Hostname: page-component-84b7d79bbc-x5cpj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-25T14:25:31.750Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Et pui conmencha a canter: refrains, motets and melody in the thirteenth-century narrative Renart le nouvel*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2008

Judith A. Peraino
Cornell University


In many surviving thirteenth-century romances, short segments of lyric poetry, called ‘refrains’ by present-day scholars, interrupt the narrative with the implication of song. In the romance Renart le nouvel, attributed to Jacquemart Giélée (fl. 1290), refrains take their place among a wide variety of literary registers and forms. Renart le nouvel is a late derivative of a long and international tradition of adapting, elaborating and making reference to the stories from the Roman de Renart. The Roman de Renart refers to a collection of approximately fifteen Old French verse narratives, written between 1174 and 1205, that recount the exploits of the cunning fox Renart and various other anthropomorphized members of the animal kingdom.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1997

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Henceforth I will not be following the convention of italicizing the word ‘refrain’ to distinguish the non-repeating quotation of an autonomous medieval French phrase from the use of such a phrase as a structural reprise. Scholars such as John Stevens, Christopher Page, Mark Everist and others use the italicized refrain when they mean to emphasize the words and their presumed autonomy as opposed to the structural function of the words. However, the pool of words and music for repeating and non-repeating refrains is the same, as the sources bear witness. Often a single refrain appears in both guises, as a refrain-reprise and as a refrain quotation. Thus to superimpose a distinction of type where no such distinction originally existed only distances us from understanding the nuances and relatedness of the various medieval refrain compositions.

2 See Terry, Patricia, Introduction to Renard the Fox (Berkeley, 1992), 323.Google Scholar

3 Most notably, the important and exhaustive catalogue compiled by Boogaard, Nico, Rondeaux et refrains (Paris, 1969)Google Scholar, and the full-length study of refrains by Doss-Quinby, Eglal, Les refrains chez les trouveres (New York, 1984)Google Scholar, who attempts to uncover a finite set of parameters that define and describe refrains and their function in all genres of medieval literature. More recently, Ardis Butterfield has grappled with the relationship of music and words in the refrain repertory. See her ‘Repetition and Variation in the Thirteenth-Century Refrain’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 116/1 (1991), 123.Google Scholar

4 All quotations from le Nouvel, Renart are taken from Henri Roussel's edition in Socie'te’ des anciens textes francais 90 (Paris, 1961)Google Scholar. Roussel based his edition on the text of F-Pn f.f. 25566 but included annotations for lines that appear with different wording in the other manuscripts. Unless otherwise specified, I have adjusted his edition to reflect the version that appears in F-Pn f.f. 1593.

5 Boulton, Maureen, The Song in the Story: Lyric Insertions in French Narrative Fiction, 1200–1400 (Philadelphia, 1993), 106–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

6 Page, Christopher, Discarding Images (Oxford, 1993), 60Google Scholar, also uses this cognate as a modern-day analogue for the word ‘motet’.

7 For a comprehensive study of the various meanings of the word ‘motet’ see Hofmann, Klaus, ‘Zur Entstehungs- und Frühgeschichte des Terminus Motette’, Ada Musicologica, 42 (1970), 138–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8 For a discussion of the stemma of the sources for Renart le Nouvel see Roberts, John, ‘Renart le Nouvel – Dates and Successive Editions’, Speculum, 2 (1936), 472–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Roberts groups the four manuscripts into two pairs: group α consists of the unnotated source F-Pn f.f. 1581 and F-Pn f.f. 372; group β consists of F-Pn f.f. 25566 and F-Pn f.f. 1593. Unlike Henri Roussel, who used MS F-Pn f.f. 25566 for his 1961 edition of the narrative, Roberts chose group a as the superior versions, and F-Pn f.f. 1581 as the ‘best manuscript’ and ‘basic manuscript’ for the text. Obviously the notion of a ‘sest manuscript’ depends on what you are looking for. Considering that my interest lies primarily with music, MS F-Pn f.f. 1581 without musical notation is clearly not the ‘best manuscript’ for my purpose.

