James Grier

title.none: Bjork, The Aquitanian Kyrie Repository (James Grier )

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.031 04.01.31

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James Grier , University of Windsor,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Bjork, David A. Crocker, Richard L., ed. The Aquitanian Kyrie Repository of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. ix, 394. $75.00 0-7546-3290-3. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.31

Bjork, David A. Crocker, Richard L., ed. The Aquitanian Kyrie Repository of the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. ix, 394. $75.00 0-7546-3290-3. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

James Grier
University of Windsor

The PhD dissertation on which this book is based was completed at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1976, under the direction of Richard Crocker. When Crocker proposed preparing the dissertation for publication, the author "was no longer in a position to work on it" (viii). And so the burden of revision fell to Crocker, who undertook the task with characteristic industry. The results are significant but uneven. First and most important, we now have a comprehensive survey, comprised of manuscript inventories and a catalogue of the individualitems, of the Kyrie repertory, its melodies, Latin texts and tropes (more on these last two presently) as they appear in Aquitanian music manuscripts of the Central Middle Ages. These sources are important because not only are they among the earliest witnesses for these pieces, alongside manuscripts from Saint Gall and Winchester, but they include the earliest musical inscriptions of the melodies that give us reliable pitch information.

Second, Bjork and Crocker supplement this survey withtranscriptions of the Kyries from selected manuscript sources. Thus, we have assembled the corpus of Kyrie melodies as sung in Aquitaine transcribed and presented in a consistent manner. Together, survey and transcriptions will prove to be the starting point for any subsequent research into this repertory, and any author should feel a measure of satisfaction in such an achievement. But there is more. Third, Bjork provides a number of interesting insights into the nature of the Kyrierepertory as practiced in Aquitaine. Chief among these is the distinction between the Latin texts applied to the melodies and often incautiously termed tropes (by myself, for example), and the tropes, consisting of text and music, that introduce sections of the chant.

These latter function very much like tropes of other Mass chants, such as the proper items Introit, Offertory and Communion, as well as the Gloria and Sanctus of the ordinary. They stand apart from the chant per se, and provide an introductory statement, textual and musical, to individual sections. Typically, they appear before the first, fourth andseventh petitions of the conventional ninefold form of the Kyrie, where the Greek text of the chant changes from Kyrie to Christe and then back to Kyrie eleison. In contrast, the Latin texts are applied to the Kyrie melodies in the manner of prosulae, normally in syllabic fashion (i.e., with one note per syllable). The two types of texts, therefore, functionin quite dissimilar ways. Much of this material appears in an earlier article by Bjork ("The Kyrie Trope," Journal of the American Musicological Society 33 (1980): 1-41), but it is very useful to have the clear and detailed explanation Bjork offers here.

These virtues ensure that all students of medieval chant, andparticularly those concerned with the developments that took place during the Central Middle Ages, will consult this book and make it their first stop for information about the Kyrie. There are two problems, however, one of some significance, that disturb the balance of the book's presentation. The first and more serious, concerns Bjork's method of analyzing the melodies. The bulk of the discursive portion of the book (Chapters 2-8) consists of detailed analysis of quite a few of the Kyrie melodies. In the first instance, there are rather too many of these, a holdover, I suspect, from the original form of the dissertation. We could easily have gotten the basic analytical points with half the examples.

Further, however, the manner of analysis I found questionable. Most of the melodies are chopped up into discrete fragments or motives that are then seen to permeate the entire fabric of the melody. Aside from raising the suspicion that an anachronistic, proto-Wagnerian aesthetic is at work here, this technique begins to fail when many of the motives, as defined by Bjork, are not adequately distinctive to meritidentification as such. Many are short, of three or four notes, and some are highly variable in pitch makeup. Both features conspire to undercut the value of these gestures as unifying compositional elements. It is not difficult to find identical or nearly identical patterns of three or fournotes in chants of highly disparate origins, chronological, geographical or generic. Does that mean they are motivically united? In my experience, chant melodies tend to be built around short- and long-term melodic goals, emphasizing pitches that define the modal identity of the chant along the way. Patterns do recur, especially at cadences, but mostare not distinctive enough from a melodic point of view, or placed in sufficiently exposed positions, again with the exception of cadential figures, to create an audible sense of unity.

Finally, and perhaps most disturbing in his analytical treatment of the melodies, is Bjork's discussion of melodies that end on the pitch E (Chapters 4-5). He seems unwilling to accept that phrases, or entire pieces, that end on this pitch can create a sense of closure. I suspect that an unmedieval sensibility is operating here, that Bjork finds a pitchthat lies a minor second below the pitch above sufficiently unstable as to prevent its functioning as a tonal centre. This, of course, is nonsense in medieval terms. The chant repertory is filled with eminently successful pieces that use E as a final or tonal centre, and end with the fullest sense of closure. That sense of stability is typically created bythe repetition of E in emphatic and exposed positions, at the beginning and end of phrases, for example. For medieval musicians, E was a perfectly acceptable tonal centre in both theoretical and practical terms.

The second and less important drawback is the treatment ofAquitanian notation in the transcriptions. Bjork and Crocker have adopted a modern musical typeface (presumably Adobe Sonata font or something similar) for the transcriptions. I am thoroughly in agreement with the principle and use it myself; the technique also works well with Aquitanian neumes, for the most part, because they are dominated by the punctum,which easily becomes the filled, stemless notehead in moderntranscription. The author and editor have made some unfortunate choices, however, in translating the few special neumes that occur in Aquitanian notation. To name one example, the epiphonus and cephalicus, which indicate liquescence in, respectively, upwards and downwards motion, are represented by the eighth-note flag without stem or notehead. This approximates the graphic shape of the notes but it obscures one important piece of information: both neumes consist of two notes that are both accurately pitched. The Bjork-Crocker solution tells us nothing of the pitch of the second note.

In short, the translations proposed by Bjork and Crocker strive to replicate the graphic features of the Aquitanian neumes without recording much about their meaning. This problem is compounded by the fact that the table in which the notational equivalents are laid out (214) is handwritten, rather than set in the font used in the transcriptions; therefore it is not always easy to grasp which Aquitanian neume is being represented by which modern symbol in the transcriptions. Those unfamiliar with Aquitanian notation will find the transcriptions somewhat opaque, while specialists will prefer to revert to the manuscripts themselves in most cases.

The preparation of this book for publication must have requiredconsiderable dedication on the part of the editor, and the result certainly contains rewards for author, editor, and reader alike. The book is not fully emancipated, however, from the dissertation on which it is based, a problem that cannot, in fairness, be blamed on the editor, without whose efforts we would not have access to the valuable materialthe work contains.