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Reading and rhythm in the ‘La Clayette’ manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, nouv. acq. fr. 13521)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 September 2014


Previous commentators have maligned the La Clayette manuscript as a source of Ars Antiqua motets on three grounds: that its layout is not arranged for use in performance; that its notation is unsophisticated in its use of mensural forms; and that it is heavy with errors. This article offers a palaeographical account of the music fascicle and its methods of production, arguing that its layout was tailored to match the manuscript's literary portions, and was designed first by a text scribe specialising in the vernacular, which accounts for many of the supposed problems. The article describes the notator's ‘house style’ and his means of dealing with the text scribe's frequent errors, suggesting he was largely successful in transmitting usable musical readings. All this provides an opportunity to think through the historical possibilities for literate interaction with written polyphony in the thirteenth century. It is suggested that La Clayette was understood by its users as a tool with which a single reader could teach other, perhaps non-literate people to sing polytextual pieces.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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1 The triplum is unique to La Clayette, where the motet appears at fol. 370v, column b, lines 1 to 12 (positions in the music fascicle henceforth abbreviated in the format ‘fol. 370v,b,1–12’). The tenor and motetus appear as a clausula (music only) in F, fol. 169r; and as a two-part motet in W2, fol. 221v. The final two verses of the motetus are considered a refrain by Nico van den Boogaard, Rondeaux et refrains du XIIe siècle au début du XIVe, Bibliothèque française et romane, série D, Initiation, textes et documents 3 (Paris, 1969), refrain no. 237.

2 On this conceit in songs by Machaut, see Leach, Elizabeth Eva, ‘Death of a Lover and the Birth of the Polyphonic Ballade: Machaut's Notated Ballades 1–5’, Journal of Musicology, 19 (2002), 461502Google Scholar; and Leach, , ‘Singing More about Singing Less: Machaut's Pour ce que tous (B12)’, in Machaut's Music: New Interpretations, ed. eadem (Woodbridge, 2003), 111–24Google Scholar.

3 Scarry, Elaine contends that ‘physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it’ in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York, 1985), 4Google Scholar. See also Holsinger, Bruce, ‘The Musical Body in Pain: Passion, Percussion, and Melody in Thirteenth-Century Religious Practice’, in Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture: Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer (Stanford, 2001), 191258Google Scholar.

4 Leach argues that in several theoretical texts broadly contemporaneous with this motet, notes of duration shorter than the breve – and their singers – were metaphorised as avian because, like birdsong, such notes were unwritable and therefore irrational. See Leach, , Sung Birds: Music, Nature, and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY and London, 2007)Google Scholar, esp. ‘Birdsong and Human Singing’, 55–107, and ‘Birds Sung’, 108–74.

5 Lewis, Charlton T. and Short, Charles, A Latin Dictionary, s.v. ‘Nōto, āvi, ātum’ (Oxford, 1879), 1218Google Scholar.

6 My transcription renders the medieval note values in accordance with Roesner, Edward H.'s practice in ‘Subtilitas and Delectatio: Ne m'a pas oublié’, in Cultural Performances in Medieval France: Essays in Honor of Nancy Freeman Regalado, ed. Doss-Quinby, Eglal, Krueger, Roberta L. and Burns, E. Jane (Rochester, NY, 2007), 2543Google Scholar; see p. 25 n. 1 for a statement of transcription principles, and p. 42 for the transcription itself. A long of three tempora is transcribed with a dotted crotchet; a long of two tempora, with a crotchet. A brevis altera is also rendered as a crotchet; a brevis recta, a quaver. Semibreves are transcribed with equal quavers: either as a tuplet or a triplet, when two or three semibreves divide the breve. Although theorists of the late thirteenth century broadly agree that two semibreves, when placed for a brevis recta, should be read as unequal parts (minor-major, 1+2, so that the breve overall consists of three units), earlier commentators often give ambiguous testimony, and would seem to permit an equal reading. For an overview, see Frobenius, Wolf, ‘Semibrevis’, Handwörterbuch der musikalischen Terminologie, ed. Eggebrecht, Hans Heinrich (Wiesbaden, 1973)Google Scholar. Where La Clayette's motets are also transmitted in other extant sources, those manuscripts are predominantly early ones. See Anderson, Gordon Athol, ‘Motets of the Thirteenth Century Manuscript La Clayette: The Repertory and Its Historical Significance’, Musica Disciplina, 27 (1973), 1140Google Scholar. I deal with the identification of semibreves in La Clayette's notation in the section ‘The notation of rhythm’ section below. As for their rhythmic interpretation, I observe that no palaeographical distinction mandates uneven readings over even, so it seems likely that singers would have had to make an interpretative decision for themselves. Certainly it is possible they would have chosen uneven pairs over even. But their choice to do so would not affect the arguments I will present here. For the view that pairs of semibreves should be transcribed unevenly, see Mary Wolinski, ‘The Montpellier Codex: Its Compilation, Notation, and Implications for the Chronology of the Thirteenth-Century Motet’, PhD diss., Brandeis University (1988), 113–38.

