Teaching Medieval Lyric with Modern Technology: New Windows on the Medieval World

By Maloy, Rebecca | Notes, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Teaching Medieval Lyric with Modern Technology: New Windows on the Medieval World


Maloy, Rebecca, Notes


Margaret Switten, director. Robert Eisenstein, production coordinator. South Hadley, MA: Mount Holyoke College, 2001. CD-ROM. [Requires PC Pentium or equivalent with Windows 95, 98, 98SE, or NT, or Macintosh Power PC with OS 7.6 or later; 64 MB RAM; screen resolution 800 x 600 minimum; 71 MB on disk for small install and 500-550 MB for full install, with print files. Complete set (3 anthologies, 5 CDs, commentary volume) available for $50 from Medieval Lyric, Mount Holyoke College, Box 1974 Blanchard Center, South Hadley, MA 01075-6005; instructor's manual (9 CDs), $45.]

Teaching Medieval Lyric with Modern Technology is a package of instructional materials on CD-ROM designed to enhance the study of medieval music and poetry in courses of all levels. Based on a previous project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Teaching Medieval Lyric focuses on three specific repertories: troubadour and trouvere music, Guillaume de Machaut's Remede de Fortune, and the Cantigas de Santa Maria from the court of Alfonso X. These repertories are presented from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, bringing together the work of musicologists, art historians, and literary scholars. The result provides the student with a rich, multifaceted view of the music that is lacking in conventional pedagogical materials.

Primary sources form the central focus of Teaching Medieval Lyric. For each musical selection, the user may view manuscript reproductions, transcriptions, and translations, and listen to performances on the audio compact disc. The package also includes essays that explore various aspects of the music, poetry, and artwork of these manuscripts. The repertory and manuscripts were selected to complement this interdisciplinary emphasis. The twenty-three Cantigas selections, for example, are excerpted from the Codice Rico because this manuscript includes text, music, and an illustration for each song. A similar contextual emphasis is evident in the choice of Machaut's Remede de Fortune, which presents narration, notated musical selections, and illuminations together in the same manuscript.

The digital presentation of this material allows students to take full advantage of the project's interdisciplinary focus. A split-screen format allows the user to view side-by-side images of the manuscript, transcription, poetry, translation, or commentary. For each musical example, the user can read short essays that explain aspects of musical form and style, poetic form, social context, symbolism, and iconography. The equal emphasis on each element effectively recontextualizes the music, offering a perspective richer and more accurate than that of traditional instructional materials. For example, a student can begin a foray into the world of Remede de Fortune by reading Margaret Switten's introductory essay, which includes a general overview of Machaut's life and works, the dit as a genre, and the Remede's literary influences, structure, musical style, and notation. For students and instructors requiring more detailed information, Lawrence Earp offers essays addressing the social, historical, and codicological aspects of the Machaut manuscripts and a guide to reading the notation.

From these introductory materials, the student can proceed to the seven musical selections from the Remede de Fortune, presented in their original manuscript context. In split-screen format, the student may view the manuscript, transcription, translation, and commentary in any combination. The first segment from Remede shows its opening image in various manuscripts. Viewing images simultaneously with the commentary, the user can read descriptions and interpretations of each image, considering the ways in which they convey different conceptions of the work. For further information, one may turn to Brigitte Buettner's essay "Machaut's Remede de Fortune: Some Art Historical Observations," included on the CD-ROM, which provides an accessible introduction to the imagery of Remede de Fortune, its symbolism, and its relationship to the poetry. …

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