Kate Maxwell

Kate Maxwell is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Agder, Norway. Her project is to apply the theory of ‘multimodality’ to medieval manuscripts, particularly those of the fourteenth-century poet-composer Guillaume de Machaut.

This website aims to be an overview of the postdoc project, and much more: a live reflection on living and working in a multimodal environment, of researching medieval artifacts in the digital age, and perhaps the occasional personal or fun thing too.


The view from home

  1. William Frankeberger said:

    I wonder if you can tell me…

    Many of Machaut’s compositions are a man singing to a lady. But often the music requires a soprano voice. Much medieval music about courtly love is written this way. Have you any idea WHY the composers back then seemed to have this obsession with, well, what sounds like, men singing in falsetto to a woman? Just wondering…

    • Hi! Sorry for the late reply. Basically, pitch as we know wasn’t set in stone back then. So in fact anyone could sing anything. (Well, of course they can! But many of the the ‘rules’, we have post-date the Middle Ages.)
      Remember, too, that there is no instrumental music surviving – though of course there were instruments. So that means that pitch could be decided according to singers’ wishes, abilities, sound considerations, and so on.
      Also, many of Machaut’s works are written in the first person, and yet ‘he’ takes on many personas. So the whole ‘I’ business is fluid anyway.
      In short, there’s no reason to think that pitch was fixed as it is in modern editions (watch out for the treble clefs with a wee number 8 underneath in these, which indicate that the pitch is an octave lower than written). There’s also no particular reason to think that men and women couldn’t sing songs written from each others’ point of view – think of music being performed in single-sex scenarios, for example (religious houses, courtly conventions).
      Lots of reasons! Hope these pointers are of some help.
      And sorry for the late reply – for some reason I didn’t get an email telling me there was a comment here 🙂

      • William Frankeberger said:

        Ha! Thanks for the reply. What I notice in ALL recordings, is that a soprano voice is PREDOMINANT in male-to-female songs in the middle ages. Seems odd to me. I mean it is SO often that a high—not just “we don’t know exactly what the pitch is” high but… HIIIIIIIGHHHH voice is used that it does seem to be… odd…


      • Do you think that might have more to do with selling records than pitch? Hey, folks, it’s the 21st century. Fuzzy gender is OK. So let’s sell this with a female voice instead because we can make almost as much money out of selling to the ‘male ear’ as to the ‘male gaze’.
        (‘cis male’, of course)
        Call me cynical if you like. Or wrong. I don’t mind.

      • William Frankeberger said:

        Ha ha! That’s a new one!

        Thank you!



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