Medieval Music-Making and the 'Roman De Fauvel'

By Grier, James | Intersections, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Medieval Music-Making and the 'Roman De Fauvel'


Grier, James, Intersections


Emma Dillon. 2002. Medieval Music-Making and the 'Roman de Fauvel'. New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, xiv, 304 pp. ISBN 0521813719 (hardcover).

Since the publication in 1990 of a complete facsimile of Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS français 146 (hereafter fr.146, to use Dillon's siglum), the most famous witness of the Roman de Fauvel, both text and manuscript, already celebrated in musical and literary circles, has received much scholarly attention. The current book, which began as an Oxford DPhil dissertation completed in 1998, explores the significance of the music that occurs in fr.146, much of it interspersed throughout the literary text of the Roman. Dillon calls attention to the physical setting of the music within the manuscript and shows that its visual impact, apart from how it might sound, interacts with text and image to create a multifaceted presentation. The book shows the results of much careful research with the manuscript itself and some original ideas about how books were produced in early fourteenth-century Paris, supported by a generous number of illustrations drawn from fr.146 and other manuscripts.

These achievements are weakened, however, by the author's desire to find a neat and consistent explanation for many, if not all, aspects of the book's appearance, viewed from the point of view of its compilers. As she says in her closing, "Yet it leaves open the question of how fr.146 was read: I have had space to deal with its reception only insofar as I have looked on its makers as its first readers, critiquing the music and poems before them through the act of shaping them on parchment" (pp. 281-82). Such a position invites the reader to harbour the suspicion Dillon is invoking the intentions of the manuscript's compilers, a position that could lead too readily to the "death of the reader."

One example will illustrate both the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Dillon devotes the bulk of the book to a detailed argument about levels of authorship (Chapters 3, 4 and 5). She begins (Chapter 3), after treating the theoretical issues that surround the definition of the concept of authorship, with a discussion of the ways in which authors and authorship are presented in the text of Fauvel and the supporting illustrations in fr.146. The double authorship of Fauvel parallels that of the Roman de la Rose: Jean de Meun completed the poem of Guillaume de Lorris while Chaillou de Pesstain supplemented the work of Gervais du Bus, putative author of Fauvel, with interpolations and other modifications.

The next stage (Chapter 4) tracks the contributions of the various scribes in fr.146. One scribe, designated C/E by Joseph Morin in his 1992 dissertation at New York University, who appears in most sections of the manuscript, compiled the index and corrected some of the musical items. From these observations, Dillon deduces that he was responsible for the overall organization and production of the manuscript. A further consideration of the planning that went into the book's production (Chapter 5) leads to the hypothesis that scribe C/E, the apparent director of the project, might be Chaillou de Pesstain himself. Much of this argument depends on the work of other scholars, particularly Morin, duly acknowledged. A good deal of space, therefore, is occupied with the presentation and discussion of their views,' with the result that it is difficult in retrospect to extract the original contributions of the author. These latter, to be sure, are considerable and include such acute observations as the significance of certain marginal notes apparently in the hand of scribe C/E. However, the conclusions are unexceptional. "To suggest that scribe C/E may be Chaillou de Pesstain does not take us any closer to revealing the identity behind that tantalizing name on folio 23v. The most it may offer is a prompt to reframe questions about Chaillou's identity" (p. …

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