Langland’s Musical Reader: Liturgy Law, Law, and the Constraints of Performance
The alliterative poem “The Chorister’s Lament” (BL MS Arundel 292) represents an unrecognized response to PPl. In the passage at the end of Trajan’s speech (B.11.303-14), L conflates legal and musical terminologies as a strategy for reinforcing the natural authority of the liturgy, but his own performance, deleting some of the text from Psalm 46, fails to hold liturgical practice to the same standards of consistency and truth supposedly embodied in the law. In passus 5, Sloth’s lack of musical proficiency, corresponding to a lack of canonical skills, is echoed by Mum and the Sothsegger, De Veritate et Consceincia, and in the “Lament.” Like L’s “solfe” (B.5.416), the muscial terminology of the “Lament” derive from the discourse of “solmization,” a pedagogical method developed by the eleventh-century Benedictine Guido of Arezzo. Unlike the earlier poems, the “Lament” reacts to the liturgical representations of PPl by removing the practices of musical learning from juridical control, exposing the exercise of clerical authority as violent and unnatural. The poet of the “Lament” may have been reacting to the musical expansion at the priory of Norwich, during which secular boys were enlisted to sing in the choir, and adumbrates the emergence of Lollard polemic against liturgical excess.
Studies in the Age of Chaucer 21 (1999): 99-141.
Holsinger, Bruce W.