Review Essay of Books on Medieval Music

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medievalein traumeightmachautThe Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance, by Daniel Leech-Wilkinson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 346 p. ISBN 0-521-81870-2.

Ein Traum vom Mittelalter, Die Wiederentdeckung mittelalterlicher Musik in der Neuzeit, by Annette Kreutziger-Herr. Cologne, Weimar, and Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2003. 425 p. ISBN 3-412-15202-1.

Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères: The Changing Identity of Medieval Music, by John Haines. Musical Performance and Reception Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. 360 p. ISBN 0-521-82672-1.

Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works, by Anne Walters Robertson. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 476 p. ISBN 0-521-41876-3.

The four titles under review include two on the interpretation of medieval music as an entity, one on the reception and interpretation history of a repertory (troubadour and trouvère song), and one on the work of a single composer (Machaut). Collectively, they demonstrate some of the most recent thought about medieval music and will be valuable to those who teach and/or perform this repertory. Readers interested in musical historiography and present-day fans of medieval music will also find much to appreciate in these books. Three of the titles (the exception being Anne Walters Robertson's study on Machaut) include extensive information on the place of medieval music within the musical world of the twenty-first century.

The eminent British musicologist Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, in the opening of The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance, asks two related questions: "How did we get to a point where medieval music is an established part of our cultural life?" and "Where does all this knowledge of performance practice come from?" (4) He proceeds with a thorough investigation of the mutual relationship between historical research on medieval polyphony from the nineteenth century to the present and the influence of that research on interpretation. As indicated in the title of the book, Leech-Wilkinson examines not only the musicological evidence of "historically informed interpretation" of medieval music (259) but also the broader social, ideological, historical, and cultural circumstances in which ideas about the performance of medieval polyphony have been formed and radically altered during the last 200 years. He suggests that "historical work on medieval music is not as historical as it pretends, but that it is actually more interesting than it could be if it were constrained by the evidence that survives." (5) He articulates his personal opinion about the possibilities inherent in the performance of medieval polyphony in the book's introduction: "I found this interaction of the past materials with the present imaginations more and more acceptable, more and more a legitimate way of using historical materials." (6)

The body of Leech-Wilkinson's book consists of four chapters: (1) The invention of the voices-and-instruments hypothesis; (2) The re-invention of the a cappella hypothesis; (3) Hearing medieval harmonies; and (4) Evidence, interpretation, power and persuasion.

In the first chapter, "The invention of the voices-and-instruments hypothesis," Leech-Wilkinson traces the general view of medieval music during the nineteenth century and surveys the most important writings and scholarly studies from that time. This period is marked by a substantial lack of information available to scholars—their knowledge had to be based mostly on literary evidence. They were interested much more in the "development of forms and styles, showing far less interest in how the music might have sounded." (19) Therefore, until the early twentieth century, "when the question suddenly came to life" (16), scholars had very limited insight into the actual sound of medieval polyphony. Leech-Wilkinson discusses the importance of writings by Charles-Edmond-Henri de Coussemaker and especially those by the most influential advocate for the voices-and-instruments hypothesis, Hugo Riemann. He focuses on the historical writings and publications by Riemann and his followers (such as Schering and Ficker) that led to the "invention," "dissemination," and "extension" of the vocal-instrumental performance theory that became absolutely dominant after 1905. The opposing views of Guido Adler are addressed, and the chapter concludes with a discussion on early concert interpretations and sound recordings from German-speaking lands that clearly reflect and support Riemann's theories.

Chapter 2, "The re-invention of the a cappella hypothesis," is written from the author's personal experience and drawn from his memories "of what happened and why." (11) This chapter includes all known arguments to date for the a cappella performance theory, an approach the author strongly advocates. Leech-Wilkinson presents his profound knowledge of a cappella interpretations and writings, focusing his attention on the ensemble Gothic Voices and their promotion of the all-vocal hypothesis: "The Gothic Voices made the all-vocal hypothesis of medieval performance into modern fact and straightaway turned [Christopher] Page's first small article . . . from an interesting and thought-provoking presentation of a possibility into the trigger for a revolution." (112)

