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The Pope's Pornography: "Popular" (?) Music from 14th Century France: Part II

The Ivrea Codex and the Papal Court at Avignon

The Ivrea Codex (c. 1360) stands with the Roman de Fauvel as one of the most important anthological repositories of 14th century polyphony, containing more than 80 pieces. The codex was probably written for the papal court in Avignon, France during what has been called the “Babylonian Captivity” of the Papacy from 1309 to 1377, during which time seven successive popes resided in France rather than in Rome. This move arose due to a conflict between King Philip IV of France and the Papacy under Pope Boniface VIII and his successor Benedict XI. Following the death of Pope Benedict XI after only eight months in office, Pope Clement V, a Frenchman, was elected to the office in 1305. Being a man in love with his native land, Pope Clement V decided to not move to Rome and rather remain in France, moving his papal court to Avignon in 1309.

The seven Avignon popes increasingly fell under the influence of the French Crown over the next 68 years, and, according to many loyal to Rome, became increasingly corrupted by the vast wealth controlled by the papal court at Avignon. The famous Italian poet Petrarch commented on the Avignon Papacy upon his visit there in the 1340s. He wrote,

“Instead of holy solitude we find a criminal host and crowds of the most infamous satellites; instead of soberness, licentious banquets; instead of pious pilgrimages, preternatural and foul sloth; instead of the bare feet of the apostles, the snowy coursers of brigands fly past us, the horses decked in gold and fed on gold, soon to be shod with gold, if the Lord does not check this slavish luxury. In short, we seem to be among the kings of the Persians or Parthians, before whom we must fall down and worship, and who can not be approached except presents be offered.”

Granted, there are certainly worse things a man in great power - like a medieval Pope - could do than live lavishly. Furthermore, Petrarch’s disgust is also heavily biased, being a man in the patronage of Rome. But from this account, we know that Avignon controlled vast amounts of wealth, which had to be spent. Naturally, this wealth was spent on many lavish things, particularly one of the great status symbols throughout history – art.

Having surveyed the lives of the seven Avignon popes, it seems likely the Ivrea Codex was commissioned under the reign of Pope Clement VI (1291 – 1352; Pope from 1342 – 1352), the fourth Avignon Pope. Pope Clement VI was likely the most lavish of the seven. He commissioned artists like Matteo Giocanetti and purchased many lavish tapestries, requesting many depicted scenes of worldly hunting and fishing (rather than the expected Biblical or divine representations). We also know that for the many parties he hosted, Clement VI hired musicians from northern France, many of whom wrote music in the Ars Nova style. Philippe de Vitry, one of the most famous music theorists and composers of the day, was even on the payroll of the Pope. (Tomasello)

When Clement VI died, he left a reputation with many papal historians that seems rather contrarian for what one might expect for the most pious messenger of God on earth: “More of a temporal prince than an ecclesiastical ruler, Clement was munificent to profusion, a patron of arts and letters, a lover of good cheer, well-appointed banquets, and brilliant receptions, to which ladies were freely admitted.” (Weber) Despite his avarice, Pope Clement VI did great service to the arts and music, commissioning many painters and composers and probably calling for the compilation of the Ivrea Codex.

The contents of the codex include 81 compositions: 36 motets, 1 motet-like quodlibet, 25 Mass movements, 2 2-voiced/texted discants, 4 chaces, 6 rondeaux, 5 virelais, and 2 2-part textless pieces. Most composers in the codex are unattributed with two notable exceptions: Philippe de Vitry (probably 9 motets) and Guillaume de Machaut (4 motets, 1 rondeau).

Musical Commentary on Motet, "Clap, clap, par un matin - Sus Robin"

Along with the previously featured chace, “Se je chant,” another work from the Ivrea Codex of unique quality and intriguing text is the ars antiqua motet, “Clap, clap, par un matin – Sus Robin.” The medieval motet originated as highly embellished liturgical music during the 12th and 13th centuries, but by the late 13th and 14th century had evolved into the most popular form of secular art music. “Clap, clap” is one of, if not the most, bawdy piece in the Ivrea Codex. The piece features two corresponding poems, which tell two accounts of a raunchy and probably adulterous sexual encounter between a man, Robin, and an unnamed woman, who appears to be married to a man named Guerin, with whom she is sexually frustrated. Both texts and an English translation for each are provided at the end of this essay.

The first text is third-person limited point of view, featuring Robin’s version of the encounter. The second text is the woman’s first-person point of view. Beside the poems’ entertaining bawdiness, they are also amusing in the ways in which their accounts of the sexual encounter differ.

