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The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry

The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry

Jennifer Saltzstein
Series: Gallica
Volume: 30
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry
    Book Description:

    The relationship between song quotation and the elevation of French as a literary language that could challenge the cultural authority of Latin is the focus of this book. It approaches this phenomenon through a close examination of the refrain, a short phrase of music and text quoted intertextually across thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century musical and poetic genres. The author draws on a wide range of case studies, from motets, trouvère song, plays, romance, vernacular translations, and proverb collections, to show that medieval composers quoted refrains as vernacular auctoritates; she argues that their appropriation of scholastic, Latinate writing techniques worked to authorize Old French music and poetry as media suitable for the transmission of knowledge. Beginning with an exploration of the quasi-scholastic usage of refrains in anonymous and less familiar clerical contexts, the book goes on to articulate a new framework for understanding the emergence of the first two named authors of vernacular polyphonic music, the cleric-trouvères Adam de la Halle and Guillaume de Machaut. It shows how, by blending their craft with the writing practices of the universities, composers could use refrain quotation to assert their status as authors with a new self-consciousness, and to position works in the vernacular as worthy of study and interpretation. Jennifer Saltzstein is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Oklahoma.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-106-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xi)
    (pp. xii-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    Among the numerous innovations of the late medieval musical and poetic repertories of northern France, the refrain stands apart. The medieval refrain was a short, 1–2 verse lyric, sometimes provided with a specific melody through music notation. Refrains functioned not only as internal elements of structural repetition, as they do within modern songs; they also served as agents of intertextuality. Hundreds of these short phrases recur throughout musical and poetic works, creating elaborate networks of cross-reference.¹ Refrains appeared in nearly every major vernacular genre. In his Roman de la Rose, Jean Renart claimed to have initiated the practice of...

  8. 1 Relocating the Refrain
    (pp. 8-34)

    The refrain’s importance to late medieval poetics is clear. The question of its origin, however, has been a topic of dispute. Refrains normally function as quotations, yet medieval composers and poets almost never cite the author or source of a given refrain; the point of origin of refrains is thus largely unknown.¹ The earliest accounts of refrain usage appeared in the literary histories of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century romance philologists, scholars who sought to locate the origins of French literature and language. Several of these scholars believed that the surviving corpus of refrains represented a compendium of quotations drawn from...

  9. 2 Clerical and Monastic Contexts for the Intertextual Refrain
    (pp. 35-79)

    The quotations above, drawn from the voices of a thirteenth-century motet, offer frustrated and bemused observations on the inappropriately worldly behavior of some medieval clerics. Intertextual refrains echo themes and elements found across trouvère song and its many genres in pithy, abbreviated form. In particular, refrains include requests for love and complaints about the pain of unrequited love. Yet despite their earthly preoccupation with desire, intertextual refrains often emerge in clerical contexts. This clerical fascination with worldly concerns resonates with the themes explored in the motet above. In Chapter 1, we saw that the enduring assumption that intertextual refrains originated...

  10. 3 Vernacular Wisdom and Thirteenth-Century Arrageois Song
    (pp. 80-113)

    In Chapters 1 and 2, we saw that rather than circulating freely as a common stock of poetic clichés, intertextual refrains were often tied to specific genres and communities. By situating them within their transmission history, it is possible to isolate another corpus of intertextual refrains that can be connected to the trouvères and composers active in a specific region: the city of Arras. Examining a regional intertextual network provides an opportunity to witness poetic interaction between the composers of Arras and to examine the ways in which these composers respond to refrains in their works. Recent historical research by...

  11. 4 Adam de la Halle as Magister Amoris
    (pp. 114-148)

    In the opening verses of the Jeu de la feuillée, a character called Adam proclaims his desire to leave behind his wife and return to his studies, first undertaken in Paris. He begins by asking whether his friends have noticed the change in his clothing to the habit of a cleric; the miniature that accompanies this speech in the play in W depicts Adam in a scholar’s robes.³ In the weighty alexandrines of epic, the play’s protagonist bids adieu to his compatriots in Arras and claims he will depart for Paris to return to his studies; the plot continues as...

  12. 5 Cultivating an Authoritative Vernacular in the Music of Guillaume de Machaut
    (pp. 149-164)

    The previous chapters have offered a revisionist account of the intertextual refrain. In Chapter 1, we saw that the transmission and distribution of intertextual refrains in musical sources did not support the notion that refrains originated in or were closely related to an oral song genre called the rondet de carole. This evidence challenged assumptions that persisted until the late twentieth century that refrains represented quotations of a lost repertoire of orally transmitted popular songs. Across most of the extant musical concordances of intertextual refrains, we saw that composers often took great care to preserve the refrain’s melodic identity, demonstrating...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-168)

    In De Finibus bonorum et malorum (45 BC), Marcus Tullius Cicero begins by stating “In this work I am putting into Latin themes which philosophers of the highest talent and most refined learning have dealt with in Greek,” an action he readily admits will attract the criticism of those who attach greater prestige to the ancient philosophical language. He laments that many of his readers claim to despise their own Latin vernacular: “their native tongue gives them no pleasure when it deals with matters of the highest import.”¹ Cicero could scarcely have imagined that centuries later his vernacular would become...

    (pp. 169-188)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 189-194)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-197)