95.06.01, van Deusen, Theology and Music at the Early University

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James R. Ginther

The Medieval Review baj9928.9506.001


van Deusen, Nancy. Theology and Music at the Early University. The Case of Robert Grosseteste and Anonymous IV. Brill's Studies in Intellectual History, 57. Leiden: Brill, 1994. Pp. xvi + 223. ISBN: 90 04 10059 8.
ISBN: 0920-8607.

Reviewed by:
James R. Ginther
Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto

One of the delightful occurrences of the last forty years has been a rebirth of the study of Robert Grosseteste, a thirteenth-century Oxford theologian and later bishop of Lincoln (1235-1253). Recent magisterial works on Grosseteste have successfully established a working synthesis of a rather extensive corpus of philosophical, scientific, theological, and historical studies. The fruit of these labours is evident on every page of Nancy van Deusen's . However, van Deusen, a Professor of Music at the Claremont Graduate School, California, presents to her reader a rather novel picture, as she attempts to draw verbal and conceptual connections between Grosseteste and the music theory of a writer, whom modern scholarship has assigned the rather unflattering name of Anonymous IV. As she states in the preface, her book concerns the basic analytical tools of discourse (vii). Because these tools are so basic, she contends, most scholars have not taken the time to trace the development of their multivalent meaning. Van Deusen brings to the forefront, therefore, the building blocks of discourse of the thirteenth century, namely words like , , , and ; and concepts such as motion, perfection, and performance. Her purpose is "to place music in the context of the intellectual environment found at the thirteenth-century university" (xv). She wishes to demonstrate that writers of musical theory, such as Anonymous IV, shared a common intellectual framework with scholastics, such as Grosseteste. The desire to explore the place of music as a scientific discipline within the context of scholastic and other intellectual endeavours in the thirteenth century is plainly admirable. This is also true of Professor van Deusen's emphasis on music not being a "fenced-off", separate ("autonomous" in her terms) body of theoretical knowledge (xv). Stated in an opposite fashion, as a "unity of the disciplines" (xiii et seq.), this is no less commendable, and certainly attractive to those who look back to a period when there were, seemingly, common purposes and genuine interconnections between the branches of knowledge. Related to this is the concern to look for the non-musical meanings of the items of the technical musical vocabulary. This is an excellent idea, which, if done properly,[[1]] would prove of great utility and interest to the . Furthermore, our many colleagues, who find the of Isidore of Seville whimsical, ought to be made to write the following on wax tablets, without the benefit of Tironian notes, until they get it right: "One is inclined to ignore it [etymology] as a significant intellectual method, but if we are to take the intellectual culture of the early university seriously, we must respect their [sic] methods of doing intellectual work" (p. 206). As laudable as the book's purpose is, Professor van Deusen casts a number of obstacles in the path of her reader, not the least of which is the lack of any identifiable progression in the book. We are presented instead with a series of twelve discrete discussions, all of which first came to life as conference papers. They are held together only by their common and continual reference to the two main sources, Grosseteste and Anonymous IV. The chapters discuss the Aristotelian conception of motion and its musical application (ch. 1); the idea of law, letter and time in music and theology (ch. 2); the use of the terms , and in both the quadrivial art and the higher science of theology (ch. 3); the shift in the meaning of in philosophical discourse and its corresponding use in musical theory (ch. 4); the development of the idea of (ch. 5); the thirteenth-century notion of performance (ch. 6); the concept of a musical (ch. 9); the relationship between the term in theology and the motet form of composition (ch. 10); and the theological background to the terms and (ch. 11). Van Deusen also examines some of the broader developments in scholastic discourse in order to trace the development of theories of composite harmony (ch. 7) and a general theory of composition (ch. 8). Throughout the book, Professor van Deusen employs Grosseteste and Anonymous IV in a voice exchange of sorts: Grosseteste presents the abstract rule related to the concept under discussion and Anonymous IV responds with the application of the rule (pp. 12, 33-36). We may hear these two authors perform together because there is evidence that Grosseteste himself was a musician and had a keen interest in musical theory (ix-xii). Professor van Deusen also believes, contrary to past scholarship, that both authors were contemporaries (pp. 17, 201-202). Finally, she suggests that Grosseteste and Anonymous IV might very well have been one and the same person (pp. 15-18, ch. 12). This last position is one of the more startling contentions of the book, one which demands some attention; we shall return to this point momentarily. There are first some more general issues that we shall address. It is in her reading of Grosseteste that the author's major methodological problems arise. Grosseteste's writings can be deceptively simple. This cannot abrogate a careful reading, as Grosseteste will occasionally plant the most elusive idea in an apparently facile sentence. A reader of Grosseteste, therefore, must take special care to understand the broader interests which Grosseteste brings to bear in a specific work, as well as both the implicit and explicit sources he employs. It for this reason that van Deusen would have served her readers better by informing them that Grosseteste's , one of the book's principal sources, is composed of two very different