The Medieval Review 10.06.26

Roesner, Edward H. Ars Antiqua: Organum, Conductus, Motet. Music in Medieval Europe. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2009. Pp. xix, 518. $275.00 ISBN 978-0-7546-2666-4. .

Reviewed by:

Alice V. Clark
Loyola University New Orleans

This volume is one in a series of seven that reprint scholarly literature on medieval music--three on chant, one on monophonic secular song, one on instruments and their music, and two on polyphony. While some might question that balance, I think it is exactly right, showing clearly the fundamental importance of monophony, especially chant, to the musical experience of medieval people.

The two volumes focused on polyphony concentrate on the so-called ars antiqua and ars nova, respectively, in other words the thirteenth century (plus the end of the twelfth) and the fourteenth. This division too is appropriate, fitting not only many aspects of practice but the conception of medieval writers as well, who in the fourteenth century distinguished between what they saw as old and new arts. It does, however, necessarily omit the early stages of polyphonic writing, since the ars antiqua volume begins only with the work of the Notre-Dame school.

Included here are eighteen essays written between 1961 and 2001--not exactly the most "current" scholarship, as the series preface promises, since only six were published after I took my own graduate general exam over twenty years ago, but still perhaps one of the best combinations of articles written in English that were available to the editor. Since my own research is mostly in the fourteenth century, many of the articles collected here I have not read since graduate school, and it is comforting to be reminded in so many cases how good they are.

The essays are divided into four groups, focusing respectively on Notre-Dame in general and the musical genres of organum, conductus, and motet. The first section, "Polyphony at Notre Dame of Paris," includes three essays, one each focusing on a central musician (Craig Wright, "Leoninus, Poet and Musician," 1986), repertory (Heinrich Husmann, "The Origin and Destination of the Magnus liber organi," 1963), and liturgy (Rebecca A. Baltzer, "The Geography of the Liturgy at Notre-Dame of Paris," 1992). More could be said about this broad topic than is covered in these three articles, but arguably Craig Wright has already done so in his 1989 book, Music and Ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris, 500-1500.

The largest section by far is that on organum, with seven articles. It is also the section least accessible to non-musicians. It begins with three essays dealing with details of theoretical interpretation and rhythmic notation: Edward H. Roesner, "Johannes de Garlandia on Organum in speciali" (1982), Jeremy Yudkin, "The Copula According to Johannes de Garlandia" (1980), Ernest H. Sanders, "Consonance and Rhythm in the Organum of the 12th and 13th Centuries" (1980).

The next four articles in the organum section compare different examples of its melodic and harmonic practice. Edward H. Roesner's "Who 'Made' the Magnus liber?" (2001) and Norman E. Smith's "Interrelationships Among the Alleluias of the Magnus liber organi" (1972) examine groups of surviving pieces, while Steven C. Immel, in "The Vatican Organum Treatise Re-Examined" (2001), which comes between Roesner's and Smith's essays, compares the examples given in a theoretical source to written practice, and William G. Waite, in "The Abbreviation of the Magnus liber" (1961), considers the reworking of the repertory of organum attributed to Perotin.

The third section, on the conductus, contains only three articles, which to some degree reflects the relatively limited literature on this genre. Two of the essays given here focus on aspects of rhythm and notation: Janet Knapp, "Musical Declamation and Poetic Rhythm in an Early Layer of Notre Dame Conductus" (1979), and Ernest H. Sanders, "Conductus and Modal Rhythm" (1985). The third, Thomas B. Payne, "Aurelianus civitas: Student Unrest in Medieval France and a Conductus by Philip the Chancellor" (2000), puts the conductus into the context of intellectual history in thirteenth-century Paris.

The final section consists of five articles dealing with the thirteenth-century motet. This genre is interesting in part because its examples often survive in a dizzying combination of different versions, with voices added or retexted from one source to another. The resulting interpretive challenge has led to much good recent scholarship, most notably recent books by Sylvia Huot (1997) and Mark Everist (1994), and some of the range of what is possible is encapsulated in the articles included here.

The first three articles in this section focus on groups of motets. Rebecca A. Baltzer's "Aspects of Trope in the Earliest Motets for the Assumption of the Virgin" (1990) looks at a group of motets with a common liturgical source, while Norman E. Smith, "A Small Collection of Notre Dame Motets ca. 1215-1235" (1967) focuses on pieces contained in a single manuscript, and Mark Everist's "The Rondeau Motet: Paris and Artois in the Thirteenth Century" (1986) deals with a specific compositional technique. Finally, Dolores Pesce (1997) provides a close reading of a single motet in "Beyond Glossing: The Old Made New in Mout me fu grief/Robin m'aime/Portare." The placement of Ernest H. Sanders' "The Question of Perotin's Oeuvre and Dates" (1967) in this section, between Baltzer's and Smith's essays, puzzles me a bit: it deals mostly with clausulae, the immediate progenitor of the motet, but not really with motets themselves, and it adds relatively little to the dialogue of the other essays.

It is always possible to quibble with the inclusion of these articles and not those, and I will try to refrain from doing so here, except to say that I particularly feel the absence of Anna Maria Busse Berger's work on medieval music and memory, which is most fully formed in her 2005 book but could be represented here by a 1996 article and still stay within the publisher's requirements for its reprint series. I do feel, though, a larger discomfort with this volume. Because it is limited to articles published in English, it cannot fully transmit the state of the literature, and, without more guidance and synthesis, the reader cannot properly contextualize the articles that are given and determine what questions may still remain open. Roesner's introductory essay is very useful as a general overview, but perhaps introductory and transitional material attached to specific articles could fill in the gaps and situate the reader more fully.

With such enhanced editorial guidance, it might even be possible to include non-article material, such as book chapters or even extracts of theoretical writings. That might make it feasible to give the student all the relevant literature for a specific topic such as rhythmic notation, or manuscript dating, or the question of writing versus improvisation. That kind of focus, narrower but deeper, would go far beyond the normal intent of Ashgate's reprint series, but it might make for a more interesting and useful volume.

Indeed, in this day and age it is increasingly difficult to justify this kind of simple reprint volume, especially at the $275 Ashgate charges for it. The collection is too expensive for independent scholars and graduate students, even those who specialize in ars antique music, and unnecessary for affiliated scholars, who have access to the original essays. Of the eighteen essays included, only four are not available in the electronic resources to which the library at my own university (not a research institution) subscribes.

This is not a criticism of the editor, with whom I was fortunate enough to have a notation seminar and whose work I admire. Roesner has brought together a group of essays that fit the requirements he was given and at the same time provide something of a personal vision of the field. This volume probably represents to a large degree what he assigns to his own students, supplemented there with other material: books, articles in other languages, and primary sources, along with seminar discussion. It is that additional context that I most miss here.