“Sanz Note” & “Sanz Mesure”: Toward a Premodern Aesthetics of the Dirge

  • Anna Zayaruznaya
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


It is easy to think that something has gone wrong in the middle column of folio 5v of Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France ms. fr. 146 (see figure 9.1). At this early point in the famously lavish copy of the Roman de Fauvel made in ca. 1317, the copying of the motet Ex corruptis/In principibus seems to have been suddenly interrupted. Three voices are present: the first, beginning “Ex corruptis arboribus,” is at the top of the column and starts with a decorated initial. The second, “In principibus perpera,” starts midway through the ninth staff, but its capital letter is missing, as is that of the third, tenor voice, labeled “Neuma d’alleluia” (“melody from a [chant] alleluia”) at the bottom of the page. But it is not the missing capitals that draw the eye’s attention, since a much more vital aspect of the motet is conspicuous by its absence: there are no notes here, only empty staves. Because medieval scribes normally copied words before notes, scholars have assumed that the makers of Fauvel intended to add notation and then did not—perhaps they forgot to, or perhaps the music never arrived. As an early commentator put it, “dieser motetus fehlt” (this motet is missing).2


Musical Notation Fast Note Accented Syllable Weak Beat Emotional Excess 
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  1. 1.
    “Helas la douce debonnaire / Le tiers ver ne pot onques faire / Tant estoit lasse et adolee / Triste, dolente, et esplouree” (ll. 8573–76), Guillaume de Machaut, Le livre dou voir dit (The Book of the True Poem), ed. Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, trans. R. Barton Palmer (New York: Garland, 1998), 583.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Johannes Wolf, Geschichte der Mensuralnotation von 1250–1460, 3 vols. (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1904), 1:41, note 3.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See folio B; on the copying of the index, see Edward H. Roesner, François Avril, and Nancy Regalado, eds., Le Roman de Fauvel in the Edition of Mesire Chaillou de Pesstain: A Reproduction in Facsimile of the Complete Manuscript, Paris, Bibliothè que nationale, fonds francais 146 (New York: Broude Brothers, 1990), Introduction, 6–7.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Armand Strubel, ed., Le roman de Fauvel (Paris: Librarie Générale Française, 2012), line 580.Google Scholar
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    Cited in Irène Rosier-Catach, “Discussions médiévales sur l’expression des affects,” in Le Sujet des émotions au Moyen Age, ed. Piroska Nagy and Damien Boquet (Paris: Beauchesne, 2008), 208.Google Scholar
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    The same couplet appears in the Remède de Fortune: Guillaume de Machaut, Le Jugement du roy de Behaigne and Remede de Fortune, ed. and trans. James I. Wimsatt and William W. Kibler (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988), 11. 407–408.Google Scholar
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  13. ee also Benjamin Semple, “Christine de Pizan’s Phenomenology of Beauty in the Lyric and the Dream Vision,” in Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric, ed. Earl Jeffrey Richards (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998), 190.Google Scholar
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    On a musical manifestation of this topos, see Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Singing More about Singing Less: Machaut’s Pour ce que tous (B12),” in Machaut’s Music: New Interpretations, ed. Elizabeth Eva Leach (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2003), 111–24.Google Scholar
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    Ciconia, Nova musica, cited in Elizabeth Eva Leach, Sung Birds: Music, Poetry, and Nature in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007), 33.Google Scholar
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    Emma Dillon, The Sense of Sound: Musical Meaning in France, 1260–1330 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).Google Scholar
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  20. The available recordings vary in instrumentation: all parts are sung by voices by the ensemble Gothic Voices (dir. Christopher Page), The Castle of Fair Welcome (Hyperion, 1993), track 6,Google Scholar
  21. while Dominique Vellard opts for a combination of soprano on cantus and instruments on the other voices in Ensemble Gilles Binchois, Binchois: Mon souverain desir—Chansons (Angel Records, 2000), track 15.Google Scholar
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    For a useful introduction to the history of musical notation, see Thomas Forrest Kelly, Capturing Music: The Story of Notation (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014).Google Scholar
  23. 42.
    On the relationship between text-setting and musical meter in the work of Binchois’s contemporary Du Fay, see Graeme Boone, Patterns in Play: A Model for Text Setting in the Early French Songs of Guillaume Dufay (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1999).Google Scholar
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    See Sarah Fuller, “Tendencies and Resolutions: The Directed Progression in Ars Nova Music,” Journal of Music Theory 36.2 (1992): 229–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Timothy Dickey, “Gilles Binchois,” in All Music Guide to Classical Music: The Definitive Guide to Classical Music, ed. Chris Woodstra, Gerald Brennan, and Allen Schrott (San Francisco: Back Beat, 2005), 160.Google Scholar
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    Compare this to the more lyrical and sedate rendition by Gothic Voices, which nevertheless projects a clear and steady pulse: The Spirits of England and France, 3: Binchois and His Contemporaries (Hyperion, 1995).Google Scholar

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© Irit Ruth Kleiman 2015

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  • Anna Zayaruznaya

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