Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2020
THE TITLE OF THIS VOLUME may seem rather straightforward, but it has been deliberately chosen to reflect one of the book's main points. A Critical Companion to Medieval Motets – rather than A Critical Companion to the Medieval Motet – signals that the motet, essentially, cannot be regarded as a single thing: not only do motets change drastically throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries (and beyond), but even motets that are contemporaneous with one another often exhibit such wildly different characteristics that one would be hard-pressed to come up with a suitable definition for the genre.
What then are medieval motets? Combing through various musical dictionaries and textbooks, one will typically find the motet defined as a polyphonic composition with two differently texted upper voices operating over a pre-existing tenor line drawn from chant. To be sure, there exist hundreds of medieval motets that fit this description. But there also exist hundreds of motets that do not. Perhaps the most effective way to convey a sense of the sheer breadth of the genre is through a glance at a handful of contrasting examples discussed throughout the volume; these motets range from the first decades of the thirteenth century to the onset of the fifteenth century, the scope of the Companion.
Take for instance the subgenre of two-voice motets. Salve salus, hominum/Et gaudebit is a short work that appears in F, one of the earliest motet sources. As shown in Example 4.3 (p. 81 below), the melody of its tenor, Et gaudebit, is drawn from the Alleluia for the feast of the Ascension and proceeds in a pattern that alternates long and short notes. The motet's texted Latin upper voice (the motetus or duplum, interchangeably) is declaimed in the same basic rhythms with poetic lines that are almost all of the same length. Like the majority of medieval motets, its composer remains unknown to us today. We can compare this with another two-voice motet, Fines amourete/Fiat, that appears in the slightly later W2 manuscript. As is illustrated in Example 9.1 (p. 195), its upper voice is in French and contains a refrain in lines 9, 10, and 11 (enclosed in quotation marks) that also appears within the allegorical verse narrative Roman de la poire; this motet exhibits the close relationship between the genres of motet and secular song.
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