Comparing musical textsetting in French and in English songs

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A strophic song is in general a sequence of repetitions of the same tune, one repetition for each stanza. Strophic songs in French have the following properties: when two stanzas have the same tune, they have the same number of lines, and for any <i>i</i>, the <i>i</i>-th line in one stanza has the same number of syllables as the <i>i</i>-th line in the other, and it also has the same distribution of melismas. These properties follow from a more general requirement on textsettings that we call Positional Parallelism. Whereas violations of Positional Parallelism are rather infrequent in traditional French songs, they are quite common in English songs. We propose to relate this difference between French and English songs with another difference in textsetting practice. English matches stress and musical beat anywhere in a line. French enforces the stress/beat match in a rigid manner only at the end of lines, which is presumably a reflection of the fact that in French, stress is easily perceptible only before major breaks.


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