Sound and the Word in the Troubadours; or, How Human is ... AND THE WORD IN THE TROUBADOURS, OR, HOW

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Sound and the Word in the Troubadours; or, How Human is Song?

A Seminar with Sarah Kay

Friday, November 21, noon, Voorhies 120 (dept. library)

RSVP to by November 17 for a lunch

Contents of this packet, to be read in preparation:

Brief introduction by Sarah Kay

Jaufre Rudel, Pro ai del chan essenhadors

Marcabru, Hueymais dey esser alegrans

Marcabru, Pus la fuelha revirola


The following few pages represent work in progress, and are not for circulation beyond the seminar. They introduce a topic that I am beginning to work on; the edited texts of three songs are also provided for discussion, one by Jaufre Rudel and two by Marcabru. Nothing troubles being like song does. Orpheuss singing caused rocks and trees to move, wild

animals to grow tame, and the torments of hell to cease; he almost brought Eurydice back to life.

Conversely, the swan sings when about to die, the nightingales song precipitates its end, and sirens

lure sailors to their death. We dont need to know the history of Latin carmen the origin of our

word charm but its literal meaning is song -- to know that song is enchantment. The poet Machaut

puns on the idea that enchantement, the act of making song or setting words to music, is also a

bewitching. In his essay What are Poets for? Heidegger argues that song is what discloses human

being (Dasein), but does so through exposure and risk being emerges by being wagered or

threatened. In poetry Dasein ventures into what Heidegger calls the Open, a term that Agamben

will later take up in his vision of a future suspension of mans demarcation from animal. The

song that can charm other creatures opens the possibility of the singer merging back into the rest of

Nature, losing the specifically human nature of his being, again like Orpheus when he was

dismembered by the maenads and scattered among the rocks and streams.

At the time of the troubadours, song was taught alongside grammar in church schools,

because like speech it was a form of the grammatical category of vox (voice), and could be

represented in writing like speech. Our musical staves, on which notes are named after letters of the

alphabet, results from this early convergence of song with speech in writing. Musics status as an art

was maintained against changing attitudes to the songs of birds, some of which were also melodic

and so could be written on a stave. As Fritz and Leach have shown, Donatuss simple distinction

between sounds that can be represented in writing, and those that are not, is quickly overtaken by a

further one, between sounds that are deliberately meaningful and those that are not; the effect of

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this second distinction is to privilege all human sounds over sounds made by other creatures.

Human voices, whether those that can be written (vox distincta) or those which cant (vox confusa), are

alone credited with conveying meaning and thus deemed articulata, expressive, even if not all are

writable, distincta. Animal sounds, even if they are writable, lack the same potential as human speech

to convey sense; at their lowest they cannot be written down, and are by definition meaningless, like

the chattering of a jay, the croaking of a frog or the braying of a donkey. Officially, the art of song

becomes human, and exclusively so.

When many of the early troubadours compare their songs with those of birds they seem

knowingly to be confronting songs human prerogative, or at least to be responding to it with their

question, how human is song? One of the most polemical examples is a piece by Jaufre Rudel which

begins I have around me many masters and mistresses of song meadows and orchards, trees and

flowers, birds trills and lays and cries [the text of this song is appended]. I can see two possible

meanings for his imagery of bird pedagogues. It might imply that the melodies of nature can be

taught like other rational pursuits, that the poets composition is styled after the vox of birds whose

music -- contrary to the prevailing wisdom is a grammatical art. This undo the schism the schools

had installed between human and animal voices. Or, second, the image might accept the division,

but place the troubadours song on the non-human side of the divide, along with wordless natural

sounds. Such song would be non-articulate: unlike speech, it would not be primarily engaged in

expressing a meaning, it would be an act of uttering (nonciation) not an utterance (nonc). Jaufre may

himself come close to composing non-articulate (and barely writable) sounds in his Non sap

chantar which runs through the categories of the art of composition melody, verse form, rhyme

words, and their subordination to a rational theme or even to reason itself, -- only to protest that his

song is not a composition of this kind, and to end it with a line that extends the rhyme into

nonsense syllables. A song like this designates its material as sound as much as word.

