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A Handbook of the Troubadours.

The fact that there exists no adequate introduction to troubadour song in English is a handicap oft lamented by different disciplinary specialists interested in incorporating a prestigious song repertory into their classes or their research. A Handbook of the Troubadours is intended to diminish if not eliminate that handicap. Its goal is to serve as a resource for students and scholars on several levels. It includes a series of articles by different specialists on various aspects of troubadour achievement and diffusion, each article accompanied by a list of works cited that can lead to further refinement of that topic. As a whole, the Handbook offers considerable information and will be a useful tool for those wishing to learn more about the troubadours. The overarching goal, however, is met only in part, due to problems of conception and execution, some of which indeed may have been unavoidable.

The most serious problem is that the various essays in the book would seem to have been written in the mid- to late 1980s. Neither in conception nor in bibliographical reference do they systematically reflect recent research. This point must be stressed because nothing warns the unwary reader that such might be the case, or that it is often necessary to complete the information given here by more recent approaches. Some of the contributors have made an effort to include recent research in their lists of works cited; for some of the articles (such as versification) recent research is of less importance. The Handbook itself, however, provides no way to sort out what is still useful and what needs to be extended in order competently to treat tronbadours in the mid-1990s. Conceptually, this Handbook, viewed as a whole, prolongs the structuralism of the 1970s and 1980s that has for some time (too long, many would argue) held sway in the wake of the success of Robert Guiette's now long-outdated reaction to romanticism ("D'une poesie formelle en France au moyen age," Revue des sciences humaines 54 [1949]: 61-68) and of Paul Zumthor's Essai de poetique medievale (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1972). One is too often encouraged to see the troubadour's as abstract and conventional; the introduction affirms that emphasis has been placed on similarities between poets/composers (p. 4). Thus, a chance is missed to prod late twentieth-century scholars to a better understanding of trobar, of the powerful creative surge that made the troubadours, in James J. Wilhelm's well-known formulation that opens the volume, "the inventors of modern verse" (Seven Troubadours: The Creators of Modern Verse [University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970]; Handbook, p. 1).

The second problem, for this reviewer at least, is that, despite an article on music, the book is resolutely textual, even more: resolutely visual. Neither the sounds of language nor the sounds of music are integrated into the study of the troubadours. I will return to this point in discussing some of the articles. Suffice it to say here that in the closing paragraph of his introduction, Zumthor insists on the importance of musicological studies and even more on the usefulness of performance as a path to learning and understanding. With reference to the ever-growing number of recordings, Zumthor proposes: "Indeed, a person beginning the study of this poetry cannot be too strongly encouraged to begin by listening to these recordings" (p. 18). In the light of this injunction, it is sad indeed that the book largely ignores the results of the early music movement and that the disco-graphical reference in the introduction (p. 7) dates to the 1970s! On this point, John W. Barker, The Use of Music and Recordings for Teaching about the Middle Ages (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1988), which has an admirable disco-graphic register, might have been cited. One may now consult my Music and Poetry in the Middle Ages: A Guide to Research on French and Occitan Song 1100-1400 (New York: Garland, 1995), which contains an indexed discography through early 1995 (and even that needs already to be supplemented, so fast is the field moving) as well as the anthologies and cassettes of The Medieval Lyric (ed. Margaret Switten and Howell Chickering [South Hadley, Mass.: Mount Holyoke College, 1988]).

The separate essays are organized into sections established, one supposes, with a view toward delineating the field and accommodating the articles collected. "An Overview: Why the Troubadours?" by Zumthor is followed by "The Essentials," including articles on texts (Amelia E. Van Vleck), on love (Moshe Lazar), on versification (Frank M. Chambers), and on music (Hendrik van der Werf). The second section, entitled "Accessory Texts," includes articles on nonlyric texts (Suzanne Fleischman) and on vidas and razos (Elizabeth W. Poe). The third section, entitled "A Sub-group: The Women Troubadours," has but one piece (Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner). Then follows "Origins and Diffusion," with six articles covering origins (Gerald A. Bond), trouveres (Deborah H. Nelson), German materials (Stephanie Cain Van d'Elden), Spanish materials (Joseph T. Snow), and Italian influences as well as Italian troubadours (Ronald Martinez and Hans-Erich Keller). "General and Technical Considerations" covers manuscripts (William D. Paden), translation (Roy S. Rosenstein), language (Frede Jenson), rhetoric (Nathaniel B. Smith), topoi (Elisabeth Schulze-Busacker), imagery and vocabulary (Eliza Miruna Ghil), and bibliography (Robert Taylor). The book closes with a useful bibliography of troubadour editions and anthologies, and an index.

Although this organization gives a clear idea of what the book contains, one may query the appropriateness of some titles. The terms "accessory," and "subgroup" give pause for thought. Is there no better way to include the trobairitz than as a "sub-group?" Why can they not be a group in their own right? True, they may need special mention, but is this designation, with its hierarchical implications, the best way to give them that attention? And are the vidas and razos best represented as "accessories?"

