Sung Birds: Music, Nature, and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages
Is birdsong music? The most frequent answer to this question in the Middle Ages was resoundingly "no." In Sung Birds, Elizabeth Eva Leach traces postmedieval uses of birdsong within Western musical culture. She first explains why such melodious sound was not music for medieval thinkers and then goes on to consider the ontology of music, the significance of comparisons between singers and birds, and the relationship between art and nature as enacted by the musical performance of late-medieval poetry. If birdsong was not music, how should we interpret the musical depiction of birdsong in human music-making? What does it tell us about the singers, their listeners, and the moral status of secular polyphony? Why was it the fourteenth century that saw the beginnings of this practice, continued to this day in the music of Messiaen and others?