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Examples could be multiplied among the troubadours and trouvres of song that is not so

much about expressing the ineffable as it is about exploring ways in which human expression passes

over into un-expression. The first troubadours, while presenting their songs as the quintessence of

courtly refinement and individual aspiration, also admits their opening onto the inarticulate: on the

one hand, the untamed phenomena of nature, like the wind, or the noises of animals -- warbling,

trilling, chattering, drumming, whistling, roaring, or screeching; and on the other, the noises of

automata like those of repetitive machinery or harsh, repeated rhyme sounds. Sentiment gets flung

back and forth between the wild and the mechanical, its capacity for expression dissipated in the

process. Well-known poets like Marcabru, Raimbaut dAurenga, and Arnaut Daniel do this all the


I will concentrate on Marcabru, a contemporary of Jaufre Rudel, the earliest of the three, and

a determining influence on the other two. He evokes the words and sound (motz e son) of his

compositions, but this formula can be reversed to highlight instead sounds and the word. His

songs will be looked at in the context of their copy in chansonnier R [two songs by Marcabru are

provided that are on the opening fo. of this songbook].


A. Manuscript

Paris, BnF fr. 856 (chansonnier C)

Paris, BnF fr 12474 (chansonnier M)

Paris, BnF fr 22543 (chansonnier R)

B. Print

Arnaut Daniel. Canzoni. Ed. Gianluigi Toja. Firenze: G. G. Sansoni, 1961

Guilhem IX. Guglielmo IX dAquitania. Poesie. Ed. Nicol Pasero. Modena: Mucchi, 1973.Jaufre Rudel, ed. Chiarini

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Jaufre Rudel. Il canzoniere di Jaufre Rudel. Ed. Giorgio Chiarini. Roma: Japadre, 1985.

Marcabru: A Critical Edition. Ed. Simon Gaunt, Ruth Harvey and Linda Paterson. Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000.

Raimbaut d'Aurenga. The Life and Works of the Troubadour Raimbaut d'Orange. Ed. Walter Thomas Pattison. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1952.

Agamben, Giorgio. LAperto. Luome e lanimale. Turin: Boringhieri, 2002. English translation by Kevin Attell.(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Brunel-Lobrichon, Genevive. Liconographie du chansonnier provenal R. In Lyrique Romane Mdivale : La Tradition des chansonniers. Actes du colloque de Lige, 1989, 245-271 (discussion p. 272). Ed. Madeleine Tyssens. Lige : Bibliothque de la Facult de Philosophie et Lettres de lUniversit de Lige 258, 1991.

Dillon, Emma. The Sense of Sound: Musical Meaning in France, 1260-1330. (New Cultural History of Music). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012

Fritz, Jean-Marie. Paysages sonores du Moyen ge. Le versant pistmologique. Paris: Honor Champion, 2000.

------. La Cloche et la lyre. Pour une potique mdivale du paysage sonore. Geneva: Droz, 2011

Harvey, Ruth. Rhymes and Rusty Words in Marcabrus Songs. French Studies 56 (2002): 1-14.

Heidegger, Martin. What are Poets For? Poetry, Language, Thought, 89-139. Trans. Albert Hoftstadter. New York: Harper and Rowe, 1971.

Kay, Sarah. Chant et enchantement dans loeuvre de Guillaume de Machaut. Mtamorphoses du risque et du dsir. Revue des Langues Romanes, 2014.

Lamur Baudreu, Anne-Claude. Aux origines du chansonnier de troubadours M (Paris, Bibl. nat., fr. 12474). Romania 109.2-3 (1988): 183 198.

Leach, Elizabeth Eva. Sung Birds. Music, Nature and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2007

Zufferey, Franois. A propos du chansonnier provenal M (Paris, Bibl. Nat., fr. 12474). In Lyrique Romane Mdivale : La Tradition des chansonniers. Actes du colloque de Lige, 1989, 221-42 (discussion 242-3). Ed. Madeleine Tyssens. Lige : Bibliothque de la Facult de Philosophie et Lettres de lUniversit de Lige 258, 1991.

-----. Recherches linguistiques sur les chansonniers provenaux. Geneva: Droz, 1987.

UC Davis song seminarJaufre Rudel, Pro ai del chanMarcabru Hueymais dey esserMarcabru Pus la fuelha