The Union of Words and Music in Medieval Poetry
University of Texas Press ISBN #0292785208


Jaufre RUDEL
1. “Lanquand li jorn son lonc en mai”  [9:12]
B. Thornton

Walther von der VOGELWEIDE
2. “Nû alrêst lebe ich mir werde”  [7:25]
“Das Palästinalied” | German transformation of “Lanquand li jorn”
B. Bagby — fiddle PN, symphonia BB

Bernart de VENTADORN
3.  “Can vei la lauzeta mover”  [8:30]
B. Thornton — harp BB

Raimon de MIRAVAL
“Aissi cum es genser pascors”
4. strophe 1, MS G, Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana, R 71 sup.  [1:08]
5. entire song, MS R, Paris, Bibl. Nat., fr. 22543  [7:10]
B. Bagby

Side Two

6. “Com on wanre niht”  [11:30]
Anonymous Old English epic Beowulf, lines 702-852
B. Bagby — lyre BB

Guillaume de MACHAUT. Ballade no. 20 ~ c. 1350
7. “Je sui aussi  [5:30]
B. Thornton — fiddle PN, lute BB

Anonymous dance lyric. Rondeau
8. “E Dex, or ne voi je mie”  [0:25]
Oxford, Bodleian, Douce 308
B. Bagby

Adam de la HALLE. Rondeau
9. “Bonne amourette”  [0:28]
B. Thornton, B. Bagby, E. Mentzel

Jehan de LESCUREL. Rondeau
“A vous, douce debonnaire”
10. monophonic version — B. Bagby  [2:08]
11. three-voice version — B. Bagby, B. Thornton, E. Mentzel  [2:45]

Nicole de MARGIVAL. Rondeau
12. “Soiez liez, et menez joie”  [2:57]
B. Thornton — fiddle PN

Guillaume de MACHAUT. Ballade no. 13 ~ c. 1350
13. “Esperance qui m'asseüre”  [3:46]
B. Thornton — fiddle PN

Performed and recorded by
Ensemble for Medieval Music
Barbara Thornton — voice
Benjamin Bagby — voice, harp, symphony

with the participacion of
Eric Mentzel — voice
Patricia Ann Neely — fiddle

Recorded in May and July 1988,Sancta Clara Keller, Cologne, Germany
Technical direction by Wolfgang Eller and HagŁ Schmitz

This cassette was released in connection with a book which published articles
from a symposium at the University of Texas at Austin in 1987:

Notes on the Accompanying Tape
by Sequentia

SEQUENT1A, founded in 1977 in Cologne by the husband-and-wife team of Benjamin Bagby and Barbara Thornton, is recognized by connoisseurs of early music as among the best in the world at the repertory of twelfth and thirteenth-century music that has been their central focus. Following their first musical training in the United States, both Thornton and Bagby completed the demanding course of study for the advanced diploma in the performance practice of medieval music at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Switzerland. From their headquarters in Cologne, they have recorded extensively for the German Harmonia Mundi label and have concertized all over the world. Many early music performers and audiences in the United States and Canada can attest to their stimulating and informative participation in workshops, seminars, and conferences during the past decade. With their linguistic and musical skills and their historical and iconographic training, the members of Sequentia bring a lively and powerful reality to the music of the medieval period.

The first five selections on the tape furnish musical illustrations for Leo Treitler's discussion of the interaction of words and music in the monophonic song repertories of the troubadours, trouvères, and minnesingers. As is well known, the thirteenth-century manuscript chansonniers of these repertories include music for only the first strophe of a song; subsequent strophes of text are copied without music and must be fitted to the melody of the first strophe. The manuscripts give the monophonic melody with no indication of durational values for the notes and with no indication of whether more than one performer and the participation of instruments are appropriate. These two major questions of rhythm and instrumental participation are thus left to the decision of modern editors and performers and have generated much debate (1).

For more than half of the twentieth century, few musical scholars doubted that these repertories of  monophonic vernacular song should be performed with the same kind of measured, triple meter that developed in Latin polyphony in Paris in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. But now the doubt is almost universal, and it was Hendrik van der Werf  who first argued strongly against reading vernacular song in the so-called modal rhythm of the Parisian clerical composers (2). He has made the case for performance in what he has termed "declamatory" rhythm, in which all notes are roughly equal in duration but are given an expressive rendering appropriate to the text. Recently John Stevens has put forth arguments for an unmeasured alternative to declamatory rhythm, namely isosyllabic performance, in which each syllable rather than each note of music is the unit of equivalence (3).

