This is an unusual and agreeable hybrid--part collection of scholarly essays, part manuscript catalogue, part coffee-table book. It begins with an introductory essay by its editor Susana Zapke, outlining with admirable clarity a complicated situation: between the ninth and twelfth centuries, the churches of what is now Spain and Portugal, at the western end of Christendom, underwent a dramatic transition from what she terms the Hispanic rite (sometimes called Mozarabic or Visigothic) to the Franco-Roman rite observed in Rome and elsewhere in the papal orbit. It was a change that affected a great many aspects of local and collective culture, not the smallest of which was liturgical music and the manuscripts that preserved it. And as musicologically-inclined readers will know but perhaps not everyone, many of these manuscripts, particularly toward the beginning of the period, used notation systems that indicate neither pitch nor rhythm and thus cannot reliably be transcribed today--a seemingly eternal tormenting mystery.
There follow nine substantial essays, all in English, exploring diverse aspects, general or particular, of the liturgical music of this time: Ludwig Vones with a general history of the transition from Hispanic to Franco-Roman rite; Michel Huglo on the travels of Isidore of Seville's musical writings through Iberian sources (with a catalogue of manuscripts); Manuel C. Díaz y Díaz on some of the problems presented by the manuscripts themselves, with particular attention to the evolution of one of the most important, the famous León antiphoner (León, Archivo capitular, ms. 8); María José Azevedo Santos in an effort to make sense of the paleographic trends among the fragments that survive from what is now Portugal; Eva Castro Caridad on the Hispanic liturgical texts for the Feast of the Circumcision; Gunilla Iversen on Sanctus tropes in the Iberian repertory; Maricarmen Gómez on the early versions of the song of the Eritrean sibyl, which in the later middle ages and early renaissance would have a considerable presence in Spanish monophonic and even polyphonic sources; Barbara Haggh on the historia for St. Dominic of Silos and the earliest source for his office, a late-eleventh-century manuscript in the British Library; and finally Zapke herself with a valuable and detailed overview of the various notation systems used on the peninsula during this period and a heroic effort to make sense of the transition from a diversity of notational styles in the ninth century to the adoption of a uniform Aquitainian system by the twelfth.
Zapke's article is a fitting introduction, then, to the second half of the book, a catalogue of eighty-nine surviving manuscripts (some of them quite fragmentary of course) that bear witness to this chant tradition. Each manuscript is given an opening in the book. The, shall we say, verso side has a succinct but informative catalogue entry for the source, in a form modeled on Andrew Hughes's Manuscripts for Mass and Office: A Guide to their Organization and Terminology and Elisa Ruiz García's Introducción a la codicología but adapted to the particular circumstances of the manuscript at hand, and written by one of an international team of scholars evidently sent out by Zapke on a quasi-geographical basis (I notice, for example, that Màrius Bernadó contributes ten entries, all on sources now in Catalonia). And on the recto side is a really spectacular large-format color photograph of a representative page, allowing us to see the work's notation, its condition, its level of ornament, and so forth at first hand; the features on that particular page are also outlined on the verso to aid students and readers in seeing what is there.
The catalogue is followed by the usual bibliography and indices, and also by a ten-page glossary of liturgical terminology, with the terms particularly characteristic of the Hispanic liturgy marked with asterisks. It is further evidence, if such be needed, of Zapke's determination to bring this subject to a wider audience, beyond musicologists and liturgical historians and out to general historians to whom the profusion of arcane vocabulary can (I will attest) be pretty discouraging. I suspect I shall be dipping into the glossary quite a bit myself in the years to come.
I used the term "coffee-table book" in my first sentence, and I hope its editor and authors will take no offense. At twelve inches tall, ten inches wide, and almost eight pounds of glossy paper, it certainly would not be out of place in anyone's living room, and the beauty of the photographs truly has to be seen to be believed. I myself look forward to showing it to my next notation class as a way of showing the sheer number and variety of systems that preceded, and lived alongside, the mainstream of Gregorian notation. This is a luxurious book and a useful one--and, it perhaps should be said somewhere, a surprisingly inexpensive one--and no one opening it up, at least in the second half, will be able to put it down before paging open-mouthed for awhile.
But in between the sensuous beauty of the book itself and the highly specialized subjects of some of the articles, there is a story that tantalizes as much as it strikes awe. We have known all along that Iberian churches in the middle ages were subjected to a wholesale replacement of their liturgy by the forces of Rome, and we can only imagine what that must have been like. What astonishes me, as I alternately read in this book and gaze at it, is the sheer quantity of evidence that survives--and how little musical sense we can make of it. Susana Zapke and her authors have done us all a great service by bringing these sources together and shoving them up so close to our eyes. What will we soon be able to see?