The Extant Troubadour Melodies: Transcriptions and Essays for Performers and Scholarsby Hendrik van der Werf; Gerald A. Bond

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  • The Extant Troubadour Melodies: Transcriptions and Essays for Performers and Scholars byHendrik van der Werf; Gerald A. BondReview by: Margaret SwittenJournal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Summer, 1986), pp. 381-388Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the American Musicological SocietyStable URL: .Accessed: 16/06/2014 19:41

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  • - REVIEWS -

    Hendrik van der Werf. The Extant Troubadour Melodies: Transcriptions and Essays for Performers and Scholars. Gerald A. Bond, text editor. Rochester, N.Y.: Published by the author, 1984. viii, 83, 379* PP.


    dramatically demonstrated at the turn of the century, when a now legendary clash between Jean Beck (Die Melodien der Troubadours, 1908) and Pierre Aubry (Cent motets du Xllle sizcle, 1908) over who had first discovered the modal theory brought about, or so the story goes, the death of Aubry. The atmosphere of acrimony thus established has persisted: since then, the field has not lacked colorful confrontations between philologists and musicologists of different persuasions. The main cause for confrontation is the paucity of firm knowledge about troubadour music and of reliable evidence from which to derive such knowledge (the poetry being somewhat better situated). Of the more than 2,500 poems that have survived, only some 250-75 have music. Of the thirty or so manuscripts that have preserved troubadour poems, only four-usually lettered G, R, W, and X1--contain a significant number of melodies, and transcription of them is often problematic. The field is thus fraught with uncertainty and inhospitable to the insecure. The need to study it is compelling, however, because the troubadours were the first self- conscious group of poet-composers in a Western vernacular tradition, inaugurating a new era in the history of European music as well as establishing the major themes and forms of European lyric poetry.

    Precisely because The Extant Troubadour Melodies accurately presents most of the available evidence concerning troubadour music, it is a welcome addition to troubadour studies. There are other complete editions of the troubadour corpus. The best known is Friedrich Gennrich's Der musikalische Nachlass der Troubadours (three volumes, 1958-65), which furnishes an enormous amount of important information and, from that standpoint, has not been replaced. But regularization of the melodies and transcription in modal rhythm diminish the edition's value as an indicator of what the sources actually contain. The most recent collection of troubadour melodies has been made by Ismael Fernandez de la Cuesta, Las cangons dels trobadors (i979). This edition takes over much of Gennrich's material but presents all versions of each melody in nonmensural notation, utilizing medieval note forms above the staff. This would be splendid if de la Cuesta's edition were not marred by an incredible number of errors in transcription and by a presentation of texts that can only be termed absurd; thus it is, for all scholarly purposes, useless.

    G: Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, R 71 sup.; R: Paris, Bibliothbque Nationale, fr. 22543; W: Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, fr. 844 (trouvere lettering, M); X: Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, fr. 20050 (trouvere lettering, U).

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    Despite the existence of other editions, then, van der Werf's book meets a real need.

    Those already familiar with his earlier publication, The Chansons of the Troubadours and Trouvires (1972), know that the greatest potential for controversy in van der Werf's work arises from his treatment of rhythm. This, in fact, from the start, was the issue that most divided the field. By the middle of our century, several groups could be discerned among specialists: advocates of the theory that troubadour melodies must have been sung in the meters of the rhythmic modes (Beck-Aubry, Gennrich); skeptics such as Sesini, who espoused in his edition of G a kind of nonmensural system that allots equal time to each poetic syllable;2 and opponents of the modal theory, mostly philologists such as Carl Appel, who rejected the imposition of regular meters on a verse system defined by the number of syllables rather than by accents. Carl Appel's edition of the songs of Bernart de Ventadorn,3 had it not been delayed and disrupted by the First World War, would have been a model of how these songs should be edited: multiple melody versions accurately reflecting the manuscript sources are combined with precise and sensitive analyses of subtle poetic rhythms. The crux of the matter, of course, is that the notation of troubadour melodies gives, of itself, no indication of note values, of duration. In addition, the use of nonmensural notation in troubadour manuscripts long after mensural notation was avail- able suggests that medieval performers of this repertory might have neither sought nor used regular metric accents. Indeed, those who followed the modal theory often came out with radically different interpretations of the same song, provoking, as time went on, fundamental doubts about the validity of their principles.

    So it was, at a moment when the modal theory was suffering from inextricable internal contradictions, although not from a lack of dedicated practitioners, that van der Werf emerged in the early seventies as a clear advocate of nonmensural transcriptions of secular song. Although, curiously enough, his conclusions largely agree with Carl Appel's, his approach is different. Van der Werf does not argue primarily from the presence or absence of metric accents in notation or texts, although he recognizes the syllabic nature of Romance poetry; he argues from a close study of manuscript traditions and a careful comparison of melodic variants. He presents directly the evidence from the sources and prides himself on not applying to the sources previously elaborated theories. This makes his work fresh and lively and permits him to raise intriguing questions. Initially, van der Werf's main energies were devoted to the trouv ire repertory; emphasis now on the troubadours as distinct from the trouveres is a welcome extension of his earlier efforts.4

    2 Ugo Sesini, "Le melodie trobadoriche nel canzoniere provenzale della Biblioteca Ambro- siana (R 71 sup.)," Studi medievali, n.s., XII (i939), i-roi; XIII (1940), 1-107; XIV (1941), 31- 105; XV (1942), I89-9o, plus 24 pp. of facsimiles. (Repr. as a book, Turin, 1942.)

    3Carl Appel, Bernart von Ventadorn, seine Lieder (Halle, 1915); idem, Die Singweisen Bernarts von Ventadorn nach den Handschriften mitgeteilt (Halle, 1934).

