Jennifer Saltzstein

Nov 1, 2023

Song, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern France

Toward an Environmental History

Oxford University Press 2023

Song, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern France: Toward an Environmental History (Oxford University Press, 2023) investigates how northern French vernacular poets and musicians writing in the late middle ages expressed relationships between people and their environments. It explores medieval French song through the critical and disciplinary lenses of ecocriticism and environmental history. The repertoire under scrutiny embraces the gamut of forms and genres of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century French music, considering the songs of the trouvères, the ars antiqua motet, the formes fixes, the plays of Adam de la Halle, and the lyric-infused narrative poetry of Guillaume de Machaut. Although these works have never before been conceptualized as a corpus of nature poetry, they routinely evoke nature and the outdoors. They feature the gardens, meadows, and trees found in the countryside that many of their authors inhabited, and they conceptualize nature as crucial to poetic inspiration, to the fulfillment of desire, and as a space symbolic of the sacred. Through a deep contextualization of these songs and the people who wrote them, Song, Landscape, and Identity offers a novel account that demonstrates how song could present modalities of engagement with nature that were determined by geography, gender, and status. Key questions include: How realistic is the nature imagery in these songs? What ways of interaction with a landscape do they encourage? Where, and for whom, were such experiences available? The answers to these questions reposition medieval song as a privileged vehicle through which songwriters expressed relationships between nature, place, and class.

Jennifer Saltzstein is a Presidential Professor of Musicology at the University of Oklahoma, where she teaches courses on the music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. She is author of The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Music and Poetry (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013) and editor of Musical Culture in the World of Adam de la Halle (Leiden: Brill, 2019).

Áine Palmer is a PhD candidate in Music History at Yale University. Her work considers trouvère song and the anthologies that collect them in the long thirteenth century.

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