Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/419

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403
SONG


absent. On the other hand, the song in honour of Otto III. has definite rhythm and a degree of tunefulness. The “modus Ottino” was a well-known air, which, unlike the rest of those quoted by Coussemaker, was probably of popular origin, for the Latin words do not fit the melody and probably represent a free translation from an original in the vernacular tongue.[1]

EB1911 - Song 7.png

More remarkable still is a “Chanson de Table” of the 10th century, a really graceful melody, the quotation of which may serve to destroy the illusion that the major scale, so often described as modern, has any other claim to the title than the fact that it has been preserved by modern musicians, while others have been discarded.

EB1911 - Song 8.png

In the same collection may be found, beside other historical songs, two odes of Boethius and two odes of Horace, set to music;[2] but whether the melodies given represent medieval music or Roman music, corrupted or not, it is. impossible to determine. These songs have been dwelt upon, for they not only represent some kinds of music that were sung in the 9th and 10th centuries, but indicate the sources from which later on the work of the troubadours was derived. They may be summed up as a church-song and folk-song, and the songs by more or less cultured persons made after these models. For the subsequent history of the art the folk-song represents by far the most potent influence, but the melodies quoted by Coussemaker which might be regarded as the works of the popular instinct afford insufficient data for safe generalization. More direct evidence is to be found in the 12th-century pastoral play—Le Jeu de Robin et de Marion, till within recent years considered as the work of Adam de la Hale, but since the able criticisms of M. Tiersot in the work referred to above, likely henceforth to be regarded as the oldest collection of folk-songs in existence; for the original compositions which Maître Adam has bequeathed to posterity preclude us from believing that he could have originated the dainty airs contained in that play, of which Robin m’aime is generally familiar, and is still to be heard on the lips of peasants in the north of France (see Tiersot, p. 424, n.). If M. Tiersot’s view is correct, the melodies in Robin et Marion may be taken to represent the popular style of an epoch considerably anterior to the date of the play itself (though allowance must be made for the correcting hand of a professional musician) which is our excuse for introducing them at this place.

Before speaking of the songs of troubadours, trouvères and minnesingers, allusion must be made to a class of men who played a part the importance of which both in the social and political life of the middle ages is attested by innumerable chroniclers and poets, viz. the skalds, bards or minstrels—the chief depositories of the musical and poetical traditions of the several countries to which they belonged. They varied greatly in rank. Some were attached to the retinue of kings and nobles, whilst others catered for the ear of the peasantry (eventually to be classed with jugglers, acrobats, bearwards and the like, sharing the unenviable reputation which attached to these representatives of popular medieval amusements). That these latter were also welcome at the halls of the great, is an established fact, which may serve as a reminder that in feudal times the distinction that now exists between the music of the cultivated classes and of the peasantry was but slight. The style of the church music was as universally familiar as the style of the folk-song. For musicians, both of high and low degree, no other models existed. This fact is patently clear when the songs of the troubadours, trouvères and minnesingers are studied. Those minstrels continued the traditions of the better class of their predecessors, with strivings after a more polished, elaborate and artistic style. In forming their style upon an admixture of folk-song and church-song they in fact assimilated neither, and created a mongrel product without real vitality—a product that left practically no mark upon the subsequent development of the art. The astonishing skill which they exhibited in adapting the language of poetry to the most complicated metrical forms deserted them when they touched the question of musical form and of melody. Indeed their music, except in rare instances, was an adornment which the poetry could have dispensed with, and may be regarded in the main simply as a concession to the immemorial custom of treating music and poetry as inseparable arts.

The real importance of these courtly minstrels in the history of song consists in their having firmly established the rhyming stanza as the vehicle for the expression of lyrical feeling, for with the rhyming stanza a corresponding compact and symmetrical melodic form was bound to come. It was, however, reserved for the popular instinct, and not for trouvères and minnesingers, to develop this form (it is probable too that some at least of the stanza forms employed belonged first to popular poetry and were afterwards developed and elaborated by these musicians of the great houses). The scheme upon which the lyrical stanza was usually based was one in which two similar parts (called by the German Meistersingers, Stollen or props, and constituting the Aufgesang or opening song) were followed by an independent third part, the length of which was not prescribed (called Abgesang or concluding song). The complete stanza was called Lied and was knit together by different schemes of rhyme. For the first part the trouvères and Meistersingers were content with some simple phrase, often borrowed direct from the folk-song, repeating it, as was natural, for the exactly similar second part: then for the third the style was apt to change towards the ecclesiastical and to wander aimlessly on to an unconvincing conclusion. The popular instinct was finer, for we find in innumerable folk-songs, belonging to the 14th and 15th centuries, that the greater length of the Abgesang was seized upon as an opportunity, not merely for introducing fresh material, after the repetition of the phrase

attached to the two Stollen, but also for a return to that phrase,

  1. This melody, which is plainly derived from recitation, with A as tonus carrens, closely resembles that of Ljómur, a folk-song of the Faeroe islanders, noted by H. Thuren in 1902 and identified by him with a piece of recitation (“Fili care”) from a 12th-century “Drame liturgique” (deciphered by O. Fleischer, Neumenstudien, Bd. II. p. 23). See Folkesangen paa Farøerne, H. Thuren (Copenhagen, 1908). Identity of style between a popular song of the 9th century, a drame liturgique of the 12th and a folk-song still sung in the 20th is sufficiently striking—especially in view of the fact that in the Faeroe Islands instrumental music is practically unknown.
  2. Lord Ashburnham has a Virgil of the 10th century, “dans lequel les discours directs de l’Eneide sont accompagnés de notations musicales” (Coussemaker).