Solage and the Smokers

Solage’s Fumeux fume is a much celebrated three-voice rondeaux about a Parisian literary coterie known as the Society of Fumeurs, or ‘smokers’. The name has been variously explained as meaning the ‘originals’ or the ‘eccentrics’, as deriving from the name of their supposed founder, the mysterious ‘Jean Fumeux’, or perhaps as referring to their use of hashish. It appears that this group were, like many other would-be bohemians, notorious for their arrogance and ostentaciousness. The poet Eustace Deschamps (c.1346–c.1406) was one of the group’s leading members, and one interpretation makes him the smoker of the poem. Since he presents himself in his poetry as the group’s ‘emperor’ and identifies himself as a nephew and a follower of the undeniably great composer and poet Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300–77), he would seem to have been a ready target for satire. Needless to say, the song long predates the arrival of tabacco from North America. Hashish or something eastern have been mooted as alternative possibilities, but the text may refer to metaphorical rather than actual smoking.

Solage was active in Paris between 1370 and 1390, enjoyed a close relationship with the court of Jean, duc de Berry (1340–1416), and ran a music school. The song is remarkable in many ways: the text is very short, but the composition is unusually long and full of chromaticisms, inviting the singer and the audience to lose themselves in its meandering twists and turns; the voices are also concentrated in an unusually low range for this period, evoking the moodiness and torpor suggested by the text:

Fumeux fume par fumee,
Fumeuse speculacion.
Qu’antre fummet sa pensee,
Fumeux fume par fumee.
Quar fumer molt li agree’
Tant qu’il ait son entencion’.
Fumeux fume par fumee,
Fumeuse speculacion.
The smoker smokes through smoke,
A smoky speculation.
While others smoke in thought,
The smoker smokes through smoke,
Because smoke pleases him greatly
As he meditates.
The smoker smokes through smoke,
A smoky speculation.

The song is preserved in Chantilly, Bibliothèque du Musée Condé, MS 564 (formerly 1047), fol. 59r, the famous ‘Chantilly Codex’. The book contains 112 items (thirteen motets and ninety-nine songs, including ten by Solage), most of them very complex and written in an intricate notation. Apart from two late additions, the songs are copied on the six-line stave system found in late fourteenth-century musical manuscripts of Italian origin, and various errors in the French texts and mistakes in the copying of the notes support the view that the copyist was transposing from a manuscript which used the five-line stave typical of French manuscripts. These aspects imply that the codex was produced in Italy using French exemplars. It was certainly in Florence in 1461, when the poet and banker Francesco di Altobianco degli Alberti gave it to the Spinelli family.

The Chantilly Codex is, more importantly, of great importance as one of the two major sources for the so-called ars subtilior, or ‘more subtle art’, a term which has been used since the 1960s to describe a style of music which was current in France during the final three decades of the fourteenth century. Fumeux fume is a prime example of this style, its chief features being an emphasis on subtle texts and rhythmic complexity. The label distinguishes these songs from the music of the previous two generations, the so-called ars nova, or ‘new art’, which was associated with the Guillaume de Machaut.


Facsimile: A. Stone and Y. Plumley (eds), Codex Chantilly: Bibliothèque du château de Chantilly, Ms. 564, Collection ‘Epitome musical’, 2 vols. (Turnhout, 2008). Vol. 1 = Introduction; vol. 2 = Fac-similé.

Critical Editions: (1) W. Apel (ed.), French Secular Music of the Late Fourteenth Century (Cambridge, MA, 1950), no. 40; (2) W. Apel and S. N. Rosenberg (eds), French Secular Compositions of the Fourteenth Century, Corpus mensurabilis musicae 53/1 (Rome, 1970), p. 200 [Oversize Score VZM].

Modern Recordings: There is a tremendous performance from 1997 by Alla Francesca, Beauté parfaite: L'Automne du Moyen Âge – Chansons des XIVe et XVe siècles (Opus 111, OPS 30–173); this is, however, but one excellent recording among many. Consider also, for example, the recording from 1987 by Marcel Pérès and the Ensemble Organum: Codex Chantilly: Ballades & Rondeaux (Harmonia Mundi, HMC 1252). The Dutch ensemble Tetraktys and its director Kees Boeke have recently embarked on a project to record all the music in the Chantilly Codex, whose first fruits have appeared as Codex Chantilly, vol. 1, Bibliothèque du Musée Condé 564 (Et'cetera KTX1900). They anticipate that the contents of the manuscript will fill no less than fifteen CDs.

Commentary

  • Günther, U., ‘Sources, MS, VII: French polyphony 1300–1420’, in S. Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 2001). VV1.
  • Haggh, B., ‘Contemplating the Chantilly Codex’, Early Music, 30 (2002), 264–9. Oxford Journals.
  • Lefferts, P. M., ‘Subtilitas in the Tonal Language of Fumeux fume’, Early Music, 16 (1988), 176–83. JSTOR; Oxford Journals. Includes an edition of the text.
  • Plumley, Y., ‘An “Episode in the South”? Ars Subtilior and the Patronage of French Princes’, Early Music History, 22 (2003), 103–68. JSTOR; Cambridge Journals Online.
  • Stone, A., and Y. Plumley (eds), Studies on the Codex Chantilly, Epitome musical (Turnhout, 2009).
  • Wilkins, N., Music in the Age of Chaucer, Chaucer Studies 1 (Cambridge, 1979), p. 33. Oversize VV8.B.

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