Celeste Hutchins


Musical Interludes in the MystŹre du SiŹge d'Orléans


In the spring of 1429, things looked bleak for Orléans.  The English had nearly encircled the city.  They held several defensive fortifications, including a tower on the bridge. Efforts to free the city, such as the Battle of the Herrings had ended disastrously.  The duc d'Orélans was in an English prison, awaiting ransom.  "By March 1429, Orleans seemed ready to fall at he next serious push." (Pernoud 9) When the city of Orléans fell, the entirety of the French loyalist side would collapse with it.  It seemed only to be a matter of time before the English were victorious over all of France.


On April 29th of that year, supplies and troops were sent to the besieged city.  Among them was an unusual young woman, known as the Pucelle.  Only a few days later, on May 8th, the English withdrew from the city, after a series of decisive battles.  These victories were attributed to La Pucelle.  Pernoud writes, "At the moment that the English were raising the siege and withdrawing from Orléans, the inhabitants of the city organizes solemn processions to thank god and the patron saints of the city, Sts. Aignan and Euverte.  This spontaneous thanksgiving celebration became a procession that continues today, every May 8." (p 243)


The raising of the Siege of Orléans was the beginning of the end for the English.  By the end of 1453, the hundred years war was finally over and Charles VII was king.  Orléans continues to celebrate its part in this victory through its annual festivities and La Pucelle who aided them.  Today, Orléans is home to many statues and monuments of Jeanne d'Arc.  The cathedral that she prayed at in between battles has an altar dedicated to her and series of stained glass windows depicting scenes from her life.  There is a Rue d' Jeanne d'Arc, a Jeanne d'Arc cafe, a Jean d'Arc Chocolatier, and the academic Centre Jeanne d'Arc.


At some point, a mystery play, Le Mistère du Siège d'Orléans, was composed about the raising of the siege. Mystery plays are a genre depicting history.  Knight writes,

The Mystery plays, taken as a whole corpus, dramatized universal history from creation to doomsday . . .. [T]he mystery plays were historical in sense that they were externally referential and that their linear model of time had displaced the cyclical model of time in the liturgy.  They were the collective memory of late medieval Christendom . . .  (p 19)

True to its genre, the Siege depicts an actual historical event. However, Hamblin notes, "the creation of such a play based on contemporary historical events still burning in the memory of the participants and the spectators, represents a true departure from standard subject matter." (p 59-60) Bertrin writes in the Catholic Encyclopedia that the Siege is only one of "only two profane mysteries which have been preserved." However, this is a modern distinction. Knight writes, "the religious-profane dichotomy constitutes a methodological error" (p 14) and that medieval people did not "make the same distinction between religious and profane that we make today." (p 14)  The main generic differentiations between dramas thus does not hinge on the holiness, but in this, case, on historicity.


This play Le Mistere du Siege d’Orléans has never been performed in its current form, according to the staff at the Centre Jeanne d'Arc.  Hamblin writes that it “is nowhere mentioned in fifteenth-century writings.” (p v) However, its roots may lie in the May 8th festivities, specifically in 1435.  Hamblin writes, “Undoubtedly, some kind of dramatic presentation did occur in 1435 . . .. This presentation . . . took place ‘durant la procession,’ as part of the celebration.” (p 26)  The 1435 presentation indicated “a growing secular interest in the celebration.” (p 27)  This interest may have been partially financed by Gilles de Laval, seigneur de Rais, otherwise known as Bluebeard. “Depositions taken from his inheritors reveal that Rais financed several mystŹres, one of which was in Orléans, where he spent nearly the entire year of 1435.” (p 28-9)  Hamblin goes on to note that Rais’ involvement with the play, could explain why “no more mention is made . . . of any re-enactment of the Tourelles battle after 1439,” (p 29) as Rais was executed in 1440.


The authorship of the Siege is also uncertain.  Hamblin writes, “no single author stands out as the most likely source of the Siege” and there is a “possibility that the work is rather a compilation of the endeavors of several writers, and perhaps several different time periods.” (p 16)  Thus, the play possibly commissioned by Rais may have evolved into the Siege as it now exists.  The writer or writers was probably a resident of Orléans.  “The author would have had to be either native to Orléans or very familiar with and very dedicated to this final stronghold of Loyalists in the Hundred Years’ War.” (p 10) The Siege names “locations which only local residents would have recognized.” (p 46)


Thus, we have an obscure play with a processional background.  It is not a small play, however.  Hamblin writes,  “It is a mystŹre of considerable length, involving more than 120 speaking roles in twenty different sites.” (p 4)  Later, she says, “[In] order to recreate the Siege in its present form, we would need ships, fortresses, tents, break-away towers, walls, a bridge with detachable parts, a river and an ocean, a means for hovering saints above the stage, canons and various dead bodies (one of which can lose its head at will).” (p 54)  It’s no wonder that the present form of the play has never been produced.


