The Medieval Review 16.02.42

Meyer, Christian ed., and Karen Desmond, trans. The 'Ars musica' Attributed to Magister Lambertus/Aristoteles . Royal Musical Association Monographs, 27. Burlington: Ashgate, 2015. pp. xxxviii, 130. $109.95 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-4724-3983-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

John Snyder
University of Houston

By the first half of the eleventh century, European music had developed a notation for pitch, adequate for the monophonic repertoire of Church music. The central Middle Ages also saw the creation of music for more than one part (polyphony), culminating in the twelfth century in the great body of organa from Notre Dame in Paris, and the modification of notation to include the rhythmic elements associated with the new music. Thirteenth-century musicians expanded the possibilities in this new system and reformed it to increase its flexibility and clarity, paving the way for the explosion of polyphonic music of the fourteenth century. It was in this milieu that the pair of treatises attributed to Magister Lambertus/Aristoteles (hereafter simply Lambert) was composed; the light that it sheds on this pivotal epoch is important to our understanding of it.

Lambert's Ars musica comprises two related treatises, Musica plana, and Musica mensurabilis, dealing respectively with plainsong and polyphonic music. It is unusual in that it survives in whole or in part in four manuscript sources ranging from c. 1280 to the late fifteenth century, and an edition of 1563. The only modern edition is that of Coussemaker (1864); the editor notes two recent attempts that did not come to fruition. The present book comprises an introduction, a critical edition of the Latin text, an English translation on facing pages, and indices. The Latin text is additionally accompanied by commentary on separate pages. The book is a team product: the introduction and commentary have been translated from the editor's French by one collaborator (Haggh-Huglo), and the Latin text by another (Desmond). The result, as we shall see, is rather mixed.

In the introduction, Meyer tells us what little is known or can be deduced about the author of the treatises before proceeding to a brief but informative examination of the sources. These are not complete codicological descriptions, but in my view adequate for the purposes of the book. Relationships among the sources (shared errors in particular) are explored later, in a section on the principles of the edition. The sources are of widely scattered dates and places of origin, and no stemma is offered. The separation of these discussions seems a bit disjointed, but does have its logic. The work is placed "in the decades between the treatises of Johannes de Garlandia and Franco of Cologne" (i), but I would have liked some discussion on this point; Franco is dated ca. 1280 (ix), but no date is mentioned for Garlandia.

The content of each of the treatises is surveyed, explaining Lambert's organization of materials and his sources. In particular, the "structure and principal articulations" of Lambert's "vast accessus...are borrowed from the chapter on music in the treatise on the division of philosophy by the learned Spaniard, Dominicus Gundissalinus...noteworthy, since this is the only known attempt in the history of Western music theory to explain the learning and practice of music with the assistance of a grid for reading that was influenced by Arab philosophy" (xvii).

Concerning Musica plana, Meyer places Lambert's discussions of intervals, mutation, modes, and the accompanying tonary into context. The relationship of this section of the work to trends in thirteenth-century French practice and theory is deftly elucidated.

Musica mensurabilis is of great interest because it offers a theory of modal rhythm and notation that differs in some respects from that of the generally recognized authority, Johannes Garlandia, and precedes the reforms of Franco of Cologne. Lambert posits nine rhythmic modes (as opposed to Garlandia's six), with corresponding notational formulae. Meyer's discussion of Lambert's theory is helpful and concise, assisted by a number of very useful tables. Two things might be mentioned here. First, as useful as the tables are, I would have like those detailing Lambert's rhythmic modes to give the patterns also in modern notation. Second, concerning the eighth rhythmic mode, we read "the example sine littera has 12 notes (thus, two perfections" (xxxiii). But the example in question (the last one on page 111) actually has 13 notes, a rest, and 15 more notes, totaling six perfections. The first 12 notes are all semibreves, which do fill out two perfections; perhaps that is what is meant, but the passage is unclear (striking in this otherwise very lucid writing). Finally, Meyer briefly elucidates Lambert's treatment of Armonia resecata or "hocket," a discussion welcome in view of the difficulty of Lambert's language on this point.

