Humor in the 14th Century, or “Europe’s Funniest Home Versus”

It’s all too easy to attribute modern comedic sensibilities to modern people only. But if the comedic impulse comes out of suffering, as Lenny Bruce claimed when asked why so many comics were Jewish (“All my humor is based on destruction and despair”), then the Middle Ages should be the Age of Hilarity. This isContinue reading “Humor in the 14th Century, or “Europe’s Funniest Home Versus””

“On parole/A Paris/Frese nouvele” [Review Update]

This is the exquisitely frolicsome motet referenced in the Week 5 review (although not the highest quality video clip). I’ll let Taruskin set the scene: By now the fun and games aspect of discordia concors has so burgeoned as to invite free choice of found objects in all parts including the tenor, and the moreContinue reading ““On parole/A Paris/Frese nouvele” [Review Update]”

Clus or Clar II: 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. — Grocheio, about the motet, c. 1300 (I, 226) One majorContinue reading “Clus or Clar II: The Motet”

“Aucun ont trouvé”

In the 13th century, composer Petrus de Cruce developed a unique style of motet that exaggerated the stratification of rhythmic levels. In “Petronian” motets, the top voice (triplum) is incredibly fleet; the middle voice (motetus) uses rhythms of intermediate duration; and the low voice (tenor) plods along in longs (dotted half notes). This effect wasContinue reading ““Aucun ont trouvé””

The Motet’s Bizarre Relationship with Text

The genre of the motet came about simply enough. Early practitioners added text to preexisting pieces of discant (polyphony with wordless melisma) and voila. In effect, the addition of texts – some Biblical, some glosses on Biblical passages, and some straight-up secular poetry a la trouvéres – brought the sureness and stability of language backContinue reading “The Motet’s Bizarre Relationship with Text”

“Viderunt Omnes”

This clip features Perotin’s 4-voice organum cum alio setting of the words “viderunt omnes.” The original chant, which appears as the sustained tenor, is slowed down to a veritable crawl here – it takes over three minutes just to intone the syllables “vi-de-runt om-nes.” In the earliest scraps of notated polyphony the chant appeared asContinue reading ““Viderunt Omnes””

Art as Play

Such a spirit of playful creativity is more in keeping with modern understanding of the word “art” than are the functional amplifications of plainchant that we have been encountering up to now. (I, 161) [Early notated polyphonic practices] bear witness to the process (and the fun) of creativity within an oral culture. Homo ludens andContinue reading “Art as Play”