9 See Fowler, Maria Veder ‘Musical Interpolations in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century French Narratives’, Ph.D. diss. Yale University (1979), 100.Google Scholar

10 Occasionally the same melody appears in F-Pn f.f. 25566 and F-Pn f.f. 372, as in the case of A ma dame servir ai mis mon cuer et moi (v. 6778). Dont vient li maus d'atner ki m'ochirra (v. 6790).

11 That the melodic similarities among these refrains may reflect ‘norms of composition’ can be easily dismissed by recalling the radically different melodic profiles of the refrains in Example 1, which show that scribes were capable of writing a wide range of runes – starting on any note and following any contour. The ‘norms’ or rather ‘dialecf of the F-Pn f.f. 1593 scribe are not replicated in F-Pn f.f. 372 or F-Pn f.f. 25566.

12 The following citations serve to illustrate this point: Ladd, Anne Preston, ‘Lyric Insertions in Thirteenth-Century French Narrative’, Ph.D. diss., Yale University (1977)Google Scholar; Fowler, ‘Musical Interpolations’; Coldwell, Maria V., ‘Guillaume de Dole and Medieval Romances with Musical Interpolations’, Musica Disciplina, 35 (1981), 5586Google Scholar; M. B. M. Boulton, The Song in the Story.

13 Boulton, , The Song in the Story, 1.Google Scholar

14 Ibid., 3.

15 See Switten, Margaret, Jean Renart, The Romance of the Rose or of Guillaume de Dole, Booklet I (translation) (Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass., 1993), 11Google Scholar, and Switten, ‘Song Performance, Song as Quotation, Song Repertories in Renart's Rose’ (henceforth ‘Song Performance’), Booklet II (Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Mass., 1993).

16 Switten, , ‘Song Performance’, 20–1.Google Scholar

17 Green, D. H., Medieval Listening and Reading (Cambridge, 1994), 170CrossRefGoogle Scholar. As models for his work on medieval German reception, Green cites the preceding work of two Romance philologists: H. Lüdtke and P. Wunderli. Lüdtke and Wonderli both posited a recitational stage of reception for Old French literature.

18 Ibid., 172.

19 The premise of Margaret Switten's 1993 video production of Guillaume de Dole is that the recital of romances that were highly theatrical and rich in dialogue could have tended towards drama, with role playing and staging. See the accompanying Booklet I, jean Renart, 5–7.

20 For a thorough discussion of the motets entés in MS 845, see Everist, Mark, French Motets in the Thirteenth Century: Music, Poetry and Genre (Cambridge, 1994), 7589Google Scholar. The medieval theorist Johannes de Grocheio mentions the motet enté in his treatise De musica (c. 1300); see Page, Christopher, ‘Johannes de Grocheio on Secular Music: A Corrected Text and a New Translation’, Plainsong and Medieval Music, 2 (1993), 27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

21 For a discussion of ‘continuous melody’ songs, see Peraino, Judith A. ‘New Music, Notions of Genre, and the Manuscrit du Roi circa 1300’, Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley (1995), 218–57.Google Scholar

22 See Page, Christopher, Discarding Images, 106–10Google Scholar, for a discussion of the interplay and timing of the text of the triplum within the polyphonic environment.

23 The vocal ensemble Gothic Voices, under the direction of Christopher Page, has recorded many thirteenth-century motets in ‘layers’, performing each part as monophony in prelude to the polyphonic performance. Page writes, “This practice is not mentioned in any source contemporary with the music but it accords with the sequential nature of [some] texts…. This style of performance can be extended to motets whose poems do not call for sequential presentation; as the individual parts unfold by themselves, we delight both in them and in the anticipation of the final result; Marriage of Heaven and Hell (Hyperion CDA66423, 1990), Pamphlet, p. 5. Clearly both medieval and present-day musicians appreciated motet parts as melodies in their own right.

24 Tischler, Hans, The Monophonic Songs in the Roman de Fauvel (Lincoln, Nebr. 1991), 97Google Scholar, has transcribed the sung verses as a single continuous melody, much like my Example 2.