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Although nineteenth-century legislation had tried to ensure a precise separation between genre and institution for Parisian music in the theatre, it had inadvertently laid out a field on which the politics of genre could be played out as agents and actors of all types deployed various forms of artistic power. During the Second Empire, from 1854 until 1870, the state took over day-to-day control of the Opéra in ways that were without precedent. Every element of the Opéra's activity was subjugated to the exigency of Empire; the selection or artists, works and more general questions of artistic policy were handed over to politicians. The Opéra effectively became a branch of government. The result was a stagnation of the Opéra's repertory, and beneficiaries were the composers of larger-scale works for competing organisations: the Opéra Comique and the Théâtre Lyrique.
The conductus repertory of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries consists of around 180 two-voice compositions and around 110 for three voices. Among these are a group of five compositions that exploit both two-voice and three-voice writing in the same work. The five variable-voice conducti, as they might be called, are ‘Naturas deus regulis’, ‘Ortu regis evanescit’, ‘Relegentur ab area’, ‘Salvatoris hodie’, and ‘Transgressus legem domini’. Of the three stanzas that make up the poetry of each, the first, or first two, are for three voices (prima pars) and the third, or last two, are for two voices (secunda pars). In the manuscript Wolfenbüttel, Herzog-August-Bibliothek (D-W) 628, three stanzas of each of the five works are presented successively with the implication that they should be performed that way. In Florence, Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana (I-Fl) Pl. 29.1, however, the three-voice sections are found in the fascicle of the manuscript dedicated to three-part conducti whereas the two-voice sections are found among the manuscript's collection of twovoice works; there are unambiguous cues that link the two partes together. Other sources preserve different configurations of poetry and music.
Although the scribes, performers and other users of D-W 628 and – less clearly – I-Fl Pl. 29.1 might have thought of the variable-voice conductus as a coherent entity, and to be performed that way, examination of the works in all their surviving forms shows that their thematic and structural features are more variable than one might expect from the multistanzaic conductus in general. The following questions arise: was there a reasoned plan to create conducti that exploited both two- and threevoice textures, or was there a more opportunistic background to the appearance of the variable-voice conductus? Judgement of both alternatives is predicated on the similarity or dissimilarity between the individual compositions, and addresses the issues of whether these five variable-voice conducti constitute a sub-genre in the same way as, for example, the conductus cum caudis or the monophonic conductus. This strikes at the heart of the relationship between the performance, composition and reception of polyphonic music in the thirty years either side of 1200.
The rarity of thirteenth-century manuscript sources containing representative examples from both musical and theoretical traditions is a notorious disadvantage to any study of the polyphony of the ars antiqua. Such a source is the earliest recension of Lambertus's Tractatus de musica, now housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris under the shelf number 11266, which transmits seven thirteenth-century double motets. However, one ought not simply to assume that the musical compositions illustrate the practice of the treatise, as both Coussemaker (1865, 169ff) and Ludwig (1910, 1/2, 590ff) did. Even since then, most critics have followed the assumptions of these two authors (Gennrich 1957, XLII; Anderson 1971, 39; Norwood 1978, 80; Baltzer 1980). An examination of the data on which these hypotheses are based may lead to a re-assessment of the relationship between music and theory in this manuscript and may suggest alternative interpretations.
The origins of The Earliest Motets (to c.1270): A Complete Comparative Edition lie in Hans Tischler's 1942 Yale doctoral dissertation, in which all the motets in D-W677, 1-Fl Plut.29.1 and D-W1099 were systematically transcribed. Tischler's dissertation has contained the only available transcriptions of the unica in these sources for nearly forty years, though works with concordances have been accessible in publications by Aubry, Rokseth, Anglès and Anderson. The Earliest Motets (henceforth EM) takes his dissertation as its core, and adds the motets of E-Mn 20486, F-Pn lat. 15139, F-Pn n.a.f. 13521, D-Mbs Mus.Ms. 4775, the chansonniers, and odd motet voices and texts found in various narrative works and poetry anthologies. Such a publication is therefore a major landmark of twentieth-century musicology.