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The Flower of Paradise: Marian Devotion and…

The Flower of Paradise: Marian Devotion and Secular Song in Medieval and…

by David J. Rothenberg

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The Flower of Paradise is an ambitious study of the interplay of secular verse and devotional texts to the Virgin Mary in polyphonic songs from ca. 1200 to ca. 1500. Although essentially a work of musicology, Prof. Rothenberg casts a wide net, making use of secular and liturgical poetry, art and iconography, and medieval theology to illustrate his argument.

The intellectual progenitor of The Flower of Paradise is Johan Huizinga’s classic work The Autumn of the Middle Ages (1919), which the author quotes in the introduction. According to Rothenberg, Huizinga describes a “symbolic mode of thought” in late medieval France and the Low Countries in which “symbol and meaning collapse onto one another—in which symbols, as the only accessible forms of the ineffable, become identified with what they symbolize.”

For Rothenberg, it is Huizinga’s “symbolic mode of thought,” in which symbol and meaning became united in the late-medieval imagination, that explains why Guillaume de Machaut, in Rose, liz; one of his best known chansons, embeds symbols of the Virgin Mary in what superficially appears to be a conventional poem out of the courtly love tradition: “Rose, lily, springtime, greenery, /Flower, balm, and sweetest, /Lovely Lady, you pass them all in sweetness.” In Rothenberg’s view, Machaut’s description of his beloved as a rose and a lily (traditional Marian symbols) yoke the poet’s longing for his beloved one on earth with his love for the Virgin Mary.

If The Flower of Paradise has a weakness, it is the author’s insufficient treatment of the Church’s theology of Mary, whose consent to receive the Word of the Father in Her womb, fulfilled “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations” (Colossians 1:26), making Her the Mother of God. Without a deep understanding of how Marian theology and veneration informed the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual outlook of artists like Machaut, the author cannot quite fully communicate the polyphonic sense of a chanson like Rose, Liz; in which earthly and Divine love are united in tension and synthesis. Nevertheless, Rothenberg’s excellent and accessible treatment of the artistic and musical culture of the later middle ages will make The Flower of Paradise a welcome addition to any liberal arts library.

Published in Catholic Library World, March 2012
  eumaeus | Mar 8, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195399714, Hardcover)

There is a striking similarity between Marian devotional songs and secular love songs of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. Two disparate genres--one sacred, the other secular; one Latin, the other vernacular--both praise an idealized, impossibly virtuous woman. Each does so through highly stylized derivations of traditional medieval song forms--Marian prayer derived from earlier Gregorian chant, and love songs and lyrics from medieval courtly song. Yet despite their obvious similarities, the two musical and poetic traditions have rarely been studied together. Author David J. Rothenberg takes on this task with remarkable success, producing a useful and broad introduction to Marian music and liturgy, and then coupling that with an incisive comparative analysis of these devotional forms and the words and music of secular love songs of the period.

The Flower of Paradise examines the interplay of Marian devotional and secular poetics within polyphonic music from ca. 1200 to ca. 1500. Through case studies of works that demonstrate a specific symbolic resonance between Marian devotion and secular song, the book illustrates the distinctive ethos of this period in European culture. Rothenberg makes use of an impressive command of liturgical and religious studies, literature and poetry, and art history to craft a study with wide application across disciplinary boundaries. With its broad scope and unique, incisive analysis, this book will open up new ways of thinking about the history and development of secular and sacred music and the Marian tradition for scholars, students, and anyone with an interest in medieval and Renaissance religious culture.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:42 -0400)

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