7 From this point, I use the following textual abbreviations for the values of musical figures: L=Long; B=Breve; B(alt)=brevis altera; S=Semibreve. Strokes in the notation are represented with |.

8 For a complete list of the book's literary contents, offered as part of a codicological study, see Curran, Sean, ‘Composing a Codex: The Motets in the La Clayette Manuscript’, in Medieval Music in Practice: Studies in Honor of Richard Crocker, ed. Peraino, Judith A. (Middleton, WI, 2013), 219–53, at 245–48Google Scholar.

9 Schrade, Leo, ‘Unknown Motets in a Recovered Thirteenth-Century Manuscript’, Speculum, 30 (1955), 393412, at 396Google Scholar.

10 James Heustis Cook, ‘Manuscript Transmission of Thirteenth-Century Motets’, 2 vols., PhD diss., University of Texas at Austin (1978), 1:4–5.

11 Norwood, Patricia P., ‘Performance Manuscripts from the Thirteenth Century?College Music Symposium, 26 (1986), 92–6Google Scholar.

12 ‘Les parties de motets sont écrites à la suite les-unes des autres … comme dans les plus anciens manuscrits (F, W2, R, N). Cette manière d'écrire est rare dans les manuscrits en notation proportionnelle et confirme la parenté de notre manuscrit avec eux que nous venons de citer.’ Rosenthal, Albi, ‘Le manuscrit de La Clayette retrouvé (Bibl. nat. nouv. acq. fr. 13521)’, Annales musicologiques, 1 (1953), 105–30, at 109Google Scholar. Opinions vary regarding the date of the mentioned manuscripts, but it would take us far off course to review the scholarship here.

13 Rosenthal, ‘Le manuscrit de La Clayette retrouvé’, 109.

14 Dittmer, Luther, Paris 13521 & 11411, Publications of Mediaeval Musical Manuscripts 4 (Brooklyn, 1959), 3Google Scholar.

15 Gennrich, Friedrich, Ein altfranzösischer Motettenkodex: Facsimile-Ausgabe der Hs La Clayette, Paris, Bibl. nat. nouv. acq. fr. 13521, Summa Musica Medii Aevi 6 (Darmstadt, 1958), 10Google Scholar.

16 The other is LoC. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Sadie, Stanley and Tyrrell, John, 2nd edn., s.v. ‘Notation’, §III, 2, viii, ‘Mensural Notation Before Franco’, by Hiley, David and Payne, Thomas B. (London, 2001), 18:123–4, at 123Google Scholar.

17 New Grove, s.v. ‘Sources, MS’, §V, 2, ‘Early Motet: Principal Individual Sources,’ by Ernest H. Sanders and Peter M. Lefferts, 23:875.

18 Everist, Mark, Polyphonic Music in Thirteenth-Century France: Aspects of Sources and Distribution (New York, 1989), 153Google Scholar.

19 Anderson, ‘Motets of the Thirteenth-Century Manuscript La Clayette: The Repertory and Its Historical Significance’; Anderson, , ‘Motets of the Thirteenth-Century Manuscript La Clayette: A Stylistic Study of the Repertory’, Musica Disciplina, 28 (1974), 537Google Scholar; Anderson, , ed., Motets of the Manuscript La Clayette: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, nouv. acq. f. fr. 13521, Corpus mensurabilis musicae 68 ([Rome], 1975)Google Scholar.

