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22.05.03 Bevilacqua/Payne (eds.), Ars Antiqua

22.05.03 Bevilacqua/Payne (eds.), Ars Antiqua

This handsome volume is an important contribution to scholarship on the music of the long thirteenth century. It is a collection of eleven articles that started out as papers presented at a conference held in Lucca in 2018. TitledArs Antiqua III: Music and Culture in Europe c. 1150-1330, the conference was the third in a series that focused on music of that period. Rather than being organized by topic, the articles are arranged in alphabetical order by author. Still, this review will describe each of the following areas of study--origin and development, expressivity, and culture--in turn.

For many readers, ars antiqua will seem a strange moniker for the musical craft of an era that saw many firsts. Originally the term ars antiqua was used by fourteenth-century music theorists to distinguish the style of the late thirteenth century from the ars nova of the fourteenth. In twentieth-century scholarship, the ars antiqua stretched back into the mid-twelfth century to include related music associated with Notre Dame Cathedral and the university of Paris. In the present book the meaning has expanded further, encompassing all music and relevant disciplines in that extended period.

The main representative of the ars antiqua in its original sense was the music theorist Franco of Cologne, who described an innovative method of rhythmic notation in the late thirteenth century. Kaho Inoue, in “Franco of Cologne, Ars cantus mensurabilis: Ligature, Notation and Mode,” reexamines the transmission of Franco’s treatise. Based on her study of the musical examples in six manuscript sources, she proposes a revised stemma for the text. An intriguing part of this article is her assessment of the reception of Franco’s theory. Some of the manuscripts transmit many notational errors, which Inoue credits to the scribes’ lack of understanding of Franco’s system for a variety of plausible reasons. On the other hand, we learn that, even in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the theorists Marchetto da Padova and Franchinus Gaffurius, respectively, continued to present Franco’s principles correctly.

A classic concern of ars antiqua scholarship is how musical repertories and their manuscript sources came to be. Gregorio Bevilacqua, in “The Production of Polyphonic Conductus Collections in Ars Antiqua Manuscripts,” applies codicological and comparative studies to the transmission of early ars antiqua conductus, which are musical settings of Latin accentual poetry on devotional or secular topics. By observing the grouping of clusters of conductus in unrelated manuscript anthologies, Bevilacqua surmises that the repertory had circulated in booklets, similar to peciae, prior to their copying into the larger anthologies. By meticulously comparing different versions of selected conductus, Bevilacqua posits credible reasons for variants and similarities. He points out that the study of conductus could be taken further by using the kind of digital editing and coding that is being undertaken for other types of ars antiqua music.

With an increase in discoveries and analytic technology, the study of musical fragments has been a growing field. This is good news for insular polyphonic music of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, since fragmentary manuscripts are about all that survive. Amy Williamson’s “Polyphonic Music in the British Isles c. 1300: Networks of Practice” is a courageous and successful effort to make sense of this repertory. From a field of 650 compositions copied in 120 manuscript sources, Williamson focuses on 53 pieces that appear in more than one of 47 fragments. The 26 fragments that have the most pieces with the greatest number of concordances within the group are considered “central” to hypothetical networks of sources, while the sources with only a single concordance are labeled peripheral. The idea is to imagine what might have belonged to core repertories, parallel to those of the continental anthologies that do survive. Williamson also demonstrates that the compositions share musical techniques, liturgical texts, and genres, which attest to insular tastes in polyphony.

In “Mapping Melodic Composition: A Metadata Approach to Understanding the Creation of Parisian Organum Duplum,” Jenifer Louise Roth-Burnette presents the preliminary results of an ambitious project to code the melodic figures (small groups of conjoined pitches) of organum in two voices. Organum is a type of polyphonic musical composition whose highly ornamented upper voice, or voices, sounds simultaneously above certain elaborate chants for the Mass and Offices. Parisian organum’s importance derives from its artistry and its influence, for, along with related conductus and motets, it was disseminated throughout Europe. By breaking up the upper voices into short melodic figures, which are fed into a database for analysis, Roth-Burnette aims to understand the grammar of organum in two voices, that is, how the upper-voice melodies were generated from beginning to end. For the sample that she has chosen, she is able to identify functional features of certain figures and their combinations. This valuable project could lead to associating melodic figures with certain liturgical functions and even “composers” or scribal editors, all of whom, except for the renowned Leoninus, remain anonymous.

Understanding musical expressivity--how music conveys rhetoric, emotion, and even extra-musical concepts--is basic to musicology. In her article “Poetic and Melodic Recurrences in the Thirteenth-Century Refrain Repertoire,” Anne Ibos-Augé examines the various functions of refrains within musical compositions and narrative poetry. She demonstrates how the text and melody of refrains express direct address (such as “Hé Emmelot”), how variations of refrains that are not used in a repetitive way can instead function as quotations or remembrances, and how using similar melodies for refrains that have varying emotions can create unity within a piece. This exploration of the functions of refrains raises larger questions. Can repeated melodies be signs of formulas? If so, can they provide a vocabulary of melody, like Roth-Burnette’s melodic formulas?

