12.09.31, Haines, ed., The Calligraphy of Medieval Music

Main Article Content

Inga Behrendt

The Medieval Review 12.09.31

Haines, John. The Calligraphy of Medieval Music. Musicalia Medii Aevi. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers nv, 2011. Pp. 276. ISBN: 978-2-503-54005-4.

Reviewed by:
Inga Behrendt
Catholic University of Leuven

The Calligraphy of Medieval Music offers a rich treasury of articles written by top-quality scholars, including three by the great chant researcher Michel Huglo who passed away in May 2012. The publication is based partly on the publisher's initiatives concerning the Nota Quadrata project but also arises from the conference entitled The Calligraphy of Medieval Music, which took place at the University of Toronto's Trinity College in September of 2007 (introduction, 7). The Calligraphy of Medieval Music aims to provide a broad overview of the history of calligraphy across the entire spectrum of medieval music notation.

First, a word concerning the structure of the publication: The first three articles (part I) address practical aspects of the production of manuscripts. This is followed by seven contributions (part II) about musical notation in the 10th and 11th centuries from most major regions in medieval Europe. The focus turns to late medieval notation in six further articles (part III), three of which describe the traditions of Carthusians, Dominicans and Franciscans (part IIIa) with the rest (part IIIb) focused on the transition from neume notation in manuscripts to mensural notation in printed sources--that is, from chant notation to polyphonic notation--in the late Middle Ages. The Calligraphy of Medieval Music presents its content with many illustrations within the articles as well as sixteen color illustrations at the end of the publication.

What sets this publication apart from others on the subject are the reflections its authors make on the transition from neumes to square notation, and from square notation to the mensural notation of the Ars nova period. This book is trend-setting in this respect, and represents a successful attempt at amassing notational case studies from individual scriptoria as well as groups of scriptoria connected by geography or monastic order. David Hiley notes the persistent need for research in this area when he concludes his article this way: "Taking a broad view, while the importance of the establishment of musical notation back in the ninth century can hardly be overestimated, the introduction of staff-notation two centuries later also poses fascinating questions for future research." (161)

The individual contributions to the collection will be briefly summarized here.

Michel Huglo's article begins the collection with a general description of the scientific paleography of music (13-21). He attempts to determine which neume shapes were taken over by the notation of musica mensuralis and which were not. In doing so, he emphasizes the main question put forth by the publication: how did notational transition take place: from neumatic to square, and from square to mensural?

Albert Derolez describes codicological aspects of late medieval music manuscripts in great detail, with a special concern for page layout (23-35).

The wide range of the publication's content is evident in the next article, which is about manuscript production in Ethiopia, by Getatchew Haile (37-44).

A large part of the publication is taken up by detailed examinations of notational families, determined on a geographical basis.

In her article, "Calligraphy and the study of neumatic notations" (47-62), Susan Rankin describes the notation in the two Winchester tropers from the 11th century (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms 473, probably copied in the 1020s-30s and Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms Bodley 775, from the 1040-50s). She comments on two different clivis neume shapes (the clivis represents a progression of two notes, the first higher than the second) in the two-voice Kyries in these Winchester manuscripts: the round clivis (the familiar shape) and the square clivis, which appears to have a special meaning. Rankin identifies the square clivis "as a signal which warns the reader that something different is to happen" (53). The square clivis indicates uncommon intervals between the chant and the organal voice. Further, Rankin presents the virga neume (which represents a single note that is higher or equal to previous notes), whose length of the stem indicates the height of the pitch in syllabic passages (the longer the stem, the higher the pitch). Elsewhere in the manuscript, the virga also indicates pitch through its careful and differentiated vertical placement above the text. While this sort of attempt still proves inaccurate, it paves the way for future developments concerning indications for exact pitch (58). Rankin describes the calligraphic diversity as a rich historical resource, noting the benefits of both studying individual scribes and undertaking comparative analyses of several scribal traditions over a longer period of time (59).

In the only French article in The Calligraphy of Medieval Music is contributed by Lean Luc Deuffic and concerns Bretonian neume notation ("La Bretonne neumatique notation: manuscrits et centers de diffusion (Xe siécle XIIe)" (63-90).

