- Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères: The Changing Identity of Medieval Music
As if on cue, musicologists have responded to the recent fin de siècle with a number of studies reflecting on the history, methods, assumptions, and subject matter of the discipline, including several books in the series in which this new volume ap-pears (John Butt, Playing with History: The Historical Approach to Musical Performance [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994], James Garratt, Palestrina and the German Romantic Imagination: Interpreting Historicism in Nineteenth-Century Music [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002], and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002]). Like these and other millennial interrogatories, John Haines' book tackles several large tasks: expounding the historiography of a musical repertoire (in this case, two discrete repertoires); delineating and contextualizing their reception; and illuminating the epistemological pitfalls for the current scholar who studies them.
The absence of a definite article in the book's title—"[THE] Troubadours and Trouvères"—suggests that its subject matter is not a particular group of composers located in a specific time and place, or their songs. Indeed, while the author begins his study with the twelfth- and thirteenth-century troubadours and trouvères, subsequent chapters move on to the Renaissance reception of their songs, the rediscovery and concomitant transformation of the repertoires during the Enlightenment, their subsumption into the new disciplines of philology, textual criticism, and musicology during the nineteenth century, the controversies over rhythm and the attempts to historicize the troubadours and the trouvères during the twentieth century, and the adoption of the idea of the troubadour as manifest in the music of such modern performing artists as Fabulous Trobadors and Massilia Sound System.
This last discussion brings home Haines' central point, that the "art de trobar is a work of the imagination whose inspiration is in the past but whose workshop is wholly in the present" (p. 291)—whether that "present" be the thirteenth century when scribes first attempted to translate the songs from the aural environment in which they originated to written form and created legends about the poet-composers with little basis in fact, the sixteenth century when Jean de Nostredame and Claude Fauchet produced histories and anthologies (but ignored the music), the eighteenth century when bibliophiles began cataloguing and comparing the medieval manuscripts, the nineteenth century whose scientific methods and philosophical attitudes gave the repertoires more precise shape than the medieval documents themselves actually revealed, or the twentieth century with its shifting interpretations, ontologies, and methodologies. At the outset, Haines declares "that medieval music for us consists of the total sum of its various perceptions and receptions. That is to say, the reception is the music" (p. 5). Thanks to much recent scholarship, this is a broadly accepted assertion for all music, even that which is created today. Haines' book demonstrates what "troubadour" and "trouvère" meant at different times over the last 800 years and provides compelling reasons for skepticism about our own historical understanding of these and other older repertoires.
One recurring theme throughout the book is the contrast and interplay between fact and fantasy in the reception of the medieval songs. Nearly every period that Haines examines produced both those who attempted to discover or capture some historical truth about the songs of the troubadours and the trouvères, and those who imaginatively re-created the songs to suit a contemporary aesthetic. Thus the twentieth century included rigorous scholarly perusal of the medieval documents and honest efforts to perform the songs in "historically informed" ways, but also openly inventive reinterpretations of them and new songs created in their "spirit." The thirteenth century too had its scholars (scribes and theorists) and its inventors (authors of the razos and vidas, and chroniclers who concocted stories about nobles and minstrels to spice up their own narratives). Haines engagingly traces the paths of some of [End Page...