August 21, 2017

Dufay, Randel, and Percy Jackson…

OK, I admit it… I love Dufay. I love his music – even with the gaping chasm of time between the two of us that makes for murky ficta, and nebulous vocal tactics … Perhaps chasms like these are why my son’s fourth-grade teacher insists on “just right” books instead of Percy Jackson. Huh? I guess gaping chasms, nebulous tactics, and Percy Jackson make for sub-standard standardized test performance, and that in turn, might bring the end of the world. Seriously, if anyone insisted that I only listen to “just right music”, I’d probably be crazy for real – not just the “good” kind of crazy. Besides, isn’t reading and listening to cool stuff we don’t know, and figuring things out, the fun of it all?

Speaking of listening, I was listening to Dufay’s rondeau, Adieu ces bons vins de Lannoys after reading and immensely enjoying Dufay the Reader by Don Randel. (Another admission, I had to re-read it a couple times – I guess it wasn’t exactly a “just right” article for me!) The rondeau is an interesting thing – one of the three formes fixes in medieval and renaissance French poetry. Randel says the poetic essence of the rondeau is in the refrain. So, if Randel is right, an analysis of the connection between poetry and music in Dufay’s opening five-line refrain of his rondeau, Adieu ces bons, should show a larger poetic and musical arch of the song. Should I test the hypothesis?

Each line of the five lines of the refrain of Adieu ces bons has very clear syllabic content – five lines of poetry containing strictly eight syllables. Perfect end rhymes follow a pattern of abaab; giving the refrain just two vowel sounds for all of its end rhymes. That’s the boring part – more interesting, however, is the use of the word “Adieu” to begin all five of the refrain lines; a feature of this particular refrain not present in all rondeau formes fixes’. Why is it interesting then, you ask? I think this poetic feature is significant because it helps the listener distinguish refrain phrases from the individual verse phrases that do not begin with “Adieu”. In other words, there is immediate identification of the refrain for the listener because of the recurring “Adieu”.

Here’s the refrain text:

Adieu ces bon vins de Lannoys,
Adieu dames, adieu borgois,
Adieu celle que tant amoye,
Adieu toute playssante joye,
Adieu tout compaignons galois.

Phonetically, the strong voiced d of “Adieu” at the beginning of its second syllable begins a pattern of consonantal alliteration of voiced sounds throughout the refrain. For example, following the “Adieu” in the first line is a string of consonants that only contain one unvoiced sound (the c of ces). The other consonants are voiced and fall on every initial phoneme of the remaining words in the first line. The second line is similarly voiced consonant rich, and features a repeated “adieu” at the midpoint of the line. It is only when we reach the third line of the refrain that the consonant choices soften to their unvoiced relatives in “celle que tant”. This consonantal contrast underscores the more personal sentiment expressed in the text of one leaving his lover. (Ah, sigh…)

OK, Pfund, that’s all well and good, but didn’t you say you could show a connection between the text and music of the refrain?

Sheesh, hold on – give me a chance!

The entrance of the cantus, which precedes the textual entrance of the refrain, rises steadily to meet the initial Adieu on the first line of the refrain, placing the important voiced consonant “d” on the b-flat. After the descent of this line, subsequent repetitions of the second line of the refrain pull the cantus a full fourth below the starting D creating a kind of plagel sound. The musical gesture that follows uses a hemiolic construction to begin the more intimate third line, terminating on what we might as well call some type of half-cadence. Incidentally, more intimate textual expressions occurring in all three lines of poetry encounter this cadence-like bar and indicate its importance. These would be the first iteration – expressing farewell to her, the second – expressing a grieving heart using a reflexive verb, and the third – a vain search through the wood. Could the simultaneous arrival of these meaningful textual expressions with the major musical event of the song, demonstrate a strong textual/musical connection in the mind of the composer? Maybe.

In a deeper linear sense, we might be able to look at the refrain’s cantus as having a general movement from the area of D at the introduction of the protagonist’s goodbyes, to the cadential E at the most intimate textual moments that correspond approximately with the golden mean of the song. This intimacy is broken by a strong movement to A for the penultimate expressions of farewell, and closes by moving back to D for the final line of text and coda. Nice!

So how about that gaping chasm of time separating Monsieur Dufay and myself? Well, I have to concede that it still seems pretty wide, but it’s not going to keep me from wrestling with the man’s music, considering some ficta, and using modern tools to look at his notes. And just for the record, I’ll keep feeding my fourth-grader a clandestine diet of Percy Jackson…

By the way, here’s a link to a nice performance:

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern – fein Liebchen, gute Nacht…

Die Liebe liebt das Wandern – fein Liebchen, gute Nacht…
– Wilhelm Müller

So begins Schubert’s epic Winterreise. I recently set out to discover the voice of Schubert’s Winterreise and encountered great difficulty. Having learned cycles such as Die Schöne Müllerin and Dichterliebe that presented sequential narratives and clear transitions, I was challenged by Winterreise’s lack of such a narrative. However, in contemplating the rhythmic motion of Winterreise’s first song, Gute Nacht, I discovered another underlying motion that unifies the psychological and poetic journey of Winterreise as powerfully as a sequential narrative; this is the motion of Wandern.

Practiced by Goethe, Heine, Müller, Schubert and many other Romantic contemporaries, Wandern is an activity for which English has no precise word, but in its most historical sense, is the activity of walking through a landscape such as lower Saxony, traversing the wooded hills of the Harz that Goethe and Heine once walked while engaged in thought and perception. It is in this activity that one first finds the protagonist of Winterreise in Gute Nacht, and it is this motion that begins the opening pianistic gestures of Schubert’s Winterreise masterpiece.

How earily similar it is now when I make my Wanderung through the streets of New York City immersed in thoughts and perceptions as thousands of unnamed souls pass by also consumed with their own singular rhythmic motion. Do they also notice the Leiermann with his empty plate in the vacant alley?