In “Texting Vocality: Musical and Material Poetics of the Voice in Medieval Latin Song,” Mary Channen Caldwell contributes toward a critical method for analyzing how music and text work together in creating rhetorical gestures and fitting these within the larger structure of the work. She coins the term “texted vocality” for “a temporary textural change in song” that carries a “non-lexical meaning” within a “text that may or may not relate semantically or structurally to the surrounding poetry” (36). These interruptions use vocables, such as “eya,” and “o, o,” and words and parts of words that are repeated to create an effect, such as “do, do” from “domino.” Caldwell shows how such effusions can express a poem more fully and turn attention to the sound of the singing voice.

Thomas B. Payne, in “Vetus abit littera: From the Old to the New Law in the Parisian Conductus,” identifies 25 Latin conductus whose lyrics refer to the foreshadowing in Mosaic Law of the New Covenant. He examines several conductus in depth, focusing on those that evoke the figure of the Laws with symbolic references to Aristotle, the church fathers, and the Bible. Furthermore, the author maintains that in some of the pieces the opposition between the Old and New Laws is reflected in musical dualism as, for example, in binary musical structure. The article concludes with an example of word painting in music, by which the crossed hands of Jacob in the conductus Novum sibi texuit are represented by the crossing and exchange of the two simultaneous melodic lines that set the word manibus.

Anne-Zoé Rillon-Marne explores a tantalizing question in “Conductus sine musica: Some Thoughts on the Poetic Sources of Latin Songs.” Can the layout of texts of non-musical manuscript sources of conductus help us understand the connection between the conductus and rithmus, the organization of rhymes and accent used to create its Latin poetry? Answering in the affirmative, the author finds, in a study of two insular manuscripts, that in the older source from before 1220 (GB-Ob Add. A44), the rhythmic verses were copied in continuous paragraphs, while metrical verses were copied in separate lines. Here the scribe distinguished between the potentially singable genre and purely literary poetry. In the later source from around 1270 (GB-Ob Rawl. C510) the verses of most of the rhythmic poems are laid out in a way that does reflect the poetic structure, perhaps indicating that the text was now more important than the music had been. The appendix provides valuable information about the rhythmic collections of each manuscript.

“Britain’s Cleric Composers: Poetic Stress and Ornamentation in Worldes blis” by Grace Newcombe is a case study in the relationship between text and melody in this Middle English song. By comparing its two extant musical versions the author reaches some striking conclusions. In these settings of stress-based lyrics, stressed syllables are more likely to have one note (sometimes ornamentally modified in shape) than unstressed syllables, which are more likely to have many notes. This is significant for understanding transmission and performance practice. Based on the differences between the two manuscript versions, the author hypothesizes that later editors may have added ornamentation to simpler “foundation” melodies (158) and that modern performers might consider adding their own ornamentation to what they determine to be primary pitches.

Articles on philosophy and Franciscan chant reflect the broadening of the scope of ars antiqua. Matteo Macinanati’s “L’auditio del pulchrum musicale in Tommaso d’Aquino e Bonaventura da Bagnoregio” concerns the status of beauty in the period of scholasticism, leading up to and including selections from the writings of Aquinas and Bonaventure. While evaluating the philosophical arguments is beyond the expertise of this reviewer, it seems that a good case is made for Aquinas’s cautious approach toward song, approving of singing in the proper manner in divine praise. Bonaventure also encouraged singing for the glory of God in his biblical commentaries. [1]

Nausica Morandi, in “The corpus of Sequences for Saint Anthony of Padua: A Study of the Musical Sources,” provides a close look at four of the thirteen known sequences for St. Anthony. Critical editions of their texts, substantial musical examples--some from hitherto unknown sources--and a thorough bibliography are provided. The sequences from various countries testify to the widespread veneration of this Franciscan saint from the thirteenth to the early sixteenth centuries. A complete edition of the sequences would be a welcome contribution to the study of this little-known repertory.

The editors are to be commended for compiling consistently organized texts and music within an easy-to-use format. The printed layout and paper are of high quality. While the facsimiles are in black and white, they are clear enough for illustrating the text and notation. Most of the manuscripts are available in their entirety and in color on the websites of their respective libraries, and through collective websites like the DIAMM [2] and MMMO Database [3]. In addition to musicologists, students and scholars of literature, exegetics, and liturgy will find in this book deeply researched articles with well-reasoned results.



1. For an opposing view on whether Bonaventure admitted beauty to the conditions of being and the source of “Cum assignantur quatuor conditiones enti communiter scilicet unum, verum, bonum et pulchrum” (121), see Jan A. Aertsen, Medieval Philosophy as Transcendental Thought: From Philip the Chancellor (ca. 1225) to Francisco Suárez (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2012), 13-14, 168-171. A similar discussion available for free download is Jan A. Aertsen, “Beauty in the Middle Ages: A Forgotten Transcendental?” Medieval Philosophy & Theology 1 (1991): 90 (68-97),

2. “The Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music,” University of Oxford, accessed March 30, 2022,

3. “Medieval Music Manuscripts Online Database,” Dominique Gatté and Jan Koláček, last modified March 17, 2022,