European Ars Nova

European Ars Nova, ERC Advanced Grant 2017, Multilingual Poetry and Polyphonic Song in the Late Middle Ages

Dante Alighieri in Italy and, one century later, Eustache Deschamps in France conceived and defined poetry as music in itself, as a text with its own proportional harmony – cantus according to Dante and musique naturele according to Deschamps. Both authors specify that each poem is structured so that it can be set to music (sonus, nota, melos, oda according to Dante; musique artificiele according to Deschamps): ‘every stantia is harmonized to receive a certain type of oda’ (De vulgari eloquentia); ‘the chansons natureles are embellished by the melody and the tenors, tripla and contratenors of the musique artificiele’ (Art de dictier).
At the turn of the fourteenth century, Romance lyric poetry met polyphony. Some poetic texts were set to music by adopting the system of musica mensurabilis, which assigned a specific length value to each sound. In the early decades of the fourteenth century, mensural notation was further developed. Both binary and ternary divisions were now admitted, and the possibility to represent a wider scale of rhythmic values was also accepted. A new notational system was thus introduced in response to the need to write a kind of music that was melodically and rhythmically more complex.
The complexity of Ars Nova polyphony, with its melodic ornamentation and its elaborate rhythmic solutions, can be an obstacle to the proper comprehension of the words. In fact, when listening to an Ars Nova setting of an unknown poetic text, it is not always possible to fully perceive the meaning of the words. In the polytextual motet, in which each voice sings a different text simultaneously, the unintelligibility of the word reaches its peak. This form of coexistence between poetry and music, in which the latter seems to predominate over the former, has led scholars to believe that the lyrics are to be regarded as subordinate to the music, and, consequently, that the poems set to music by Ars Nova polyphonists constitute a secondary and negligible repertoire instead of being the formal and thematic foundations of the musical composition. As a matter of fact, many of these poetic texts manifest a refined symbolism and an elegant pursuit of technical virtuosity, which contradict the current historical-critical evaluation.
In view of these considerations, the first research line of the project aims to re-evaluate and interpret the poetic repertoire of the Ars Nova (about 1200 texts, in Latin, Italian and French), while trying to understand what becomes of poetry when it is involved in the complex architecture of polyphonic music – that is, to examine the relationship between these two types of music (the music of the words and the music of the notes) in order to understand its meaning and the way it was perceived.
The first compositions of Ars Nova, the motets included in the Roman de Fauvel, are functional to political satire and reveal a militant vocation. In addition, many Ars Nova polyphonists were churchmen or monks working in the principal cultural centres of Europe, at the service of high prelates, lords and rulers who used music also as a means of personal and institutional propaganda. And yet, most of the poetic texts set to music follow the great tradition of Romance love poetry and have nothing to do, at least apparently, with morals or politics.
But what kind of love do they express, exactly? The social status of Ars Nova polyphonists, as well as their links to ecclesiastical institutions, suggest that the concepts of secular love and sacred love (caritas) can coexist and overlap in the lyrics they set to music. On this basis, the second research line of the project aims to verify how the ideology of courtly love, in which this poetry is steeped, can be compatible with the status of the polyphonists who have set it to music and whether it is possible to attribute to these love texts a moral and political meaning and a militant function.
The most important manuscript sources of the Ars Nova repertoire are anthologies produced in an ecclesiastical environment between the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century, when the highest secular and religious authorities attempted by all means to put an end to the Western Schism. These are mostly multilingual anthologies, copied in Italy or by Italian copyists and gathering compositions on texts in Latin, Italian and French. So far analyzed for their musical content, the Ars Nova anthologies are the result of elaborate editorial projects developed and enriched over time, and their ideological orientation cannot be understood without taking into account the poetic texts, especially since the poetry of Ars Nova is preserved not only by manuscripts with music, but also by a considerable number of literary witnesses, in which it appears as an integral part of the entire lyrical repertoire.
