Aspects of Trope in the Earliest Motets for the Assumption of the Virgin

Baltzer, Rebecca A.

The feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, observed annually on 15 August, was the most important saint's feast in the liturgical calendar of Notre Dame of Paris in the Middle Ages. In the thirteenth century, this occasion had a level of ceremonial and ritual splendor equaled only on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, for only these four feasts were given the highest liturgical rank, that of annuum festum or festum annuale, as it was variously termed in liturgical calendars at Notre Dame. Perhaps the most noteworthy finding of this study is that the earliest motets as tropes do not function in quite the same way as tropes themselves. We are familiar with tropes that make what is implicit in the thing troped more explicit in the trope itself, but these "tropic" motets do not work that way. Instead, they are like good children: they take their cue from their parents and do as the parent chants do. If the chant is unequivocally proper to the feast at hand, as in the case of the Alleluias, so are the offspring motets; if the chant manifests a more general theme, so do the motets. In the case of motets for the Virgin, the most striking feature is the pervasiveness of the idea of Mary as the Mother of Godthe Marian aspect of the Incarnation-whatever the specific feast may be.



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Columbia University
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February 3, 2015