    4 In van der Werfs view, his publications on the troubadours and trouvres---The Chansons of the Troubadours and Trouveres (Utrecht, 1972); Trouveres Melodien, 2 vols. (Kassel, 1977-79); and this volume-are intended to complement one another: "The earliest one is the introduction

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  • REVIEWS 383

    The primary focus of his edition is a comparative analysis of troubadour melodies, in multiple versions where such exist. Despite its title, the book does not contain all melodies normally included in the troubadour repertory. It contains some 245 melodies (48 of them in more than one version), with assorted contrafacts from other repertories. The songs edited here were selected by criteria that included not only their language but also "the time of origin, the poetic content, the strophic form, the monophonic state of the music, and the attribution. This approach secured inclusion of almost all Old Occitan poems preserved with music and attributed to a known troubadour. It excluded only songs which are much better treated in studies devoted to other genres or to other periods" (p. 23).5 Unfortunately, owing to the circumstances of its publication, the edition gives only first stanzas of poems, a feature van der Werf himself is the first to deplore (p. 78), with no translations. This somewhat limits its usefulness. But van der Werf includes for each song references to the main textual and musical editions and to photographic reproductions of manuscript sources. A check of manuscripts leads to the conclusion that his transcriptions are reliable, while the accompanying commentary is informative.6 The texts are presented simply as they occur in the musical manuscripts.7 One could wish that in the

    without which the later ones may be difficult to understand. The later ones contain the evidence for the conclusions reached in the first one" (p. vii).

    s One could argue that van der Werf's definitions of genre and understanding of "poetic content" tend to be simplistic and that he pays too little attention to the questions of whether or not a troubadour actually composed the melody accompanying his text in a manuscript, or of how multiple attribution might affect this question.

    6 The following are disagreements between my readings and van der Werf's; excluded are the cases where disagreements are caused by a faulty state of the manuscript sources that is explained in his commentary. P-C 9, I 3a, R, 6, i: d not b; a very pale d, from which the black ink has almost disappeared. P-C 70, 24, W, 6, 7: should be a notaplicata. P-C 70, 3 i, W, 6, 6: read "i ai mes," not "jai mes," thus giving the line the correct number of syllables; the music scribe had difficulty aligning syllables and notes, so some adjustment has to be made here, just as for the other manuscripts detailed in the commentary. P-C 155, 21, G, 3, 1o: I read E-D-E-C here, as for 2, io, and 8, io, rather than E-D-E-D-C. On pp. 133-34*, the song is P-C 167, 34, rather than P-C 167, 37; no. 37 follows on p. 135. P-C 248, 61, R, 2, 1: I would read F, although the placement of the note on the staff is ambiguous. P-C 248, 69, R, 9, 3: the last d is very faded, if it is there at all; the commentary on this song could be clarified by reference to Frank's Ripertoire (see n. 3 below), and van der Werf seems bewildered by the play of inner rhyme, the play of repeated small melodic units, and the interplay of both. P-C 262, 2, syllable count, top line, p. 215*, is 8 not io. P-C 293, 30, R, 7, 7': neumes linked here are separated in the manuscript. The remark on p. 226* about stems for 7, i, applies to 7, 7', also. P-C 364, 1 , G, i, i: probably E- D-E-F rather than E-D-E-C; for I, 2, there seems no compelling reason to change "pauc" to "pac." P-C 392, 9: on p. 291*, the rhyme scheme is incorrectly noted without indication of feminine rhymes; R, 3, 8: second note probably C, not D, placed higher than usual to avoid the text. P-C 406, 14, R, 5, 3: e rather thanf. P-C 406, 21, references on p. 320*: the song in Maillard's anthology is P-C 406, 20, "Selh que no." P-C 406, 28, R, 5, 7: the last neume looks more likef-e-d-c thanf-e-d. P-C 406, 31, R, 3, 8: I1 read G rather than F. P-C 406, 36, R, 2, 7: I read c-b rather than b, the upper note being hard to see because it runs into the text.

    7 There are a few emendations in the textual commentary that seem neither entirely necessary nor justified. It would be preferable not to attempt emendation of the texts but to give a straight diplomatic edition, since the texts in the music manuscripts present numerous linguistic problems--e.g., the frenchified Old Provenral in W and X--which are intriguing pieces of evidence.

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    formatting, song and commentary had always been rigorously aligned (for problems, see pp. 78*, 103*, I15*, 125*, 156*, 202/200*, and 221/222*). The most inconvenient (to this reviewer) feature of the edition derives, ironically enough, from its very purpose: consistent transposition of melodies from different sources so as to bring all versions to the same pitch level in order to facilitate comparison of multiple versions. Such transposition seems unnecessary; it would be preferable to preserve a medieval record as close to the original as possible. But this does not affect the accuracy of the transcriptions, and the songs are wisely presented following the alphabetical order of the main troubadour reference tool, Pillet-Carstens Bibliographie,8 the P-C numbers serving as an easy reference mechanism.

    The edition proper is preceded by three essays: (i) "Dissemination and Preservation"; (2) "The Melodies"; and (3) "Text and Music." The essays are filled with factual observations, drawn directly from the sources and supporting the principles of the transcriptions. For the most part, they do not present material entirely new to readers of van der Werf's other writings, doubtless because this work is intended to support and be supported by them. The essays chiefly serve to point out perplexities of the troubadour tradition.

    The first of these is one of the thorniest problems bedeviling specialists of the repertory: what processes of dissemination and preservation have brought troubadour songs from their day to ours? We do not know how the medieval chansonniers came into existence. The earliest ones we have date from the mid-thirteenth century. By that time, the troubadour lyric was ceasing to be cultivated in southern France due, primarily, to the Albigensian crusade. Troubadour song, thus, flourished during a period (roughly Iloo- I250) from which we have no man...


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