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22.08.12 Clément et al. (eds.), Poésie et musique à l’âge de l’Ars subtilior

22.08.12 Clément et al. (eds.), Poésie et musique à l’âge de l’Ars subtilior

Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, MS J.II.9 (Turin) is a large, luxurious manuscript of plainchant and French- and Latin-texted polyphonic compositions copied in the early fifteenth century. Scholars group Turin among a handful of late-medieval sources that contain rhythmically and notationally complex compositions, a repertoire that musicologists term the ars subtilior. [1] Comprised entirely of unica, Turin is the least understood of these sources; the manuscript’s date, provenance, and authorship remain disputed. The collection is remarkable among contemporaneous musical sources for its song texts, which reference historical figures connected with the francophone Lusignan court of Cyprus. Previously these characteristics prompted scholars to hypothesize that Turin was copied in France or Cyprus. This position was subsequently challenged by Karl Kügle, who presented evidence that Turin was compiled in the 1430s in Northern Italy under the patronage of the Avogadro family of Brescia. [2]

Poésie et musique à l’âge de l’Ars subtilior, edited by Gisèle Clément, Isabelle Fabre, Gilles Polizzi, and Fañch Thoraval, is an interdisciplinary collection of essays that surveys the historical context of Turin. This volume is an output of the research project Approche performative des pratiques musicales et littéraires dans les milieux curiaux et cléricaux en Chypre vers 1430,which culminated in a colloquium held at the University of Montpellier in 2015. There are resonances between this collection and the last edited volume that focused on Turin--the output of a colloquium organized in 1992 by the late Ursula Günther and Ludwig Finscher in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus. [3] While Günther’s and Finscher’s collection focused on the repertory of Turin, Clément et al.’s volume situates a handful of detailed analyses within a broader examination of contemporaneous Cypriot culture to paint a picture of the world in which Turin was compiled. The structure of the volume cultivates a coherent dialogue between chapters, allowing hypotheses to be interrogated and disputed. Turin is positioned in relation to the Lusignan court of Cyprus, a locus of exchange between Europe, the Byzantine Empire, and the Middle East. A particular strength of this collection is that it presents a rich discussion of cultural relations between mainland Europe and Cyprus during the later Middle Ages and Early Modern period. This allows the reader to make sense of the perceived internal cultural heterogeneity of Turin, and illustrates compellingly that the contents of this manuscript reflect the dynamic cultural exchanges that characterized the late-medieval world.

The volume is divided into three sections; the first examines the cultural context of Turin. Particular attention is paid to the political climate of the early fifteenth-century Lusignan court and intellectual influences from the European continent, notably humanism. “Résonances humanistes à la cour de Nicosie (1411-1423)” by Gilles Grivaud orientates the remainder of the volume through an introductory cultural history of the Cypriot court in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Grivaud discusses networks of exchange between Cyprus, Northern Italy, and Aragon, detailing the roles of King Janus of Cyprus (r. 1398-1432) and his brother Henry of Lusignan in cultivating relationships with Italian humanists in both Cyprus and Italy. By emphasizing the European-Byzantine makeup of the Cypriot court, the chapter adumbrates the cross-cultural characteristics of Turin and Cyprus that are discussed in subsequent chapters. The influence of Italian humanism on Cypriot court culture is examined further in “La rhétorique humaniste au service des élites chypriotes” by Clémence Revest. Revest analyzes panegyrics that contributed to efforts to weave a narrative in which the Cypriot court represented the legitimate heir to Greek and Frankish culture. A notable example is the preface to Leonardo Giustiniani’s Latin translation of Plutarch’s Comparison of Cimon and Lucullus, which celebrates Henry of Lusignan. The wide proliferation of texts such as this, which survives in 77 manuscript sources, calls into question the commonly held belief that Cyprus maintained merely a peripheral presence within European culture.

In “Dans le sillage de Charlotte de Bourbon (1386/1390-1422),” Philippe Trélat discusses the culture surrounding Charlotte of Bourbon, queen consort of Janus. Trélat posits that Charlotte’s extensive influence “foreshadows…female models of power in Cyprus in the fifteenth century” (59). [4] Charlotte’s presence in Cyprus established a reciprocal relationship with French courts, resulting in a flourishing of Franciscan and francophone activity. Trélat supports the hypothesis that the French musicians Charlotte employed, such as the composer Jean Hanelle (d. after 1436), may have played a role in the conception of Turin. This idea is elaborated further in Apostolos G. Kouroupakis’s “King Janus of Cyprus and the Great Schism,” which discusses the political and religious life of Cyprus during the western Schism. Focusing on the perspective of Janus, Kouroupakis argues that Turin played both a political and cultural role in establishing a new image of Cyprus to western Europe as the island exercised increasing independence from the papacy.

To conclude the first part of the book, Evelien Chayes’s “Les Lusignan de Chypre à l’époque du premier humanisme français” explores French “proto-humanism” (69) through the career of the cardinal Hugh of Lusignan (d. 1442). Analyses of two manuscripts contemporaneous with Turin are accompanied by several beautiful color plates. [5] By illustrating that these sources bring together intellectual and political themes that united the European and Byzantine worlds, Chayes argues convincingly that Turin is thematically similar to contemporaneous manuscripts, despite its status as extraordinary among musical sources.

