The Medieval Review 17.03.13

Björkvall, Gunilla. Liturgical Sequences in Medieval Manuscript Fragments in the Swedish National Archives: Repertorial Investigation, Inventory, and Reconstruction of the Sources. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien, Handlingar, Historiska Serien, 31. Stockholm: The Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities, 2016. pp. 459. ISBN: 978-917-4024-333 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Nancy Van Deusen
Claremont Graduate University

This volume, no doubt the product of, and benefitting from, the many years of manuscript cataloging experience of Dr. Björkvall, especially within the team of the Corpus troporum, contains an introduction superficially reviewing previous research on the sequence (16-20), the sequence as a genre with respect to three sequences (from approximately 3200 texts variously combined with ca. 1500 melodies) (21-30), "The typology of sequence manuscripts" (31-32), Dating the fragments (35-40), Regional Swedish sequence repertories (41-51), The religious orders (52-60), Paleography (61-64), The secondary provenance of the accounts (65-67), Special cases (68-74), The musical notation (75-76), and Decoration (77-78).

The second section, entitled "Repertorial Investigation," surveys the liturgical feasts that can contain sequences: The Christmas cycle, Easter cycle, Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Transfiguration, and Ordinary Sundays by month, The Feast of the Cross, The Dedication of the Church, Special masses, the Commune sanctorum, and Marian Feasts. Inventories which comprise the next two hundred pages follow.

Cataloging with descriptions of the fragments, most of which were used as bindings for royal accounts ca. 1530-1630 (13), was begun in the 1930s, continuing into the 1980s, with the result that approximately one-half of the fragments had by that time been catalogued. A team composed of the author, a manuscript librarian, and an archivist/historian completed this catalogue in 2004, the Catalogus codicum mutilorum (CCM), which is now available as a database ( Dr. Bjorkvall's repertorial comments and conclusions rely, as well, on the database of the Analecta hymnica, produced by, or according to Björkvall "established by," the University of Regensburg. The volume therefore relies upon, and is indeed made possible by, two databases, both of which can be accessed online by the select readership interested in, and knowledgeable concerning, sequences of the mass liturgy to the extent that they are able to deal with, make sense of, and even regard as important, sequence fragments.

Fragments are often not easily identified, since they may lack both an incipit and explicit, two key markers for identifying a given sequence. Disengaged as fragments are from their original manuscript context, and given the fact that manuscripts most often give evidence for multiple hands, it is also difficult to ascertain if, possibly, fragments originally even came from the same manuscript or not. Both, needless to say, involve a good deal of effort and expertise; and there are additional problems as well. So the initial work, begun nearly ninety years ago and resulting in the present database has, indeed, constituted a very considerable achievement. Having said this, the sequences themselves do not disclose many surprises, since they for the most part belong to the group of sequences that was disseminated all over the continent of Europe, hence very well known, and nearly impossible to trace to any particular region. The goal of the volume, according to Dr. Björkvall (15): "Thanks to the database this largely unexplored source material [i.e. the fragments] can now be investigated in a new and fruitful way." (Dr. Björkvall does not specify just what that "way" might be.) "The present study relies to a great extent on the results of the database. The object of my study is sequences, one particular liturgical chant genre of great poetic and spiritual value which is remarkably well represented in the fragment material." Dr. Björkvall, however, has not edited either the texts or the melodies, the pairing of which can often place a particular sequence precisely with respect to geographical location.

The volume, then, is a curious combination of an exceedingly narrow specialty, of interest to a very select group of scholars who have the background and interest to appreciate this particular genre, combined with superficial, general, introductory remarks, based apparently on a cursory review of standard reference works--comments that would not satisfy the requirements of an opening chapter of a doctoral thesis on this subject. The bibliography, as well, does not give evidence for a deep and continuing interest in the sequence, since neither seminal literature of the past, nor considerable recent articles on the sequence are included; rather the works of authors with whom she has perhaps personally come in contact, since she expresses thanks to these writers in her acknowledgements.

What is the purpose of this volume, and to what readership is it addressed? The interested and informed reader looks in vain for recent studies on the sequence within footnotes and bibliography. As indicated, the volume does not add any new understanding concerning the sequence--quite the contrary in fact. Her observations, as well, are incomplete, since she is not aware, apparently, of the large dissemination all over the continent of Europe of many of the sequences with which she has dealt. Her background with the genre is simply too superficial. Further, "local repertories" with respect to the sequence are a conventional illusion. Finally, the databases upon which her publication is based have been available to the interested student for some time. On the other hand, however, every contribution to manuscript studies is to some extent useful.

The volume is handsomely produced by the Swedish Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, and contains several excellent manuscript photographs.

Copyright (c) 2017 Nancy Van Deusen

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