More on music and sex

My letter (responding to Fuller’s letter responding to my 2011 response to her 2011 article attacking Leach 2006) has just been published.

OK. Apologies. For some of you this is just going to be too much, but Acts IV and V in the opera ‘The Sexing of the Semitone’ have now appeared and it seems (at least as far as MTS‘s editor is concerned) that the whole multi-author work on whether or not the semitone was considered feminine in the Middle Ages has now been concluded. Luckily for those of you with the patience to read them, the last two acts are much shorter than the earlier ones, especially the gargantuan 20K Act II (Fuller’s 2011 response). For copyright reasons I can’t post Fuller’s letter here (but here’s a link for those of you with a personal or institutional subscription), but my response to it can be accessed by clicking the link on the publication information below.

Published as ‘Elizabeth Eva Leach Responds’, Music Theory Spectrum 33/2 (2011): 232-233. doi: 10.1525/mts.2011.33.2.232. © 2011 by The Society for Music Theory Inc.

Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by The Society for Music Theory Inc. for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® on Caliber ( or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center,

Works cited (in the letter)

Brucker, Charles, ed. 1994. Denis Foulechat: Le Policratique de Jean de Salisbury (1372), Livres I–III. Geneva: Droz.

Cohen, David E. 2001. “ ‘The Imperfect Seeks its Perfection’: Harmonic Progression, Directed Motion, and Aristotelian Physics.” Music Theory Spectrum 23 (2): 139– 69.

Hochadel, Matthias, ed. 2002. Commentum Oxoniense in musicam Boethii: Eine Quelle zur Musiktheorie an der spätmittelalterlichen Universität. Munich: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften and C. H. Beck.

Huot, Sylvia. 1997. Allegorical Play in the Old French Motet: The Sacred and Profane in Thirteenth-Century Polyphony. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.

Kay, Sarah. 1999. “Desire and Subjectivity.” In The Troubadours: An Introduction. Ed. Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay. 212 – 27. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2007. The Place of Thought: The Complexity of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

———. 2008. “Touching Singularity: Consolation, Philosophy, and Poetry in the French dit.” In The Erotics of Consolation: Desire and Distance in the Late Middle Ages. Ed. Catherine E. Léglu and Stephen J. Milner. 21–38. Basingstoke [UK]: Palgrave Macmillan.

Leach, Elizabeth Eva, and Nicolette Zeeman. 2013. “Gender.” In The Edinburgh Companion to Music and Literature. Ed. Helen Deeming and Elizabeth Eva Leach. Vol. 1. Before 1600. Forthcoming. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Robertson, Anne Walters. 2002. Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in His Musical Works. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zeeman, Nicolette. 2007. “The Gender of Song in Chaucer.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 29: 141– 82.


  1. Gill says:

    Thank you for this short comment/article – and the lead to the journal. It will be a useful citation. I am in the process of making an inventory of a 15th century Dutch antiphonal, and have been remarking (well at this stage putting in WinniethePooh markers) on the use of Song of Songs texts throughout the offices for BVM – in particular her Assumption. What was going on in the minds of the celibate men who devised these liturgies? OK they had no idea we would come along and disclose their inner anger/hatred of the great lady. That she should be going head first into the hereafter to become a strumpet is not to far removed from the Muslim martyr having countless virgins in heaven for his delight…..

  2. Melanie says:

    Thanks for this! I’m looking forward to reading the back-and-forth. I’m going to be working on this kind of thing as part of my monograph project: like you, I think the boundaries (if that is even an appropriate concept) between spiritual and erotic desire were much more porous than we often expect.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’ve been influenced by Mary Carruthers’s work on monastic reading, which seems to have been a bodily and sensual practice (with metaphors of chewing and digestion). These practices seem to have entered courts through the employment of court administrators who had taken religious orders (such as Machaut). Modern scholarly treatment of the Christian erotic seems to have been (unsurprisingly) inflected by changing attitudes to Christianity in the academy and/or the specific religious views of the scholars writing about it.

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