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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
SOUND AND THE WORD IN THE TROUBADOURS, OR, HOW HUMAN IS SONG?
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
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.
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].
Paris, BnF fr. 856 (chansonnier C)
Paris, BnF fr 12474 (chansonnier M)
Paris, BnF fr 22543 (chansonnier R)
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
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