Music and Poetry in the Middle Ages: A Guide to Research on French and Occitan Song, 1100-1400

By Aubrey, Elizabeth | Notes, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Music and Poetry in the Middle Ages: A Guide to Research on French and Occitan Song, 1100-1400


Aubrey, Elizabeth, Notes


Music and Poetry in the Middle Ages: A Guide to Research on French and Occitan Song, 1100-1400. By Margaret L. Switten. (Garland Medieval Bibliographies, 19.) New York: Garland Publishing, 1995. [xxvi, 452 p. ISBN 0-8240-4797-4. $73.00.]

In this bibliography, Margaret L. Switten thoroughly and expertly covers materials necessary for studying the songs of the troubadours and the trouveres, fixed vernacular forms, and French motets. Exhaustive for works published since 1974, the bibliography is arranged by subject matter and by type of publication, and two indexes (to composers, theorists, and song titles, and to authors and subjects) locate specific studies. The annotations are mostly descriptive, occasionally offering judicious evaluation. Only an occasional error slips in (e.g., no. B184 is by Roger P. Parr, not Paar; no. B245 is in vol. 11, not vol. 2, of the Revista dels Estudis Universitaris Catalans; and nos. B502 and B673 are references to the same article, with different but not conflicting annotations). An annotated discography lists the relevant songs found on a particular recording and mentions notable performance practices, such as the use of instruments and how many stanzas are performed.

The introduction is a wide-ranging historiography that focuses on philology and its critical methods, including semiology, structuralism, intertextuality, speech-act theory, rhetoric, and reception theory, and on their offshoots (or potential offshoots) in musicology. Switten takes the view that secular monophony, fixed forms, and motets are all types of "secular song," which require "a generous definition of song: all combinations of music and texts in the selected vernaculars" (p. x). The author argues strongly that similar analytical and critical approaches can be brought to bear effectively on all of the repertories.

Switten's control of secondary materials is formidable, particularly in the area of literary studies, although her survey of musicological research is less thorough. She gives only a cursory review, for example, of the pivotal studies by musicologists on orality and literacy, an area that has shaped much medieval musicology over the last two decades. An occasional imprecision leads to some misconceptions, such as her generalization that the manuscripts of troubadour melodies "postdate the troubadours themselves by 150-200 years" (p. 4). This is flat wrong. The earliest such sources were produced by the middle of the thirteenth century when many troubadours were still alive. What she means is that the latest musical sources postdate the earliest troubadours by about 180 (but not 200) years. …

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