- The Monstrous New Art: Divided Forms in the Late Medieval Motet by Anna Zayaruznaya
This book focuses on the motets of the French Ars nova period, roughly ca. 1315– 70, encompassing the careers and compositions of Philippe de Vitry (1291–1361) and Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1300–1377). The author begins her study of this period by relating an interesting interaction on the topic of isorhythm that is recorded in conference proceedings from 19–23 September 1955 near Liège, Belgium. The account of this discussion shows that it anticipated many of the chief debates in Ars nova research during the next sixty years, and the author frames her introduction around the diverse views of these early experts. The themes of monstrosity and hybridity appear in Ars nova motet texts, and Zaryaruznaya attempts to illustrate a similar approach to form and musical texture by Ars nova composers as the focus of this particular study.
Zayaruznaya opens with a detailed description of the state of research on Ars nova motets. She begins with their structures, which exhibit an almost obsessive [End Page 285] approach to planning in terms of rhythm. Interlocking patterns of rhythms (talea) and pitches (color) form the well-known foundation of isorhythm, and current research has moved from a focus on deep structural understanding to that of sonic surface, supported by musicologists who are also medieval ensemble instrumentalists and conductors. This “supermusical” structure takes into account the excessive rhyme, assonance, and alliteration in the music that is meant to subsume and even drown out the words. On the other hand, some musicologists insist that the words have priority over the music, showing that the text often preceded and influenced the complex mathematical musical structures. In this book, the author indicates that she is taking a somewhat middle ground in her examination of the topic, paying attention to those aspects of form that are apparent to the listener, such as repetitive rhythms, the more audible and active upper voices (especially hockets), changes in declamation (when voices slow down or speed up), and changes in range. In the end, the goal is to add a new level of detail to the debate about the relative importance of words and music in the Ars nova motet.
As indicated previously, hybrid and monstrous creatures are the subjects of a number of Ars nova motets (see table 5.1, p. 174); in a sense, the monsters are as colorful and vibrant as the musical and textual complexity that surrounds them, a reflection of the motets themselves and vice versa. Chapter 1 examines how musical form, monstrosity, and bodies are woven together in the texture of the Ars nova motet. This anthropomorphization of the music results in both song and bodies “coming alive” in this repertory, and the author explores this topic as found in musical treatises and literary theory. A number of songs are explored to illustrate this practice, from notational ligatures to Machaut’s Fons/O livoris (where the music represents dragons, serpents, and the stinging tail of the scorpion) to Johannes de Grocheo’s description, ca. 1300, of the motet De animalibus. There are also examples of self-referential songs, such as Machaut’s Ma fin est mon commencement and Baude Cordier’s Tout par compas, two rondeaux that essentially describe themselves and their structures in the first person during their performance. Finally, the profusion of creatures represented in the Roman de Fauvel adds substance to the argument for the interconnection between music and bodies, as the reader witnesses songs being born into the world and then endowed with bodies. In sum, Chapter 1 sets up a framework for how song, bodies, and structure have been woven together in medieval music and literature to the ultimate height of complexity and union in the work of the Ars nova composers and their motets. Specific music examples of this and their dissection (so...