20 Anderson, ‘Motets of the Thirteenth-Century Manuscript La Clayette: A Stylistic Study of the Repertory’, 23.

21 Ibid., 22.

22 Nicolas Bell observes similar problems in Anderson's edition of the pieces in the Las Huelgas manuscript. See Bell, , The Las Huelgas Music Codex: A Companion Study to the Facsimile (Madrid, 2003), 76–7Google Scholar. The edition to which Bell refers is Anderson, , The Las Huelgas Manuscript: Burgos, Monasterio de Las Huelgas, 2 vols., Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 79 (Neuhausen-Stuttgart, 1982)Google Scholar.

23 See No. 5, triplum, b. 11, in Anderson, ed., Motets of the Manuscript La Clayette, 7.

24 Rosenthal did not notice the stubs (‘Le manuscrit de La Clayette retrouvé’, 105). Schrade endorsed Rosenthal's physical description of the book (‘Unknown Motets’, 394). Standard reference descriptions are found in Reaney, Gilbert, ed., Manuscripts of Polyphonic Music: 11th–Early 14th Century, Répertoire international des sources musicales, ser. B, vol. 4, pt. 1 (Munich, 1966), 436–45Google Scholar (henceforth RISM B/IV/1); Kügle, Karl, ‘La Clayette’, in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Sachteil, ed. Finscher, Ludwig (Kassel, 1996)Google Scholar, V:cols. 850–2; and New Grove, s.v. ‘Sources, MS,’ §V, 2, ‘Early Motet: Principal Individual Sources’, by Ernest H. Sanders and Peter M. Lefferts, 23:875. The manuscript has now been digitised, accessible freely at; with a new (unsigned) catalogue description at

25 Correctly reported by Gilbert Reaney, in RISM B/IV/1, 436.

26 See Curran, ‘Composing a Codex, 230–7.

27 John Haines identifies palaeographical criteria that demonstrate the use of rastra around 1300; manuscripts showing those features include Fauvel. Haines also shows that staff lines were most often ruled one at a time in the thirteenth century, as they are in La Clayette. He rightly suggests we re-examine modern assumptions about time and labour to understand better the value of this lengthy process for medieval scribes. See Haines, , ‘The Origins of the Musical Staff’, Musical Quarterly, 91 (2008), 327–78Google Scholar, esp. 363–6. See also the wide-ranging discussion in Deeming, Helen, ‘Observations on the Habits of Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Music Scribes’, Scriptorium, 60 (2006), 3859Google Scholar.

28 Everist, Polyphonic Music in Thirteenth-Century France, these quotations at 66 and 70–1.

29 Everist nevertheless considers La Clayette a Parisian manuscript. Ibid., 153.

30 Nos. 8, 9, 32, 35, 44, 52 and 53. For a convenient list of La Clayette's motets, see the entry for the manuscript in the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music database ( See also RISM, B/IV/1, 436–45, and Anderson, ed., Motets of the Manuscript La Clayette, XXXII–LIV.

31 Nos. 11, 39, 40, 41 and 55.

32 The pieces are nos. 4, 10, 12, 19, 25, 26, 30, 31, 33, 38, 43, 47 and 48 (signalled with multiple strokes) and 16, 17, 28 and 52 (with both strokes and ‘iter’ mark). Two pieces require two tenor cursus, and notate only the first, but give no repeat mark: nos. 39 and 40.

33 Nos. 25, 26 and 38.

34 Anna Maria Busse Berger argues that isorhythmic transformations in motet tenors of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries could be composed in the mind, in part because their notation can be perceived as a visual whole, then used as a basis for mnemotechnic manipulation. See ‘Visualization and the Composition of Polyphonic Music’, Medieval Music and the Art of Memory (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2005), 198–251.

35 I adapt this term from Crocker, Richard L., ‘French Polyphony of the Thirteenth Century’, in The Early Middle Ages to 1300, ed. Crocker, Richard L. and Hiley, David, The New Oxford History of Music, 2nd edn (Oxford and New York, 1990), 636–78, at 647CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

36 Mary Wolinski, ‘The Notation of the Montpellier Codex: Influence and Initiative’, in ‘The Montpellier Codex: Its Compilation, Notation, and Implications for the Chronology of the Thirteenth-Century Motet’, 84–138.

37 Bell describes his approach in ‘The Context of the Musical Notation’, The Las Huelgas Music Codex, 75–91.

38 Ibid., 76.

39 Although there are no texted semibreves on this opening, the rhomb form is amply attested as a constituent element of coniuncturae; see, for instance, the sixth and seventh graphemes of fol. 370v,a,4.