From the first two chapters it becomes evident that very specific aspects of medieval polyphony (such as tempo, pitch level, dynamics, and articulation) are largely undocumented in medieval sources; hence the modern "reinvention" or "interpretation" is founded mostly on the personal decisions of researchers and interpreters. Even now, concludes Leech-Wilkinson, "we still don't know how medieval music was typically performed, we don't even agree, except within small disciplinary communities, about the broadest outlines (instrumental accompaniment or a cappella)." (259)

Leech-Wilkinson addresses other aspects of medieval music in the final two chapters. The third chapter, "Hearing medieval harmonies," investigates different scholarly approaches to medieval harmony, especially the nineteenth-century involvement of "barbarous" elements. In the final chapter, "Evidence, interpretation, power and persuasion," the author invites us to rethink our fundamental understandings of musicology: "the safest definition, in my view, though almost comically non-committal, is that musicology is whatever musicologists do as musicologists." (216) He also defends the importance of rhetoric and creativity in the discipline: "Musicology is about persuasion. Individuals have to persuade as many of their colleagues as possible, and in particular the most influential of their colleagues, that their views are correct." (218) The author poses conclusions about the main goals of musicology today: "The essential tasks are to think up, or discover, something new—and to present it persuasively." (218)

In the Conclusion, with due respect to the heritage of the "historically informed interpretation" (259), Leech-Wilkinson opines about the modern "discovery" of medieval music. First, he suggests that we should be "more open about the inevitable modernity of our stories about medieval music" (259) and that we are obliged to remove "the moral imperative that has propped up historical work in music." (261) Finally, he concludes his survey of modern medieval music performance by saying that scepticism is the only possible "frame of mind in which to work." (261)

If Leech-Wilkinson's statement that "musicology is whatever musicologists do as musicologists" is really true, we can conclude this section by asserting that Leech-Wilkinson's book has completely fulfilled this criterion, for it offers very stimulating and challenging critical explanations of previously known (e.g. "old") aspects of medieval music interpretation as well as new insights into how to perform this music today.

Annette Kreutziger-Herr, a respected German musicologist and professor at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hannover, addresses similar themes in her massive study Ein Traum vom Mittelalter, Die Wiederentdeckung mittelalterlicher Musik in der Neuzeit (A Dream of the Middle Ages, Rethinking Music from the Middle Ages in the Present). Written in German, the aim of Kreutziger-Herr's cultural-historical work is to provide a renewed experience ("Wiederelebung") and discovery ("Erfindung") of medieval music in today's world. She bases her research on a wide range of sources, including literature and the visual arts.

In the introduction, Kreutziger-Herr offers a detailed discussion of the historiography of medieval music and covers some of the same ground as Leech-Wilkinson. She shows that medieval music has been the subject of historical reconstruction and performance since the sixteenth century, although the first traces of concrete investigations of this "early music" come from eighteenth-century England in the writings of Sir Charles Burney and Sir John Hawkins. Medieval music was still virtually unknown in the nineteenth century, since before 1900 only fifty examples of medieval music were available to scholars, too few to construct a viable image of musical notation and history from the eighth to fifteenth centuries. (10) The first serious scientific works based on medieval music sources (manuscripts, treatises, etc.) and the field's "reinvention" began at the beginning of the twentieth century. The main protagonists of this modern "discovery" of music from the Middle Ages in the early twentieth century were a group of German-speaking musicologists and historians who worked as a "Denkkollektiv," since, as Ludwig Fleck states, "every single discovery is a new discovery of the whole." (139)

The main body of the book consists of three sections, arranged according to theme: (1) Mittelalterliche Musik und ihre Ideengeschichte im 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts (Medieval Music and a History of its Ideas in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries); (2) Ein Traum wird wesentlich: Klangarchäologie des Mittelalters und Musikerfindung im 20. Jahrhundert (A Dream Becomes Essential: Sound-Archaeology of the Middle Ages and Musical Discovery in the Twentieth Century); and (3) Traumbilder und ihre Spuren: Mittelalterliche Musik in der Rezeption (Images from a Dream and their Traces: Medieval Music and its Reception). The book includes a valuable list of literature and appendices in which the author presents an overview of the dissemination of the music of Machaut in different forms (facsimiles, transcriptions, arrangements, etc.) between 1800 and 1957 and documentation of important concerts featuring medieval music, starting with a ground-breaking one held in Paris in 1914, followed by performances in German-speaking lands: Karlsruhe in 1922, Hamburg in 1924, Erlangen in 1927, Zürich and Basel in 1927, and finally the Vienna concert "Gotische Mehrstimmigkeit" in 1927.