The second part of this volume pays closer attention to the contents of Turin, providing several analyses of the manuscript’s French poetry. In “A paines puis congnoistre joye d’ire,” Isabelle Fabre positions Turin within a long tradition of French lyric through an analysis of Dolour d’amer qui en mon cuer repaire. Fabre illustrates that this ballade cites the text of Ire d’amors qui en mon cuer repaire by the trouvère Gace Brulé (c. 1160 to after 1213). She hypothesizes that Brulé’s work was channeled through the output of Guillaume Machaut (c. 1300-1377), a position that is discussed further by Yolanda Plumley (103). Turin’s “aesthetic” of intertextuality (85) contributed to the cultivation of a perceived French identity on Cyprus. Plumley’s “Memories of the Mainland in the Songs of the Cyprus Codex” leads directly from Fabre’s chapter into a broader discussion of citation. Plumley posits that citations can reveal information about the material and cultural circumstances of even unnamed authors. Highlighting several points of intertextuality, including a network of citation of Li Regret Guillaume (1339) by Jean de le Mote within fourteenth- and fifteenth-century sources, Plumley argues that Turin’s composer(s) commanded extensive cultural knowledge of the princely courts of France. The fidelity of citations indicates that the author(s) enjoyed access to a written exemplar of trouvère lyric.

In “Les rondeaux du codex de Chypre” Christelle Chaillou-Amadieu situates a close analysis of the rondeau Puisque je sui d’Amours loial servant within a brief history of the rondeau form. She argues that the rondeaux of Turin exhibit characteristics that are both prototypical and innovative. Uniting text-music analysis with performance considerations, Chaillou-Amadieu suggests that the perceived innovations within Turin--such as complexities of rhythm--may reflect notational developments rather than musical innovation per se. In a departure from recent work, she hypothesizes that the text and music of Turin’s rondeaux may have been composed by different authors (121). Part two of the volume concludes with “Raison contre Fortune” by Virginia Newes (†), which examines the structure of Turin’s first gathering of ballades. Newes illustrates that there is a clear rationale behind the thematic organization of Turin, as evinced by the “axial symmetry” (141) of the ballade, motet, and liturgical fascicles. The first fascicle of ballades also exhibits thematic coherence through a perpetual struggle between Reason and Fortune. Specifying citations in addition to those of Plumley and Fabre, Newes supports the position that the compiler of Turin was familiar with the poetic output of the courts of Northern Italy and Southern France.

The concluding part of the volume discusses Turin’s repertory; the first two essays are devoted to sacred repertory. Fañch Thoraval’s “Dévotion, liturgie, performativité” examines networks of exchange outlined in fifteenth-century pilgrimage narratives to lay out a “religious geography” of Cyprus (145-6). This complex chapter presents Turin as a product of the melding of Jerusalemite, Byzantine, and western European religious practices within Cyprus. Thoraval argues for a dual mechanism for understanding Turin’s sacred repertory. On a local level, the toponymic, onomastic, and hagiographic themes encountered within the manuscript’s motets and chants may be regarded as private and insular, reflecting local customs and history. Viewed from an alternative perspective, the same compositions exercised broader political agency by enabling members of the Cypriot court to use allegory to position themselves culturally. Fedon Nicolaou’s “La liturgie chypriote et la tradition liturgique hiérosolymitaine” discusses in further detail liturgical sources originating in Cyprus. Nicolaou analyzes three Cypriot breviaries, [6] concluding that while the Cypriot liturgy was Jerusalemite, attempts were made to cultivate local themes during the fourteenth century. Nicolaou observes that the liturgy of late-medieval Cyprus is understood incompletely because secondary liturgical sources, such as the cartulary of the Cathedral of St. Sophie and the Synodicum of Nicosia, have not yet been thoroughly examined. This observation invites further research.

“Proportions et structures dans les pièces profanes du manuscrit de Chypre” is the only chapter in the volume devoted exclusively to Turin’s music. Cécile Beaupain draws on Boethius’s (c. 477-524) De institutione arithmetica to analyze the proportions of several of the collection’s polyphonic compositions. While Beaupain identifies a rich assortment of Pythagorean and non-Pythagorean proportions within the collection, caution should be exercised when ascribing significance to proportional patterns that are encountered widely within contemporaneous repertory. [7] The concluding chapter, “Trasgressione e pentimento di David” by Angel Nicolaou-Konnari and Kenneth Owen Smith, lends chronological depth to the collection, examining the compositional output of Pietro de Nores (before 1570 to after 1644/8), a French-Cypriot emigré to Italy. Through detailed archival work the authors discuss the extent to which music continued to exercise agency in political and religious interactions between mainland Europe and Cyprus in the centuries following the fall of the Lusignan dynasty. While Pietro’s oratorio Trasgressione e pentimento di David is stylistically faithful to the prevailing seconda pratica,its text reveals a nostalgia for Cyprus among emigrés to mainland Europe.



1. Major sources of the so-called ars subtilior include Chantilly, Bibliothèque du musée Condé, MS 564 and Modena, Biblioteca Estense, MS α.5.24.

2. Karl Kügle, “Glorious Sounds for a Holy Warrior: New Light on Codex Turin J.II.9,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 65, no. 3 (2012), 637-90.

3. Ursula Günther and Ludwig Finscher, eds., The Cypriot-French Repertory of the Manuscript Torino J.II.9 (Neuhausen-Stuttgart: American Institute of Musicology, 1995).

4. “Préfigure…les modèles féminins du pouvoir à Chypre au XVe siècle.”

5. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Lat. 8044; Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Lat. 432.

6. Saint-Wandrille, Bibliothèque de l’abbaye, MS. P. 12; Chantilly, Bibliothèque du musée Condé, MS 1076; Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, MS 185-186.

7. See Emily Zazulia, “Out of Proportion: Nuper rosarum flores and the Danger of False Exceptionalism,” Journal of Musicology 36, no. 2 (2019), 131-66.