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Songs, Scribes, and Society

The History and Reception of the Loire Valley Chansonniers

Jane Alden

Publication Date - December 2010

ISBN: 9780195381528

312 pages
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Retail Price to Students: $82.00


A new kind of songbook emerged in the later fifteenth century: personalized, portable, and lavishly decorated. Five closely related chansonniers, copied in the Loire Valley region of central France c. 1465-c. 1475, are the earliest surviving examples of this new genre.
The Loire Valley Chansonniers preserve the music of such renowned composers as Guillaume Du Fay, Johannes Ockeghem, and Antoine Busnoys. But their importance as musical sources has overshadowed the significance of these manuscripts as artifacts in their own right.
This book places the physical objects at center, investigating the means by which they were produced and the broader culture in which they circulated. Jane Alden performs a codicological autopsy upon the manuscripts and reveals the hitherto unrecognized role of scribes in shaping the transmission and reception of the chanson repertory. Alden also challenges the long-held belief that the Loire Valley Chansonniers were intended for royal or noble patrons. Instead, she argues that a rising class of bureaucrats--notaries, secretaries, and other court officials--commissioned these exquisite objects. Active as writers and participants in poetry competitions, these individuals may even have written some of the chansons' texts.
The unique integration of image, text, and music found in chansonniers extends their appeal to a broad readership. But for the nineteenth-century scholars who rediscovered these manuscripts, the larger literary and visual resonances were not of primary interest. Alden documents the tangle of motivations--national identity, populist politics, and the rise of the musical masterwork--that informed the earliest writings on these books. Only now is their multifaceted structure the inspiration for a new generation of readers.


  • Provides first examination of these song books in a broader social and historical context
  • Revises long-held theories about patronage and reception
  • Investigates the interconnected relationships of patrons, scribes, and readers, in light of recent developments in new philology
  • Supplies first codicological study to analyze these five manuscripts as a group
  • Reveals hitherto unknown political agenda relating to the discovery of these manuscripts in the 19th Century
  • Offers a new critique of scholarship on French vs. Burgundian composer nationality and manuscript provenance

About the Author(s)

Jane Alden is Associate Professor of Music at Wesleyan University. She specializes in manuscript production, patronage, and music books in fifteenth-century France. She is editor of Johannes Delahaye: Chansons in Loire Valley Sources (2001) and her writings have been published in Acta Musicologica, the Journal of Musicology, Revue belge de musicologie, and Contemporary Music Review.


"A welcome addition to the existing literature on the topic...Alden's fine monograph presents important conclusions that future research on the fifteenth-century chanson will not be able to sidestep." --American Historical Review

"A deep, meaningful study of the Loire Valley Chansonniers. Readers are provided with a thorough examination of the manuscripts, including revised dating, chronology, and provenance, but also with an account of how the chansonniers fit into the society into which they were born (as well as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries)." --Fontes Artis Musicae

"Alden brilliantly brings to life the Loire Valley chansonniers and the cultural environment in which they were produced. This exquisitely researched book, which revises many basic presuppositions about the cultural relations of Burgundy and France, will leave a significant mark on modern understanding of fifteenth-century music and poetry." --Michael Randall, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Brandeis University

"Jane Alden's study is likely to become a veritable vade mecum, indispensable to every lover of fifteenth century secular music. It includes everything that one needs to know about the chansonniers of the Loire Valley." --Leeman L. Perkins, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University and author, Music in the Age of the Renaissance (Norton, 1999)

"One of the features, and benefits, of the book is access to a companion Web site, which features full-color, high-resolution images from the chansonniers, along with three appendixes that provide crucial support for Alden's arguments. Recommended." --Choice

Table of Contents

    List of Illustrations
    List of Tables
    List of Musical Examples
    Source abbreviations and manuscript sigla
    A Note on the Companion Website

    Discovering Chansonniers
    2. The Material Objects
    3. Chronology and Dating Revisited
    4. The Makers of the Loire Valley Chansonniers
    5. Owners, Readers, and Bookish Culture