The edition presents the Latin text, with sentences numbered (rather than lines), and source pages/folios indicated in the margin. It should be noted that this text is difficult, as will be explored below. The critical apparatus provides not only the variant readings, but also, in a separate layer, parallel readings from an impressively wide array of sources. Meyer's comments on a number of passages are found as endnotes, keyed to marginal call-outs. All of this is immensely helpful; my principal quibble is that the commentary might have been placed on the facing pages, with the translation, as that has no critical apparatus and the space is available. But, as we shall see, that might have become more crowded had the translation been supplied with further, desirable commentary. The text itself is edited to a very high standard; editorial intervention is restrained and judicious.

The edition is augmented by two indices. The first is of the plainsong and polyphonic repertoire Lambert cites in the course of the treatise; for plainsong, the apparatus also gives the Corpus Antiphonalium Officii catalog numbers. The second lists the sources of the treatise, and parallel readings. Lambert's language is occasionally unusual, so an Index Verborum would be particularly useful here.

The difficulty of the text cannot be better demonstrated than by mp 210-211: "Diapente cum diapason se habet in tripla proportione ad sonos sicut inter tres et unum. Nam si dividatur corda in duas partes equales, in tertia parte residui erit diapente cum diapason" (38). The translation reads, "The diapente with a diapason has within itself a triple proportion to its sounds just as between three and one. For if a string is divided into two equal parts, in the remaining third part will be diapente with a diapason" (39). A glance at the sources (two are available online) shows that the edition is accurate, as is the translation; the problem is that this is nonsense: if the string is divided into two equal parts, there is no remaining third part. Meyer is not to be faulted for declining to engage in the heavy-handed editing that would have required to fix this; nevertheless, it is disconcerting to find this sort of thing allowed to stand without comment.

Some additional commentary would have been welcome. As an example, consider mp 50.1: "Partes theorice sunt quinque quarum prima est sciencia de principiis et primis...secunda est> de dispositionibus huius artis inveniendi neumata et cognoscendi numeros eorum, ad alias et demonstrationes de omniubus illis, et docet species ordinum et situum eorum quibus preparantur, ut unusquisque> accipiat ex eis quod vult et componat ex eis armonias" (12). First, the basis for the editorial "quinque...principiis et primis..." is not evident; second, it is not clear how the remaining parts are to be counted, since there are more than five items in the list. Some items must be sub-categories, but the taxonomy is obscure. The translation does nothing to clarify this. The apparatus shows that a late source reads "Partes theorice sunt tres scilicet..." (12); this suggests an even more complex taxonomy, involving not only sub-categories, but perhaps also sub-sub-categories. No alternate reading/translation I could suggest would be more secure, and that is just the point: additional commentary seems desirable.

Desmond provides a statement of principles governing her translation: some musical terms are left in the Latin (e.g., musica mundana); certain scholastic terms are left untranslated (e.g., materia; words that have become common in musicological discourse and have no ready English equivalents (e.g., plica), are untranslated but not italicized. This is particularly useful where any English translation would be misleading, such as proprietas/property, tempus/time, etc. She sensibly guides the reader's understanding in cases where Lambert uses the same word with different meanings in different contexts. She tries where possible to maintain voice, particularly active voice where Lambert anthropomorphizes notational figures. She has split some very long sentences, but otherwise generally observes the punctuation of the edition (and thus fails to clarify the sentence cited in the preceding paragraph). She supplies nouns for substantives, in principle in brackets but, as we shall see, not always. And, interestingly, she occasionally translates third-person singular verbs as plural "to allow for gender-inclusive pronouns" (xxxviii). These principles are well thought out; the proof, of course, is in the execution--and with that there are some problems.

First, the translations of certain words seem a bit difficult. Modulatio, for example is "translated" simply as modulation, but it cannot mean that in the ordinary musical sense. Similarly, armonica cannot mean harmonic in the usual English sense. So, mp 44 "This science's genus is the technique of harmonic modulation..." is difficult to understand (13): it is clear what Lambert cannot mean by this, but what exactly does he mean? If better translations for these words cannot found--no easy task--then commentary is needed.

