Poet as Musician

Elizabeth Eva Leach

Pre-print version of essay eventually published as “Poet as Musician,” in A Companion to Guillaume Machaut, eds. Deborah McGrady and Jennifer Bain. Leiden: Brill, 49–66.

The departmentalized nature of the modern university is responsible for the various competing disciplinary versions of Guillaume de Machaut, the two principal Machauts having been constructed within literature and music departments respectively.[1] In both cases the general course of his modern reception has seen a steady rise in Machaut’s literary and musical stock from a very low ebb in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when he was generally seen as a hack versifier, boring historical chronicler, and primitive musician.[2] At each stage, within each discipline, the verdicts on the extra-disciplinary aspect of Machaut’s work (that is, the verdict on the music within literary studies, and on the poetry within musicology) has been inflected by a slightly earlier received view from the other discipline. As the evaluative trend has been upward in both scholarly disciplines, looking at slightly older work in the other discipline has generally enabled scholars to imagine that Machaut is actually a better proponent of their own discipline than of the other.

Looked at in historical perspective, literary study of Machaut has tended unsurprisingly to view him a poet first, and only secondarily—even incidentally—as a composer. Literary scholars’ assumptions about the music fit two broad categories. First, in the period when Machaut’s lyric texts were underappreciated, music was assumed to have provided the interest and beauty that the words lacked. Second, once Machaut’s lyrics were more highly valued, music was assumed to be little more than a performative vehicle to project meanings already completely contained in the poetry. For some literary commentators, their views relying on musical scholarship from the period when a musicology reliant on post-Renaissance models was critical of Machaut’s text-setting, the music sadly obscured the words and/or their syntax and was best forgotten.[3]

Musicologists by contrast, once they were able both to unscramble the notation correctly and to recognize the historical contingency of their own standards of contrapuntal correctness, tended to pay scant attention to the lyric texts, which, following earlier literary scholarship, they understood to be regarded as rather stock-in-trade stuff (especially in Anglophone scholarship, whose views were formed by the disdain of Chaucer scholars for their Master’s French prototype).[4] Disproportionate early interest in Machaut’s Mass set the stage for a more general disregard of texts, and the taxonomic focus on abstract rhythmic structures in the motets (pieces in which the simultaneous delivery of two or three different texts seemed to indicate that the listener was not meant to understand much of the verbal sense from the musical performance anyway) contributed to musicological consensus that Machaut’s fame and prowess as a composer outweighed his standing as a poet.

Lest we think, however, that with centuries of Machaut’s modern rediscovery behind us now, we are newly well-placed to view this historiographical trajectory with a truly critical eye, we should recall that it has been recognized since at least Jean-Baptiste-Bonaventure de Roquefort-Flaméricourt’s 1815 book on the state of French poetry in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that satisfactory explanation of late-medieval lyric has been hampered either because literary commentators are not really musicians, or because musicians do not read old French literature.[5] The present volume is one of several attempts—notably given great impetus by Lawrence Earp’s 1995 integrated research guide to the composer—to remedy this problem.[6]

The present chapter argues that poet and musician are completely fused in the figure of Guillaume de Machaut, to the extent that they are not merely complementary aspects of his artistic persona but co-constitutive of each other within his output. The didacticism of Machaut’s poetry and his approach to the power of language in general, and of poetic language in particular, turns on a paradox. This paradox means that music’s contribution—in song and narrative that have interpolated songs—to the “‘incalculable private element’ that undoes symbolic cohesion or intelligibility, and thus challenges universal categories” takes the power of poetry beyond the realm of the verbal knowledge and into the realm of the sonic, the gestural, the performative, and the enacted.[7] This thesis will be expanded and explicated further in the second and final sections below, to argue that sung poetry is not just poetry set to music or music with words, but rather an imbrication of the affective and rational, the emotional and ethical, that potentially evades the dependence of knowledge upon verbal language.

The first part of the present chapter, however, starts with what might be thought a more traditional story—Machaut’s application of the techniques by which literary scholars have seen him elevating the status of vernacular poetry (mainly narrative poetry) to those lyrics set to music. Even here, however, the traffic is not one way. Machaut’s work exemplifies his ability not only to dignify French song with words drawing on Classical allusion for additional layers of interpretative possibility, but also to present it through music whose performative processes offer further interpretative layers and complexities. Even in the absence of notated or sonically performed music, the invocation and personification of Musique in Machaut’s Prologue can be seen to bring his entire later collected works under her sway.

I: The elevation of musical lyric

Literary scholars have singled out Machaut for the sophisticated ways that he extended and redefined vernacular authorship, especially in his works’ recursive focus on authorial identity and the way that his works extend the scope of didacticism so that it instructs in the writing of poetry (and argues for its ethical efficacy).[8] His younger contemporary, Eustache Deschamps, famously called Machaut a poète—a term previously reserved for antique authors—and deplored the death of “Machaut, le noble rhetorique” (Machaut, the noble rhetorician).[9] In the context of a longer dit, there is ample space for the “perfection” of the narrative with the “subtle fictions” of antiquity, and Machaut’s longer works, especially the Le Livre dou Voir dit, are full of classical stories and references.[10] One of Machaut’s more important contributions to the history of both music and poetry, however, was to elevate far shorter lyric composition to the level of “rhetorique” or “poeterie”, so that it, too, had to be contemplated or explicated in order to reveal its hidden meanings.

