Thirteenth-century trouvère songs and motets often begin with a conventionalized introduction in which the sensory experience of a springtime landscape inspires the composer to think of his beloved and to sing. Long derided as insincere by critics or simply ignored, the “springtime opening” of the trouvères represents one of the largest bodies of nature imagery in medieval vernacular song. Drawing on a corpus of over one hundred songs and motets, this article offers an ecomusicological reconsideration of the springtime opening, revealing that the way individual medieval composers invoked nature imagery was often correlated with their status and geography. Aristocratic trouvères, who had ready access to open expanses of land on their estates, used the opening often and earnestly. An emerging group of urban trouvères, many of whom were educated clerics, rarely invoked the springtime opening, and when they did, they distanced themselves from it through clever inversions and parody. I argue that these divergent reactions to nature imagery likely reflected lived experiences in the environment, and further, that the songs bear witness to major changes in land management in urban and rural northern France. These songs and motets prompt observations about the relationships between nature, culture, and crisis in medieval and modern society.
Songs of Nature in Medieval Northern France: Landscape, Identity, and Environment
JENNIFER SALTZSTEIN is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Oklahoma. She is author of The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry (D. S. Brewer, 2013) and the editor of a forthcoming volume on Adam de la Halle (Brill). Her article “Rape and Repentance in Two Medieval Motets” (this Journal, 2017) received the American Musicological Society's H. Colin Slim Award. She is currently writing a book on medieval music and the environment.
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Jennifer Saltzstein; Songs of Nature in Medieval Northern France: Landscape, Identity, and Environment. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 April 2019; 72 (1): 115–180. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2019.72.1.115
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