Using the concept of “style” in analysis runs the risk of circularity, where features of individual works are identified as belonging to a style whose definition itself is derived from those features. This pitfall undermines studies of the songs of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century troubadours and trouvères that delineate a “high style,” including chansons, and a “low style,” including dances and pastourelles. The dichotomy originated in the nineteenth century with Gaston Paris's concept of amour courtois, from which Roger Dragonetti later derived the term grand chant courtois, now a common label for “high-style” songs. Other literary scholars, notably Paul Zumthor and Pierre Bec, have discussed problems in classifying styles and genres. References to genres in medieval texts are ambiguous, and manuscripts rarely group songs by genre. Theorists such as Raimon Vidal, Jofre de Foixà, and Johannes de Grocheio do not present a clear-cut or consistent stratification of genres. John Stevens, Christopher Page, and others have proposed features of “high style” and “low style” that do not entirely agree. An examination of their examples and additional ones demonstrates that a perception of “style” can be subjective and circular, and that the notion of “high style” and “low style” is an oversimplification.
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Elizabeth Aubrey; Reconsidering “High Style” and “Low Style” in Medieval Song. Journal of Music Theory 1 April 2008; 52 (1): 75–122. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00222909-2009-011
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