Most simply, like many of his later contemporaries, Machaut sometimes includes classical names as points of reference within his lyrics.[11] These classical names are especially prevalent among the lyrics set to music, appearing not only in longer forms such as the complaint and lai, but also in the ballades.[12] Often the names provide a point of comparison and contrast for the first-person singer and the lady he sings of or addresses. In “Je puis trop bien ma dame comparer” (B28) the lover compares his lady to the beautiful statue that Pygmalion made, but contrasts himself with Pygmalion, since his prayers to Venus have not relieved his lady’s obduracy and transformed her into the living warmth that Pygmalion’s model became.[13] “Phyton, le mervilleus serpent” (B38) starts describing the serpent Python, to which the singer similarly disfavourably compares his lady, who is even more fell and crueller; the seven heads of the serpent are allegorized as aspects of the lady’s rejection of the song’s je.[14] Not only do these two comparisons work at a literal surface level as points of comparison, but both can be read as cueing another level of signification, figuring the poet-composer’s role as being akin to that of the sculptor of living forms, Pygmalion (in B28), and the harp-playing Phebus (in B38).[15]

Machaut sometimes specifically uses music to increase his texts’ hermeneutic complexity by setting them so that their confusing aural presentation points to layers of signification beyond the sonic surface. Both texts in the double ballade “Quant Theseüs, Hercules et Jason / Ne quier veoir la biauté d’Absalon” (B34) use a succession of classical figures and geographical locations, none of which the singers would rather see than their lady.[16] As with similar figures in the other “mythological” ballades mentioned above, these form a point of hyperbolic comparison.[17] But the fact that the two ballade texts are sung simultaneously by the upper voices furthers the less obvious subtext to the song, which uses the lady as a pretext for a homosocial poetry competition. When a number of singers simultaneously sing different texts to different (if mutually harmonized) melodies, the sonic result leaves a listener struggling to follow the verbal content of either singer’s text in the moment of actual performance. Earlier musicologists, working with a post-Renaissance model for text-setting in which immediate aural comprehensibility was paramount, were forced to conclude either that the texts were unimportant, or that the text-setting was deficient.[18] Now that such anachronistic assumptions have been shed, however, it has become possible to understand the confusing sounds of two people delivering different texts simultaneously in performance as a deliberate feature designed to direct a listener to access alternative ways of knowing the text.[19]

A similar practice can be seen in the song “De triste cuer faire joyeusement /Quant vrais amans aimme amoureusement / Certes, je di et s’en quier jugement” (B29), in which three singers simultaneously present arguments about the correct role of emotion in poetic (and, by extension, musical) composition.[20] It is no surprise that texts probing the tension between emotional truth and linguistic expression should have attracted this complex type of musical presentation, because the apperception of sonic complexity readily leads the listener to reflect on the argumentative interplay of the poetry and the implicit hierarchizing of that argument by the structure of the counterpoint. Despite the examples of B34 and B29, such complexity is relatively unusual for a lyric in one of the so-called formes fixes, but it is standard practice in Machaut’s motets, which have duly attracted a great of deal of scholarly exegesis.[21]

Machaut also lent lyrics hermeneutical complexity and intellectual richness by embedding them (often set to notated music) within his narrative poetry. These could either be inserted in a notated form within or alongside the dit, thereby effectively creating a visual performance space (as in most copies of the Remede de Fortune and some copies of Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre and the Voir dit), or merely cued, using text alone (as in most copies of the Voir dit and some copies of the Remede). Like the citation of classical names and the use of polytextuality, vernacular musico-lyric interpolation had a long history by the fourteenth century.[22] Machaut’s triumph, however, was the way that he integrated all of these techniques within the technologies of the book.[23]

The centrality of music is palpable in Machaut’s project, even in parts of his works where music is ostensibly absent, at least in notated forms. In some cases an entire narrative poem’s extended metaphor is taken from the arena of music, as in the Dit de la Harpe, in which the strings of the harp become attributes of the lady.[24] In other places, lyric texts set to music are duplicated in their entirety (without music) in the Loange des dames, the name given to the collection of several hundred lyrics, mainly in ballade form, that form their own section in the collected works manuscripts. Annotations in the Ferrell manuscript, on loan to Cambridge, Corpus Christi (no shelfmark) suggest that this duplication was noticed by contemporary readers.[25] Machaut’s narrative dits cross-reference each other fairly frequently, and I have argued that specific musical lyrics similarly make oblique reference to passages in some of the narrative poems, the themes of which they lyrically epitomize.[26] A musical lyric of this kind could serve as a means of recalling and reflecting on a particular issue or discussion elsewhere in Machaut’s dits, since melody greatly assists the memorization of texts.[27]

Although the notated music section forms the last part of most of the collected works manuscripts, this positioning does not reflect any peripheral status as Deborah McGrady suggests.[28]I would argue instead that the index of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), fr.1584—whose rubric declares that “here is the order that G. de Machau[t] wants his book to have”—makes the musical content especially easy to access, and gives extraordinary space to the indexing of notated musical items.[29] The unnotated Loange is signaled en masse as “Les ballades ou il na point de chant / Les chansons roiaus et les complaintes” (the ballades which have no music / the chansons royals and the complaints) rather than being listed item by item. Like the Loange, the musical items are a collection of single lyrics in the formes fixes, but they are listed individually, by incipit. While the narrative dits are also listed individually, these are both far fewer in number, and each occupy many more folios than the musical items. The narrative poems thus occupy less than half of the first column of BnF fr.1584’s index; the remaining four and a half columns across the next three sides of parchment give details of the music in the manuscript. The last part of the index even lists the position of the musical items within the Remede de Fortune, revisiting (out of sequence) an earlier part of the book to direct readers to the appearance of notated songs copied outside the music section. The help the index gives to the reader in finding musical items, and the visual space that their listing occupies, are both vastly out of proportion to the space that the notated music actually occupies in the manuscript. But I would argue that the index, created at the very least at Machaut’s own request, gives a truer sense of Machaut’s own view of the relative importance of the songs in his overall output.