kinds of texts: the prooemium, which is a gloss of Jerome's epistolary introduction to the Latin Vulgate, and the body of the work, which is an intricate blending of biblical exegesis and philosophical speculation. One wonders, moreover, why she considers it necessary to call upon on the cursory chapter headings added in some manuscripts by Grosseteste's close Franciscan friend, Adam Marsh, in order to elucidate Grosseteste's own ideas (pp. 58-60, 63, 182). As well, there are some interesting, if not innovative, readings of the Latin texts. A few examples will suffice. At page 13, note 49, the sentence given does not demonstrate the "dynamism" of inherent in the verb . The passages of Grosseteste and Anonymous IV given at page 14, note 52, do not treat the quality and nature of "rule". Nor, indeed, can the noun (which has a fairly wide semantic charge) be equated with the noun (which has a specific meaning in logic). Moreover, is not a synonym for the singular imperative ("break"). Finally, had Professor van Deusen consulted the manuscript to which she makes reference in chapter 3, she would have discovered that "conduct" is not a rendering of , but rather of (p. 38). One could forgive her for following Sir Richard Southern's translation instead of seeking out one obscure manuscript on microfilm, if it were not for the fact that the term , which is crucial to the chapter's subject-matter, does not appear in any of the ensuing citations from Grosseteste's works (pp. 40-53). Van Deusen's exposition is not always questionable. Chapter 2, for example, encompasses a first-rate analysis of Grosseteste's . She elegantly captures a fundamental concern of Grosseteste about the relationship between Law and Gospel, particularly in terms of the idea of progression and in terms of natural and positive law (pp. 19-36). Her demonstration of how Anonymous IV exemplifies Grosseteste's ideas is equally compelling. Following this, however, the remaining chapters descend a scale of dubious methodology. The title of chapter 5 informs the reader that the discussion will focus on "Grosseteste's Concept of "; it is puzzling, therefore, that Grosseteste's works never make an appearance anywhere in the chapter. Another example occurs in chapter 4, "Change in a Concept of Mode", where the reader learns that William Moerbeke consistently translated the Greek as (p. 58, n17), which supposedly reinforces the notion that entails a "way of moving" (cf. p. 12). This translation strategy is reasserted in chapter 7, concerning Henricus Aristippus' translation of the (p. 124, n28). A check of the Greek-Latin indices of both the and the did not produce a single instance in which either translator rendered as anything other than . Chapter 7 does present a tantalizing theory that the thirteenth- century notion of composite harmony can be traced back, in part, to the Latin translation of the . Professor van Deusen's solid exposition of the raises questions concerning its influence, yet she is reluctant to address them seriously. Indeed, one wonders why she examines the role of the in this context at all, when she notes that "...in all the works attributed to Grosseteste, not one extensive quotation from the is to be found" (p. 114). She also argues that the lack of direct quotation of Plato's work may have been due to that fact that the was "virtually devoid of succinct epigrams." Nonetheless, she contends that the work had a major influence on the emerging thirteenth-century concept of harmony. How does one assess the influence of this kind of text when the standard methods reap no harvest? Professor van Deusen provides one and two reasons why the was probably an influential work. Taking them in reverse order, the was an influential text because it "contained compelling subject matter, presented in an intensely dramatic setting" -- what happens to the soul when one dies. In addition, the reinforced the content of well-known texts, namely the works of Boethius, Augustine and Aristotle's (pp. 114-115). Neither of these reasons speak to why (or even whether) a thirteenth-century thinker would have read the , nor do they indicate exactly what he would have garnered from his reading. As for the method of tracing the 's influence, Professor van Deusen resorts to a philological analysis, by "comparing both Greek and modern English versions with the medieval Latin translation" (p. 114). The Greek text enters the discussion once, and only in passing (p. 117); the employment of the English translation, not surprisingly, yields no answer to the author's original question. What emerges instead is an argument of influence based on the appearance of common words of logical discourse, such as , , and . Substantial connections are never explored. Professor van Deusen's methodological concerns and historiographical interests reach their apex in her most startling contention, namely that Grosseteste was the author of the musical tractate now known as Anonymous IV. As far as we know, this is the first published exposition of "the Case of Robert Grosseteste and Anonymous IV". It is a theory which requires that the universally accepted date of the tract be moved back a half- century. It is interesting to see this theory develop through the course of the book, as it does quite rapidly. On pages xiv-xv a "relationship" is adumbrated, which by page 27 is a certain identity; and from then on it is, when stated, scarcely qualified. The chief methodology employed to make the case is repetitive assertion. This is propped by some argument. We are informed that Grosseteste had connections with Bury St. Edmunds (which are left unspecified), and that the treatise could be associated with that area. While the two extant medieval manuscripts of the treatise have been localized to Bury St. Edmunds, there is some evidence that Anonymous IV may have been more familiar with musical matters in the than in East Anglia.