- Structures sonores de lhumanisme en France: de Maurice Scè ve: Delie, object de plus haulte vertu (Lyon, 1544) à Claude Le Jeune, Second livre des Meslanges (Paris, 1612)
The importance of the relationship between music and poetry in the Renaissance has long been recognized, and there are a number of recent excellent studies on the subject (those by Edwin Duval, Cynthia Skenazi, and James Helgeson, for example). The relationship between music and the celestial spheres is often referred to by poets of the Renaissance, and the influence of Ficino, who theorized that the effect that music produced upon the listener was the result of the similarity between the nature of music and human physiology, had a profound effect upon both poets and musicians.
In this massive tome (a doctoral thesis), Pierre Bonniffet, who is both a musicologist and a singer, undertakes an exhaustive study of the question from a Ficinian-inspired humanist perspective. Like all French doctoral theses, this one immediately impresses the reader with the vast amount of research its author has pursued on primary and secondary sources from the period and on critical studies from our own time. The bibliography even has a section listing colloquia and Festschriften either devoted to the precise subject of poetry and music in the Renaissance or containing at least one paper or article on the subject.
In his introduction, Bonniffet takes issue with musicologists, such as Gustave Reese, who see the music of Josquin des Prés as a watershed in the evolution of European music. According to Bonniffet such a division obtains only for sacred music, since secular music underwent a metamorphosis a generation after Josquin's death, under the influence of humanism. Bonniffet's study accordingly begins at the height of popularity of the chanson parisienne as practiced by Sermisy, Janequin, and Certon, and since he is interested in the relation between word and music, his study treats, logically enough, only vocal music.
Bonniffet does not agree with Duval's contention that the dizains of Scève's Délie were intended to be sung, even though some of them were set to music. He contends that in Scève's eyes the complex sound patterns of his long poem are not only the equivalent of music but are in fact superior to music. Accordingly, Bonniffet divides his study into two principal sections, the first dealing primarily with the Délie and entitled "The Poetic Sound Corpus: Music in Question" ("Le [End Page 530] Corps sonore poétique: la musique en question"). He then embarks on a study of Scève's text from a largely phonetic-stylistic perspective, which is not without interest, but which, in this reader's opinion, suffers from the attendant problems of such an approach, namely the danger of imposing subjective values onto sounds and sound patterns. He also sees in the Délie what he calls a spiral movement, defined as a "movement by which a poetic or vocal sound structure is developed concentrically in the evocation of a referent" ("le mouvement par lequel une structure sonore poétique ou vocale se développe de manière concentrique dans l'évocation d'un referent," 642), not an easy concept to grasp or to apply, particularly in reference to a poetic text. Bonniffet then devotes an interesting chapter to the evocation of the lute in two dizains of Scève (344 and 345) and contrasts them with Louise Labé's sonnet twelve ("Lut compagnon de ma calamité"). Whereas for Scève the lute takes second place to the power of the Lady's gaze and as a corollary the poetic text takes precedence over music, Labé's sonnet reveals her to be a musician for whom music is at least the equal of poetry and whose verse is meant to be sung.
In the second part...