Tracing voices: Song as literature in late medieval Italy

Lauren Lambert Jennings, University of Pennsylvania


The metaphor of marriage is often used to describe the relationship between poetry and music in both medieval and modern writing. The fuzzy semantic boundaries between these two disciplines, famously characteristic of troubadour song, extend into the realm of Italian poetry through the use of genre names like canzone, sonetto, and ballata. Yet paradoxically, scholars have traditionally identified a "divorce" between music and poetry as the defining feature of early Italian lyric. It is this latter view that has colored scholarly discourse surrounding poems set to music by trecento composers, as has the term " poesia per musica." ^ Starting with a close examination of this term, investigating its origins and tracing its subsequent development, I argue for the reintegration of poetic and musical traditions in the trecento. My aim is to re-evaluate the role of song in literary manuscripts and the role of poetry in musical manuscripts through a uniquely material approach. This methodology highlights a variety of ways in which trecento scribes and readers interact with song as a fundamentally interdisciplinary genre. In so doing it moves the repertoire's un-notated sources from the sidelines of musicological discussion to the center. These literary manuscripts freely juxtapose genres in a variety of contexts rather than segregating "musical" poems from "non-musical" ones. Through their physical form, they thus illustrate that their scribes and readers would have understood song texts not in isolation and not on purely musical terms but rather in relation to the greater Italian lyric tradition. By challenging the traditional narrative of trecento song, in which "musical" poetry and "non-musical" poetry are held firmly at arm's length, this dissertation brings to light new audiences and new modes of reception that ask us to reevaluate the role of music in the broader cultural world which surrounds its composition, performance, and manuscript circulation.^

Subject Area

Literature, Romance|Music

Recommended Citation

Jennings, Lauren Lambert, "Tracing voices: Song as literature in late medieval Italy" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3509077.