Academic journal article Notes

Scratched-Out Notes, Erased Pieces, and Other Lacunae in the Chansonnier Nivelle De la Chaussée

Academic journal article Notes

Scratched-Out Notes, Erased Pieces, and Other Lacunae in the Chansonnier Nivelle De la Chaussée

Article excerpt

The Loire Valley chansonniers (a group of five manuscripts that preserve a large body of mostly French songs from the 1460s and 1470s) are rich sources for works by Busnois and Ockeghem, and bear witness to the cultivation of secular song in French court circles during the reign of Louis XI. Comprised of the Wolfenbüttel, Copenhagen, Dijon, Laborde, and Nivelle chansonniers, the Loire Valley group shares a common provenance and overall repertory. Three of the books (Dijon, Copenhagen, and parts of Laborde) even share the same scribe, whose tight, gothic script (though it underwent subtle changes over time) is unmistakable. 1 Despite the acknowledged value of their musical contents, the chansonniers' value as performing documents has consistently been called into question due to their small size and their "lack of telltale signs of use: wear, marginalia, insertions, uncorrected errors, solfège syllables, and the like."2 In the course of preparing transcriptions of the unique pieces in the Nivelle Chansonnier, however, I was struck by the high number of small-scale corrections and evidence of insertions or pen trials. Understanding these, in addition to the Nivelle Chansonnier's unusual large-scale erasures, may inform us about the use of this manuscript.

In this article, I will challenge the prevailing assumption that the musical notation in books such as the Loire Valley chansonniers could not be used and understood by their owners as a means to understanding why Nivelle contains so many small-scale erasures. I will also identify a few erasures that may have been made post-copying, or in the course of use. Finally, I will offer a hypothesis for Nivelle's large-scale erasures while seeking to restore the reputation of the composer Johannes Sohier (dit Fedé). Although contemporary accounts seem to have held Fedé in high esteem, the erasure or otherwise incomplete state of his only extant secular works (three chansons unique to Nivelle) has prompted David Fallows to suggest that Fedé must have disgraced himself in some way to spur the removal of his works from the manuscript.3

The five songbooks comprising the Loire Valley group have most often been studied collectively; recent research has focused on the manuscripts' relative dating and evidence of artistic exchange between the French and Burgundian courts as reflected in their repertoire.4 The Chansonnier Nivelle de la Chaussée, or the Nivelle Chansonnier, stands apart from the other books in the group, however, in several ways.5 Physically the largest of the Loire Valley chansonniers, Nivelle's songs are copied onto pages lined with eight staves, rather than the usual seven. In addition, the hand of the principal scribe (known as scribe A) and the style of the illuminations of Nivelle are unique in the Loire Valley group-facts that argue against it being produced in close proximity to the others. The origin of the manuscript also remains contested. Paula Higgins has suggested that Nivelle originated in Bourges, in part, because the semi-erased inscription on folio i, "de palacio bit . . ." suggests the Latin name for Bourges (Bituricum), although Jane Alden has recently argued convincingly that Nivelle's origins may lie in Tours.6 Finally, Nivelle has many small-scale erasures (compared with the immaculate pages of the Dijon scribe) as well as ten erased folios.

The idea that chansonniers participate in the late-medieval period's culture of small books has recently been gaining widespread acceptance. Similar to books of hours, chansonniers are thought to have functioned as small, lavish gifts to be enjoyed in semi-private environments, for the exclusive pleasure of their owners. A recent article by Jane Alden contextualizes chansonniers within late-medieval book culture, and art historians such as Adam S. Cohen have also focused on the meaning and value of the opening, which has particular relevance to the chansonnier, since, an entire three- or four-voice song can usually be seen and thus "heard" in viewing a single opening. …

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