A Nonsynchronous Model for the Performance of the Middle English Tail-Rhyme Stanza with Vielle

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Since historical performance of Middle English tail-rhyme romances with instrumental accompaniment is a theoretical possibility, then understanding of the parameters within which such a performance might have existed is fundamental to our understanding of the form. The binary character of a bowed stringed instrument facilitates a two-stroke performance of the three-stress line, in which the stronger down bow coincides with the third metrical stress and continues into the fourth, unrealized beat. Empirical performance of a passage from Lybeaus Desconus led to offsetting bow changes from stressed syllables in a rhythmic performance of Middle English tail-rhyme stanzas. Two pragmatic advantages result from this approach. First, since both musical and textual stresses require attention, separating them reduces the competition for cognitive resources in both performer and listener. Second, offsetting the musical beat can intensify the verbal emphasis. While a stressed syllable may be intensified by extending the duration with the voice, an instrument can function to rearticulate the stressed syllable by supplying a semantically empty stress in close proximity, thus intensifying the emotional effect. This approach extends current theory suggesting that rhythmic performance of poetry may operate simultaneously within different schemas: simultaneous performance on a musical instrument may enhance tension in the poetic line by incorporating rhythmic patterns different from metrical and prose patterns inherent in the text.

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