18.10.06, Bradley and Desmond (eds.), The Montpellier Codex

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Mary Channen Caldwell

The Medieval Review 18.10.06

Bradley, Catherine A., and Karen Desmond, eds. he Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle. Contents, Contexts, Chronologies . Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell and Brewer, 2018. pp. 351. ISBN: 978-1-78327-272-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Mary Caldwell
University of Pennsylvania

In this collection of essays, the central focus as the title suggests is the final fascicle of a single medieval manuscript, the "Montpellier Codex" (Bibliothèque interuniversitaire, Section Médecine, H.196, hereafter Mo, following the volume under review). As the two editors, Catherine A. Bradley and Karen Desmond, write in their introductory chapter, Mo is "one of the most important manuscript witnesses to polyphonic music in the Middle Ages," containing "the largest medieval motet collection in existence" (1). It also happens to be a beautiful artistic object, featuring gold-leaf illumination and various forms of decoration. Although the manuscript as a whole is thought to have been compiled in Paris sometime between the 1270s and 1280s, the eighth and final fascicle is an outlier; this fact is precisely the reason for this volume's existence. As Bradley and Desmond note, Mo 8 (as the final fascicle is abbreviated throughout) is worthy of a book-length compilation of essays due to its "idiosyncratic contents and historiographical status" and "manner of presentation" (7), the latter referring to its seeming autonomy as a fascicle, despite links to the earlier seven. This highly focused approach follows a broader trajectory in medieval musicology that seeks to highlight the histories and contexts of individual sources or parts thereof. [1] One can also see the implicit influence of a microhistory approach here, especially in the desire in several essays to draw conclusions concerning Mo from examination of its final fascicle.

The major theme of the collection as articulated by the editors concerns the status of Mo 8 as a transitional gathering of motets, bridging the divide between the ars antiqua (thirteenth-century) motet and the ars nova(fourteenth-century) motet. The "juncture" (9) between the two centuries is a theme repeatedly returned to in nearly all the chapters, with some tending to emphasize the backward-looking features of the motets and others emphasizing signs of innovations to come. Another significant theme is that of the fascicle's geographical and chronological origins. Dating is of particular interest, in part because this is one of the most contested issues concerning Mo 8 in previous scholarship. Other themes include the question of notation, compilation, and interpretation (musical and textual). Altogether, the volume presents a cohesive and organized series of essays, a desired but by no means inevitable outcome of its singular focus on a singular fascicle.

Contributing to the cohesiveness of the volume is its inception in a conference titled "Montpellier 8" that took place at St. Hugh's College, University of Oxford, from March 20-21, 2014. [2] Convened by Bradley, Desmond, and Elizabeth Eva Leach, the program featured a keynote by Mark Everist (see Chapter 1) and panels comprised largely of scholars also represented in The Montpellier Codex. [3] Although this collection emerges from a conference, it does not feel in any way like conference proceedings; essays are fully fleshed out and include supporting materials that would not be typical inclusions in casual write-ups of conference paper. Moreover, the editors have a clear vision of the collection's narrative, a fact made apparent in the numerous links among various essays.

The contributors to The Montpellier Codex include fifteen scholars in addition to Bradley and Desmond (the latter contributing a chapter in addition to the co-written introduction). Although musicologists are the majority, where diversity is truly gained is in the variety of ranks reflected, from lecturer to full professor and emerita. Most significant in my opinion is the gender parity. Of the sixteen essays, ten are written by women (including one of the two female editors). While this is in of itself important, it happens to mirror the reception history of the manuscript itself. Of the dozen or so master's theses and dissertations principally on Mo from the 1970s onward, only one that I could locate was written by a male scholar [4]; all the rest are by women. Moreover, the musicologist arguably most central to the history of scholarship on Mo is Yvonne Rokseth (1890-1948). Her edition and study of the manuscript published in the 1930s remains seminal to the field. [5] As Rebecca A. Baltzer states in her contribution, Rokseth's "work is still the starting place for any research on Mo" (78). It is, I would argue, unusual for scholarship across nearly a century on such an important medieval source to be dominated by women scholars, and I for one am glad to see that the most recent offering follows this strong tradition. It is a degree of representation of women scholars that one can only dream of finding elsewhere in the field of medieval musicology, although hopefully The Montpellier Codex is a barometer of change across the discipline.