There is only one extant copy of the Siege. It "is preserved in a single paper manuscript, now in the Regina collection of the Vatican, but formerly in the library of Fleury." (Frank 203)  “There are no embellishments or adornments whatsoever in the manuscript.” (Hamblin p 83) Frank writes, "Our manuscript betrays much interest in the complicated staging and music required by the play . . .. Detailed rubrics . . . also indicate exactly which instruments are to be played during the intermissions." (p 206) Despite this attention to musical detail, there is no sheet music with the manuscript.


The Siege, however, does mention one chant by name, in folio 354r.  Hamblin summarizes the action at this point in the play:

On Saturday, May 7, the French attack the defense line of the Tourelles.  A heavy battle ensues, and the Pucelle is wounded.  She encourages the soldiers, who go on to victory.  Glasidas and others fall into the Loire and drown.  The French enter Orléans victorious and celebrate the English loss. (p 92)

This is the high point of action in the play and the victory considered most miraculous.  According to audio in the Maison de Jeanne d’Arc, the French forces were about to quit the attack for the day, when a badly wounded Jeanne came rushing back to the battle, waving her standard and leading the French to victory.  She had also made a prediction that “Glasidas” [sic] would die without bleeding.  The day after this battle, in the play and historically, the English retreat to the nearby town of Meung.  Therefore it is the battle of Tourelles that raises the siege.  It is also the battle that was re-enacted as a part of the annual thanksgiving procession.  This may be the oldest part of the MystŹre and if so, the author probably remembered the battle.


In line 13638, the last line on the night of May 7th, La Pucelle orders the town to chant Te Deum laudamus:  “Toute la nuit faites sonner Toutes vos cloches en tous lieux, Et ą forte voix sans reserve Chantez Te Deum laudamus.”  (Gros 821)  The people must play their bells and chant in a strong voice and without reserve all through the night.  Te Deum was a widely known and a widely used chant in the Middle Ages, “sung at the end of Matins on Sundays and feast days . . .. It has also been used as a processional chant, the conclusion for a liturgical drama, a song of thanksgiving on an occasion such as the consecration of a bishop, and a hymn of victory on the battlefield.” (Steiner)  This usage is clearly as a hymn of victory on the battlefield as far as the rubrics of the play are concerned.  However, since the play also has a processional background, the chant is doubly appropriate. The Siege is certainly not a liturgical drama, but the signing of Te Deum may still have been recognized as a dramatic cue. The play does not end at this point, but it lacks mentions of specific points to break off for the night.  Perhaps this is a logical place to quit until the next day.  The usage of Te Deum thus arises not only naturally out of the rubrics and out of history, but exists in other contexts as well.


In actual fact, the historical document, the Journal of the Siege of Orléans, reports that “All the clergy and the people of Orléans devoutly sang Te Deum laudamus and rang all the city bells, very humbly thanking Our Lord for this glorious divine consolation”  (Pernoud p 48) Thus, the Mystére, as the name - and the genre - implies, presents history as the writer and the intended actors would have remembered it.


The rubrics of the play in a pause immediately below La Pucelle’s lines state, “Alors ici il y une grande pause et un grand bruit dans la ville, de joie et de vif plaisir; toute la nuit sonnerie de cloches, sonnerie de trompettes et cris: ‘NoĎl!’”  (Gros 821) Here is a large pause and a great joyous noise in the city: all night bells are rung, trumpets are sounded and people cry, “NoĎl!”  The play looks like a historical document here, unless the playwright actually expected people to blow trumpets all night, or perhaps, as speculated above, he was envisioning putting a break for the night at this point.


The performance practice of Te Deum would have used the sort of instrumentation contained in the rubrics of the play and recommended by La Pucelle. “[A] festive performance of the Te Deum was normally accompanied by instruments (in particular organ and bells), the normal concomitant of which would be polyphony of some kind. Nevertheless, such polyphony was essentially improvised . . .. 15th-century settings are rare.” (Steiner) Although, she goes on, there is a setting by Binchois.  Thus, historically, the bells of the town were rung, but in the rubrics of the play cloches, defined by Pocket Manual of Musical Terms as “chimes” (Baker p 56), were used to improvise polyphony.  This is the only playing of cloches in the play.