The book is essentially a mosaic of short stories testifying to different aspects of the rediscovery of medieval music. In the first section, which focuses on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the author discusses references to and reflections on medieval music in literary writings from eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England and Germany, the prefiguration of historical viewpoints concerning medieval music (referring to the discovery, transcription, and publication of this music in German lands around 1900 as the generally assumed "Ausgangspunkt," or starting point), and the status and reception of medieval art in French literature from Napoleon's time.

Activities in German-speaking lands, not surprisingly, receive the spotlight. Kreutziger-Herr investigates the German Early Romantics and their contribution to the discovery of poetry from the Middle Ages that led in turn to the unearthing of the German Middle Ages. She compares old German music with the "Gothic" Bach, in particular medieval mystery plays with the St. Matthew Passion. Her central discussion is dedicated to the "rediscovery" of the Minnesang in German-speaking areas and its central importance in reconstructing and imagining the Middle Ages. She looks at the Minnesang revival alongside Richard Wagner's "medieval" works, interpreting the latter as concrete reflections of medieval music in the late nineteenth century.

The first section concludes with remarks on how medieval music was handled in written histories of music. The author addresses different interpretations of the era in classic works by Burney (A General History of Music, 1776-1789), Kiesewetter (Geschichte der europäisch-abendländischen oder unsrer heutigen Musik, 1834), and Coussemaker (Histoire de l'harmonie au Moyen Âge, 1852). As a specific case study, she discusses the discovery and reception of the music of Guillaume de Machaut among nineteenth-century music historians and philologists.

In the second main section of the book, Kreutziger-Herr shifts her focus to the twentieth century and discusses the new research methodology for medieval music that emerged in the 1910s. She mentions the importance of the work of Jacques Handschin and the appearance of the first three volumes of the Machaut edition by F. Ludwig. Kreutziger-Herr ably leads us through the musicological "Mediäevistik" of the twentieth century and provides information on methodological problems inherent in performance practice as demonstrated in concerts held in Paris and German-speaking towns in the 1920s, challenges in editing medieval music, and issues surrounding the reconstruction of a medieval music repertory. She lists seven factors (142-44) that positively affected research in medieval music in the early twentieth century. Included among these are: 1) an increase in the number of transcriptions of medieval sources from the twelfth through fifteenth centuries; 2) a closer connection between music theory and musical sources; and 3) the institutionalisation of musicology, with special attention given to editions and publications of medieval music that before 1900 were possible only among private circles of scholars.

The third part of book addresses the reception of medieval music. Kreutziger-Herr examines various forms of medieval music reception and theories of medieval music performance (including the instrumental-vocal and a cappella hypotheses) and their principal arguments. Special attention is given to the reception history of the work of Hildegard von Bingen from the nineteenth century (Schmelzeis, Roth, and Kehrein) to the 1990s. (225-38) Hildegard became known as a composer through the reception of her music while, on the other hand, Machaut was known as a composer prior to significant research on and performance of his music. To ponder this duality of reputations, the reception of Machaut's music from the nineteenth through the twentieth centuries is also analysed, as is his influence on modern composers—Machaut being framed as the "Legitimationsstrategie der Avantgarde" (the legitimisation strategy of the avante-garde). (244-50)

Kreutziger-Herr offers exemplary insights on the social history, reception, and interpretation of medieval music during the last two centuries. Based on the author's broad and deep knowledge of historiographical and musical sources, the book touches upon all the important points and factors that have contributed to the changeable position of medieval music and its interpretations in the past and the present.

