The Medieval Review 13.06.33

Lupi, Theresa Zammit. Cantate Domino: Early Choir Books for the Knights in Malta. Valletta, Malta: Fondazzioni Patrimonju Malti, 2011. Pp. 184. $130.00. ISBN: 978-99932-7-3909-5. . .

Reviewed by:

Alison Altstatt
University of Northern Iowa
alison.altstatt@uni.edu

Theresa Zammit Lupi's study is of a ten-volume set of beautifully illuminated graduals in large choir book format commissioned by Philippe Villiers de L'Isle Adam, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John. Lupi examines the graduals, completed in 1533, from the point of view of book production, decorative style, and liturgical use, tracing the manuscripts through several hundred years of successive reforms and changing liturgical practice. The author states that "the primary purpose of the book is to disseminate knowledge on the history of Malta's most outstanding collection of illuminated manuscripts" by conducting a detailed codicological examination "through the eyes of a book conservator with art historical knowledge" (xi-xii). A further goal is to invite further research on the conservation of the books, and further analysis of their artistic and musical content.

Lupi fulfills her stated goals in a richly illustrated volume that traces the history of the graduals through four distinct stages: the original 1533 production of the manuscripts in a northern French atelier, the 1582 alteration of the books in accordance with the liturgical and musical reforms of the Council of Trent, further seventeenth- and eighteenth-century amendments, and the 1950s restoration of selected volumes. Lupi makes strong arguments for artistic attribution of the original manuscripts and of the 1582 additions. In its musicological content, however, the study falls short, reminding the reader of the pitfalls of conducting an interdisciplinary study of liturgical manuscripts.

The first chapter provides historical background to the graduals. Lupi traces the sixteenth-century migration of the Order from Rhodes to its settlement on the Island of Malta and eventual construction of a conventual church in the capital of Valletta. She gives a detailed description of the physical context within which the choir books were used, including the ornate choir stalls of the conventual church and the elaborately carved lectern designed for their display. Lupi goes on to discuss the musical-liturgical content of the manuscripts, and in particular, the significance of the Council of Trent to the revision of their contents. Regarding the musical and liturgical content of the graduals, Lupi states that "the understanding of liturgical manuscripts may at times be rather complex" (14). This reader could not agree more, and wishes that the author had taken this statement to heart by seeking the expertise of a chant specialist to review her study prior to publication.

The second chapter examines the manufacturing techniques of the textblock, from the preparation of the substrate, to the pricking, ruling, inks, writing implements, style of script, decorative initials, and the later annotations and amendments. Lupi argues persuasively that the technical variation visible in these processes demonstrates the presence of individual hands that were nevertheless coordinated within a single workshop. Fascinating are the author's illustrations of stages in the preparation of an illuminated initial, including outlining, and the application of gold leaf, pigments, and highlighting.

Lupi's discussion of the musical content of the graduals is far less convincing. A description of some of the more serious problems will follow below. An important exception may be found in the author's identification of what she terms "melisma numbers"--numbers corresponding to the number of pitches in a given melisma found in both the 1533 and 1582 portions of the graduals. (50) The purpose of these numbers appears to have been to aid in the spatial coordination of text and music within the manuscript.

Chapter three turns to the techniques of sewing and binding found in the graduals, including the formatting of the gatherings, the insertion of end leaves, the phases of sewing, the preparation of the spine, the addition of endbands, the construction and attachment of the boards, the covering and decoration of the volumes, and finally, the fastenings and furniture. Every facet of book production is presented from the vantage point of an experienced book conservator. The rich technical description is complemented by accompanying photographs that render the processes described immediately comprehensible to a non-specialist. Unfortunately, the figures lack numbers, making them cumbersome to reference and to cite.

The fourth chapter offers a visual analysis and further historical consideration of the manuscripts. Lupi demonstrates the coordination of different hands throughout the lavish program of illumination, and offers a well-reasoned attribution to the Rouen atelier of Jean Pichore based on stylistic similarities between the Maltese choir books and four graduals attributed to Pichore's workshop. Lupi further argues that the decoration of the 1582 additions prompted by the Tridentine reform were largely inspired by the 1533 initials, and were likely carried out in Malta by the Dominican friar Salvatore Ferrari da Bisignano.

Appendices include a glossary of technical terms, a list of historiated initials, and a discussion of the conservation issues raised by volume 8, whose sixteenth-century substrate has been completely pasted over with eighteenth-century paper additions.

From the standpoint of a chant specialist, Lupi's study leaves much to be desired. While the author gives ample credit to musicologists consulted during the course of her research, her written sources are less reliable. In many instances, evidence from both the primary sources and the secondary scholarship has been misinterpreted. Numerous statements about the music contained in the graduals are simply incorrect: some of the more problematic examples are described below.

Regarding the notation of the manuscripts, Lupi states that "neumes with a plica are not found" (48). A casual glance at the figures reveals otherwise: for instance, each repetition of the syllable ley in the Kyrie eleyson pictured on page 42 clearly uses a plicated (or liquesced) neume. Lupi's description of changing clefs as indicating "changes in key" furthermore betrays a grave misunderstanding of the modal nature of chant and the function of clefs and accidentals within its repertoire (49).

Basic chant genres and their musical characteristics are also misidentified. A figure that shows an example of a textless notated piece is cited by Lupi as an example of "erasures of text in long melismatic passages seen here in the deletion of a musical sequence" (51). The piece shown in the figure is the medieval sequence Celeste organum--an example of a genre that is by definition syllabic, and contains no long melismatic passages. The author's confusion regarding this example is not surprising when she defines the term "sequence" as "a short musical motif that is repeated at a higher or lower pitch level" (76). This definition applies not to the liturgical genre of sequence, but rather to a compositional technique found in later common practice music, and is thus both anachronistic and entirely inappropriate.

Similar confusion extends to the typology of liturgical books. Lupi's description of a notated fragment found in the National Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta, as "part of a missal," when it clearly originated from an antiphoner, casts doubt on the author's ability to identify liturgical book types (112).

Finally, Lupi's interpretation of Latin rubrics reflects little knowledge of liturgical practice. The author interprets an altered marginal addition written Emēd'm as emendementi, or "amendments," citing this as evidence of "Tridentine changes in the liturgy" (76-77). When viewed in the context of the entire rubric, however, it becomes clear that Emēd'm is the incipit of a responsory, most likely R. Emendemus in melius, apparently contained in the same manuscript [1].

Latin rubric:

R Emēd'm req fol ii3

Translation:

R[esponsorium] Em[e]d[e]m[us] [in melius]. Look on folio 113.

These examples serve as an urgent reminder to non-musicologists working on liturgical manuscripts to have a chant specialist review research involving music and liturgy prior to publication. Likewise, musicologists would be wise to seek the advice of art historians and codicologists when describing the production and decoration of liturgical manuscripts. There is much to be gained from the interdisciplinary study of liturgical books. The most successful examples enlist the cooperation of scholars from multiple disciplines. An exemplary volume that includes contributions from scholars in Art History, Latin, and Musicology is the recently published Leaves from Paradise: the Cult of John the Evangelist at the Dominican Convent of Paradies bei Soest (Houghton Library of the Harvard College Library, 2008).

Despite these shortcomings, it must be recognized that with Cantate Domino, Theresa Zammit Lupi has made an important contribution to the understanding of the Maltese graduals and has paved the way for future research on the manuscripts. This book will be of interest to chant specialists, scholars of sixteenth-century French illumination, students of codicology, and to those interested in the liturgical history of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John.

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Note:

[1] Cantus ID 006653, www.cantusdatabase.org [accessed May 23, 2013].