The bells of the village are indicated in the play in other pauses. There is a typical usage after line 2414, “le beffroi de la ville sonnera sans cesser durant l'assaut.” (Gros p 165)  The bells of the village ring unceasingly during the attack.  The beffroi always function in this play as indicators of battle.  They need not indicate that a battle is happening, but can also ring when a battle is about to occur, as a cue for the army to assemble. For example, after line 5242, “Alors le beffroi de la ville sonnera et ceux de la ville sortiront.” (Gros p 349)  The bells, or belfry, of the city will sound and the citizens will leave.  They are leaving, of course, to go fight a battle.


Another particular type of battle bell is the tocsin, or the alarm bell.  In the pause after line 12174,  “Et ą Saint-Loup une cloche sonnera le tocsin, et l'on criera: ‘Alarme!’”  (Gros p 775) And in the fortress of Saint-Loup an alarm bell will sound and someone will cry, “Alarm!”  This is the only tocsin in the Siege.  The ringers of it are the English, who are occupying Saint-Loup and whom the French are attacking.


Also linked to armies and battles is the clairon, the instrument called for second most often.  What sort of instrument is meant by “clairon” is not clear. Non-musicians, when commenting on the Siege, translate this as bugle.  This is a logical translation because the clarions are so often associated with the army in the play.  However, since the subject matter of the play is a military victory, most things in it have at least some association to the army.  If this was a bugle, then it was a signal horn, made out of a cow’s horn.  (Baines)  It would have played bugle calls, such as signals to attack, retreat, assemble, etc.  As a natural horn, it only would have been able to play overtones of the fundamental pitch, just as modern bugle calls only use harmonics.


Gros, when translating the Siege from Old French to modern French, leaves the old French word clairon intact.  The modern French word clairon unequivocally refers to a bugle.  The Old French word may have had a different meaning.  In fact, there existed a separate term for bugles.  Baines begins his bugle article with the entomology for the world ‘bugle’, “In the Middle Ages a not very common Old French word (also cor buglŹr, bugleret) for a small bovine signaling horn.”  Thus there existed, although not in wide usage, a term that specifically referred to bugles. 


Another possible definition of clairon is “The high register of a trumpet; in its variant forms, the term also designates a kind of trumpet.” (Dahlqvist)  The Pocket Manual of Musical Terms defines it as “a small, shrill-toned trumpet.”  (Baker p 55) This term has it’s own entomology.  It comes “[f]rom the medieval Latin clario and claro, the French form ‘claron’ was developed, and in the 14th century such forms as ‘clairin’, ‘clarin’, ‘clerain’, ‘clerin’, ‘clairon’ (with the diminutives ‘claroncel’, ‘claronchiel’ etc.) began to appear. ‘Clairon’ became the most common of these.” (Dalhqvist) The term ‘clairon’ is the one used by the playwright or the Siege.


There are reasons to believe that the rubrics of the Siege could have been intended to refer either to a short, shrill trumpet, or to the high register of a normal trumpet.  “During the Middle Ages trumpeters played in the low register. Johannes de Grocheo wrote (De musica, c1300) that only the first four partials of the harmonic series were used, a fact corroborated by the earliest surviving trumpet music.” (Tarr, ‘Trumpet’)  Thus, if the trumpets in the Siege are only playing in the low register, and the playwright wanted a sound in the higher register, he would be able to so indicate in the rubrics by specifically calling for a clairon sound. Or, perhaps, it was a separate instrument, “Very often clairon and trompette (or the like) are mentioned in pairs, suggesting two distinct instrument forms. In 1468, for example, Margaret of York was greeted ‘ą son de trompes et de clarons’.” (Dahlqvist)  Similarly, “trompettes et clairons” is oft repeated in the rubrics of the Siege.  In fact, the clairon is never mentioned without also calling for trumpets.  Untangling exactly what instrument the playwright intended to specify is probably impossible, or at least, beyond the scope of this paper.  Dahlqvist states, “The precise meaning of these terms may never be understood completely.”


One example of the clairon being used as a signaling instrument occurs in lines 5595-5.  Talbot says, “Allons, trompettes et clairons, Sonnez pour assembler l'armée.” (Gros p 371)  Go trumpets and clarions, sound to assemble the army.  Interestingly, the rubrics immediately following Talbot’s speech call for trumpets to be played – but not clairons. “Alors sonneront les trompettes des Anglais, et ils s'assembleront pour venir assaillir Orléans.” (p 371)  Then the trumpets of the English will sound and they will be assembled to go attack Orléans.  This may be an error on the part of the copyist.  Hamblin documents many copyist errors and notes that it is the nature of hand-copied documents to contain errors.  However, if it is not an error, it shows that trumpets alone are enough to signal the army, and thus casts doubt on translating “clairon” to “bugle.”


