Karen Desmond’s Books

Music and the moderni, 1300-1350: The ars nova in theory and practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

Music theorists labelled the musical art of the 1330s and 1340s as ‘new’ and ‘modern’. A close reading of writings on music theory and the polyphonic repertory from the first half of the fourteenth century reveals a modern musical art that arose due to specific innovations in music notation. The French ars nova employed as its theoretical fundament a new system for arranging musical time proposed by the astronomer and mathematician Jean des Murs. Challenging prevailing accounts of the ars nova, this book presents the ‘new art’ within the intellectual context of its time, revises the datings of Jean des Murs’s writings on music theory, and presents the intersection of theory and practice for a crucial era in the history of music. Through contemporaneous accounts, Desmond explores how individuals were involved in ‘changing’ music in early fourteenth-century France, and the technical developments they pursued that precipitated this stylistic change. Available from Cambridge or buy it on amazon.com

Catherine A. Bradley and Karen Desmond, eds., The Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle. Contents, Contexts, Chronologies. Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music (Boydell & Brewer, 2018).

The Montpellier Codex (Bibliotheque interuniversitaire, Section Medecine, H.196) occupies a central place in scholarship on medieval music. This small book, packed with gorgeous gold leaf illuminations, historiated initials, and exquisite music calligraphy, is one of the most famous of all surviving music manuscripts, fundamental to understandings of the development of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century polyphonic composition. At some point in its history an eighth section (fascicle) of 48 folios was appended to the codex: when and why this happened has long perplexed scholars. The forty-three works contained in the manuscript’s final section represent a collection of musical compositions, assembled at a complex moment of historical change, straddling the historiographical juncture between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This book provides the first in-depth exploration of the contents and contexts of the Montpellier Codex’s final fascicle. It explores the manuscript’s production, dating, function, and notation, offering close-readings of individual works, which illuminate compositionally progressive features of the repertoire as well as its interactions with existing musical and poetic traditions, from a variety of perspectives: thirteenth- and fourteenth-century music, art history, and manuscript culture. Available from Boydell & Brewer or buy it on amazon.com

The 'Ars musica' attributed to Magister Lambertus/Aristoteles

Christian Meyer, ed., and Karen Desmond, trans., The ‘Ars musica’ attributed to Magister Lambertus/ Aristoteles, RMA Monograph Series 27 (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015)

The treatise on musica plana and musica mensurabilis written by Lambertus/Aristoteles is our main witness to thirteenth-century musical thought in the decades between the treatises of Johannes de Garlandia and Franco of Cologne. Unique in its ambitions, this treatise presents both the rudiments of the practice of liturgical chant and the principles of polyphonic notation in a dense and rigorous manner like few music treatises of its time – a conceptual framework characteristic of Parisian university culture in the thirteenth century. This new edition of Lambertus’s treatise is the first since Edmond de Coussemaker’s of 1864. Christian Meyer’s edition is displayed on facing pages with Karen Desmond’s English translation, and the treatise and translation are prefaced by a substantial introduction to the text and its author by Christian Meyer, translated by Barbara Haggh-Huglo. Available from Routledge or buy it on amazon.com