Abstracts of Talks

Session I

Benjamin Brand (Yale University): Dance and the Liturgy of Easter in the Thirteenth Century: The Case of the Monophonic Latin Rounds of the Florence Manuscript

In his unprecedented description and classification of secular music, contained in the treatise De musica of ca. 1300, Johannes de Grocheio provides us with the first musico-theoretical description of the rotunda or round dance, which, he notes, were performed at great feasts, or magnis conviviis. Scholars have long recognized the prominence of the round dance in Northern France on high feasts, and on Easter in particular. This paper shows, however, that the liturgy of Easter and the theology associated with the feast shaped the musical form and text of the thirteenth-century round dance in ways more specific and direct than has hitherto been realized. Through an examination of the sixty monophonic Latin rounds preserved in the eleventh fascicle of the Florence Manuscript (Florence, Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana, 29,1), we see how their formal and textual features were the products of the ritual complexes in which these dances were embedded. The paper explores two particular lines of influence. First, we shall see that the devotional themes espoused in texts of the dances tend, in large measure, to determine their musical form. Second, the allegorical significance ascribed to the Old- Testament figures, such as Samson and Jonah, likening them to Christ in his descent into Hell, is a prominent feature of the Easter dance texts. Through these allusions, the Easter dances amplify devotional themes already presented in the canonical Easter liturgy, as well as add entirely new ones. Far from being marginal additions or ornaments to the canonical liturgy, the Easter round dances of the Florence Manuscript articulated themes central to the understanding of Christ's resurrection during the thirteenth century, themes that were encoded both musically, textually, and through the gesture of dance.

Rebecca Wagner Oettinger(University of Wisconsin-Whitewater): "Listen Up, You Priests!": Anticlericalism in Popular Songs of the Late Middle Ages

During the late middle ages, popular songs filled the ears of the average German with scandalous images of the corruption of the clergy. Anticlerical songs were often comical, depicting a bumbling priesthood more concerned with filling their bellies and their beds than with tending their spiritual flocks. The lyrics provided a catalog of sins, including drunkenness, gluttony, greed, and lust, and showed how crafty peasants could outfox the clergy who would otherwise abuse them. These songs were sometimes set to popular tunes that were recycled repeatedly, making their texts easier for the average people to remember and to spread. In other cases, composers of songs took their melodies from traditional Catholic hymns, creating rollicking parodies of familiar works like the Christmas Resonet in laudibus the Lenten Judas. Such songs could spread anticlerical sentiment far, especially in the primarily oral culture of medieval Europe. By the early sixteenth century, anticlerical songs were a familiar part of popular culture, and as such they were perfectly situated to play a vital role in the Lutheran Reformation in Germany.

Virginia Newes(Independent Scholar): Deception, Reversal, and Paradox: The Rondeaux of the Chantilly Manuscript in Context

At first glance, the repertory of the Chantilly manuscript consists primarily of grandes ballades, with a small number of rondeaux and virelais tucked in here and there; a final gathering of thirteen secular motets completes the collection. Like the virelais, the rondeaux are more modest in style, both musically and textually, than the ballades, and lack their mythological and heraldic references to contemporary rulers and events; nevertheless, a closer look reveals these generally less ambitious songs to be more than mere page fillers.

Quite a number of the Chantilly rondeaux appear to have been selected by the compiler because of some particular stylistic, formal, or notational singularity, or by virtue of a musical or textual relationship to another chanson in the collection. A few of them form pairs, linked by peculiarities of notation and formal structure, similar rhetorical topoi, or actual wording. Themes of deception, reversal, and paradox, although certainly present elsewhere in the chanson repertory, are particularly abundant in the Chantilly rondeaux, perhaps a kind of pun on their circular poetic form. In this context, the personification of Espoir figures in two adjacent rondeaux, as well as in the three “En attendant” songs whose network of citations has been well documented. The four isorhythmic rondeaux, in which the rhythms of the first section are exactly repeated in the second half, display an idiosyncratic structure foreshadowed by Machaut’s isorhythmic ballade but recurring in only one other surviving fourteenth-century rondeau. Among the nine polytextual songs, Jean Vaillant’s two polytextual rondeaux in the form of courtly lovers’ dialogues are offset by a pastoral rondeau featuring a shepherdess and her bagpipe-playing Robin, a rustic counterpart to a group of songs dealing with musical composition and performance.

At the turn of the 15th century, the rondeau did not yet occupy the favored position it was to hold in mid-century song repertories. Yet far from being “sprinkled somewhat indiscriminately among the Ballades,” the Chantilly rondeaux reflect a conscious effort by the compiler to include songs of a musical and textual sophistication approaching that of the ballades, and often topically related to them.