40 In fact, the theorist Lambertus cites this motetus (Demenant grant joie) as an example of his fifth rhythmic mode: the opening phrase of the part (at fol. 370v,a,3) yields BLBBLL, in which the second of the central pair of breves is a B(alt). Clearly Lambertus's mode was no more immutable than the inherited ones which he claimed could no longer accommodate modern practice: the succession of figures at fol. 370v,a,10 clearly results in mode two. See Anderson, Gordon A., ‘Magister Lambertus and Nine Rhythmic Modes’, Acta Musicologica, 45 (1973), 5773CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Anderson discusses this particular example (observing its underlying equivalence to the second mode) at 65.

41 The virga above ‘mentir’ here denotes the perfection of the phrase's ending: as this is a second-mode phrase, I have interpreted the note as a breve and transcribed it as a quaver. The elongated stroke, which follows the virga, is a rest equivalent to an imperfect long. On the idea of perfection in mode two, and the means of signifying it, see below.

42 Mary Wolinski observes the same habit in parts of the Old Corpus of Mo, offering a Garlandian interpretation. She speaks of a ‘Garlandian ideal’ of perfection and imperfection ‘indicating closure and interruption, respectively’; then suggests that a final long at the end of a mode-two phrase ‘is not an actual long, but indicates that the phrase ending is perfect and complete, just as a second-mode ternaria has a perfect final and ends with a breve’. Wolinski, ‘The Montpellier Codex’, 112.

43 Nos. 1, 2, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 23, 25, 26, 34, 36, 37, 45, 50 and 54. This feature is also observed by Anderson, ‘Motets of the Thirteenth-Century Manuscript La Clayette: A Stylistic Study of the Repertory’, 22.

44 Nos. 1, 2, 7, 20, 26, 43, 48, 51 and 54. However, some of these ‘adapted’ figures may result from slips in the scribe's ductus, as an exaggeration of his tendency (mentioned above) to finish square notes with a straight edge and a slight downward motion of the pen.

45 Nos. 9, 27, 29, 36 and 37.

46 Wolinski observes the same feature in Mo, considering it an example of the ‘improper manner’ of notating fractiones acknowledged by Johannes de Garlandia. See Wolinski, ‘The Montpellier Codex’, 111.

47 Roesner, Edward H. outlines a conception of ‘house style’ for dealing with notation of thirteenth-century manuscripts in ‘The Problem of Chronology in the Transmission of Organum Duplum’, in Music in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Patronage, Sources, and Texts, ed. Fenlon, Iain (Cambridge, 1981), 393–9Google Scholar.

48 See Wolinski's discussion of coniuncturae in ‘The Montpellier Codex’, 120–31.

49 However, it might also be argued that a mensurally adapted form merely clarifies a rhythm that was already one of a range of possible interpretations for an unmodified figure. On this, see Bell, The Las Huelgas Music Codex, 105–6.

50 Wolinski, ‘The Notation of the Montpellier Codex’, 128.

51 Bell, The Las Huelgas Music Codex, 93.

52 I borrow the term ‘grammar’ from Bent, Margaret, ‘The Grammar of Early Music: Preconditions for Analysis’, in Tonal Structures in Early Music, ed. Judd, Cristle Collins (New York, 1998), 1559Google Scholar. The two-part framework of thirteenth-century discant has some important differences from counterpoint of the fourteenth century (Bent's primary focus), however; see Crocker, Richard L., ‘Discant, Counterpoint, and Harmony’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 15 (1962), 121Google Scholar; Fuller, Sarah, ‘Organum – DiscantusContrapunctus in the Middle Ages’, in The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, ed. Christensen, Thomas (Cambridge, 2002), 477502Google Scholar.

53 Le Roman de Fauvel: In the Edition of Mesire Chaillou de Pesstain: A Reproduction in Facsimile of the Complete Manuscript, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Fonds Français 146, ed. with an introduction by Roesner, Edward H., Avril, François and Regalado, Nancy Freeman (New York, 1990), 32Google Scholar.

54 Haines, John, ‘Erasures in Thirteenth-Century Music’, in Music and Medieval Manuscripts: Paleography and Performance: Essays dedicated to Andrew Hughes, ed. Haines, John and Rosenfeld, Randall (Aldershot and Burlington, VT, 2004), 6088, at 64Google Scholar.