After the index in BnF fr.1584 comes the multi-media Prologue that Machaut designed to preface his collected works in their latest redaction.[30] Again, it ostensibly lacks music in not having any musical notation, although it features—in text and illumination—the personification Musique, as one of Nature’s three children, given to Machaut to help in the “practique” of his art. The opening of the Prologue, moreover, is an exchange of lyrics, in which the rubrics and accompanying images imply that Nature, Love, and Machaut are in oral lyric dialogue—a poetic representation, perhaps, of singing. And while Musique is the third (and last) of Nature’s children, the space given to her art in the Prologue’s final section—184 lines of narrative poetry in the rhyming octosyllabic couplets typical of most of Machaut’s other dits—is once more disproportionately large (118 lines), pointing again to music’s centrality to Machaut’s poetics.[31] As is shown by the Prologue in particular, Machaut uses music not only to assist in the elevation of short formes fixes lyrics to the status of poetry and rhetoric, but also to establish an authorial and first-person persona who writes, sings, and composes. Thus far, it seems, music is another string to Machaut’s Apollonian bow, congruent with his poetry’s striving for hermeneutical complexity and intellectual richness, and furthering his status as a poet. However, the way that music differs from poetry enables it to fulfil a particular role, which arguably goes beyond poetic language as a means of expressing the linguistically inexpressible and consoling the inconsolable.

II: Music consoling beyond language

Significant within Machaut’s entire poetic output is a didactic engagement with the theme of consolation from suffering, typically the suffering caused by love. And a central issue in Machaut’s re-writing of Boethian attitudes to consolation is the issue of how individual, private, personal human emotion—the main subject of poetry—can be expressed truthfully, given that the means for such expression—language—partakes of a common, shared, universal symbolic system expressed in public.[32] Medieval theories of knowledge posited that knowledge, expressed in language, was based on universals that were abstracted from singular and particular experiences and observations of the world. Sarah Kay’s analysis concludes that Machaut “sees shortcoming in the abstractive concept of the universal. He sets out to anchor knowledge and reality in the particular and the singular, while at the same time conceding that these are what subvert or limit thought.”[33] According to Kay the “incalculable private element” in personal emotion “undoes symbolic cohesion or intelligibility” and cannot survive the alienation that it undergoes in the process of being told.[34] For Machaut, the individual’s own personal emotions resist expression in language at the same time as only being expressed or recognized through language. If poetry is about expressing the personal, it must, therefore, fail. For lovers, private passion “is the point of singularity that marks a gap or failure in the universal concept and means that…supreme good is the same as unspeakable woe.”[35] This paradox leads to the inexpressibility topos in which the singer or poet typically claims—in language—that the tongue cannot speak of the heart’s grief. However, if the tongue cannot speak its grief in language, it can sing of its inability in a performance whose non-verbal component could potentially convey that grief beyond the language of the song by virtue of song being a staged embodiment, complete with non-verbal sonic (vocal) and physical gestures.[36] Because song expresses musically as well as linguistically, even in a song that expresses sorrow and whose je threatens “to sing less than I used to” because of it, the inexpressibility topos—which linguistically leads to silence—is kept sounding through its melodic (rather than specifically verbal) expression, both in its performed form and as remembered in memory. Musical performance can both stage the “intuited singular”—a particular performance by a real individual—and yet to remain open to musical (and affective) interpretation both by performers and by listeners. The silence to which knowledge based on language is reduced (via the paradox outlined above), is evaded as “unspeakable woe” is made to sound through singing itself.[37]

Love poetry, especially in the narrative dits, often strives to articulate the depths of suffering (as, for instance, in Machaut’s two Jugement poems, which both debate the relative depths of sorrow of a knight whose beloved is unfaithful and a lady whose lover has died), and at various points, music seems to relieve the silence that inexpressible woe threatens, as when characters sing complaints in Remede, Voir dit, and the Fonteinne Amoureuse. However, Machaut as global auctor in the Prologue claims specifically that music can and should promote happiness. While the idea that joyful music causes joy when it is heard has a long pedigree,[38] Machaut suggests additionally that music authentically transmits the sentement of its composer, and that therefore only a joyful composer should compose. In the Prologue’s narrative section the narrator simply cannot agree with those who say that composing from a sad heart is better. Spending time composing songs causes happiness, gaiety, and joy because no one intent on such things quarrels or argues or thinks of immorality, hate, foolishness, or scandal.[39] Composition requires concentration on its own process and thus precludes other thoughts:[40]

Car quant je sui en ce penser,

Je ne porroie a riens penser

Fors que seulement au propos

Dont faire dit ou chant propos;

Et s’a autre chose pensoie,

Toute mon ouevre defferoie.

For when I am so minded [as to write poetry or music], I would not be able to think about anything except this sole purpose of making the proposed dit or song; and if I were to think of something else, I would completely undo all my work.[41]

Even if he is composing about a sad matter (“s’on fait de triste matiere”, line 43) the manner of composing it should be joyful, because a heart full of sorrow will never compose or sing well (“car ja bien ne fera / Ne gaiement ne chantera / Li cuers qui est pleins de tristece”, lines 45–6). Music, like poetry, is generated by, and in turn generates, joy.

The recommendation of the Prologue, then, is clear. At various points in the works that follow it in the manuscript, however, the composition of songs by joyless first-person narrators appears to be sanctioned as being “selonc mon sentement” (according to my sentement). Composition from sorrow rather than joy is explained as obeying a higher law, in which emotional authenticity guarantees poetic truth. Near the beginning of the Remede, for example, the young, timid lover-protagonist relates how he writes in many different musical genres according to his fluctuating emotions, because “he who does not compose according to his sentement, falsifies his work and his song”.[42]

But the view of this suffering lover—like that of the suffering knight in the Jugement poems—is unreliable. The lover-protagonist of the Remede is distanced from the figure of Machaut the poète in a prologue to the dit that places the action of poem that follows in the I-narrator’s now-distant youth. Since Remede functions as a treatise not only on love, Fortune, and poetry but also—because its lyrics are provided with notation in the course of the dit—on music, it is a vital source for understanding how Machaut handles the tension between the narrator’s need to compose from his authentic emotional state and the proper function of music as a meeting place of joy for composer, readers, singers, and audience.

