Despite frequent attempts to explain the emergence of a coherent type of polyphonic song in the early 14th century, our understanding is dominated by views drawn from lyric poetry, romance, criticism of musical and literary register, traditions of performance, and other abstract conceptualizations of this remarkable moment in the history of music. But there exists an extensive body of musical evidence that points to an energetic and sophisticated experimentation with musical and poetic elements that anticipated the style of polyphonic song cultivated by Machaut and his contemporaries. One such experimental repertory consists of the 22 motets based on vernacular tenors copied into the seventh and eighth fascicles of the Montpellier Codex (F-MOf H 196) and in the Turin motet book (I-Tr vari 42) ca.1300.
The vernacular tenors that underpin these motets exhibit the types of repeating structures familiar from secular monody around 1300: six- and eight-line rondeaux and various other types of structure as described by Ludwig, Gennrich, and Walker. What has been less systematically explored is the degree to which the upper voices of the motets reflect the repetitions that characterize their tenors. The composers of these motets were attempting——within the stylistic restraints that the genre imposed on them——to create polyphonic works whose entire texture followed the structure of the tenor: in other words, to construct a musical entity that had much in common with the polyphonic song of the next generation, but that still retained the overlapping phrase patterns and poetic line length of the motet as had been traditional for nearly a century.
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