For these reasons, the third research line of the project aims to study the manuscript tradition ‘on the side of poetical texts’, i. e. to reconstruct the ideological orientation of Ars Nova musical anthologies reading them as collections of poetry. The objective is to offer an analysis that grasps the meaning of each editorial project, tracing their development in those manuscripts which reveal multi-layered processes of compilation, going beyond the material aspects of manuscripts, palaeographic and codicological. At the same time, relationships between musical and literary sources will also be dealt with, in order to define the position of the Ars Nova poetry in the whole of European lyric poetry of the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.
In order to guarantee the quality and the reliability of the results, it is necessary to deal with the absence of basic resources and research instruments. As a matter of fact, a complete and updated catalogue of Ars Nova compositions does not yet exist. Not all editions are reliable, especially as far as poetic texts are concerned. Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive studies or repertoires of poetic and musical formal structures is a significant obstacle for the analysis of the relationship between words and music.
Therefore, the project provides for the implementation of the ArsNova database, composed of three sections:
Catalogue of Ars Nova Manuscripts, Authors and Texts (CANT);
Corpus of Poetic and Musical Texts (ANT);
Repertory of Metrical and Musical Structures (ANS).
The Ars Νοva Database, which reflects the interdisciplinary and multilingual nature of the project, has great potential, and it can be expected to become an innovative instrument as well as a methodological model for all future studies on poetry and music of the European Middle Ages.
Host Institution
The Department of Literature and Philosophy of the University of Florence (DILEF) gathers researchers and professors of disciplines in the philological, literary, linguistic and philosophical fields, that are fundamental to the project ArsNova. The research activities of the DILEF can benefit from the presence in the city of Florence of an extraordinary network of libraries and archives which preserve a considerable number of literary and musical Ars Nova manuscripts. The researchers of the ArsNova project working at DILEF are mainly involved in the implementation of the CANT, in the revision of the poetic texts for the ANT and in the analysis of the formal structures of the poetic texts for the ANS. Database
Partner Intitutions
The Department of Musicology and Cultural Heritage of the University of Pavia (DMBC) is one of the most important centres for musicological research in Europe and has a long and prestigious tradition of philological and palaeographic studies on Early Music and especially on Medieval Music in an interdisciplinary perspective. Its involvement in the ArsNova project regards above all the specifically music-related aspects: the revision of musical texts for the ANT and the analysis of the formal structures of the musical texts for the ANS. Database
Advisory Board
Anna Alberni (Univeristat de Barcelona)Johannes Bartuschat (Universität Zürich)Emiliano Degl’Innocenti (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche – Opera del Vocabolario Italiano)Lino Leonardi (Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa – Fondazione Ezio Franceschini)John Nádas (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)Agostino Paravicini Bagliani (Società Internazionale per lo Studio del Medioevo Latino)Yolanda Plumley (University of Exeter)Anne Stone (City University of New York)Peter Stotz (Universität Zürich)Fabio Zinelli (École Pratique des Hautes Études)
Third Parties
The Fondazione Ezio Franceschini Onlus (FEF) is the most important Italian cultural institute for studies on medieval Europe in its Latin and Romance literary expressions. In addition to the support given to the independent research of young scholars, the FEF also promotes a number of broad, collective research projects. Many of these projects make their outputs available online, as databases hosted by the portal MIRABILE, within a system that promotes interoperability on a European scale. The FEF makes its long experience in the field of humanistic information technology available to the project, providing the development of the software for the ArsNova Database and its long-term maintenance in the MIRABILE portal. Database
The Opera del Vocabolario Italiano (OVI), an institute of the Italian National Research Council (CNR), is responsible for the development of the Historical Dictionary of the Italian Language. At present, the OVI’s activities are centered on the implementation and online publication of the Tesoro della Lingua Italiana delle Origini (TLIO) –the first historical dictionary of early Italian, which is also the first section of the Historical Dictionary of the Italian Language. The OVI provides to the ArsNova project the lexicographic software GATTO, created as a tool for the development, management and interrogation of textual corpora, in order to obtain concordances by word forms and lemmas between the poetic texts contained in the ANT. Database