Some constructions are mishandled, so that passages that are parallel in the Latin are not in the translation. For example, mp 152: "Semitonium est imperfectum spatium duarum vocum quod secundum vocem hominis non licet dividi vel ponere medium" (30). Desmond translates correctly, "The semitone is the imperfect space between two pitches, which, according to the human voice, cannot be divided or a midpoint placed [in it]" (31). (Note the accurate handling of vox, used in two very different senses here!) Compare this with a preceding, parallel passage, mp 143: "Tonus autem est perfectum spatium duarum vocum tangendo propinquam, duo semitonia continens non equalia" (28). Desmond translates this as: "But a tone of two spaces of pitches is perfect, containing two unequal semitones" (29). "Spatium" is nominative singular, not genitive plural; the two sentences are parallel, and this one must read "A tone, moreover, is the perfect [i.e., complete] space between two pitches..." and "duarum vocum" should be rendered the same way both times.

The awkwardness of some passages in the Latin is unfortunately often reflected in the translation. For example, mp 208-209: "Secundum Boetium diatessaron cum diapason se habet in proportione dupla superpartiente tertias, sicut 8 ad 3. Nam si tollatur medietas corde alicuius instrumenti et quarta pars residui, erit diatessaron cum diapason" (38). Desmond translates: "According to Boethius, the diatessaron with a diapason has within itself a duple proportion superbipartiens to three, just as 8 to 3. For if the midpoint of some instrument's string is taken, and there is a fourth part remaining, it will be a diatessaron with a diapason" (39). First of all, the ratio is not accurately rendered; strictly speaking, it is the duple superbipartient [two] thirds (tertias is plural), i.e., the ratio in which the larger number contains the smaller twice (duple), with a remainder of two-thirds of its parts (so the smaller number is three, and the remainder is two; 8 divided by three yields a quotient of 2 and a remainder of 2). Lambert's description of the sectioning off of the string is surely the hard way to do this, and his choice of words is unhelpful: medietas here must mean not "midpoint" but "half" (I would have expected dimidium). The sense is that one subtracts from a string half, plus a quarter of the other half, leaving three-eighths. A better translation of the second sentence: "For if, of some instrument's string, half plus a fourth of the rest be taken away, it [the remaining 3/8 of the string] will be a diatessaron with a diapason [above the pitch of the whole string]." Other passages are afflicted with similar awkwardness (and occasional error).

Finally, there are some problems with supplied substantives. For instance, mm 66-67: "Third, whenever three [breves] are found between the aforesaid longs, and in a very similar form, as is shown here: [musical example] any long will observe the one tempus but nevertheless, none of the longs will part with the virtue or grace of its perfection, except as was said before" (73). This cannot be: even an imperfect long occupies two tempora. The problem is that the Latin does not include the word "long" after the example: "quelibet unum tempus observat..." (72). Quelibet might refer to either longa or brevis, as they are both feminine, and here it must be the latter: "...any [breve] will observe one tempus." This is easily confirmed by reference to Lambert's rule 3, governing three breves between two longs; see Table 5 in the introduction (xxvi).

The musical examples are all neatly done, but with few exceptions quite small. In Musica plana, the plainsong excerpts are in modern notation and include underlaid text; reading would in my view be facilitated by using slurs to indicate neumes of more than one note. As the examples stand, they are both small and in places rather crowded. In Musica mensurabilis, the examples are all similarly small (making the plicas hard to see), and all in modal notation, in both text and translation. This seems odd; one might want the plainsong examples in square notation in the text, and certainly the examples in the translation of Musica mensurabilis should be transcribed into modern notation, since the original notation would be readily available in the text. As noted, use of modern notation in the applicable tables in the Introduction would also be beneficial.

In sum, the Introduction will serve readers very well. Likewise, the text is here presented for the first time in a reliable edition, with a complete apparatus criticus. My quibbles notwithstanding, this is first-rate work, and lays a solid foundation for further study of these treatises. Unfortunately, the translation does not rise to this level; while useful as a first step, it has too many errors to be considered reliable, and readers will need to check it against the Latin.

Copyright (c) 2016 John Snyder

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