A similar omission occurs around line 15907.  La Pucelle says, “Allons! trompettes et clairons! Pour donner courage et vigueur Aux Franćais trŹs loyaux et bons . . ..”  (p 875) Go trumpets and clairons!  To give courage to the very honest and good French . . .. The pause immediately below however calls for “ . . . trompettes et d'autres instruments.”  Trumpets and the other instruments.  If clairons refer to army bugles, it is perhaps unlikely that they would be played during an instrumental break, since their function is to play signal calls. The “other instruments” could refer to organs, stringed instruments, bells or other instruments not specifically mentioned in the rubrics of the play.  These might make an unlikely paring with bugles.


Clairons are also played during military parades.  For example, after line 12198, “Alors elle viendra ą Orléans: une pause. - Et tous en bon ordre - clairons, trompettes -, amŹnent foison de prisonniers avec les croix rouges, ligotés;” (p 777) Then La Pucelle will come to Orléans: a pause.  And with trumpets and clairons playing, bound English prisoners will enter in good order.  Thus, the French are triumphantly marching English prisoners (with red crosses) into Orléans.  In a pause after line 12678, the French again march with clairons, “Alors, ici une pause de trompettes, clairons. – Et tous, en ordre harmonieux, leurs étendards   déployés, partent; ils iront, descendre de cheval au droit des Bouterons, et lą se rassembleront tous.” (p 795) Then, here a pause of trumpets, clairons.  - And all will leave, in harmonious order, with their standards unfurled; they will go, down from their horses, to the right of Bouterons, and will all gather there.


The English army also marches with clairons.  The pause after line 8954 indicates, “Alors ils arriveront joyeusement avec trompettes, clairons; Talbot et d'autres vont au-devant d'eux.” (p 569)  Then they will joyfully arrive with trumpets and clairons.  Talbot and others will go ahead of them.  In addition, battles and other military actions, such as gathering their arms or putting on armor also call for clairons.


Because the clairon is never played without trumpets, trumpets fill the same roles as the clairons.  Trumpets alone may be specified in contexts that in other pauses call for trumpets and clairons.  For instance, sometimes trumpets alone are played to assemble the army.  Trumpets, however, are called for far more often than clairons, sometimes in contexts where clairons are not used.  No less than forty-seven pauses specifically indicate that trumpets should play.  As noted above, trumpets were played in the low range.  “Medieval trumpeters puffed out their cheeks when blowing and produced a tone that was described as airy and trembling, not unlike the vibrato produced by a boy soprano.” (Tarr, ‘Trumpet’)  The trumpets of the time were sometimes straight and sometimes folded. “Shortly before 1400 instrument makers learned to bend brass tubing . . ..” (Tarr, ‘Slide Trumpet’)  It is possible that, in order to get more pitch variety, the playwright may have intended to use  - or at least not objected to – slide trumpets. “The single-slide trumpet seems to have been introduced  . . .  – according to Polk (1997) between 1400 and 1420, probably first in Burgundy, then in the Cologne-Flanders area – and was soon ubiquitous. It was used until the invention of the double slide around 1490.” (ibid)  Of course, the Burgundians sided with the English during the Hundred Years War, making it tempting to speculate that the instrument may have been tainted by this association.  The playwright simply calls for “trompettes,” but what other name he might have used to refer to the new instrument is not clear to modern scholars.  “Terminology and nomenclature in a period of transition are always problematic. Early mentions of ‘pusun’, for example in Basle in 1410, could refer to either the long straight trumpet or perhaps the slide trumpet; ‘trompette saicqueboute’, in Burgundy in 1468, probably meant a slide trumpet . . ..” (ibid) 


One place that trumpets are called for, but clairons are not, is to play some specific signal calls to the army, such as sounding a retreat.  For example, in the pause following line 2950, the rubrics indicate, “Ensuite ici les trompettes des Franćais sonneront une retraite . . ..”  (Gros p 197)  Then, here, the French trumpets will sound a retreat.  This use of trumpets and not clairons to play a specific signal call is additional evidence that the clairons were not bugles.  This usage of trumpets is part of the action of the play.  Instead of providing a musical pause, the trumpet playing advances the plot.  There are other examples of this sort of usage, for instance, heraldry.  In line 15665, Lord John instructs his herald to quickly take his trumpet and make an announcement to the town.  “Héraut, prenez votre trompette Vite, et veuillez écouter . . .” (p 861) The following pause indicates that the herald plays the trumpet and then makes the announcement.  “Alors il sonnera la trompette; ensuite il dit:” (p 861)


