- David Fallows
An extended song form cultivated particularly in the 13th and 14th centuries. The stanzas – if the poem can be divided in that way – are each in a different form and therefore have different music. Though the number of surviving examples is small compared with the total extent of medieval song these works occupy a special position for several reasons: the very irregularity of the poetic form led to large metrical and rhyming patterns that have caused the lai and its German equivalent the Leich to be described as the major showpieces of medieval lyric poetry; and there is much truth in Spanke’s useful distinction (1938) between songs that are primarily metrical in their formal concept (i.e. nearly all medieval strophic song) and those that are primarily musical (the lai and the sequence), a distinction that almost inevitably brings with it the suggestion that the lai and related forms represent by far the earliest surviving attempts at continuous extended musical composition outside the liturgy. In general it is true to say that in the 13th century the form could be extremely free, with highly irregular rhyme schemes and lines of uneven length, but that in the 14th century lais became enormously longer, with the French tradition developing a standard pattern with each stanza following a double-versicle scheme (often refined to an apparent quadruple-versicle) and a 12-stanza form in which the first and last could be related musically or even have the same music at different pitches....