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23.10.06 Hartt et al. (eds.), Manuscripts, Music, Machaut

23.10.06 Hartt et al. (eds.), Manuscripts, Music, Machaut

On a tour of the music library during my first week of graduate school, I remember the librarian pointing to the shelves which housed the ML55 call numbers and telling us that the Festschrift was a dying format. Despite this rather grim assessment and the generally declining numbers of this type of publication, a Festschrift can still be a valuable scholarly resource. Critiques of some recent volumes of this kind notwithstanding, this book makes a compelling case for the ongoing relevance and value of the Festschrift, as well as for looking at a field of study through the lens of the contributions of one person. This Festschrift for Lawrence Earp is lavishly produced, filled with brightly colored charts and diagrams as well as beautiful full-color reproductions from manuscripts, which showcase the visual splendor of medieval musical notation and illumination.

In part, the success of this book may be due to the extraordinary focus of Earp’s career itself. Where a Festschrift for another scholar might showcase the variety of topics he or she investigated over the course of a long career, the scope of Earp’s scholarship is instead found in the multiple disciplinary perspectives he brought to bear on a single subject: Guillaume de Machaut. This disciplinary breadth is reflected in the contributors to the volume, who range from a rare books curator to professors of musicology, music theory, art history, literature, French, digital humanities, and music composition. These different disciplinary approaches give variety to the chapters, even as the topics are quite tightly clustered around Machaut. Moreover, in addition to dedicatory opening paragraphs and other gestures of homage to Earp, several of the chapters deal explicitly with Earp’s enduring scholarly legacy, especially his most consequential publication, the 1995 Guillaume de Machaut: A Guide to Research. Helen J. Swift’s opening chapter, for example, takes the idea of a “guide” and looks at it within the context of medieval poetry, highlighting both the teacher/student roles found within works such as Machaut’s Remede de Fortune, as well as the guiding nature of narrative itself. Tamsyn Mahoney-Steel also centers her chapter on Earp’s Guide but does so quite literally, using software to create a sprawling visualization of Earp’s scholarly influence. Her visual mappings of the citational network of publications about Machaut not only illustrates the centrality of Earp’s Guide but makes palpable both the vastness and diversity of Machaut studies and the layers of influence and crosspollination amongst its various branches. In a way, her maps visualize the project of the book as a whole, centering Earp’s contributions within the constellation of Machaut scholarship while simultaneously showing the breadth and diversity of work in this field.

The editors have organized the twenty-six varied chapters into seven sections, largely by disciplinary affinity. Three chapters focused on the visual components of Machaut manuscripts are grouped under the title “Image and Illumination,” for example, while a group of more literary focused contributions are titled “Reading Machaut.” Musical topics (the most plentiful) are grouped into three different sections. In the Introduction, however, the editors highlight the interdisciplinary threads that run through the contributions and the ways in which individual chapters talk to each other across disciplinary boundaries. Multiple chapters are connected through broad themes such as the reevaluation of disciplinary knowledge, specific themes such as speculation about Machaut’s patrons, and even rhetorical approaches like playfulness, which permeate the collection. The editors encourage a non-linear approach to reading and I enjoyed following my curiosity, dipping into the different sections and seeing connections emerge. There are far too many interesting chapters to summarize here (the book clocks in at over 600 pages), so I will share three musical ones that caught my attention particularly and showcase the variety of approaches to this repertoire.

In his chapter, Michael Scott Asato Cuthbert reassesses two anonymous textless pieces found in the fourteenth-century Ivrea Codex, an important source that contains several motets and a rondeau by Machaut. Not only does he provide new and convincing transcriptions of the two pieces, but he also identifies the tenors as having liturgical origins and connects the works to the improvised practice of cantare super librum. Long considered to be a source that transmits a French repertory, Cuthbert’s revelations point to an Italian rather than French source for the two anonymous works and supports the hypothesis of a northwest-Italian origin for the manuscript.

Uri Smilansky’s contribution is also a reassessment of a manuscript, though his interest is in its later history rather than its origins. A detailed examination of extremely faint markings in the musical notation of Machaut manuscript G is persuasively explained as markings by eighteenth-century musicians attempting to decipher the medieval notation and perform Machaut’s music. The patterns of markings, as analyzed by Smilansky, reveal much about how later musicians grappled with these texts and how they were engaging with this repertory.

Anna Zayaruznaya’s chapter is also concerned with reception history, specifically that of the relationship between Guillaume de Machaut and Philippe de Vitry. Both were clerics, poets, and musicians who worked in the French court with overlapping careers, so comparison is a natural impulse. Tongue in cheek, Zayaruznaya refers to Vitry as Machaut’s “significant other” (historiographically speaking) (170). Pulling apart the trope begun by Heinrich Besseler of a “classical Vitry” and a “romantic Machaut,” she argues that this framing has limited scholars’ ability to see the mutual influence and borrowing between the two men. Her contribution finishes with an illustration of this influence, a reading of Vitry’s Impudenter/virtutibus which she posits as an example of Vitry reacting to Machaut reacting to Vitry.

Many of the chapters in this volume do take advantage of the Festschrift format to explore ideas on the margins or experimental approaches that might not be welcomed elsewhere, but they are certainly not slouching. These chapters contain exciting new discoveries and novel ideas. Some zoom out to survey entire fields of research, while others are deep in the weeds, reconstructing the details of manuscript foliation, for example. The multidisciplinary nature of Machaut studies means that most scholars will feel more at home in some chapters than others. The collection allows scholars to reflect not just on Machaut himself, but on the study of Machaut, specifically, and of medieval music, poetry, art, and culture more broadly. Readers interested in many aspects of medieval studies will find useful ideas here. While most of the contributions will be too challenging for the average undergraduate, graduate students and scholars will find them rewarding.