I am a “materia” girl

New publication: Anna Zayaruznaya, “Materia matters: Reconstructing Colla/Bona” in A Critical Companion to Medieval Motets, ed. Jared Hartt, 287–99. Boydell and Brewer, 2018.

This summer saw the publication by Boydell and Brewer of the very attractive Critical Companion to Medieval Motets edited by Jared Hartt. I was invited to contribute an analytical case study and after some deliberation (so many motets, so little time) I decided to write about Philippe de Vitry’s Colla iugo subdere/Bona condit cetera. This is one of Vitry’s most widely transmitted motets, surviving in at least ten sources and cited as an example in the ars vetus et nova treatise complex. Andrew Wathey briefly discussed the texts in 2005, revealing them to be chock full of little quotations, possibly pulled together from a florilegium. But Colla/Bona has not been the object of a dedicated analysis.

Some of the most tendentious claims made about motets like Colla/Bona in recent scholarship boil down to issues of compositional process. Is there ever a way to know how motet composition began? What was decided upon first: the tenor source, the “materia” (theme) or the motet, the form or content of the upper-voice texts, external textual quotations, or something else? We know that all these things can be interconnected in a motet, but the composer had to start somewhere.

Readings of motets through the lenses of their tenors (for example those in Anne Walters Robertson’s account of Machaut’s motets) are predicated on the premise that selecting a tenor would have been the composer’s first or most significant act when composing a motet, such that upper-voice texts would have been written later and under the influence of the tenor, as it were.

The tenor of Colla/Bona is a snippet containing the words “Libera me de sanguinibus” originating in the Lauds antiphon for Wednesday of Holy Week:

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“Libera me de sanguinibus” means “free me from blood,” and the full antiphon text is “Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus Deus meus, et exaltabit lingua mea iustitiam tuam” (Free me from blood, O Lord my God, and my tongue will extoll thy justice).

In my contribution to the Critical Companion I begin with this snippet, its liturgical context, and its formal properties qua tenor. I then speculate about the kind of motet that might have been written using this snippet as a point of departure, both in terms of its semantic and formal properties, and compare this hypothetical motet to Colla/Bona. You won’t believe what happens next.

Just kidding. You probably already know what happens next if you’ve read any of my work, or if you know the motet. Still, I hope that the details will be of interest. Like the other chapters in the Companion, this one is self-contained. It’s also possibly the shortest thing I’ve ever written, at only 12 pages. I’m not allowed to post the PDF, but write to me if you’d like help finding a copy. And do get your library to order the book if they haven’t already—there’s a lot of great stuff in there. And if you would like to know more about my revisionist take on the compositional process of ars nova motets, check out my new monograph on the subject, available as a free ebook for another 45 days or so.

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You can hear the Orlandos sing Colla/Bona here, and Sequentia here; the respective tempos leave me in a real Goldilocks situation.

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