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  • The Old French Ballette. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Douce 308
  • Christopher Callahan
Doss-Quinby, Eglal, Samuel N. Rosenberg, Elizabeth Aubrey, eds. and trans. The Old French Ballette. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Douce 308. Publications Romanes et Françaises, 239. Geneva: Droz, 2006. ISBN 2600010262. Pp. CLXII, 550; black-and-white figures. CHF 152.

This exemplary edition offers for the first time a complete collection of the pieces presented in Douce 308 (trouvère manuscript I) under the rubric ballettes. Not only are the vast majority of these unica, but the term ballette it-self is unique to this manuscript. By subjecting these pieces to a rigorous metrical analysis, the editors offer a transparent, inclusive and highly useful definition of this elusive genre which, by its very simplicity, is able to cut through a century of inconclusive terminological discussion. A "low-style" dance song which flourished largely in Lorraine, the ballette nonetheless transcended both its social status and its regionalism to play a decisive role in the evolution of fourteenth-century lyric in general. For E. Doss-Quinby and S. N. Rosenberg, the unifying factor in these pieces, which "present a bewildering array of structural combinations", is quite simply the alternation of stanza and refrain. The definition's inclusiveness offers readers a significant advantage in perceiving Douce 308's significance in the history of lyric compilation. For its ballette section contains pieces which, by their form, either came to be termed ballade and virelai or were designated as such by contemporary composers (Jehan de la Mote, Jehannot de Lescurel, Nicole de Margival) who set the same refrains in their own strophic songs. The interest of this edition to lyric scholarship is thus much more than the unusual figure cut by Douce 308, with its eclectic collection of songs arranged uniquely by genre. It is the pivotal position which its contents occupy in the evolution of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century poetic forms, as Doss-Quinby, Rosenberg, and Aubrey argue convincingly that the ballette collection constitutes a vital "missing link" in the development of the formes fixes.

Douce 308 contains not a note of music; indeed not even empty staves precede the poetic texts, as is the case with MS C and on occasion MS U, [End Page 155] the two other trouvère codices of Lorraine provenance. The identity of the ballette as a dance form is nonetheless scrupulously established —1) etymologically, 2) by appeal to what is known about the functions of refrains in general, and 3) from the visual evidence offered by the ballette section's introductory miniature. Significantly, the edition is able to offer music for twenty-one of the refrains, which have been preserved with melodies in other sources. The extensive intertextuality of the ballette refrains and their music is the domain of E. Aubrey, who offers, in the introduction, a meticulous melodic and poetic analysis of this material as confirmation of the performative life of the ballette.

The rigorous and systematic introduction (162 pages!) is a masterpiece of philological and musicological scholarship which upholds the standards set by these same editors in their previous work in the field of medieval lyric. It is divided into six topics: 1) Justification of the Edition, 2) The Lyric Type, 3) The Manuscript, 4) Music, 5) Editorial Policy, and 6) Presentation of the Songs, the last of which offers an extensive series of tables. Here the genre ballette is presented, analyzed and defined, the ballette section set in its manuscript context and the overall scribal program of Douce 308 elucidated, and both the extant refrain melodies and their sources engagingly discussed. The volume draws a number of noteworthy conclusions concerning Douce 308 and the history of lyric compilation, the most groundbreaking of which is the ballette's role in the constitution of late-medieval and Renaissance poetic norms. The editors also point to the predilection, among lyric compilations produced in Lorraine, for poetry attributable to women, as these codices preserve the greatest number of chansons and jeux-partis with a feminine voice; to the high incidence of refrains shared by the ballettes and Jacquemart Giélée's Renart le nouvel, suggesting the puy of Lille as a possible...


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