Susana Zapke informs the reader in her contribution "Dating neumes according to their morphology: the corpus of Toledo" (91-99) about manuscripts from the Iberian Peninsula. She discusses the mutual impact of the two morphologies of notations from the north and the south on each other in Toledo. One difficulty in the exploration of the morphologies is that the oldest source with notation from the south is an 11th-century fragment from Coimbra. This Coimbra fragment "is the only proof that both morphologies (the one from the south and the one from the north) coexisted from at least the eleventh century onwards" (96). The antiphonal of Leùn (Leùn, arch. Cat. 8) seems to confirm the presumption that southern codices were used as models for copyists, as well as practical use, in northern Iberian centres. This mid-11th-century antiphonal is, according to Díaz y Díaz, a copy of a southern model from Beja (Alentejo, Portugal) (94).

In the next article, Giacomo Baroffio describes music writing styles in medieval Italy (101-124) and isolates Frankish and German influences on the notations in northern Italian manuscripts. This article mines decades of research and provides a considerable basis for future publications on medieval Italian chant notation.

In her article "Liturgical books and book production in the thirteenth-century diocese of Chartres. Case of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vatican lat 4756" (125-151), Margot Fassler identifies 12th- and 13th-century manuscripts from the diocese of Chartres that are scattered across different European archives in order to compare their notation. Fassler concentrates her attention on an early 13th-century breviary from Chartres, which is now kept in the Vatican Library (Biblioteca Apostolica, Rome), under the shelf-mark Vatican Lat. Kept 4756. The Chartrain staff notation in this manuscript is very close to square notation. Fassler describes the scribes of the text and the neumes in detail, giving codicological information, as well as feast names and dates of implementation into the diocesan calendar (145 and 146).

In "Some characteristic neumes in North French, Sicilian and Italian chant manuscripts" (153-162), David Hiley analyses the clivis in manuscripts from northern France, Sicily and Italy. In Sicilian chant books, he finds a repertory which is almost exclusively northern French. This notational change is embodied by the manuscript Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional 288, from southern Italy or Sicily. The chief scribe of this manuscript writes French adiastematic neumes (154). Later additions of the sort typical of late Sicilian books indicate that it was probably used in Sicily. We are left to speculate as to whether Madrid 288 was written in Normandy and transported to Sicily or southern Italy, or written in Sicily or southern Italy by a scribe trained in the Norman tradition.

Michel Huglo's second article "The earliest developments in the square notation: the twelfth-century Aquitaine" (163-171) discusses the term Aquitanian notation. He addresses Bruno Stèblein's suggestion that all medieval musical notations were derived from Paleofrankish notation (166). Huglo also questions Paolo Ferretti (and, after him, Dom Grégoire Sunol), who asserted that Aquitanian notation developed from Breton notation. Huglo's criticism is based on concrete observations of Aquitanian neume shapes (in particular, the quilisma).

The third part of the volume deals with late medieval notations.

Olivier Cullin's article, "Notation in Carthusian liturgical books: preliminary remarks" (175-194), deliberates on the question of a unified notational tradition within the Carthusian monastic order. Cullin describes several Carthusian sources and identifies their networks of connections. Cullin writes that "most of the music in Carthusian manuscripts is written in either pure Aquitanian notation or one derived from it" (190). Due to the fact that liturgical unity was only achieved at the first general chapter meeting in 1140 and implemented twenty years later, sources which predate 1140 show a lack of unity.

Michel Huglo mentions, in his article "The Dominican and Franciscan books: similarities and differences between their notations" (195- 202), that Dominicans and Franciscans initially sang the office following the usage of the diocese in which their convents were founded (195). But as early as the 13th century, model manuscripts were copied in all convents and their own scribal traditions were born. Huglo describes the rules for these transcriptions of Dominican and Franciscan codices.

John Haines, the editor of the publication, writes in his article "On ligaturae and their properties: medieval music notation as esoteric writing" (203-222) that "notes were visible symbols of things invisible" (204). With this, he explores a different, and rarely explored, meaning for calligraphical signs. The reader learns about types of secret writing (205), about the original usage (and meaning) of terms such as brevis/breve (206) or ligatura (207 et seq.). The word ligature was first used "in the traditional medical-magical context common from Antiquity onwards" (215) and the ligature concept was taken over in 13th-century music notation. Haines believes that "music writers adopted these terms (ligature, proprietas, perfectio) because they were part of the fashionable university jargon of the day" (215). Quoting different treatises for instance by Franco of Cologne, Haines suggests that the "ligature- proprietas music writing tradition was not intended as a clear notational code available and comprehensible to a wide public. Rather, it was designed as opaque, esoteric writing for a literate few" (217).

