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Guillaume de Machaut

Snake Music!

vipereMy essay on Machaut’s use of animal imagery in his Balades 27 and 38 has been published in Early Music History. I’ve also included new transcriptions of these balades in my article. With the kind permission of Cambridge University Press, this link provides a direct free download of this article. Here is the abstract of the article:

In balades 27 and 38, Machaut likens the wounds suffered by the lover to those that result from the poisons of deadly beasts. He invokes animal imagery to depict the beloved and her behaviour: she encloses within her being monstrous beasts that repel and repulse the lover, causing him grievous bodily harm. In the course of both balades the deadly beasts transform into various allegorical characters that are personifications of secular vices. One of these characters, Refusal (‘Refus’), emerges as central. Machaut personifies the lady’s rejection of the lover’s advances (which he makes through words/music) as the courtly vice Refusal. In Balade 27, it is her sense organs that enact this refusal: her ears cannot hear him, her mouth rejects him, and her Look kills him. I explore the resonances of Machaut’s sadistic and animalistic lady in two spheres: the courtly, where the obvious antecedents for Machaut’s imagery are the courtly bestiaries; and the sacred, where parallels between Refusal and the deadly sins of pride and envy can be detected, as suggested by my interpretation of these two balades and some of Machaut’s motets, and the links I set forth between these sins, vices, and the senses that partake in them.

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