Cueing refrains in the medieval conductus

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Caldwell, Mary Channen

Mary Channen Caldwell (2018) Cueing Refrains in the Medieval Conductus, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 143:2, 273-324


As lyrical refrain forms flourished beginning in the twelfth century and increased attention was paid to the mise en page of song in manuscript sources, scribes faced the dilemma of how to cue frequent repetition of poetry and music. Owing to a lack of shared conventions among these scribes, the signalling of repetition varied greatly among sources, the resulting inconsistencies furnishing what Ardis Butterfield calls glimpses of scribal thinking'. Nowhere is this more evident than in approaches to notating the Latin refrain, a structural feature in a range of genres and an inexact yet related parallel to the French refrain. I argue in this article that the graphic treatment of refrains in Latin song exposes assumptions that both scribes and performers made about form, genre and the realization of song in performance. Attending to the visual cueing of refrains clarifies textual and musical ambiguities arising from the simultaneously oral, written and performative milieu within which Latin song was cultivated and disseminated.

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