Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self-Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut

Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self-Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut

Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self-Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut

Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self-Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut

Synopsis

Grafting musicology and literary studies together in an unprecedented manner, Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self-Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut investigates French and Occitan "courtly love" songs from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries and explores the paradoxical relationship of music and self-expression in the Middle Ages. While these love songs conceived and expressed the autonomous subject - the lyric "I" represented by a single line of melody - they also engaged highly conventional musical and poetic language, and required performers and scribes for their transmission. This paradox was understood by the poets and became the basis for irony, parody, and intertextual referencing, which instilled the lyrics with a characteristic self-consciousness that reflected the unstable conditions for self-expression.

Author Judith Peraino reveals similar operations at work in musical settings. Examining moments where voice, melody, rhythm, form, and genre come dramatically to the fore and seem to comment on music itself, Giving Voice to Love strives not only to hear self-expression in these love songs, but to understand how musical elements give voice to the complex issues of self and subjectivity encoded in medieval love.

Through its approach to the exploration of "courtly love" songs, Giving Voice to Love serves as a model for methodological integration and provides musicologists, literary scholars and medieval historians with a common analytical ground.

Excerpt

Love songs of every epoch, from the Middle Ages to the present day, embody this paradox: they often fuse the most personal emotion with the most banal language. But some love songs may stand in relief against a background of formulaic music, clichéd lyrics, conventional scenarios; they may seem more expressive or subjective than others, presenting not a common language of love but rather a point of view rooted in a specific time, place, psychology, and vocabulary. Furthermore, this subjective voice may be more evident in the musical setting than in the hackneyed sentimentality of the words. We expect music to be in some way mimetic of the emotions expressed in the words, either through iconic melodic gestures linked to words (“word painting”), or through a system of affective associations attached to certain modes (such as major and minor) or chord progressions (such as the twelve-bar blues). But medieval love songs do not show any systematic affective associations with modes, finals, intervals, or pitch collections. in the Middle Ages, the relationship between music and words often seems purely structural: the words—their form and genre, their sonic patterns of rhyme and meter—provide a framework for strophic or sequential construction, for the use of refrains, and sometimes also for the choice of notation and melodic contours. Moreover, the lyrics of medieval love songs are notoriously moody—stanzas of praise follow those of blame, self-deprecation alternates with boasting—yet the music is most often strophic, repeating

1. the classic study of music and emotion is Meyer, Emotion and Meaning in Music. For a recent study of the meaning of church modes in the Renaissance madrigal see McClary, Modal Subjectivities.

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