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Deception, exegesis and sounding number in Machaut's motet 15

  • Margaret Bent (a1)

Kevin Brownlee's essay is a welcome addition to current studies that apply literary, textual and historical insights to fourteenth-century motets. The opportunity to comment on his paper before publication stimulated these observations; he graciously agreed that I should offer them as a coda.

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1 Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century 2 (Monaco, 1956). One of the striking features of this motet as printed by Ludwig and Schrade is the dissonant appoggiatura at the end of the triplum. Although confirmed by all sources, it is very hard to swallow, even as a deliberate piece of word-painting (of ‘desconfiture’ and ‘nonchaloir’, the final triplum and duplum words), when we can point to so few uses of dissonance that bypass grammatical sense in the service of depiction. It can be emended out by making the last triplum notes minim, minim, semibreve, long instead of semibreve, breve, long. This small violation of the isorhythmic correspondence imposes a choice between musical sense and formal congruence, but the final corresponding of the upper-voice isorhythm is truncated anyway. It respects the -ure feminine rhyme and matches the corresponding point at the cadential arrival.

2 For another use of 30 see the exemplary study by Arlt, Wulf, ‘“Triginta denariis” – Musik und Text in einer Motette des Roman de Fauvel über dem Tenor Victimae paschali laudes’, Pax et sapientia: Studies in Text and Music of Liturgical Tropes and Sequences, in Memory of Gordon Anderson, Acta Universitatis Stockholmensis: Studia Latina Stockholmensis 29 (1986), pp. 97113.

3 The triplum has 268 notes, 38 lines and 168 words (counting elided words, transcribed with apostrophes, as two words). The duplum has 188 notes, 12 lines and 62 words.

In the following, x + y means: x is the number of words counting elided words, transcribed with apostrophes, as single words; y is the number of words with apostrophes; x + y is the word count reckoning ‘M'a’ as two words:

triplum, 78 + 5, 78 + 7 in the two halves (83, 85)

duplum, 27 + 3, 28 + 4 (30, 32)

4 Although the motet is full of betrayed faith, I hesitate to make too much of the acrostic FEDE that begins the motetus.

5 The seven virtues immediately following the musical golden section are headed by ‘raison’; Jeffrey Dean points out that this also meant a mathematical relation, from ‘ratio’, in which sense it is used in Boethius' De institutione arithmetica.

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Early Music History
  • ISSN: 0261-1279
  • EISSN: 1474-0559
  • URL: /core/journals/early-music-history
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