Boethius’s version of the personified Philosophy condemns unhappiness as a mental and moral aberration (needing punishment or remedy); the success of consolation effectively eliminates the one who suffers. Sarah Kay has pointed out that this remedy renders a mutual incompatibility between the truth of the efficacy of Philosophy’s consolation and the possibility of writing the Consolation. The success of Philosophy’s consolation means that the narrator’s voice disappears in its later books, making it clear that the true authorial voice is not that of the captive Boethius, but that of Philosophy herself. But either Boethius has in fact written the book and was not really subsumed (so the consolation process does not work) or, if the consolation has indeed succeeded, Philosophy herself must have ventriloquized the narrator figure, meaning that the story of the efficacy of her consolatory powers is her own (and therefore questionable) invention. In short, of the experience of consolation and the source of writing, only one can be known.[43]

For Kay, Machaut resolves this epistemological problem by reconfiguring the role of “song” within his works. He chooses to situate song on the point of balance between a hyper-emotionality that would render the singer-poet dumb and the absence of the emotions that are the content of poetry and song, without which poetic creativity would be impossible. As Kay argues, it is important for the poet-narrator to experience enough distress to enable the production of poetry, since it is this product that can provide the consolation of that distress.[44] The necessity for the lover-protagonist to compose according to his “sentement” is fulfilled by making that lover-protagonist both subject to the vagaries of Fortune qua lover, and the author of his own lyrics (in that he is often a poet). The potential for inarticulacy is avoided by the framing of the dit, as, for example, in Remede, which, as discussed above, distances the je poet who writes the dit—temporally and thus emotionally—from the je lover-poet-composer who is its protagonist. This distance enables navigation of the “paradox of suffering”, that is, the idea that suffering’s “only true expression is the one that cannot be expressed”.[45] The generation of poetry in Machaut’s work thus relies on the balancing of anguish and comfort, while the products generated present the means by which anguish and comfort can be balanced. This form of consolation, unlike that in Boethius, allows the vicarious experience of affliction and suffering without this rendering the subject mute. The poet narrator-figure—and not the extra-diegetic poet-lover—authors the lyrics that are interpolated into Machaut’s Remede, so that the narrator figure avoids being absorbed in the act of consolation.[46] In this way, Kay concludes, consolation and writing processes—mutually exclusive in Boethius—are reunited so as to prove the consolatory power of poetry.[47]

As a musicologist, I would like to transplant this fine analysis to a field that makes a far sharper distinction between what lyric can do without a musical setting and that which makes song not just a lyric.[48] When, for example, Kay claims that Orpheus’s moving music (in Confort d’ami, lines 2276–2644) has “poetic potency”, she ignores the musical potency of the fact that the poem’s power derives from its ability to signify without and beyond the symbolic order of language.[49] A song lyric’s power is appropriated from the power of the music that might appear merely to carry it, since that music is performed and enacted, bringing together gesture, voice, expression, melody, and words in a series of overlapping structures. Machaut praises both poetry and the instrumental music of strings, but he notes that the combination of the two is better than either alone.[50] Machaut’s frequent choice of Orpheus to figure the poet-composer is not just about the power of poetry, but also about the separate but indissolubly linked power of song.

III. In the beginning there was song…

It is a truism to repeat that song is neither music nor poetry but a hybrid of the two, but the nature of that hybridization is too frequently hierarchized so that the melody is conceived of as merely conveying aspects of the words, whether by simple word-painting or through the subtler projection of syntactical or sonic structures. I would like to emphasize not only the extent to which song differs from poetry on account of its non-linguistic (i.e. musical) component, but also the extent to which song differs from the sounds of melodic pitches, alone or in combination, by virtue of being en-voiced through the sounds of verbal language. I have written elsewhere of the way in which this particular combination—words voiced through melodic pitches—consistently eluded medieval theorists’ attempts to rationalize the ontology of music: theorists tend either to ascribe the rationality they deem necessary to music to the tuning of the pitches, or the writeability of the words, without being able to theorize a combination of the two.[51] What this suggests is that song is a hybrid with an irreducible irrationality, the melding, imbrication, or fusion of two unalike systems of signification, both of which signify the human animal, but which do not function in quite the same way.

The clearest way in which the two systems differ is in their capacity to be described and analysed: since language provides the meta-language of description for both, words can be described in words but music has to be described in words too. Music, as most musicologists know only too well, stubbornly resists linguistic analysis and although later music analysts would strive to develop a musical meta-language, the extent to which the resulting methodologies still relied on linguistic frames for their comprehension has been widely accepted.[52] For medieval writers, music without words was potentially mechanical, irrational, and corrupting; it was associated with physical movement, dancing, frenzy, and ecstatic experiences.[53]