For the most part, trumpets are played alone in the same contexts that they are paired with clairons.  That is, they are played during battles, marches, and to assemble the army.  They also appear in victory celebrations, for example, when the town chants Te Deum and during the plundering of the defeated town of Jargeau in the pause after line 16642, “les trompettes sonneront, et la ville de Jargeau sera pillée: vaisselle d'argent, étain, lits, meubles meublants, draps, couvertures et tous autres ustensiles de ménage . . ..”  (p 897) The trumpets will sound and the town of Jargeau will be plundered: silver plate, tin, furniture, cloths, covers and all other household utensils.  This rubric, like one that calls for trumpets and clairons, also calls for prisoners to be marched out by the army.


The third most-oft appearing musical instrument is the organ.  Unlike, bells, clairons, and trumpets, the organ fills a purely musical role and is not part of the action of the play.  It is first called for in folio 171. Hamblin summarizes the action at this point in the play:  

Charles kneels and prays to God that He have pity on France. Nostre Dame, Saints Michel, Euvertre and Aignan convince God that Charles is sincere. He sends Michel to Barrois, where a young girl will be given the mission of winning the siege of Orléans. The French, because of their loss of faith, will have no personal glory in the victory.  (p 90)

The pause occurs after God speaks on line 7066, ordering St. Michel to go to La Pucelle. The rubrics say, “Pause d'orgues.  Et il vient auprŹs de la Pucelle occupée ą garder les brebis de son pŹre et ą coudre du linge.”  (Gros p 459) Pause of organs.  And then he goes to the Pucelle, who is occupied keeping her father’s ewes and sewing linen.  Thus the organ plays while Michel descends from heaven, possibly a separate stage from where La Pucelle is spinning wool, or, at the very least, requiring a scene change. Gros attaches a footnote to “orgues,” where he states, “Pour le premiŹre fois, dans le Mystére, ce sont les orgues qui se font entendre durant la pause Aussi bien le ciel rend-il alors visite ą la terre: le veritable nature de la mission de Jeanne se précise.” (p 459) For the first time in the play it is the organs which we hear in the pause.  It is at this time that the heavens visit the earth and reveal the precise nature of Jeanne's mission.  Thus Gros implies a connection between the organ and themes of holiness.


As this scene was most likely not intended to be performed in a church, the organ called for is a portative organ.  These small, “easily transported organ[s],” (Seay p 73) have “a keyboard of up to two octaves.” (Owen) Seay describes the portative as, “[s]mall and capable of being worked by one man without assistance, it carried none of the religious overtones associated with its larger [church organ] brother.” (p 73)  However, the rubrics only call for organs on four occasions, all of which invoke God.  The playwright clearly intends his choice of instrument to convey religious overtones, as Gros states.


Seay goes on to describe the performance practice of the portative organ.  “Since one hand of the executant was occupied in building up the air pressure, its position was not that of a polyphonic instrument, but one used in group performance, as a member of chamber combinations.” (p 73)  Hence, the playwright specifies multiple organs for the pause.


Finally, string instruments are mentioned once in the rubrics of the Siege.  The pause after line 17614 says, “Pause de trompettes, de musiciens jouant d'instruments ą cordes, et d'autres instruments. -   Puis aprŹs, le messager arrive devant le roi et dit:” (Gros p 911) Pause of trumpets, musicians playing of string instruments, and other instruments.  - Then after, the messenger arrives in front of the king and speaks.  In her summary of the action in this folio, Hamblin writes, “A messenger reports to Charles on the progress made by the French army.” (p 93)  This scene takes place at court.  The unique mention of strings and other instruments helps distinguish court musically from outdoor scenes with the army.  Of course, the court scene would be performed outdoors along with the rest of the play.  The music helps provide cues to the audience about the scene.


At the very end of the Siege, “Jehanne again admonishes the citizens to thank God for these victories, and to conduct processions in memory of the victories granted them for God.” (Hamblin p 93)  Loyal to Jehanne’s wishes, the citizens of Orléans have not forgotten the procession, but unfortunately, have neglected the play.  The recent publication of Gros’ translation into modern French may spark popular interest.  Perhaps the Siege, after so many centuries, will finally have a performance.


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