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Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century


CHAPTER 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite
Richard Taruskin

The undeniable fact is, however, that by the end of the century—that is, by Grocheio’s time—the motet was a strictly polyphonic genre, and it reveled more than any other genre in its polyphonicness. To deny this fact about the motet on account of the genre’s not-strictly-polyphonic origins or ancestry would be to commit what is called the “genetic fallacy”—the inadvertent or deliberate confusion of something as it is with what it may originally have been. (For a more obvious example, imagine claiming that our national anthem is not a patriotic song but just a drinking song.) And while we’re on the subject of fallacies, it is also a fallacy (the so-called “pathetic fallacy”) to say, as in this paragraph’s first sentence, that the motet “reveled in its polyphonicness.” Motets cannot revel. Only people revel. And it was people, notably Grocheio, who reveled in the complexity of the polyphonic, polytextual motet. For an example of the fully evolved, late thirteenth-century French motet that Grocheio reveled in, see Fig. 7-5, from the Bamberg Codex, and its transcription (Ex. 7-4).

The form of the piece is clearly discant- or clausula-derived, although there is no actual clausula counterpart to it. Two parts in trochaic meter (“first mode”) are composed against a spondaic (“fifth-mode”) cantus firmus borrowed from a Gregorian melisma. In this case the melisma comes from the Easter Gradual, Haec dies, already encountered in Ex. 1-7b. Compare the tenor in Ex. 7-4 with the notes sung to the italicized words in the final phrase of the Gradual: “quoniam in seculum misericordia ejus” (for His mercy endureth forever). The motet tenor consists of a double cursus of the chant melisma, its notes cut up into alternating groups of two and three longs or maximas.

A New Trobar Clus?

fig. 7-5 French double mote t, L’autre jour/Au tens pascour/IN SECULUM (Ba, fols. 7-7v). The layout resembles that of Fig. 7-3. The tenor begins under the motetus part on fol. 7 and continues most of the way across the bottom of fol. 7v .

A New Trobar Clus?A New Trobar Clus?A New Trobar Clus?

ex. 7-4 Transcription of Fig. 7-5

That much is à la clausula, all right, but the motetus and triplum texts are both little pastourelles reminiscent of trouvère poetry, even down to the name of Robin the shepherd and the cliché beginning (“the other day …”) that goes all the way back to the troubadours:


L’autre jour par un matin

dejouste une valée

A une ajournée

The other day at morn

down by a valley

at break of day

Pastourelle ai trovée,

Je l’ai regardée;

Seule estoit,

D’amours chantoit;

Et je dis:

“Simple et coie,

Volentiers seroie,

Se il vous agrée,

Vos amis.”

Ele respont cum senée:

“Sire, laissiés moi ester,

Ralés en vo contrée,

J’aim Robin sans fausseté,

m’amor li ai donnée,

Plus l’aim que riens née;

Il s’en est alés juer

au bois, sous la ramée;

Villenie feroie,

Se je ne l’amoie,

Car il m’aimme sans trechier,

Ja pour vous ne le quier laissier.”

I spied a shepherdess

and watched her a while.

She was all alone,

singing of love,

and I said:

“Guileless and bashful girl,”

gladly would I be,

If it would pleasure you,

Your lover.”

She replied, thoughtfully:

“Sir, let me be,

go back where you came from.

I love Robin without deceit;

I’ve pledged him my love.

I love him more than any born thing.

He’s gone off to play

in the woods ’neath the trees;

I’d do an awful thing

if I didn’t love him back,

For he has loved me faithfully,

And I’d never leave him for the likes of you.”


Au tens pascour

Tuit li pastour

D’une contrée

Ont fait assemblée

Desous une valée.

Hebers en la prée

A de la pipe et dou tabour

la danse demenée;

Robin pas n’agrée,

Quant il l’a esgardée;

Mais par aatie

Fera mieudre estampie.

Lors a saisi son fourrel,

Prist son chapel,

S’a sa cote escourcie,

S’a fait l’estanpie


Pour l’amour de s’amie.

Rogers, Guios et Gautiers

en ont mont grant envie,

At Eastertime

All the shepherd folk

from one locale

gathered together

at the bottom of a valley.

Herbert, in the meadow,

with pipe and tabor

led the dance.

Robin did not like it

when he saw it,

but out of conceit

thought he’d do a better estampie.

So he grabbed his bagpipe,

put on his hat,

tucked in his coat,

and did an estampie,

a jolly one,

to impress his girl.

Roger, Guy and Gautier

are right full of jealousy,

N’i a nul qui rie,

Ains font aatie,

K’ains ke soit l’avesprée,

Iert sa pipe effondrée.

They none of them laugh,

but say defiantly

that come nightfall

his pipe is going to be in pieces.