Reception history, this time of a particular repertory, is at the heart of John Haines's Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères: The Changing Identity of Medieval Music. This study comes eight years after the appearance of two radically different interpretations of troubadours, The Music of the Troubadours by Elizabeth Aubrey and Terre des troubadours by Gérard Zuchetto. Haines offers a historiographical approach to problems of interpretation in the music of the troubadours and trouvères from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century. As the repertory of the troubadours and trouvères is mostly limited to French regions, Haines concentrates on the texts and works of French writers and readers from the eight centuries under consideration.

The first chapter, "The first readers," concerns the earliest phase of reception history of troubadour and trouvère music, namely its appearance in chansonniers (song collections) from 1230 to 1400. These chansonniers contain, according to Haines, "idiosyncratic late medieval interpretations of melodies which were more often than not over a century old." (8) By providing an inventory of the most important troubadour and trouvère melodies, as well as a list of extant chansonniers, Haines concludes that these very specific song collections can be interpreted as "editions" in the broad sense of the term. (A manuscript in the Metropolitan Library in Zagreb, "Zagrebacki sansonjer" [MR 91], can be added to Haines's list of extant medieval chansonniers.) Haines examines the transformations of the melodies as found in the chansonniers and the criteria that compilers followed when collecting and assembling the tunes. He of the chansonniers, reminding us that for medieval singers, "the written, rather than oral, sources were the norm." (26) Haines also addresses aspects of musical notation and characteristics of the selected texts.

Chapter 2, "The changing song," examines the reception of the troubadours and trouvères in the sixteenth century from two different angles: (1) idealization; and (2) nostalgia for the late Middle Ages. He presents his arguments in the context of "antiquarianism" or "French antiquity" (49) and asserts that the French legends of Amadis and Roland were central to musical debates between the French and the Italians during the era.

The Enlightenment is the focus of chapter 3, "Enlightened readers." Here, Haines describes the reception of troubadour and trouvère music in the context of the two main approaches for musical writers of the eighteenth century, the first scholarly and the second creative, or imaginative. Haines focuses on the writings of French authors (including Sainte-Palaye, Marquis de Paulmy, Jean Monet, Pierre Clairambault, Jean Lebeuf, and Jean-Benjamin de Laborde), but also compares the differences in the presentation of this repertory in the second volume of Burney's A General History of Music (1782) and Hawkins's A General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776). He concludes the chapter by stating that "the Enlightenment's free mixture of factual and fanciful elements in the re-creation of medieval song would persist up until the present time." (140)

Changes in the reception of this phenomenon during the nineteenth century are described in the fourth chapter, "The science of translation." Haines discusses studies by French authors (Pierre Aubrey and Charles-Edmond-Henri de Coussemaker) and stresses the increasingly important role of German writings of the time, especially those of Hugo Riemann. In the German writings, according to Haines, "one finds a scientific solution to the long-standing problem of musical rhythm." (194)

The fifth chapter, "Recent readings," continues the discussion regarding rhythm. The "rhythm problem" at the beginning of the twentieth century was mostly focused on Hugo Riemann's idea of "Viertakt-Periode" in troubadour melodies. His theory was strongly criticized by Friedrich Ludwig who (together with Friedrich Gennrich) supported the modal rhythm theory first proposed by Pierre Aubry in 1907 and Jean-Baptiste Beck in 1908.

The last chapter, "Conclusions," is a testimony to the ongoing interest in the music of the troubadours and trouvères among both musicologists and performers. Haines recounts his survey of different approaches to the problem of the medieval rhythm from chansonniers to current "post medieval recapitulations." Especially intriguing is the section on "living troubadours" in the twenty-first century and the musical oeuvre of the two most active groups in Occitan pop: Fabulous Trobadors (Toulouse) and Massilia Sound System (Marseille).

Haines's Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères: The Changing Identity of Medieval Music provides valuable insight into the "rhythm problem" of the troubadour and trouvère songs, based consequently on the differences between their main advocates: writers and readers, performers and listeners, from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century. This detailed examination of all the important sources regarding the changing interpretation of this medieval phenomenon should benefit not only music historians but also performers interested in better understanding the diverse collection of elements that fill the songs of the troubadours and the trouvères.