Robin’s account describes how he encounters a masturbating maiden alone at a mill. He then commences with assisting her in her sexual pleasure by “grinding” her (making a pun of the mill) and by giving her “many, long, hard thrusts”. According to Robin’s account, it would seem that he greatly satisfied this woman before finishing. The woman’s account hilariously differs. First she expresses her discontent with her current lover, who is too controlling and crippled, probably unable to perform well in sex. To spite him, she plans on having loud sex with Robin. Her plan soon falls apart however, because Robin greatly underperforms and finishes too early. While in Robin’s poem he finished near the end of the text, in the woman’s poem Robin finishes before the poem is even halfway through. The woman than commences with complaining about both Robin and her crippled lover Guerin. She expresses her insatiable desires and indicates that she will go looking for someone else able to adequately pleasure her.

Along with the narratives, each text also incorporates onomatopoetic sounds of sex, such as “clap, clap” and “ho, hé, ho, knave, ho ha, hoo!” The “clap, clap” makes double entendre with sounds of the water mill and sounds of two naked bodies slapping against each other. The “Ho, hé, ho, knave, ho ha, hoo!” is clearly pleasurable moaning and “dirty talk” amongst lovers. In the music, you will hear “claps” throughout, musically painted with high, ejaculated notes at the top of the texture. You will hear some of the “ho’s” near the end as prolonged moaning sounds hocketted between the voices, probably portraying orgasm (mm. 69 – 72).

Given all this, it is amusing to know this piece is featured in a book of music for the papal court. Next to music for the Mass appears not only “se je chant” (a piece about hunting), but also “clap, clap, par un matin,” a bawdy piece about masturbation, sexual frustration, adultery, and rough copulation. In light of knowing the tendencies of Pope Clement VI, this is less surprising. Nevertheless, given such artistic artifacts, it is amusing to assume that activities at the papal court in the 14th century must have been quite colorful… …

Ars Antiqua Motet, “Clap, clap, par un matin” Musical Analysis

Contrapuntal techniques that are featured in this piece are the double-leading tone cadence, hocket, and modal rhythms. The lack of complex rhythmic stratification in favor of regularized rhythms suggest that this piece is one of the earlier compositions featured in the Ivrea Codex, probably from the ars antiqua tradition.

In the 14th century, the composition of a motet always began with the creation of a fundamental voice, usually the lowest in the texture, which was called the tenor (not to be confused with our modern usages of the word). The tenor formed the Ur-structure of the music through arrangement in a regular, simple, repeating pattern. Once the tenor was composed, the upper voices (usually numbering one to three) were each composed successively (rather than simultaneously) against the tenor (Blackburn). These upper voices moved more freely and elaborately and at a faster rate than the tenor. Furthermore, they usually did not possess any distinct reoccurring pattern.

The tenor’s regularized pattern in “Clap, clap” is a 7-part rondo AB-AB-AB-A with 12 measures for each A and 15 measures for each B, as can be seen below.

Due to the regular phraseological structure of the tenor, one might naturally expect that at the end of each A and B phrase both of the above parts would also come to some cadence, giving the whole piece the same clear phrase as the tenor. Intriguingly, this is not the case in “clap, clap,”. The chart given below is an outline of the micro- and macro-phrases of each voice. Macro-phrases are indicated by the bold lines, and micro-phrasing is indicated by the light lines. The shading will be discussed later.

The choice of phrasing is based on an educated assessment of the conjunction of text phrases, melodic cadences, harmonic cadences, and musical rests. Taking these factors together, one can see a hierarchy of phrases in the triplum and duplum, similar to those in the tenor. However, the phrases in the upper voices are not regulated like the tenor. In fact, the phrases of the triplum and duplum are so irregular that they evade full concurrence with the tenor until the end of the piece. This phraseological evasion has significant implications for the form and aesthetics of this piece.

First, this lack of concurrence reflects the disagreement between the two accounts of Robin and his lover. For the first half of the piece, the texts are mostly in agreement, but as the piece progresses we see two different stories develop around the same incident: one where a man believes he has fully satisfied the woman, and the other a story where the man does not adequately satisfy the woman and finished too soon. This disagreement between the narratives is artistically reflected in the disagreement between the musical phrases, sonically representing the dramatic and situational irony created by hearing both conflicting texts simultaneously presented in the music.

