing of teeth (cf. the soundscape of the chanson de geste), whereas Heaven is a soundscape of song, where, paradoxically, silence often reigns.

In Chapter five, Fritz analyzes the structure of the medieval soundscape by discussing sounds considered high and those considered low in both humans and instruments. Singing is associated with birds, spring, and the angelic in the medieval imagination; shouting is connected with noise, battle, clamor, death, and the diabolical. Yawning, farting, burping, hiccupping, coughing, and snoring all have negative connotations. Again, we see the positive connotations of silence: humankind differs from animals, Fritz points out in his reading of Albert the Great, in that animals make noise during sexual intercourse, while men and women remain silent. Just as the noises of humans are perceived according to notions of high and low, so too are musical instruments--although the hierarchical evaluation of instruments often depends on the individual author. The seven chords of the lyre are often associated with the seven planets of the medieval cosmos, therefore making the lyre one of the most elevated of instruments. Wind instruments are often considered "low" because of the way they deform the face of the musician.

In Chapter six, sound is the voice of the unknown: sounds are often heard in medieval romances without the hero knowing where they are coming from--or what they mean. Here again, sound can be organized according to notions of high or low. Unknown and distant voices often guide the knights of romance to their next mission: these voices may come from on high (these are of divine origin and therefore have a positive value) or from below (these voices are diabolical and have negative connotations).

The third and final part of Fritz's study, "Figures" (Poétique), focuses on how sound is represented verbally in medieval texts. Fritz begins Part Three with a study of onomatopoeia (Chapter seven, "Imiter (Collages)") and comparison (Chapter eight, "Comparer (Analogies)") before considering the medieval text as a musical "score" (Chapter nine, "Composer (La partition du texte)"). Studying how animal cries, sounds, and melodies are represented in medieval texts through the creation of new words, Fritz argues that onomatopoeia cannot record the medieval soundscape faithfully--that is, objectively--since it is dependent on an author's country of origin and maternal language. Verbal representation of non-verbal sound varies from culture to culture: the cock sings "cuccuru" in Latin, "cocorico" in French, "kikeriki" in German, and "cock-a-doodle-doo" in English (295). Fritz also discusses the representation of foreign languages, dialects, and "franglais" and how the insertion of foreign languages can function as an "effet de réel" in the medieval soundscape (315).

In Chapter eight, Fritz studies how soundscape is represented through analogy and metaphor. The clatter of battle becomes louder than thunder; a hero's cry is louder than a trumpet--the medieval author uses these comparisons to describe the indescribable. Some authors use the four other senses to represent sound; others use sound to describe the remaining senses. Sounds are frequently "seen" in the chanson de geste; light is "silenced" in Dante; Jesus is described by Saint Bernard as "honey in our mouths" and "a melody to our ears" (340).

In Chapter nine, Fritz reads medieval texts as "musical scores." Sounds establish the "tempo" of a text and are used as an organizing principle of the soundscape. The spring opening of the canso becomes an overture. Fritz discusses the final envoy stanza of the lyric in a section entitled "Codas" (374). He argues that the chanson de geste can be read as a three-part score, composed of a prelude, a crescendo, and then a coda, or decrescendo. In the Queste du saint Graal, the intervention of divine voices structures the romance and gives the quest for the Holy Grail its rhythm.

Medievalists of all disciplines will be happy to find a cozy place on their shelves for this impressive and beautifully written volume. Fritz embellishes his elegant prose with vocabulary suitable to his subject matter. If Fritz could have done anything to improve La cloche et la lyre, he could have spent more time in his introduction discussing R. Murray Schafer's theories on soundscape and their connection with his approach. I would have also liked to have seen a discussion of the trobairitz in his discussion of the "Horizon of the Author" and the voice of women in poetry. Considering, however, the breadth and inclusiveness of his corpus and the exactitude with which he examines it, it would have been difficult to have analyzed the medieval soundscape in any more works than Fritz has in La cloche et la lyre. As it is, Fritz has elucidated a relatively unexplored area of medieval French literature and has opened the way for new studies on, and new approaches to, the history of the senses and perception in the Middle Ages.