I will argue that on account of the resistance of the sung part of song to verbal analysis, a sung performance of a poem arguably allows it to resist being subsumed entirely into the symbolic logic of language. As something that, like emotional truth, can only be intuited and not known, musical “truth”—that musical meaning, the operation of which has been much theorized by musicologists—similarly has a non-linguistic (even pre-linguistic) basis.[54] Song also places the lyric strongly within a social context in which a singer is visibly, physically present to enact a melody with words (or words to a melody), thereby adding a repertoire of physical and vocal gesture to the verbal signification of language.[55] Kay’s outline of the problem for Machaut is that he “sets out to anchor knowledge and reality in the particular and the singular, while at the same time conceding that these are what subvert or limit thought”, which is why his sorrowing lovers are so frequently reduced to silence. But the particular and singular only subvert or limit thought when that knowledge has to be expressed linguistically. The hybridization of language and music in song—especially in performance when these are further mediated by, and hybridized with vocal and physical gestures—potentially sidesteps the problem of how a lyric poem might communicate knowledge of reality that is particular and singular. Musical meanings inhabit not only the fixed semantics of music’s symbolic notation (arguably its most language-like feature), but also its fleeting temporal performance, making it akin to the very emotions and thoughts that it expresses.[56] Song thus places the symbolic system of language—drawing on individual experience but excluding individuals—in symbiosis with a carrier that transcends the linguistic: music is language-like, but ultimately not a language.[57] That the struggle to absorb and explain music through analogies with grammar in medieval treatises frequently resulted in explanations that did not really explain music qua music (that is, the part of song that is not its text) is testimony to the tendency for music—like individual, singular, particular emotional experience—to subvert linguistic expression or analysis.[58] In this way, sung poetry retains the possibility of expressing the truth of individual emotion, which is rendered problematic in unsung poetry, through the things about a song’s performance that outstrip the written and the verbal.

The medieval understanding of musical ethos made sorrowful music rather problematic when performed to an audience. As Boethius notes (not in the Consolation, but in his music treatise), warlike music further arouses a rough-spirited listener, whereas soft music further corrupts a lascivious one. Boethius recounts the position of Plato, who:

states that there is no greater ruin of morals in a republic than the gradual perversion of chaste and temperate music, for the minds of those listening at first acquiesce. Then they gradually submit, preserving no trace of honesty or justice.[59]

Sad music would either further depress its sorrowing listeners, or, where the listener’s own joyous emotional state was so contrary to it, cause tedium or emotional disharmony. For Machaut the supreme good—both public-political and private-emotional—of happiness would be jeopardized unless music were joyful. Joyful music, says Machaut’s Prologue, must be written by a happy lover-composer, yet the narrators and lyric Is of Machaut’s dits and songs are not always happy. Thus when music is generated from sorrow in Machaut’s works, it is presented with careful distancing manoeuvres that allow the listener at once to experience it, and also to adjudge it as the opposite of good. The songs that the lover-protagonist of the Remede composes improperly from sorrow exclude him from society: performing the lai to his lady causes him to flee the court; he is then depicted sitting alone in the garden of Hesdin with a scroll, composing his long complaint to Fortune. The latter is designed, intradiegetically, for no audience at all: it is a song of exclusion and non-communication. But the audience of Machaut’s dit does hear it, and can intuit from its excessive length and marked musical repetitiveness both the self-absorbed grief of the lover and the fact that he is—at the point he sings it in the story—still stuck on Fortune’s ever-spinning wheel (although neither the real human singer, nor the narrator in the dit’s “time-of-writing”, nor Guillaume de Machaut the author are so stuck).[60] When the lover learns happiness from Hope, his re-entry into society is marked by the composition of a lively virelai, a communal dance song that re-integrates him within mixed-sex courtly society—still outdoors, but now part of a social group. Similarly, several manuscripts append to Navarre a lai in the voice of the sorrowing lady, which seems to fulfil one part of the sentence served on the dit’s narrator. The lai is authored both by the protagonist of the dit and by the similarly named historical poet-composer Guillaume de Machaut (despite the fact that these two figures may not neatly be equated), but it is voiced by the dit’s unnamed sorrowing lady, who laments her lover’s death. Its communication of that lady’s immeasurable distress is made not in writing (or even in written music) but in the sung performance of someone who is not the fictional lady whose je voices the lai, nor the diegetic narrator figure of Navarre, nor even the extradiegetic Guillaume de Machaut, but another individual—the singer—whose performance intuits and represents the lady’s pain in the mixed medium of song.

Music, like the emotions to whose “truth” it seems authentically to respond, can be a negative as well as a good force—it can make and unmake an individual. But unlike emotion, it is manifest in itself, not merely through its secondary signs, whether linguistic (speech and writing) or visual (for example, the gestures of madness), which are open to misinterpretation.[61] Machaut’s uniqueness and his greatness cannot survive without song—actually sung song—since the singular, fleeting, and ever-changing nature of a song’s particular performance of poetry-set-to-music enables a communication beyond the symbolic order of language that defies silence to express the linguistically inexpressible.

  1. My thanks go to thank Ardis Butterfield, Helen Swift, and Nicolette Zeeman for their comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.  ↩

  2. See the historiography of literary and musical study respectively in Lawrence Earp, Guillaume de Machaut: A Guide to Research (New York, 1995), pp. 195–201, 277–87. See also Elizabeth Eva Leach, Guillaume de Machaut: Secretary, Poet, Musician (Ithaca, 2011), chapter 2.  ↩

  3. See the discussion of the interaction (with time-lag) between musicology and literary studies in Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, chapter 2.  ↩

  4. See the discussion in ibid., chapter 2 and Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, p. 197 and the references there in fn23.  ↩

  5. Jean-Baptiste Bonaventure de Roquefort-Flaméricourt, De l’état de la poésie françoise dans les xiie et xiiie siècles (Paris, 1815).  ↩

  6. Earp, Guillaume de Machaut. Examples of disciplinary rapprochement in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries include collaborative efforts between scholars (as seen in the motet analyses of Margaret Bent and Kevin Brownlee), attention to the idea of song and the presence of notation in literary and art-historical work, as well as serious attention to text and textual scholarship within musicology. Several conferences marking the Machaut anniversary around 2000 also sought to combine scholars from different disciplines within single sessions.  ↩