As might be expected, the articles are of unequal value, although all have at least some useful information to offer. The "Essential" pieces on "Fin'amor," "Versification," and "Music" are written by established scholars and set forth the kind of expert "condensed information" that it seems to be the goal of the book to provide. Even those familiar with, say, van der Werf's publications, can find here an exposition of musical matters that brings well-known positions into clearer perspective. For the purposes of the Handbook, it could have been complemented by a fuller bibliography. The opening article, "The Lyric Texts," however, leaves much to be desired. The subject, to be sure, is impossible because that is, in fact, the subject of the entire Handbook; and the effort to do too much without being able to do it all, may account for the rather unsatisfactory result. There are some excellent perceptions, and, in its laudable emphasis on interpretation and reception (pp. 21-23; 39-40), this first article is perhaps the most "modern" of all the articles. The discussion of troubadour generations (pp. 26-35) is a useful summary of our knowledge and gives some sense of an art that constantly develops and renews itself. Greater emphasis on genre would have been welcome, since that important subject is not treated as such in the book. Analysis of a single poem by Guiraut de Bornelh, "Qan lo freitz e.l glatz e la neus," offers a chance to explore different approaches, and there are useful pieces of advice on how to do that. But the different approaches are so sketchily evoked throughout the article that one comes away with the impression of a superficial list. In addition, the attempts to speak of social contexts are largely useless (pp. 23-25; 35-38; 51), and the reliance on Erich Kohler, now considered by many scholars as simply quaint, is lamentable and misleading. The more's the pity, because much work has been done by social historians that could usefully be incorporated, and nowhere in the volume is the important issue of social contexts directly addressed. Finally, nowhere in this essay is there a suggestion that this poetry has a sound, although the conclusion speaks of "hearing" as an important consideration (p. 57). Both the tone of the article and the grasp of essential critical concepts remain immature, so that the article must be used with caution even where it is most suggestive.

Each article in the "Accessory" and "Sub-group" categories provides a good conspectus of the different types of texts concerned, expertly and even wittily on occasion set forth by established specialists. Yet, the section on the trobairitz (with its quaint featuring of Meg Bogin's work) is now out-of-date compared to the recent publication by Bruckner herself (notably the edition Songs of the Women Troubadours [New York: Garland, 1995]) or by Angelica Rieger (Trobairitz: der Beitrag der Frau der altokzitanischen hofischen Lyrik. Edition des Gesamptkorpus [Tubingen: Niemeyer, 1991]), to which one may now add the work by Pierre Bec: Chants d'amour des femmes-troubadours (Paris: Stock/Moyen Age, 1995), which contains a lengthy introduction.

The section "Origins and Diffusions" opens with a summary and some good perceptions about the much- (too much) debated question of origins. Following that, the article on the trouveres mays out important basic facts, but seems on the whole inadequate (and reinforces far too heavily the undergirding idea of conventionality). Information could almost better be gleaned from some of the booklets accompanying recent CDs (notably the recordings by Gothic Voices directed by Christopher Page); and certainly one now needs to consult the recent bibliography by Eglal Doss-Quinby (The lyrics of the Trouveres: A Research Guide (1970-1990) [New York: Garland, 1994], which, despite its title, contains numerous references to music). For this reviewer, the most useful piece in this section was the article on the Iberian Peninsula by Snow.

The final section, "General and Technical Considerations," opens with the comprehensive and extremely helpful article - even for beginners because it has some basic information for everyone - on manuscripts, by Paden (but what a shame music and text could not be discussed together in this category). In contrast, it is hard to imagine why so much space was devoted to the article on language; from this reviewer's standpoint it is virtually useless. The chapter "is not intended to teach how to read the language" (p. 5) and indeed it doesn't. It might "provide a hand), reference" (p. 5) since the charts are clear; but none of the points presented are indexed, so one must know the language before being able to use the article. At that point, the article is hardly needed. The article could have given some idea of what the language sounds like by discussing pronunciation, and indicating where accents fall in the words and verb forms discussed, but it does not do that. The notion that we are dealing with song, words transmitted by the voice and thus heard, is in this chapter resolutely evacuated. The section then closes with a sketchy bibliography by Taylor. One can only hope that the promised revised edition of his 1977 troubadour bibliography (La Litterature occitane du moyen age: bibliographie selective et critique [Toronto: University of Toronto Press]) will soon appear.

The principles undergirding the establishment of the index are not set forth by the editors. There seem to be titles and authors but few technical terms or concepts. Thus, one can find Jaufre Rudel, Rita Lejeune, canso, but not coblas capcaudadas, or demonstrative pronouns, and the entry on manuscripts features poetry so that the music manuscripts, though referenced, are not identified as such. Works cited do not seem to be indexed; and since there is no general bibliography for the book (which would have been more useful than the slight article by Taylor), there is no handy way to locate the works listed after the individual articles, which diminishes the usefulness of those listings.

This Handbook can be recommended to scholars, and to a degree to performers, aware of the fact that it needs considerable supplementation to bring it up-to-date, and that with the exception of a good chapter on music, an important exception to be sure, the book pays only lip service to song. Its primary intended audience seems to be text scholars, and the fact that music is present but not really integrated (especially the lack of an up-to-date discography) may be considered a disservice even to them. I would judge that the book should be recommended only with reservations to students at any level. Still, the Handbook offers a clearly serviceable even if partly outdated collection of articles on troubadours, and,as such, can be considered a welcome addition to existing manuals on the subject.

MARGARET SWITTEN Mount Holyoke College
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Author:Switten, Margaret
Publication:Notes
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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