The individual contributions themselves, all representing an "in-depth exploration of the contents and contexts of the Montpellier Codex's final fascicle" (to quote the book's blurb on the publisher's website), [6] include approaches defined by Bradley and Desmond as comprising "paleographical, art historical, codicological, notational analyses, [and] musical and hermeneutical close-readings" (8). Although they presumably group liturgical exegesis with hermeneutics, this approach plays a role too (see Anna Kathryn Grau and Rachel Davies, chapters 7 and 15). Following the introduction, there are sixteen chapters divided into three parts: "The Material Object" (chapters 1-7), "Innovation and Tradition" (chapters 8-12) and "Analytical Case Studies" (chapters 13-16). The lengths of individual chapters vary from 10 pages (Oliver Huck, chapter 5) to 34 (Sean Curran, chapter 2), with most falling in the 12-20 range. Footnotes also range in quantity from extensive notes nearly comprising an entire page (98), to scant citations (e.g. Ibos-Augé, chapter 12). Numerous musical examples and analyses, texts and translations, and images (all black and white except for two color images on page 67) beautifully litter the pages. Supplementary materials include an extensive bibliography, three indices (general, cited compositions, and compositions in Mo), and, in the front matter, a list of manuscript sigla (albeit with no links to digital facsimiles), and a table of the complete contents of Mo 8. Certain chapters also contain further materials in the form of a handlist (Curran), archival details (Breen), and many contain lists of additional cited or consulted manuscript sources.

Individual chapters offer different strengths and types of insights. The Introduction (although not counted as one of the sixteen) succinctly outlines the stakes of a volume such as this, and also provides an overview of the historiographical and codicological essentials necessary to engage with the following chapters. In keeping with the trifold division of the book, the essays in Part I ("The Material Object") focus on issues such as the "anatomy" or compilatioand ordinatio of Mo 8 (Mark Everist, Oliver Huck, and Anna Kathryn Grau, chapters 1, 5, and 7), its script (Sean Curran, chapter 2), and visual aspects (Alison Stones and Rebecca A. Baltzer, chapters 3 and 4). Eva M. Maschke's chapter 6 importantly contributes new information on the opening work of Mo 8, Deus in adiutorium, dealing with numerous sources beyond Mo.

Part II, "Innovation and Tradition" could be subtitled "notation, rhythm, form, and style." Each of the five chapters (by Karen Desmond, David Maw, Mary E. Wolinski, Solomon Guhl-Miller, and Anne Ibos-Augé) pertains in various ways to the musical and music-theoretical issues that face the final fascicle, especially its transitional features when it comes to rhythm, notation, performance, and musico-poetic quotation. Part III comprises four case studies, the first of which, Dolores Pesce's study of the tonal coherence of a set of motets on the tenor PORTARE, could as easily have fit in Part II as it does in a series of close readings. The central two case studies in Part III, Margaret Dobby's chapter 14 on repetition, rhythm and rhetoric, and Rachel Davies's exegetical reading of a Marian motet in chapter 15, offer two different views on how to read the music and/or text of the late medieval motet. One somewhat unexpected chapter given the central themes of the other fifteen is (fittingly!) the final one, Edward Breen's discussion of the performance and reception history of a single motet uniquely preserved in Mo 8, On parole/A Paris/FRESE NOUVELE. It is a motet with many interesting features: most significantly, its tenor is a street cry rather than the expected segment of liturgical chant. Breen reads its reception through four recordings and numerous archival sources, including letters written by the ensemble directors themselves that pertain to their performance choices. It is a novel addition to contributions in its utilization of a particular set of primary sources and its analysis of recordings, rather than, for example, notation or manuscript transmission. Since Breen discusses just four recordings of a single motet, a nice complement for the volume as a whole would have been a discography for Mo 8 (or the entirety of the manuscript) given the manuscript's popularity among early music ensembles.