[[2]] This is not taken up, even to be dismissed, by van Deusen. Moreover, no reference is made to the documentary basis of the relevant "biographical facts" regarding Grosseteste and Anonymous IV (pp. 200-204). The reader is also offered stylistic proof, namely a few items of vocabulary in common, and the assertion that both authors have a "forthright character." This indeed may be the case, but the author provides no specific examples. Van Deusen strengthens her case by exploiting some recent research which places Grosseteste at Paris, ca. 1225-1229. Anonymous IV also seems to have some Parisian connections, and thus the case for Grosseteste's authorship appears plausible. However, van Deusen weakens her case by stating that common vocabulary and style may be formulated by comparing Anonymous IV with Grosseteste's and . She then mistakenly places these works within Grosseteste's supposed university career, ca. 1222-1235 (p. 17), despite the fact that these are Grosseteste's earliest works (ca. 1209/10).[[3]] The proof for Grosseteste's authorship of the Anonymous IV treatise thus boils down to both authors having undefined connections to a region of England, and to both having a "forthright character;" and one must take on faith the implied chronological contiguity. It is interesting to reflect that the same methodology could be employed to prove that Becket wrote the Lais of Marie de France, because both were associated with the court of Henry II. Some minor infelicities permeate Professor van Deusen's presentation. The prose is marred by grammatical errors, of both accidence and syntax. For example, on page 9, the opening sentence of the second paragraph is missing an object. In the last sentence on page 13, a pronoun or relative demonstrative is missing after the semi-colon. On page 109, the second line of the second paragraph has been badly punctuated, placing a period where a comma should be. The lack of quotation marks in all of the notes can often confuse the reader when more than one source is cited. These examples are but admonitions that good copy-editing is a critical part of any scholarship. Furthermore, the placement of the plates is at times baffling. The plate on page 88 is mislabeled,[[4]] and one wishes that note 30 on page 125 would direct the reader to the plate on the following page (a plate which retains a heading clearly meant for the typesetter!). Some may find the conceptual misconstructions unsettling. At one point we seem to be informed that contrary motion is a development of the early thirteenth century (p. 6), despite the fact that the compositional technique is described at least as early as the late eleventh/early twelfth century, in the of John of Afflighem, and the anonymous . Other misconstructions may be due to lack of clarity in the writing. It is not at all clear, on pages 6-7, whether music's ability to "exemplify" Aristotelian motion is a perception of the author, of Aristotle, or of someone else. On page 13, note 46 et seq., it is not clear, without going to the texts themselves, whether Grosseteste or Anonymous IV is being cited. The "configurational demonstrative competence of figures" is mildly tautological (p. 14, n51). Nor are the thoughts expressed consistent. On page 11, we are told that "continuity of sound" is an example of motion which interested Grosseteste, only to find, two pages on, that a tenet of Grosseteste's "system" is that "sound is not continuous." Professor van Deusen's policy of not translating any Latin passages, and giving only Aristotle in English translation, may appear bizarre to some. By not providing us with her renderings of the cited Grosseteste and Anonymous IV passages, she forgoes the opportunity for the closest of all commentary -- the translation. Her own treatment of the texts notwithstanding, Professor van Deusen would have greatly aided readers of lesser latinity by guiding them to the two standard translations of Anonymous IV.[[5]] It is unclear why these two works are absent from both the notes and bibliography, as any reader would have welcomed the author's assessment of these translations. Though "the early university" appears in the title, it never figures directly in the discussions. What unequivocal evidence do we have that Anonymous IV is a "university" work? Is one justified in not defining the intellectual milieu of individual "early universities" in the context of this discussion? As we noted, Professor van Deusen wishes to place music in the context of the intellectual environment of the early thirteenth- century university. It is unfortunate that this purpose did not also entail some discussion of the institutional setting for the dissemination of music theory. We recognize unequivocally that Professor van Deusen has identified a rich field of study, and it awaits further harvest. Moreover, she has posed some penetrating questions about the relationship between the quadrivial art of music and the higher science of theology. At the same time, she makes it difficult for her reader to follow her arguments to the conclusions that she wishes to make. Our objections, therefore, concern both substance and method. With respect to the latter, we believe that any study which attempts to decipher the complex phenomena of the basic analytical tools of discourse must meet rigorous requirements in the use of texts and language. The examination of the role of musical theory in thirteenth-century intellectual culture is a much-needed supplement to the traditional musings concerning medieval theology and philosophy, which perceived these disciplines in splendid isolation. Professor van Deusen's work is a welcome contribution, but it should be employed with appropriate caution. Notes: 1. The best model available is that of the preliminary studies of the Comite international du vocabulaire des institutions et de la communication intellectuelles au moyen age (CIVICIMA), issued in the Etudes sur le vocabulaire intellectuel du moyen age. 2. Fritz Reckow, , Beihefte zum Archiv fur Musikwissenschaft, 4 (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1967), p. 77; Jeremy Yudkin,

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James R. Ginther

Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto