Or voit tout en aventure by Guido is often regarded as an archetype of the late-medieval notationally and rhythmically complex style that musicologists term the ars subtilior. Transmitted in Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 564, the ballade has gained notoriety for both its self-reflexive text and its idiosyncratic notation. The song’s narrator laments the invention of new and confusing figures, but the song’s notation incorporates a collection of special note shapes—lozenge-shaped figures with appended stems and flags. Previous studies have emphasized the obscurity of the notation of Or voit. Three of its note shapes represent the same duration, leading scholars to suggest that the notation of the song is unnecessarily and thereby ironically complex and redundant. Analyzing Or voit from the psychological perspective of hypothetical performers as they think through the notation of the piece allows a new reading of the song to emerge. The notation of Or voit is not ambiguous but projects distinct gestures from which localized notational hierarchies can be inferred. The humor of Or voit can thus be located not in the notation but in the text, which claims dishonestly that the notation is “not well done.” Rereading Or voit from the performer’s psychological perspective illustrates that reflecting on the contrasting conceptual frameworks of historical notations can help to resolve music-analytical problems that, at face value, seem to arise from the playful incompetence of historical thinkers.
Rereading Guido’s Or voit tout en aventure: The Performer’s Perspective
Philippa Ovenden (PhD, Yale University, 2021) is Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, University of Toronto. Her research examines medieval music from the perspectives of intellectual history and performance studies. She was formerly a fellow at I Tatti, The Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies.
Philippa Ovenden; Rereading Guido’s Or voit tout en aventure: The Performer’s Perspective. Journal of Musicology 1 October 2023; 40 (4): 511–551. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jm.2023.40.4.511
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