  7. Sarah Kay, The Place of Thought: The Complexity of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry (Philadelphia, 2007), p. 118 (citing Elizabeth Wright).  ↩

  8. See especially Kevin Brownlee, Poetic Identity in Guillaume de Machaut (Madison, 1984), the discussion in Helen Swift’s chapter in the present volume, and Kay, The Place of Thought, pp. 95–122.  ↩

  9. See comments in Brownlee, Poetic Identity, pp. 7–9 and Jacqueline Cerquiglini, “Le nouveau lyricisme (XIVe-XVe siècle),” in Daniel Poirion (ed.), Précis de littérature française du Moyen Âge (Paris, 1983), pp. 275–92, at p. 288.  ↩

  10. In the Voir dit, the narrator-poet Guillaume cites the “subtives fictions dont ie le pense a parfaire” (subtle fictions with which I think to perfect it [the Voir dit]). See Daniel Leech-Wilkinson and R. Barton Palmer (eds.), Guillaume de Machaut: Le Livre dou Voir Dit (The Book of the True Poem) (New York, 1998), p. 436. See also Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Reading Myth: Classical Mythology and its Interpretations in Medieval French (Stanford, 1997), pp. 137–70.  ↩

  11. In Machaut, this occurs rarely enough to suggest that he might have found such abbreviated citation unsatisfactory. A debate between Philippe de Vitry, Jehan de le Mote, and Jean Campion shows that the practice could be viewed as an almost clichéd form of ornament (“as beautiful as Absalom”, “as generous as Alexander”, etc.) or as unnecessary obscurism; see F. N. M. Diekstra, “The Poetic Exchange Between Philippe de Vitry and Jean de le Mote,” Neophilologus, 70 (1986), 504–19. In Quant Theseus/Ne quier (B34) Machaut uses the technique hyperbolically, in response to a poetic exchange; see Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Machaut’s Peer, Thomas Paien,” Plainsong and Medieval Music, 18 (2009), 1–22.  ↩

  12. On the complaint Tels rit au main (RF2) see Sylvia Huot, From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry (Ithaca, 1987), pp. 252–4, and the further references in Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, pp. 380–1.  ↩

  13. See Wulf Arlt, “Machauts Pygmalion Ballade, mit einem Anhang zur Ballade 27 Une vipere en cuer,” in Joseph Willimann and Dorothea Baumann (eds.), Musikalische Interpretation: Reflexionen im Spannungsfeld von Notentext, Werkcharakter und Aufführung. Symposium zum 80. Geburtstag von Kurt von Fischer, Zürich 1993 (Bern, 1999), pp. 23–57 and, on the link between this song and its broader context in the music section and in its text-only appearance in the Loange, see Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, chapter 3.  ↩

  14. See Kevin Brownlee, “Literary Intertextualities in 14th-Century French Song,” in Hermann Danuser and Tobias Plebuch (eds.), Musik als Text: Bericht über den Internationalen Kongreß der Gesellschaft für Musikforschung, Freiburg im Breisgau 1993 (Kassel, 1998), 1:295–9 and Christian Berger, “Die melodische Floksel im Leidsatz des 14. Jahrhunderts: Magister Franciscus’ Ballade ‘Phiton’,” XIV Congresso della Società Internazionale di Musicologia (Bologna, 1987), 3:673–9.  ↩

  15. On the broader significance of Pygmalion in Machaut’s work see Sylvia Huot, “Reliving the Roman de la Rose: Allegory and Irony in Machaut’s Voir Dit,” in R. Barton Palmer (ed.), Chaucer’s French Contemporaries: The Poetry/Poetics of Self and Tradition (New York, 1999), pp. 47–69. On Phebus see Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet, “Lyrisme de désir et lyrisme d’espérance dans la poésie de Guillaume de Machaut,” in Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet and Nigel Wilkins (eds.), Guillaume de Machaut: 1300–2000 (Paris, 2002), pp. 41–51 and Karl Young, “The ‘Dit de la Harpe’ of Guillaume de Machaut,” in Henry M. Peyre (ed.), Essays in Honor of Albert Feuillerat (New Haven, 1943), pp. 1–20.  ↩

  16. For a fuller account see Leach, “Machaut’s Peer”.  ↩

  17. On this piece, see Virginia Newes, “The Bitextual Ballade from the Manuscript Torino J.II.9 and its Models,” in Ursula Günther and Ludwig Finscher (eds.), The Cypriot Repertory of the Manuscript Torino J.II.9 ([np], 1995), pp. 491–519, at pp. 495–7; Virginia Newes, “Amorous Dialogues: Poetic Topos and Polyphonic Texture in Some Polytextual Songs of the Late Middle Ages,” in John Knowles (ed.), Critica Musica: Essays in Honor of Paul Brainard (Amsterdam, 1996), pp. 279–306, at pp. 284–5; Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Machaut’s Ballades with Four Voices,” Plainsong and Medieval Music, 10 (2001), 47–79 at pp. 58–65; and Leach, “Machaut’s Peer,” pp. 91–95 and pp. 105–112.  ↩

  18. See Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, pp. 285–6, who lists notable exceptions to this assumption. On the idea that so-called isorhythmic motets fitted modernist composers’ idea of music as abstract structure see Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, chapter 2 and Annette Kreutziger-Herr, Ein Traum vom Mittelalter: Die Wiederentdeckung mittelalterlicher Musik in der Neuzeit (Cologne, 2003), pp. 238–41.  ↩

  19. The scholarly background for this is rooted in the treatment of the motet. See reference in note 20 below.  ↩

  20. See Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Music and Verbal Meaning: Machaut’s Polytextual Songs,” Speculum 85 (2010), 567–591. One of the three texts in B29 uses Alexander and Darius as figures of comparison; see Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, chapter 3.  ↩