Though the debate also continues about the use of instruments along with the voice in the grand chant courtois, those scholars who do see a role for instruments no longer accept the idea of a large band of performers, including several percussion players, in accompaniment of a courtly chanson (4). But this idea has been slower to die among some early music ensembles, eager to employ their varied assortment of instruments, and the ensemble coordination required for such performances has also sustained a reluctance to give up the precisely measured rhythms as well. As a result, it is still easy to buy recordings in which soloistic courtly chansons have been transformed into ensemble dance music.

Sequentia is in tune with recent scholarship in confining these vernacular lyrics either to solo voice alone or to voice with modest instrumental accompaniment. The instruments employed are either the harp or the symphonia (5) and fiddle—any one of which a medieval singer could have used to accompany himself as he sang. The first song, Jaufre Rudel's Lanquand li jorn, is performed by Barbara Thornton alone; its German transformation by Walther von der Vogelweide (Nû alrêst lebe ich mir werde) is sung by Benjamin Bagby, who accompanies himself on the symphonia with support from Patricia Ann Neely on fiddle. The third selection is Bernart de Ventadorn's famous canso, Can vei la lauzeta mover, sung by Thornton with Bagby assisting on the harp. Next come two versions of Raimon de Miraval's Aissi cum es genser pascors, both sung by Bagby alone. The first version is taken from MS G among the troubadour sources (Milan, Bibl. Ambrosiana, R 71 sup.) and includes only the first strophe; the second version includes the entire song in the reading of MS R (Paris, Bibl. Nat., fr. 22543).

Side 2 of the tape (no. 6) begins with an excerpt from the Old English epic of Beowulf. Benjamin Bagby's performance of lines 702-852 of the poem, the description of Beowulf's battle with the monster Grendel, cannot be called a musical reconstruction, since the sole surviving copy of the poem contains text only. It can be called, however, an imaginative re-creation of epic recitation, in keeping with the suggested approach in Thomas Cable's essay on the meter and musical implications of Old English poetry. This expressive and plausible recitation is one that brings out the metrical structures of the text, including the subtle matter of secondary stress. Still, as Bagby himself has written, the help that scholars provide the performer of early music is only the beginning of his process of re-creation:

By carefully evaluating that which we indeed can know, the conscientious performer today can achieve an aesthetically coherent point of view, but the implementation of research is only the first stage in a larger process which involves endless experimentation, repetition and fantasy. (This is true of all re-creative music, of course, but in the case of early medieval music those few known elements are particularly ambiguous). Only through this process does a long-forgotten piece of music stand a chance of regaining not only its "voice" but also the psychological immediacy it surely had for performers and listeners 700 to 8oo years ago (6).

Bagby accompanies himself on the lyre, which serves as "an emblematic instrument for the storyteller". This bardic instrument is a Germanic lyre made for him after the model of a now disintegrated original found in a seventh-century grave in Cologne. It has six strings, and Bagby has assumed a tuning in which the two outer strings form an octave (G-G), the two inner strings bisect this octave at the structurally important points of fourth and fifth (C-D), and the two remaining strings form their own perfect fifth (Bb-F) between the extremes. The result is a pentatonic scale (G-Bb-C-D-F-G), and the melodic recitation that Bagby has devised is also pentatonic, extending through the same range of an octave. But that description gives no hint of the compelling rhetorical intensity of his rendition, in part sung, in part declaimed, which has excited audiences wherever it has been heard. Indeed, a music critic for the Washington Post was moved to write that, with its "brilliant array of dramatic and rhetorical techniques", Bagby's performance of this excerpt from Beowulf was "a dazzling experience" that "should be recorded and made required listening for courses in early English literature" (7)." We have been happy to comply with the first part of his recommendation.

The seventh selection on the tape takes us into the fourteenth century for Guillaume de Machaut's ballade no. 20, Je sui aussi. Composed in the 1350s, this ballade serves as a musical example in duple meter of Machaut's use of the decasyllabic line, discussed in Steven Guthrie's essay. In this performance the texted cantus voice is sung by Barbara Thornton; the untexted tenor is played on the fiddle by Patricia Neely, and Benjamin Bagby supplies the contratenor part on a lute. The musical form of this eight-line stanza is aab(R): each statement of the a section comprises two lines of poetry, while the b section comprises four lines, the final one being the refrain line that concludes each of the three stanzas" (8).

