Refrains in odd places

The Bestiaire d’amours citing a motet.
Vies de saints
Vies de saints

The extract above is an image from the manuscript Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français 412, which is not (despite the title given on Gallica) a saint’s life, but a copy of Richard de Fournival’s Bestiary of Love (I sent them an update via their feedback form to this effect, so expect to see it corrected within a couple of years!). Like the copy of the same poem in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 308, it has the text ‘Merci de qui j’atendoie secours et aie m’est si del tout eslongie’ added to the end. This text is refrain vdB1308 in the standard catalogue of refrain texts by Nico H. J. van den Boogaard. It is also found at the start of the motet voice no.792 (in the standard numbering by Ludwig and van der Werf), which is a motet copied in four motet manuscripts W2, Mo, StV, and N (for a key to these sigla and links to those MSS online, see my earlier post).

What is a refrain from a motet voice doing at the end of a long and generically strange and innovative prose narrative (which combines the idea of a bestiary with the reality of an amorous exchange between male ‘je’ and his desired — and resisting — lady)? Why is this refrain in only two sources of this widely copied work? Does that mean they’re related?

The author of this work, Richard de Fournival, is someone who, if he hadn’t lived in what we now call the Middle Ages, might have been considered a ‘Renaissance Man’. He was multi-talented: a licensed surgeon, Fluent in French and Latin, and a writer of prose, narrative poetry, and lyric on subjects as diverse as love, alchemy, and the contents of his own library. He was clearly widely read (in both senses: he’d read widely and his own works were read widely). Some of his lyrics ended up being entirely set to music as voices in polyphonic motets so it is clear that he knew about the permeability of various genres of imaginative writing in the thirteenth century and the special ability of music to provide a  conduit for generic transgression. Perhaps the refrain is authorial, perhaps not, but it’s certainly in keeping with Richard’s penchant for generic mixing. Richard is someone I’ve been intrigued by ever since I read the Bestiary of Love when researching Sung Birds, and I’m increasingly fascinated by his output and would like to work on him further. Like Machaut, Richard’s multi-faceted life and artistic output — with its clear musical links — makes him a challenging object for study, but probably also a rewarding one. I have plans!

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