  21. A useful summary of some of these that postdate the bibliography in Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, can be found in Anna Zayaruznaya, “‘She has a Wheel that Turns…’: Crossed and Contradictory Voices in Machaut’s Motets,” Early Music History (2009), p. 186, note 3, p. 187, note 4, and p. 191, note 11.  ↩

  22. See, for example, Maureen Barry McCann Boulton, The Song in the Story: Lyric Insertions in French Narrative Fiction, 1200–1400 (Philadelphia, 1993), Ardis Butterfield, Poetry and Music in Medieval France: From Jean Renart to Guillaume de Machaut (Cambridge, 2002), and John Haines, Satire in the Songs of Renart le Nouvel (Geneva, 2010).  ↩

  23. See Deborah McGrady, Controlling Readers: Guillaume de Machaut and His Late Medieval Audience (Toronto, 2006).  ↩

  24. Huot, From Song to Book, 286–93 and Harpe, Young (ed.). The didactic enumeration of the strings in terms of virtues provides links to several of Machaut’s other dits, but also to musical items whose texts memorably epitomize their discussion, notably “Honte, paour, doubtance de meffaire” (B25) and “Donnez, signeurs, donnez a toutes mains” (B26) (cf. Harpe, Young (ed.), lines 207–220 and the discussion of Navarre and Fonteinne in Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Guillaume de Machaut, Royal Almoner: Honte, paour (B25) and Donnez, signeurs (B26) in Context,” Early Music (2010), 21–42).  ↩

  25. See further on this in Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Death of a Lover and the Birth of the Polyphonic Ballade: Machaut’s Notated Ballades 1–5,” Journal of Musicology 19 (2002), 461–502, at p. 475, note 30; Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, chapter 3. The marginal note showing that readers of the Loange were aware that lyrics were present also in the music section is noted independently in Benjamin L. Albritton, “Citation and Allusion in the Lays of Guillaume de Machaut” (PhD dissertation, University of Washington, 2009), p. 156, with an image from the source on p. 193.  ↩

  26. See comments in Leach, “Death of a Lover” and Leach, “Guillaume de Machaut, Royal Almoner”.  ↩

  27. On the idea of lyric epitomization, see Leach, “Guillaume de Machaut, Royal Almoner,” p. 28. On memory and music in the Middle Ages, see Anna Maria Busse Berger, Medieval Music and the Art of Memory (Berkeley, 2005), and Jan M. Ziolkowski, “Women’s Lament and the Neuming of the Classics,” in John Haines and Randall Rosenfield (eds.), Music and Medieval Manuscripts: Palaeography and Performance: Essays Dedicated to Andrew Hughes (Aldershot, 2004), pp. 128–50.  ↩

  28. Of the six surviving collected works manuscripts prepared during Machaut’s lifetime, the music comes right at the end in: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français (BnF fr.) 1586; Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, 5010 C; BnF fr. 1584; and BnF fr. 22545–22546. In Ferrell, on loan to Cambridge, Corpus Christi (no shelfmark), and its copy BnF fr.1585 it is followed only by the Prise d’Alexandre.  ↩

  29. Fol. Av: “Vesci lordenance que G. de Machau wet quil ait en son livre.” See especially Laurence de Looze, Pseudo-Autobiography in the Fourteenth Century: Juan Ruiz, Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Froissart, and Geoffrey Chaucer (Gainesville, 1997), pp. 66–9; and also Kevin Brownlee, Poetic Identity (Madison, 1984), pp. 16–21; Huot, From Song to Book, pp. 274–5; Ardis Butterfield, “Articulating the Author: Gower and the French Vernacular Codex,” The Yearbook of English Studies 33, (2003), pp. 90–92; and McGrady, Controlling Readers, chapter 3.  ↩

  30. The modern title is probably not authorial and occurs only in the posthumous manuscript BnF fr.9221, which omits the narrative section (see Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, p. 203). See also Deborah McGrady, “Guillaume de Machaut,” in Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval French Literature (Cambridge, 2008), pp. 109–22.  ↩

  31. The narrative section is part of manuscript BnF fr. 1584 proper; the opening four ballades of the Prologue in this, its earliest instantiation, occupy folios that were added later. See Earp, Guillaume de Machaut, pp. 87–9. For a hypothetical historical scenario for this addition see Domenic Leo, “Authorial Presence in the Illuminated Machaut Manuscripts” (PhD dissertation, New York University, 2005), pp. 244–8.  ↩

  32. Kay links Machaut’s poetic exploration of “shortcomings in an abstractive concept of the universal” to the debate about universals that is more commonly associated with thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century philosophers. In this scholastic debate, the entire basis of knowledge itself began to seem inaccessible because universals had to be extracted from particulars and yet particulars could not be known when the system of thinking and expressing any knowledge was itself an abstractive universal. See Kay, The Place of Thought, pp. 120–2.  ↩

  33. Ibid., p. 122.  ↩

  34. Ibid., pp. 117–8.  ↩

  35. Ibid., p. 120.  ↩

  36. In the Voir dit, for example, Guillaume notes that the melody of “Se pour se muir qu’Amours ai bien servi” (B36) is ripe with the amorous malady of which he (Guillaume) is full. See Le Livre dou Voir Dit, Leech-Wilkinson and Palmer (eds.), 522, lines 7659–7662.  ↩

  37. This is the refrain of “Pour ce que tous mes chans fais” (B12) and is, musically, a quotation of the melody of another song. This perhaps emphasizes that a melody is a moveable expressive object that can be appropriated and adapted to singular expression because, unlike language, there is not an agreed (and thus always slightly false) communal semantics. See Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Singing More About Singing Less: Machaut’s Pour ce que tous (B12),” in Leach (ed.), Machaut’s Music: New Interpretations (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 111–24.  ↩

