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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 Fumée’, or perhaps as referring to their use of hashish. It appears that this group were, like many other would-be bohemians, notorious for their ostentacious behaviour or arrogance. The poet Eustache 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 as a follower of the great composer and poet Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300–77), he would seem to have been a ready target for satire. Needless to say, this 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 relatively 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:
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 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 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 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. The latter is available in hardcopy at 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 on Codex Chantilly: Ballades & Rondeaux (Harmonia Mundi, HMC 1252), or that from 2006 by the Gothic Voices on The Unknown Lover (Linn Records BDK 574). For an alternative approach to the music, one that brings in instruments, see Santenay’s Think Subtilior (Ricercar 386). The Dutch ensemble Tetraktys and its director Kees Boeke are recording all the music in the Chantilly Codex. The first fruits of this project 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.
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