Looking to another aspect of French medieval music, Anne Walters Robertson, in Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works, examines the wide-reaching cultural and liturgical contexts in Reims during the last forty years of the life of poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-77) and its influence on his work. This was a period that Machaut spent "supervising the copying and assembly of his works into large manuscripts for various patrons" (3) as the canon of the cathedral of Reims. From the late 1330s, Machaut "occupied Choir Stall No. 40 in the left side of the choir of Reims Cathedral whenever he was in residence." (52)

The aim of this book, according to Robertson, is not only to "explore the facets of meaning in the musical works of one composer/poet" but also to "assess his position within the shifting musical perspective of the late Middle Ages." (2) During his tenure as a canon in Reims (at the time a powerful archbishopric center), Machaut was occupied by what he refers to as the meaning or "scens" of music. Robertson examines the exact nature of "scens" in Machaut's works by analysing his music and comparing it with the liturgical circumstances and socio-cultural milieu of fourteenth-century Reims, taking into account all "sundry images—ecclesiastical, sacred and profane, royal and eschatological" (52) that left their mark on most of Machaut's music. The main sources for this detailed study are the books and poetry, sacred and secular, that Machaut likely knew and which are stored today in the archives of Reims Cathedral.

Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works consists of three major parts, each of which is divided into chapters: (1) "Reims and its music: Cathedral, city, archdiocese"; (2) "Turned-about love songs"; and (3) "Music of war, kingship and final things." Throughout the book, Robertson returns to four basic themes: (1) ecclesiastical contexts; (2) the secular-sacred dichotomy; (3) political issues; and 4) eschatological problems.

The first part of the book examines the liturgical rites, music, and life in Reims (sometimes called the "Rome of the West") in the second half of the fourteenth century. Special attention is given to the activities of the Reims Cathedral and Cathedral Chapter as well as to the general status of Christianity in France. Robertson covers laicisation, schools, liturgy and music, Coronation rites, the Cathedral choir, and the Chapter library. This detailed coverage of Machaut's cultural and liturgical contexts serves as an introduction to careful examinations of two tenor-based motets by Machaut, including his only Latin motet, written in honor of St. Quentin. Robertson compares this motet with sculptures on the choir-wall in the Collegiate Church of St. Quentin, where Machaut served as a canon.

The second part of the study, "Turned-about love songs," focuses on Machaut's first twenty motets, with special attention given to the texts. Robertson examines the words in the context of medieval mystical theological writings, discussing the influence of treatises by the English hermit Richard Rolle, the Flemish mystic John Ruusbroec, and the German Dominican Henry (Heinrich) Suso on Machaut. Included in this extremely innovative approach is a table that shows parallels between the "spiritual journey of the soul in mystical treatises on Wisdom" and the ordering of tenors in the first seventeen motets. (98-99)

In the third and final part of the book, Robertson focuses on the relationship between historical events and specific works by Machaut. She places his final three motets in the context of the Hundred Years War as it was experienced in Reims, Hocquetus David as it related to the coronation of Charles V in 1364, and the chants in the Messe de Notre Dame in light of those in choirbooks from Reims and neighbouring Châlons-sur-Marne. Having accomplished this, Robertson ends with an epilogue in which the "context, meaning and artistry in Machaut's music" are reconsidered.

The book contains many treasures. For one, Robertson gives new insight into how Machaut chose tenor melodies and incorporated them into his motets. His innovation is clearly evident in choosing "tenors that ultimately underscore the themes he himself wants to present." (277) She also uncovers the local author Dreux de Hautvillers, who "wrote and gathered his writing into books that approach the scope of Machaut's author-corpora manuscripts." (143) The appendices are also extremely useful. The first includes primary source documents for the history of Reims and the second contains the original texts for all twenty-three motets by Machaut with English translations.

By contextualizing the composer's life and work, Robertson provides an extremely lucid account of the ecclesiastical, liturgical, and political spheres of medieval Reims, where Machaut composed his last compositions. She presents and comments on a variety of sources and documents and offers new readings and interpretations of Machaut's compositions. In short, Robertson offers further evidence of the high levels of Machaut's innovation and musical artistry.

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Last modified on Thursday, 04/10/2018

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