55 Bell observes the frequency of textual errors in Las Huelgas, pointing out that they show ‘a surprising degree of incompetence, or at the least a particularly inappropriate unwillingness to alter the words written on the page, when the evidence of the music clearly demonstrates that the scribe must be aware of the errors’. Bell, The Las Huelgas Music Codex, 113. Las Huelgas is more generously spaced than La Clayette, whose more compact layout and unusual order of production meant that erasing text would have been futile in almost all cases.

56 Cook, ‘Manuscript Transmission of Thirteenth-Century Motets’, 5. He outlines his procedures for constructing stemmata in ‘Method of Analysis’, ibid., 8–45, and addresses the problems of Old French for a stemmatological approach at 41–5.

57 See Norwood, ‘Performance Manuscripts from the Thirteenth Century?’ 92–6.

58 Roesner, ‘The Music of Fr. 146’, 32, n. 89.

59 Bell, The Las Huelgas Music Codex, 113–14. La Clayette's errors are readily discerned, because of the cramped notational spacing in which they result.

60 Ibid., 114.

61 Margaret Bent, ‘Some Criteria for Establishing Relationships Between Sources of Late-Medieval Polyphony’, in Music in Medieval and Early Modern Europe, 295–317, at 304.

62 See, for example, Busse Berger, ‘The Memorization of Organum, Discant and Counterpoint Treatises’, in Medieval Music and the Art of Memory, 111–58; and ch. 4, ‘Compositional Process and the Transmission of Notre Dame Polyphony’, 161–97. On the liturgical and institutional contexts for Notre Dame polyphony, see Wright, Craig, Music and Ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris, 500–1550 (Cambridge, 1989); esp. ‘Gothic Polyphony’, 235–72Google Scholar.

63 de Grocheio, Johannes, Ars musice, ed. and trans. Mews, Constant J., Crossley, John N., Jeffreys, Catherine, McKinnon, Leigh and Williams, Carol J. (Kalamazoo, 2011), 85Google Scholar. The Latin (p. 84 of this edition) reads ‘Cantus autem iste non debet coram vulgalibus propinari. eo quod eius subtilitatem non advertunt nec in eius auditu delectantur. Sed coram litteratis et illis qui subtilitates artium sunt querentes. Et solet in eorum festis decantari ad eorum decorationem, quemadmodum cantilena que dicitur rotundellus in festis vulgalium laycorum.’ The secondary literature on this passage and on Johannes's treatise is too vast to be summarised here. But note that Mews et al. support a date of c.1275 for the treatise, and question the date of c.1300 which has often been taken for granted in the literature (see pp. 10–12.) If they are correct, then Grocheio would have written his treatise not long after motets were copied for the La Clayette manuscript; though these two roughly contemporaneous witnesses to the genre articulate conflicting ideas about its relationship to writing, as I suggest below.

64 Page, Christopher, Discarding Images: Reflections on Music and Culture in Medieval France (Oxford, 1993), 65CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

65 See Page, Christopher, ‘The Masters of Organum: The Study and Performance of Parisian Polyphony During the Early Thirteenth Century’, in The Owl and the Nightingale: Musical Life and Ideas in France, 1100–1300 (London, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1989), 134–54, at 152–4Google Scholar.

66 Page, Discarding Images, 83.

67 See Page, Christopher, ‘Around the Performance of a Thirteenth-Century Motet’, Early Music 28 (2000), 343–57Google Scholar.

68 Page, Discarding Images, 82.

69 Ibid., 83.

70 Ibid., 84.

71 Nos. 17, 20, 40 and 54.

72 See Stock, Brian, part 2, ‘Textual Communities’, in The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries (Princeton, 1983), 88240Google Scholar.

73 Coleman, Joyce, Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France (Cambridge, 1996)Google Scholar.

74 de Beauvais, Pierre, Le bestiaire, version courte, ed. Mermier, Guy R. (Paris, 1977), 59Google Scholar. The English translation is my own.

75 On the agendas articulated by Old French historiographical prose and its claims to greater truth than poetry, see Spiegel, Gabrielle M., Romancing the Past: The Rise of Vernacular Prose Historiography in Thirteenth-Century France (Berkeley, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.