The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry

June 2013
22 line illustrations
208 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781843843498
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
BISAC LIT011000, LIT004150, MUS020000

The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry

Jennifer Saltzstein

A survey of the use of the refrain in thirteenth and fourteenth-century French music and poetry, showing how it was skilfully deployed to assert the validity of the vernacular.
The relationship between song quotation and the elevation of French as a literary language that could challenge the cultural authority of Latin is the focus of this book. It approaches this phenomenon through a close examination of the refrain, a short phrase of music and text quoted intertextually across thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century musical and poetic genres. The author draws on a wide range of case studies, from motets, trouvère song, plays, romance, vernacular translations, and proverb collections, to show that medieval composers quoted refrains as vernacular auctoritates; she argues that their appropriation of scholastic, Latinate writing techniques worked to authorize Old French music and poetry as media suitable for the transmission of knowledge. Beginning with an exploration of the quasi-scholastic usage of refrains in anonymous and less familiar clerical contexts, the book goes on to articulate a new framework for understanding the emergence of the first two named authors of vernacular polyphonic music, the cleric-trouvères Adam de la Halle and Guillaume de Machaut. It shows how, by blending their craft with the writing practices of the universities, composers could use refrain quotation to assert their status as authors with a new self-consciousness, and to position works in the vernacular as worthy of study and interpretation.

Jennifer Saltzstein is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Oklahoma.

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Table of Contents

Relocating the Refrain
Clerical and Monastic Contexts for the Intertextual Refrain
Vernacular Wisdom and Thirteenth-Century Arrageois Song
Adam de la Halle as Magister Amoris
Cultivating an Authoritative Vernacular in the Music of Guillaume de Machaut


A major contribution to scholarship on thirteenth- and fourteenth-century French music and literature in many respects. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIE

[A] compelling study. SPECULUM

This book is as accessible to the non-specialist as it is valuable to the expert, carefully explaining any technical vocabulary and precisely clarifying terminological distinctions ... Saltzstein's detailed engagement with musical examples is particularly welcome ... Offers important new contexts in which to understand practices of refrain quotation ... will prove invaluable to musicologists as well as scholars of medieval French literature and culture. EARLY MUSIC

This fascinating and thought-provoking study sheds light on the intellectual and artistic contexts in which refrain quotation was practiced. FRENCH STUDIES

An admirable study, with much to say about the closely intertwined, highly experimental and extremely sophisticated medieval literary and musical cultures in which refrains were so liberally used ... this book is of great value for any performer of medieval music. THE CONSORT

Absorbing and informative ... vital reading for everyone working on medieval motets, songs or poetry ... The overall achievement of this volume is great. PLAINSONG AND MEDIEVAL MUSIC COLLECTIONS THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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