In "Interpreting the deluxe manuscript: exigencies of scribal practices and manuscript production in Machaut" (223-240), Lawrence Earp distinguishes between different types of manuscripts according to usage. Earp focuses on the Machaut manuscripts (in particular on Paris BnF, fr. 9221 (E), which was a product of the 1390s and copied for John, duke of Berry) (229). He suggests reasons for the creation of a new Machaut manuscript like fr. 9221 in the first place.

In Anna Maria Busse Berger's article "The consequences of Ars Nova notation" (241-251), plainchant notation and mensural notation are compared. Chant notation in neumes does not provide accurate pitch and duration, whereas mensural notation does; neumes are inseparably connected to an oral tradition, "while mensural notation allows one to learn an entire polyphonic composition from a manuscript without ever having heard it before" (241). Busse Berger also mentions that special training is required to read or write mensural notation and that therefore it has been associated with university circles (242) from its very beginnings. The first descriptions of the Ars Nova notation are by Philippe de Vitry and Johannes de Muris. Busse Berge sets out the recognizable impact that the new notation system had on music and the musicians of the time. On the one hand, the performer probably changed the musical text, written in Ars Nova notation, each time it was performed. On the other hand, we know that composers, such as Machaut, wanted their pieces to be performed "as written" (243). The singer was only free to choose the tempo and musica ficta. Busse Berger characterizes this initial result of Ars Nova notation as a pride in musical authorship. The myriad of paths taken by manuscripts in medieval Europe show that compositions could be performed anywhere, and survive independently "from a performer who was familiar with the piece or the composer who did not need to be present at the performance" (243). A further result of the introduction of mensural notation was the advent of rhythmic games involving mensuration signs, with composers experimenting with for instance diminutions and augmentations (245).

Busse Berger mentions Heinrich Besseler and Peter Gƒlke who coined the expression, Entlastung der Küpfe, for performers who did not need to memorize the pitch and duration of the single notes anymore to perform and "were thus free to conceive complicated polyphonic structures" (244). She disagrees with this idea, together with Mary Carruthers and Craig Wright, since even after the invention of an unambiguous notation system, elements of the music and texts were often memorized. Busse Berger quotes the anthropologists Jack Goody who states that once the music is written down, one is able to analyze the text and the music in its structures and rules. With this in mind, Busse Berger gives her readers an example: Note-against-note counterpoint was based on memorization and emulation. First the dissonant and consonant intervals needed to be learned by heart using all the permissible interval progressions as described by Johannes de Muris, by the French Cistercian Petrus dictus Palma ociosa (1336) and by Goscalchus (1375). While the note-against-note counterpoint was described by Italian theorists from the 14th and 15th century, references to diminished counterpoint also occur in French treatises. Busse Berger says that "the analysis of a written score was the central element that allowed the gradual formulation of counterpoint rules governing diminished counterpoint. These rules could not have been formulated in an oral culture" (249).

Barbara Haggh-Huglo's article, "The chant and polyphony in the meeting of monophonic square notation from Cambrai Cathedral 1250- 1550" (253-272), relates the special case of the scribe Simon Mellet who wrote both plainchant and polyphonic music in Cambrai. Haggh-Huglo finds neume shapes that are similar in their appearance with ligatures of polyphonic notation within the notation of the early 13th-century manuscript 38 from Cambrai (today preserved in the Médiathèque Municipale of Cambrai). Further, she mentions that there is "the possibility that Dufay might have used CA 38 as a reference work" (258). Haggh-Huglo's precise and extensive analysis leads to the suggestion that (within syllabic passages of the chant) this scribe actively removed any ambiguity between the notation signs of chant and polyphonic music but did not necessarily restrict his use of one style of notation to one genre of music. Haggh-Huglo concludes, "in short, the scribe of this sequence (Salve decus puritatis) is using polyphonic mensural notation, not chant notation--and not a recent notation, but only of the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century" (264). This shows that square notation (of chant) and mensural notation (of polyphony) influenced each other.

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Author Biography

Inga Behrendt

Catholic University of Leuven