Review of book on Trecento song texts

My review of  Lauren McGuire Jennings’s book on Trecento song texts has just been published.
Many of you can get this through your library if it gets JRMA, in which case please use these links:

Elizabeth Eva Leach
Journal of the Royal Musical Association

Volume 140, Issue 2 pp. 445-449 | DOI: 10.1080/02690403.2015.1089022

Taylor and Francis, who publish JRMA, have given me at link to the full text, which is restricted to 49 downloads. Please only download this text if you’re really going to read the review. When the 49 downloads are done, I’m assuming that the link will no longer work and/or you’ll be asked for money. The link is here: Free download (49 copies only)

Putting a tune to a tuneless song

Gace song in N

Gace’s melody in MS N

The fifth song in the grands chants is unique to Douce 308 and is thus transmitted to us without any melody. However, its versification makes it possible to sing it to the tune of a song with a similar poetic structure.

First let me give the text and translation of the song (again, my thanks for Helen Swift for discussion by email of various tricky places in the text and translation).


I have served Love for a long time and received my pain most willingly. And so I don’t know whether I shall die of it, since I find my body is greatly struggling, but I find my heart sound and true to do your will, lady, whom I would never dare name to anyone.

Very often I am in great distress, because gossips have wounded me so much. Hey, dear Lord God! What shall I do? That never, not once, do I pay them back for it or forfeit them, as I know how to, nor, moreover, do I have the wish to do so–I neither have it nor will I have it, unless it pleases God.

But constantly, without ceasing, I will improve myself, if it’s the case that the group of them really hates me; and mutely will I always serve you, lady full of great goodness, because I know that in you is so much beauty that I shall soon be comforted again: every day I await your will.


The melody that will work is that for Chanter m’estuet ireement (RS 687), which is attributed to Gace Brulé in the trouvère manuscripts KNPX, as well as appearing anonymously in L and V (for unscrambling of these sigla, see this page). I’ve transcribed the pitches from N (supplying the erased third pitch in line 2 — see MS image above — from the cognate melody in line 4; click here to go the the manuscript image). Gace’s poem (if it is by Gace — the most recent editor, Samuel N. Rosenberg, doubts that it is because of its looseness in rhyme and grammar), like the anonymous one in Douce 308, invokes gossips in the second stanza and recounts the pain of love. This is not unusual, however, and I would not like to suggest at all that this was a contrafact of the Gace song in the Middle Ages. But it is now!

(If anyone wants to have a go at singing this, recording themselves, and then sending me the file, I’ll put it up if I can. You’ll be the first person to sing it since the 1320s probably, and although it won’t sound now as it did then, that’s broadly true of all medieval music. I particularly like the way the rising cadences — if that’s not a contradiction in terms! — in lines 1, 3, and 5 give a slightly whiney, uncertain quality to the delivery, much like the common high rising intonation (HRI) older speakers today find prevalent in younger speakers of English. It seems to fit with the distressed uncertainty of the je here.)

A score follows; for a pdf, click on the following linke: RS687 – Full Score.



Douce 308 complete images now online!

Dead peacock

Porrus kills Fezonas’s peacock in the first item in Douce 308, The Vows of the Peacock. Image, Bodleian Library.

The first thing promised as part of my Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship is now done.

The complete images of the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce 308 are now online. The photography is funded by part of the Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship that I was awarded for 2015-18 specifically to write a book on this source and what it might tell us about the culture(s) of vernacular song in the few decades either side of 1300.

Many thanks to the Bodleian Library for their great efficiency in getting this done in time for the project start date (1 Oct 2015), which will mean I can get going straight away. I was interested to be asked whether I actually wanted to withhold the open-access web-mounting of the images until after I’d written my book. While I’m glad they asked, I think anyone’s going to ‘beat me’ to saying exactly what I would say about it, and my general view is the more the merrier on people using these images and finding things to say about this wonderful and complex source. I certainly won’t exhaust it!

I’m looking forward to blogging bits and pieces of interesting stuff as I go along.

At the Medieval Academy of America Annual Conference 2015

EEL opening plenaryI was honoured to be invited to give the opening Plenary lecture at the MAA annual meeting, this year held at the University of Notre Dame in the US. Continue reading

Leach en France, Leach en français

Texte et présentation Powerpoint sur le contrepoint chez Machaut. Continue reading