Rhétorique and musique: the poetry of musical networks in fifteenth-century France
Jones, Jeannette D.
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The death of Jean de Okeghem in 1497 inspired eulogies by contemporary poets, most notably Jean Molinet and Guillaume Crétin. Molinet’s brief lament, Nymphes des bois, was famously set to music by Josquin Desprez. Crétin’s much longer poem, Déploration...sur le trépas de Jean Okeghem, while not associated with any extant musical composition, demonstrates familiarity with musical repertoire and figures —likely tied to his own time as singer in the royal court. Crétin called on a specific group of musicians to lament Okeghem as their “maître et bon père:” Agricola, Verbonnet, Prioris, Josquin, Gaspar, Brumel, and Compère. Musicologists have contemplated the implications of this list for revealing aspects of the lives and music of these musicians that remain lost in the historical record. However, the rationale behind this list has proved elusive. I contextualize Crétin's Déploration within lament literature of the time period, focusing on the role of genealogical constructions in the late Middle Ages, and examining the place of the Déploration within the practice by rhétoriqueur French poets of incorporating historiography into their verse writing. Crétin postulated a "family tree" of musicians of France, following similar formulations for artists and writers. Similar lists in the literature of the time period reinforce this reading shedding further insight into the kinds of identity built around this frame. I examine Crétin’s Déploration alongside works by other poets, including Molinet and Jean Lemaire, in order to demonstrate that around 1500, an idea of a distinctively French (“Alexandrine”) sound and style in both language and music was emerging in circles associated with the French royal court. Crétin’s poem reveals an ecological network of musical operations in smaller courts, churches, and municipalities. I argue that the lists in the poem outline a network of people connected through French language and music.