The numerous highlights of these sixteen contributions are too many to detail here, but a few points are worth observing. First and foremost, this is a unique volume, not only for its examination of Mo 8, but in fact its examination of Mo at all. Despite the manuscript's fame, there is no book-length study of Mo in English, making this the first of its kind. The editors also chose to include a diversity of approaches, many reflecting current trends in source studies and medieval musicology, in addition to more traditional music theoretical approaches (see, for example, Mary E. Wolinski, chapter 10), and theoretical approaches that borrow from critical theory (see Solomon Guhl-Miller, chapter 11). The result is that insights vary dramatically but contribute to the contextualization of the manuscript as a whole, as well as to scholarship on thirteenth- and fourteenth-century motets, notation and rhythm, art, and manuscripts. Chapters frequently highlight their interconnectedness, and the thematic orientations of the volume detailed above link all sixteen essays.

A book of this size and depth is bound to have minor issues. Perhaps the one that will affect readership the most is the extent to which one needs prior knowledge of the source and of medieval music theory and notation to engage with particular chapters (especially Desmond and Pesce, chapters 8 and 13). Some chapters (Curran, chapter 2) are highly detailed and specialized, while others (Stones and Breen, chapters 3 and 16) are more accessible to a larger audience. This volume may have limited use for undergraduate classrooms due to technical language, but I will definitely be assigning chapters in graduate seminars. The volume cannot be characterized as highly interdisciplinary, despite including an art historian, although admittedly the editors do not claim to be curating an interdisciplinary collection, but instead encouraging disciplinary exploration chiefly within musicology (branching out into, for example, paleography in Curran, chapter 2, and codicology in Huck, chapter 5). One final, small note concerns the editors' claim that "by foregrounding a small, seemingly anomalous, and transitional fascicle, rather than a complete manuscript source, this volume seeks to redress the scholarly balance, which has tended to privilege the almost exclusive study of monumental 'great books' in their entirety" (10). Since this is a section of one of these "great books" (at least for musicologists), I wonder if this is as much of a redress as it is a new angle (or "close-up") directed at a long-studied source. That being said, it is true that the "great books" of medieval music do tend to be examined as a whole, and without such sustained attention on a single element (in this case a single fascicle).

Hopefully this collection signals a new flourishing of scholarship on familiar medieval sources, many of which present mysteries yet to be solved. This book will find itself on musicologists' shelves and will be a must-order for all academic libraries with music collections. Many of its chapters will quickly become standard citations in research on the medieval motet, and the book as a whole will stand as a central authority on the Montpellier Codex (and not solely on its final fascicle). It is well-planned, skillfully executed, and a testimony to the strengths of the editors and the individual contributors. From beginning to end, The Montpellier Codex is a volume to be valued and emulated.



1. See, for example, Helen Deeming and Elizabeth Eva Leach, eds., Manuscripts and Medieval Song: Inscription, Performance, Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

2. The conference website is available here: http://www.arsmusicae.org/wordpress/montpellier/.

3. Contributors to the volume who did not present at the conference are Sean Curran and Mary E. Wolinski. For a conference report, see Amy Williamson, "Montpellier in Oxford," Early Music 42, no. 3 (2014): 502-503.

4. Finn Mathiassen, "The Style of the Early Motet (c.1200-1250): An Investigation of the Old Corpus of the Montpellier Manuscript (PhD diss., 1966).

5. Yvonne Rokseth, Polyphonies du XIIIe siècle: Le manuscrit H 196 de la Faculté de médecine de Montpellier. 4 vols. (Paris: Éditions de l'Oiseau lyre, 1935-39).

6. https://boydellandbrewer.com/the-montpellier-codex-hb.html

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