Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Bloxam, M. Jennifer. "A Cultural Context for the Chanson Mass." In Early Musical Borrowing, ed. Honey Meconi, 7-35. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Scholars have analyzed the fifteenth-century chanson Mass for its role in the development of cantus firmus technique, but there have been few attempts to contextualize the borrowing of a secular love song in the most solemn ritual of the Church. An exploration of the origins and developments of this practice across a range of expressive media situate these masses within a culture that juxtaposed secular with sacred love and the courtly lady with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Some of the same chanson tenors used within Marian-texted motets of the period were also borrowed in these masses, indicating a Marian reading for them. Three centuries prior to the chanson mass, interpretive traditions had already developed on the themes of sacred and profane love in theology and the vernacular. Commentaries on the Old Testament Song of Songs suggested that the erotic love expressed between the female and male voices represented the love between God and the Virgin Mary, authors of vernacular sources discussed the commingling of the cloister and court, and in visual representations of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries artists increasingly emphasized the humanity of the Virgin, depicting her as a contemporary woman within the courtly environment. Likewise, the writers Jean Gerson and Jean Molinet both used courtly and secular language to address the divine beloved. Molinet's poem Oroison a Nostre Dame carries the line, "A poem that may be addressed either to the Virgin Mary or by a lover to his lady." Within this text, which was directed explicitly to the Virgin Mary, Molinet incorporated several chanson incipits, six of which were also borrowed in the chanson mass. It is clear from these connections to poetry, theological writing, and visual art that out of the courtly environments, the chanson mass became another outlet for elevating profane love to the sacred realm.

Index Classifications: 1400s

Contributed by: Mary Ellen Ryan

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