The Medieval Review 11.10.35

Schnoor, Franziska, Karl Schmuki, and Ernst Tremp. Musik im Kloster St. Gallen: Katalog zur Ausstellung in der Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen (29. Noveber 2010- 6. November 2011). St. Gallen, Switzerland: Verlag am Klosterhof, St. Gallen, 2010. Pp. 123. . . 19.50 CHF. ISBN 978-3-906616-98-8.

Reviewed by:

Stefan Morent
University Heidelberg/Tübingen

St. Gall Abbey is famous for its intense cultivation of music, in particular of the so-called Gregorian chant as well as its textual and melodic extensions during the early Middle Ages. Numerous precious manuscripts which originated there are still preserved in the Abbey Library of St Gall. The treasure of the St Gall musical manuscripts which only make up a small part of the entire collection of surviving manuscripts is unique for its volume, unity and intact condition. It goes without saying that the decision of St. Gall Library to dedicate its annual exhibition to this important role of music at St. Gall Abbey was warmly welcomed by medievalists, musicologists and music-lovers all over the world. The team assembled by Prof. Dr. Tremp, director of St. Gall Abbey Library (most notably Dr. Franziska Schnoor and Dr. Karl Schmuki) prepared a unique and well-designed exhibition of selected music manuscripts presented in the splendid baroque library hall of St. Gall (still on view until 6 November 2011). Eight vitrines demonstrate the musical activities at St. Gall from its earliest documented sources beginning in the ninth and tenth centuries to some rare specimens of the early nineteenth century.

The accompanying catalogue, edited by Tremp, Schnoor and Schmuki, follows this selection through the centuries and provides rich and valuable information for every manuscript and a color reproduction of a page from each one. As Tremp points out in his well-crafted preface (7-10), the original idea to create the exhibition under the heading "St. Gall: Bethlehem of Occidental Music" sounded like an exaggeration and was later modified to "Music at the Abbey of St. Gall" (8). It is indeed possible, however, to reconstruct substantial parts of early European music history with the aid of the selected manuscripts, starting with the reception of the cantilena romana, their adoption and adaptation to local practices, and their extension in poetry and music in the early Middle Ages, right down to the recollection of them much later following the loss of traditions in the sixteenth century.

Due to the heyday of music production at St. Gall in the Early Middle Ages, the exhibition and the catalogue show an emphasis on manuscripts from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. Among them only a few can be cited here. The early repertoire relating to Gregorian chant includes the famous Cantatorium (CH-SGs 359, from around 920), the earliest complete St. Gall gradual (CH-SGs 342, according to the re-dating of Susan Rankin) and the Hartker antiphoner (CH-SGs 390/391, containing the famous depiction of Pope Gregory the Great with the dove) (24-25). Within this section we also find the only manuscript which did not originate at St. Gall, but which is nevertheless of primary importance for the transmission of Gregorian chant: Codex CH-E 121 of Einsiedeln (18-19).

Whereas the formation and reception of Gregorian chant in St Gall--as elsewhere--primarily remains in anonymous darkness or has been associated with figures of legend, evidence does exist for certain individual poets and musicians who can be unambiguously linked to the newer types of chant: for example, Notker the Stammerer (Balbulus, ca. 840-912) for the sequence; Tuotilo (ca. 850-ca. 913) for the trope; and Ratpert (ca. 855-after 902) for the verse. Tropes, which either function as an introduction to the existing chants or provide an interlinear textual or musical extension to the commentary, are represented by Tuotilo's famous trope "Hodie cantandus est" for Christmas in the eleventh-century troper CH-SGs 376. Codex CH-SGs 381 not only preserves a major collection of tropes and sequences but also Notker's letter to his fellow brother Lantbertus in which he explains the function of the additional letters, the so-called litterae significativae (14-15).

Notker, who named himself "stammerer" (balbus or balbulus) or "toothless" (edentulus) not merely as a gesture of humility but also because of his speech impediment is explicitly linked to the sequence: a supplementary entry in the necrology of St. Gall monastery recording his death on 6 April 912 reads: Qui sequentias composuit. Codex CH-378 presents a (late) version of Notker's preface to his compilation of his sequences dedicated to Liutward von Vercelli, the so-called Liber hymnorum, where he describes how external inspiration caused him to find the artistic principle governing sequences: poetic texts should be adapted to pre-existing melodies so that the smallest melodic units would correspond exactly to individual syllables (32-33). Notker's famous sequence for Pentecoste "Sancti spiritus" is reproduced in the eleventh-century manuscript CH-SGs 382 (34-35). The autonomy of the melodies in the St. Gall manuscripts is indicated by their notation in the margin parallel to the running text. There is, however, no mention of the origin of these melodies without texts. Although they have their place within the liturgy following the Alleluia, they rarely are related to a specific Alleluia from the mass and are otherwise only linked to the Alleluia through the common characteristic of a melody without text. CH-SGs 484 presents the melodies without any text apart from the initial syllables A[l]E[l]U[i]A, which denotes an affinity to the Alleluia (36-37).

Until the eleventh century the melodies in the St. Gall manuscripts were notated throughout in neumes without staves which prevents an exact interpretation of the pitches of these compositions. The accompanying oral tradition was unfortunately lost before the melodies could be notated on lines. In the early sixteenth century, when Frater Cuontz from St. Gall attempted to record Notker's sequences with their corresponding melodies on lines, he found that the tradition was no longer intact and was forced to search beyond the confines of the monastery for corresponding manuscripts still in existence. His results were collected in the so-called Codex Countz, written on staves and in Hufnagel notation (40-41).

Subsequent manuscripts give proof of additional activities in the field of music theory, such as Notker Labeo's Old High German treatise or an exemplar of Glarean's Dodekachordon with a dedication to the monastery of St. Gall. An item of particular interest is the twofold collection from 1562 of four-part polyphonic versions of the chants for Mass and Office by the Italian composer Manfred Barbarini Lupus, where the cantus firmus in the tenor is written in Hufnagel notation to underline visually its importance and priority (CH-SGs 542, 543). Further manuscripts include sixteenth-century songbooks and works by the organist Fridolin Sicher (1490-1546), as well as a copy of Mozart's Haffner Symphonie KV 385, albeit dating from after the dissolution of the abbey (88-89). As a final addition there follow various precious non-musical manuscripts, among them the famous Plan of St. Gall, which provides an idea where all this music once resounded.

Although none of the authors is a musicologist by profession, the commentaries in general offer concise descriptions of each manuscript, including the results of recent research. An appendix provides rich additional literature to every manuscript and a summary of the selected manuscripts. On account of the beautifully reproduced color manuscript pages--taken from the e-codices project at the University of Fribourg (, which provides excellent digital scans of many St. Gall manuscripts--the publication is highly recommendable and a pleasure to behold. This experience can be intensified by a CD recording with chant, tropes and sequences performed by ensemble Ordo Virtutum and which was issued on the Christophorus label (CHR 77341: to accompany the exhibition (9-10).