Naive and folksy as these texts seem, they are cast in a very urbane musical construction that belies their rustic nature. That jocular incongruity, which (along with polytextuality) intensified the essential heterogeneity of the motet genre, is already one delightful aspect of ars combinatoria, the art of combining things. And it is already a reason why Grocheio, the intellectual connoisseur, placed the motet at the summit of Parisian genres, for it was “a song composed of many voices, having many words or a variety of syllables, [but] everywhere sounding in harmony.”7 The harmonization of contrarieties (discordia concors) encompassed the texts as well as the tunes, even including the unsung, incongruously Latinate and liturgical text of the tenor. The duplum text, with its reference to “Eastertime” (tens pascour), alludes obliquely to the source of the chant melisma on which the whole polyphonic superstructure of the motet has been erected. Motets are full of in-jokes.

But that was not the only reason for Grocheio’s devotion to the new genre. As usual, the theorist prescribes as well as describes, and this is his prescription for the motet:

This kind of song ought not to be propagated among the vulgar, since they do not understand its subtlety nor do they delight in hearing it, but it should be performed for the learned and those who seek after the subtleties of the arts. And it is normally performed at their feasts for their edification, just as the song they call rondeau is performed at the feasts of the vulgar.

Very interesting, this: a song all about the shepherds and their faithful lassies, but not to be sung before Robin, Roger, and their gang, because they’d never understand it. In fact, the complicated polytextual song itself served to mark off the occasion at which it is sung—a university recreation or, as Grocheio charmingly puts it, a “feast of the learned”—as an elite occasion, at which and through which the members of Grocheio’s new class could celebrate and demonstrate their superiority to the “vulgar.” Now that seems to ring a bell. Where have we heard sentiments like these before? We heard them a few chapters back when we listened in on a mock debate (joc parti) between two troubadours, one of whom (Raimbaut d’Aurenga, alias Linhaure) espoused the values of trobar clus, the “difficult” poetry of the courtly elite. Do not prize “that which is common to all,” he warned, “for then would all be equal.” Grocheio’s echo of these exclusionary values on behalf of the motet is a wonderful example of the way in which newly emerging elites—in this case an urban and literate elite, many of whose members had been drawn from the lower classes—ape or aspire to the status of an older, established aristocracy.

The self-congratulating “learned” class represented by Grocheio provided an audience that encouraged composers to experiment and vie with one another in the creation of tours de force, feats of ingenuity. The motet became a hotbed of technical innovation and “combinatorial” adventure. The one in Ex. 7-5 is an attempt to combine three disparate musico-poetic styles in one “harmony of clashes.” The triplum is in the style of a motet enté like the one in Ex. 7-3: its non-repeating melody quotes an old refrain, Celle m’a s’amour douné Qui mon cuer et m’amour a (“She who has my heart and love did give her love to me”). The motetus is an actual rondeau, minus the opening refrain (also a famous one):


[Li regart de ses vers euz

The glance of her green eyes



Just kills me.


Que ferai, biau sire Diex?

What can I do, good Lord?


Li regart de ses verz euz

The glance of her green eyes


J’atendrai pour avoir mieix

I will await in hopes of



better treatment.


Li regart de ses vers euz

The glance of her green eyes



Just kills me.

And the tenor is the same tenor as in Ex. 7-4, only cast like the other parts in the trochaic first mode, with irregularities that only mensural notation could pinpoint with accuracy.

A New Trobar Clus?A New Trobar Clus?

ex. 7-5 J’ai les maus d’amours/que ferai/IN SECULUM (Montpelier, Faculté de médicines H196 (Mo), f. 188’)

Though short and sweet, not to say trivial at first glance, this piece is very much a tour de force of composing in the most literal, etymological sense (from componere, to put things together). The task involved shoehorning into one harmonizing texture not one, not two, but three preexisting melodies, of which one contained, as an additional hazard, many musical repetitions of its own. The audience would have derived great pleasure out of penetrating beyond the first glance to recognize the three preexisting tunes (all in different forms) and marvel at the skill with which they had been combined.

Such a piece was a triumph of literate contrivance, one whose craftsmanly intricacy depended utterly on the written medium. Like the trobar clus of the troubadours, its meaning was “shut up and obscure,” so that “a man is afraid to do violence to it” by casual oral delivery, as Peire d’Alvernhe (1158–80), one of the late Provençal poets, had declared in defense of recherché, “difficult” art.8


(7) Grocheio, Concerning Music, trans. Seay, p. 26.

(8) Peire d’Alvernhe, quoted in H. J. Chaytor, The Troubadours (1912; rpt. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1970), p. 36.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2024. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007005.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 29 Feb. 2024, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007005.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 7 Music for an Intellectual and Political Elite." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 29 Feb. 2024, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-007005.xml