The next several examples on the tape serve as illustrations for Lawrence Earp's discussion of the evolution of the French formes fixes from the late thirteenth century to Machaut. First is the anonymous very brief dance poem with monophonic melody E Dex, or ne vai je mie, as found in the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian, Douce 308, here sung by Benjamin Bagby (tape, no. 8). In contrast to most trouvère lyrics, the dance songs are notable for their distinct rhythms. The ninth tape selection adds the element of polyphony to the dance, in a performance of Adam de la Halle's three-voice rondeau Bonne amourette, sung by Bagby, Thornton, and Eric Mentzel. The next two examples take us to the turn of the century and Jehan de Lescurel's A vous, douce debonnaire, first in a monophonic version sung by Bagby and next in the three-voice version done by Bagby, Thornton, and Mentzel (tape, nos. 10, 11). The last song of this group is the midfourteenth-century two-voice arrangement of Nicole de Margival's earlier poem Soiez liez, sung by Thornton with the lower line played on the fiddle by Neely (tape, no. 12). The music of this last work already overlaps in time with the compositions of Guillaume de Machaut.

Another Machaut ballade, the two-voice Esperance qui m'asseüre (9), serves as an illustration for James Wimsatt's discussion of the idea of "natural music" propounded by Machaut's disciple Eustache Deschamps. According to Deschamps, natural music was created by the sounds of the words, without melody. As Wimsatt points out, even when the words have no melodic accompaniment, a musical form such as that of Esperance qui m'asseüre was implicit in the metrics, in triple meter, this work from the 1340s has a seven-line stanza; the cantus is sung by Thornton and the tenor is performed on the fiddle by Neely.

ln all of the essays in this book, the authors have sought to find the most relevant level of description and comparison between textual and musical matters. The task has been immeasurably assisted by the performances on this tape. We are indebted to the musicians of Sequentia and their associates for their artistry and skill in bringing these selections of music and poetry to a vibrant life that we can savor again and again.

1. See, for example, Ian Parker, "The Performance of Troubadour and Trouvère Songs: Some Facts and Conjectures, Early Music 5 (1977), 184-207.

2. In "Deklamatorischer Rhythmus in den Chansons der Trouvères," Die Musikforschung 20 (1967), 122-144; in "Recitative Melodies in Trouvère Chansons," Festschrift für Walter Wiora, ed. Ludwig Finscher and C.-H. Mahling (Kassel, 1967), 231-40; and in van der Werf's first book, The Chansons of the Troubadours and Trouvères: A Study of the Melodies and Their Relation to the Poems (Utrecht: Oosthoek, 1972), 35-45.

3. John Stevens, Words and Music in the Middle Ages: Song, Narrative, Dance and Drama, 1050-1350 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), esp. 492-504.

4. For a recent, well-informed discussion, see Christopher Page, Voices and Instruments of the Middle Ages: Instrumental Practice and Songs in France 1100 -1300 (London: J. M. Dent, 1987), esp. 3-39.

5. The symphonia or organistrum, an ancestor of the more modern hurdy-gurdy, allows the player to provide drone pitches and melody notes simultaneously.

6. Benjamin Bagby, "Musicology and Make-Believe?" Early Music 14 (1986), 557.

7. Joseph McLellan in a concert review, "Sequentia's Medieval Magic," Washington Post, October 5, 1987.

8. My transcription beginning on p. 98 is made from Machaut MS A (Paris, B.N. fr. 1584), fol. 464, except for the contratenor part, which appears only in MS E (Paris, B.N. fr. 9221), fol. 152v. In the continuing debate on performance practice, Christopher Page has argued that fourteenth-century chansons should be performed exclusively by voices; see his articles "Machaut's 'Pupil' Deschamps on the Performance of Music: Voices or Instruments in the Fourteenth-Century Chanson?," Early Music 5 (1977), 484-91, and "The Performance of Songs in Late-Medieval France: A New Source," Early Music 10 (1982), 441-50.

9. My transcription beginning on page 149 is made from Machaut MS A (Paris, B. N. fr. 1584), fol. 461.