Second, this lack of concurrence creates a sense of continuous musical movement, obscuring the periodic rondo form inherent in the tenor. In fact, the upper voices engage in their own rondo, independent from the tenor. Notice that the refrain “clap, clap,” occurs at four distinct points in the music when the triplum and duplum are taken together (mm. 1-14, 27-41, 60-69, and 87-92). These moments are indicated in the formal outline above with shaded boxes. This “clap, clap” refrain suggests another, more complex level of rondo ABACADA with each “clap clap,” being an A-refrain and the material between being verse. Thus, this piece contains two superimposed syncopated rondos.

Interestingly, this phraseological stratification and superimposed rondo seem reminiscent of the effects engendered by isorhythm. The layering of phrases of unequal length and the evasion of correspondence between voices until the end is similar to the effect created by isorhythm with large least common multiples between the color and talea. Thus, in some regard this ars antiqua piece foreshadows the isorhythmic innovations and aesthetics of the ars nova.



Primary Sources:

Ivrea, Biblioteca Capitolare d'Ivrea, I-IV MS CXV (115) “Ivrea Codex”. 60v

Secondary sources:

Blackburn, Bonnie J. "On Compositional Process in the Fifteenth Century." Journal of the

American Musicological Society 40, no. 2, 210-84.

Diana Wood, Clement VI: The Pontificate and Ideas of an Avignon Pope, 32-33.

Hoppin, Richard H. Medieval Music. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978.

Rose-Steel, Tamsyn. French Ars Nova Motets and Their Manuscripts Citational Play and Material

Context. PhD diss., 2011.

Tomasello, Music and Ritual at the Papal Court of Avignon 1309–1403, 12–20

Tertiary Sources:

Ernest H. Sanders, et al. "Motet." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online.Oxford University Press,

accessed August 2, 2016,

Stanley Boorman, et al. "Sources, MS." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford

University Press, accessed August 2, 2016,

Weber, N. "Pope Clement VI." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Appleton, 1908.


Texts and Translations


Clap, clap, par un matin s’en aloit

Robin, clap, clap, ver un molin qui moloit.

Souvent ileques reperoit,

Quar trop forment se delitoit

Ou batel qui clapetoit.

Clap, clap, une seule fame y avoit

Qui s’escridoit:

“Heu ha vilain, hau ha hu!”

D’enuiment ainsi se moquoit

Et juroit,

Que couble feroit,

Foy que Dieu doit.

Lors vient Robins qui bien savoit

Ou le joillet tenoit.

Clap, clap, tant l’a molu qui s’en doloit

Et elle disoit:

“Heu ha ha villain hé ha heul”

Robin dort, le molin esclos,

Mes trop y avoit feru de cops

Grans et gros ayns qui fellst esclos.


“Sus Robin, alons au molin!

Clap, clap, en despit de ce villain

Qui tout jours me fail gaitier.

Huy me feray hurtebilliez

Et pour le plus aïrier

Veuil ge chanter:

Hé ha villain, hé ha heu.”

Clap, clap, Robin dort, le molin esclos.

“Ja, par Dieu, Guerin le clos

Ne me torroit mon pourpos

Quar j’ay le cuer trop volage.

Le vilain revient de son laborage,

Il a si grant faim qu’a peu

Qu’il n’enrage,

Le vilain gueu,

Lé dé heu heu.”

Aynsi disoit et si chantoit:

“Molin de sa, molin de la,

Se l’un ne m’ost, l’autre m’oora,

Clap, clap, clap, clap, ja ni faudra.”


English translation:


Clap, clap, one morning Robin went off

To a mill, clap, clap, a mill that was grinding.

He often went back there

Because he got immense pleasure

From the clapping catch.

Clap, clap, there was a woman on her own there


“Ho, hé, ho, knave, ho ha, hoo!”

She sneered angrily,

At the same time swearing

On God

That she would go to it.

Then along came Robin who knew full well

Where to find the treasure.

Clap, clap, he ground her so much that he moaned of it,

And she said:

Ho, ha, ho, knave, ho, ha, ho!”

Robin’s gone to sleep and his grinder’s worn out,

But he gave her many, long, hard thrusts with it

Before it was worn out.


“Get up, Robin, let’s go to the grind,

clap, clap, to spite that knave

who’s always keeping an eye on me.

I’m going to be screwed today,

And to make him even more angry

I’m going to sing:

Ho, ha, knave, ho, ha, ho!”

Clap, clap, Rob’s asleep. His grinder’s worn out.

“By God, that cripple Guerin

will never stop me doing what I want,

my heart’s too fickle.

The knave’s coming back from his ploughing,

He’s nearly mad

With hunger,

The rascally knave,

La, la, ho, ho.”

She said these words and sang:

“Here a mill, there a mill,

if one doesn’t hear me, the other one will:

clap, clap, clap, clap. You bet they will.”

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