  38. A discussion of the views of Plato and Aristotle can be found in Mary B. Schoen-Nazzaro, “Plato and Aristotle on the Ends of Music,” Laval Theologique et Philosophique 34 (1978). See also Aristotle Politics, 8:5–6; Nicomachian Ethics, 3:10; Boethius, De musica, 1:1; Augustine Confessions, 10:50.  ↩

  39. The Progloue is edited in the first volume of Ernest Hoepffner, ed., Oeuvres de Guillaume de Machaut, 3 vols. (Paris, 1908–1922). See Prologue, Hoepffner (ed.), V: lines 52–5.  ↩

  40. Prologue, Hoepffner (ed.), V: lines 31–5. Around 1300, the Parisian music theorist Johannes de Grocheio acted as an apologist for various types of secular music using much the same argument; see Christopher Page, “Johannes Grocheio on Secular Music: A Corrected Text and a New Translation,” Plainsong and Medieval Music, 2 (1993), 17–41 at pp. 24–7 and Elizabeth Eva Leach, Sung Birds: Music, Nature, and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca, 2007), pp. 207–8.  ↩

  41. Prologue, Hoepffner (ed.), V:ll 37–42.  ↩

  42. Remede, Wimsatt and Kibler (eds.), lines 401–408: “Et pour ce que n’estoie mie/Tousdis en un point, m’estudie/Mis en faire chansons et lays,/Balladez, rondeaus, virelays,/Et chans, selonc mon sentement,/Amoureus et non autrement;/Car qui de sentement ne fait,/Son oeuvre et son chant contrefait” in James I. Wimsatt, William W. Kibler, and Rebecca A. Baltzer (eds.), Guillaume de Machaut: Le Jugement du Roy de Behaigne and Remede de Fortune (Athens, GA, 1988). Similar statements are made by both lover and lady in the Voir Dit: the phrase occurs in letter 8 (Le Livre dou Voir Dit, Leech-Wilkinson and Palmer (eds.), p. 110). Towards the end of the poem, as both lovers come under the sway of Fortune, Toute Belle composes an angry and sorrowful virelai “de mon sentement” (ibid., p. 586, letter 43).  ↩

  43. Sarah Kay, “Touching Singularity: Consolations, Philosophy, and Poetry in the French dit,” in Catherine E. Léglu and Stephen J. Milner (eds.), The Erotics of Consolation: Desire and Distance in the Late Middle Ages (Basingstoke and New York, 2008), pp. 21–38, at pp. 24–5.  ↩

  44. Ibid., p. 34.  ↩

  45. Ibid., p. 34.  ↩

  46. This is explicit in Remede, Navarre, Confort d’Ami, and Voir dit, and implied as part of the “fiction-within-the-fiction” in Fonteinne; see Huot, “Reading the Lies of Poets: The Literal and the Allegorical in Machaut’s Fonteinne amoureuse,” passim.  ↩

  47. Kay, “Touching Singularity,” p. 30.  ↩

  48. Kay mostly uses the terms lyric and song interchangeably, silently equating sung lyric and unsung poetry. She seems to note a difference when she describes the narrator of Remede being “at one point…so distressed that he can only hear the rhyme and the music, rather than take in the words, of Hope’s song (RF, 2097–2101)”. Ibid., p. 35. However, my reading of this passage in Remede differs from Kay’s; the narrator in fact claims to have well understood Hope’s song and its text in rhyme, music, and words (“En rime, en musique et en dit,” line 2100), even though, like the siren’s song whose sweetness it surpasses, it has made him drowsy. It is only when Hope ceases singing that he relapses into tearful distress.  ↩

  49. See ibid., p. 35.  ↩

  50. “Et qui aueuc chante de vois serie / La noise en est plus douce et plus iolie.” Harpe, Young (ed.), lines 241–2.  ↩

  51. See Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Grammar in the Medieval Song-School,” New Medieval Literatures 11 (2009), 195–211 and eadem, Sung Birds, chapter 1.  ↩

  52. See, for example, Harold S. Powers, “Language Models and Musical Analysis,” Ethnomusicology 24/1 (1980), 1–60.  ↩

  53. See Leach, Sung Birds, 165–7. The fears of un-texted music as irrational or mechanical, embraced by some as a positive virtue, surface perennially; see Vladimir Jankélévitch, Music and the Ineffable, trans. Carolyn Abbate (Princeton and Oxford, 2003; orig. edn La musique et l’ineffable (1961)), and Carolyn Abbate, In Search of Opera (Princeton, 2001).  ↩

  54. For the interest taken in song’s pre-linguistic role in human evolution, see the books reviewed in Mark Germer, “Evolution and Musical Origins: A Review Essay,” Notes 62/4 (2006), 944–49.  ↩

  55. My view is that Machaut’s idea of the importance of song was a reaction to the increasing textualization of language, poetry, and (ironically) music. This thesis is expounded more fully in my study of the bird-song imitation pieces of Machaut’s contemporaries. See Leach, Sung Birds.  ↩

  56. For a discussion, see Nicholas Cook, “Theorizing Musical Meaning,” Music Theory Spectrum 23/2 (2001), 170–95.  ↩

  57. See, for example, Adorno’s complex view as outlined in Max Paddison, “The Language-Character of Music: Some Motifs in Adorno,” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 116 (1991), 267–79.  ↩

  58. See Leach, Sung Birds, chapters 1–2.  ↩

  59. Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, Fundamentals of Music, trans. Calvin M. Bower (New Haven and London, 1989), p. 2.  ↩

  60. See the comments on the complaint in Leach, Guillaume de Machaut, chapter 4 and Zayaruznaya, “‘She has a Wheel that Turns’…,” pp. 195–9.  ↩

  61. Kay, The Place of Thought, p. 120.  ↩