Comments by Jacques de Lige suggest that Ars nova notation operated metrically at more than one rhythmic level. This is borne out by Machaut's compositions, the lais in particular. Inconsistencies within and between the two complete editions of Machaut's works in the reductions of note-values used for transcription indicate that the matter has not been fully resolved; uncertainty concerning metrical level in the polyphonic songs is evident in the different barrings of modus-level rhythmic organization. The system of 12 "modes" (mensural types) in the Compendium de discantu mensurabili by Petrus frater dictus Palma Ociosa reveals that meters centering on both "modus" and "tempus" levels were equally part of polyphonic practice in the mid 1330s. Editors have been wary of recognizing the modus level in Machaut's polyphonic songs because of the frequent irregularities in metrical grouping at this level; yet variation in modus is acknowledged by the Ars nova treatises. A full re-evaluation of the presence of modus in Machaut's songs is warranted. Coordinated analysis of rhythmic "layers" (figural grouping, agogic accent, simultaneous attack, and syllabic rhythm) in two ballades (B35 and B25) justifies the irregular modus recognized by both editions and points to an important distinction between mensuration (pertaining to the notation) and meter (pertaining to the rhythmic organization). Figural disposition, varied recurrence of material, and syllabic rhythm provide other criteria for recognizing variable metrical form. A full-scale analysis on these terms reveals the extent and nature of Machaut's use of modus. His technique of metrical variation conforms to four types (phrasal "distension" and "contraction"; cadential "contraction" and "extension"), and ties in with a 14th-century aesthetic viewpoint that attached great significance to "variety." Machaut himself recognized it as a musical corollary of the amorous condition in lyric song ("trespasser mesure," Motet 7). Reassessment of the modus level has consequences for the editorial approach to notae finales, sectional rests, and also for the choice of tempo in performance.
- Copyright ©© 2004 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press Rights and Permissions website, at http://www.ucpress.edu/journals/rights.htm.