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  • Margaret Louise (Marlou) Switten (†2017)
  • Elizabeth W. Poe

The Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly reported that Margaret Louise (Marlou) Switten died on September 7, 2017. Upon receiving her doctorate from Bryn Mawr College in 1952, Marlou taught for ten years at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) before joining the Mount Holyoke faculty in 1963, remaining there until her retirement forty-four years later, in 2007.

Marlou was my professor at Mount Holyoke, where I took every course she offered as well as a number of independent studies. She continued to be my mentor over the years, even when I was not always the most faithful of correspondents nor the most docile of disciples. It was Marlou who set me on the path of the troubadours in the first place, a path from which I never strayed very far. After the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina destroyed the vast majority of my books, Marlou, in a beautiful gesture of friendship and generosity, gave me her whole library.

In the course of her long, active career, she authored two books: The Cansos of Raimon de Miraval. A Study of Poems and Melodies (1985) and Music and Poetry in the Middle Ages. A Guide to Research on French and Occitan Song, 1100-1400 (1995). She was co-editor, with Samuel N. Rosenberg and Gérard Le Vot, of a third: Songs of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology of Poems and Melodise (1998).

Having been trained both in music—at Westminster Choir College, where she met her future husband, Henri Narcisse Switten—and in medieval French literature—as an undergraduate student at Barnard College and then as a graduate student at Bryn Mawr—Marlou was naturally attracted to the troubadours and devoted most of her published articles to the interplay between text and melody in their songs. With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Marlou directed and hosted several Summer Institutes on Medieval Lyric. She also received grants from the NEH for the production of a set of CDs and a multi-media CD-ROM application on the troubadours and trouvères for use in secondary-school and college classrooms. [End Page 219]

In characteristic Marlou fashion, when she finally decided to retire, she staunchly refused any parties or other festivities in her honor. Under pressure from the Dean of Mount Holyoke College, Marlou reluctantly agreed to let the Medieval Studies Coordinator organize a colloquium in her honor, entitled "Music and Texts: The Middle Ages and Beyond." However, Marlou made it clear: if she was to consent to a colloquium, it would have to be on her terms, her primary stipulation being that no one was to say anything nice about her at all. As the participant who undoubtedly owed more to Marlou, both professionally and personally, than anyone else, I regretted not being able to express openly the love and gratitude I felt towards her. I knew her well enough, however, not to dare disrespect her wishes. The most I could do was to present her with a little vida that I "found":

Na Margarida Adolzir si era una dompna cortesa et enseignada e fort maïstra. Ensenhairitz fo en l'escola qe avia nom Mont Sant Casser.

Fo mout tensuda e mout obedida per totas las valens jovens dompnas qe anavan en l'escola. Entendet meill de trobar proensal che negus om che fos adoncs e meill entendet la lenga dels trobadors. Mout lausava En Raimon de Miraval. Saup cantar.

E la soa vida si era aitals que tot l'invern estava en escola et ensenhava letras e tota la estat estava en Fransa e escrivia libres. E mout fo honrada per los valens homes et per las valens dompnas qe lesion los sieus maestrals escritz.

Et ieu Na Elis del Pot estudian fauc asaber qe Na Margarida me det gran ren de sos libres qan perdiei totz los mieus.

Et ella s'en anet ses libres en l'encontrada del Enferm-Enoja e visquet mout lonc temps ab joi et ab joven.

[Na Margarida Adolzir was a courtly and learnèd lady and very scholarly. She was a teacher at the school called Mont Sant Casser. She...


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