Ars nova Escorial O.II.10 Jean des Murs Medieval Music Theory

Jehan des Murs, Astronomer and Music Theorist

GB-Lbl Burney 275, f. 390v. For full size image and detail, click here:

At the recent 2015 International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, Michigan, I had a chance to present some of my new work on Jehan des Murs, astronomer and music theorist, that I’m working on as a chapter of my monograph Greedy for New Things: Novelty in Music c. 1300-1340. Serendipitously, I presented my paper on May 14. On the afternoon of that exact date 632 years ago, Jehan observed a solar eclipse in the presence of Jeanne de France, the twenty-one-year-old Queen of Navarre – I opened my paper with a description of this event. They observed the eclipse in a castle that Jeanne had commissioned to be built in Saint-Germain, Évreux, but reportedly had named ‘Navarre’ (this name might give musicologists pause, given that minims were supposedly ‘invented’ in Navarre!).

In my paper I addressed the chronology of Jehan’s writings on music theory in light of revised chronologies of his astronomical and astrological works, and I also considered two aspects of Jehan’s scientific orientation that contextualise his work in music theory-namely, how he negotiates the novelty of his work with respect to that of prior authorities (his auctoritates), and his propensity for continuously revising and recasting his writings in order to cater for particular audiences.  An abstract of the paper follows, and stay tuned for more in my forthcoming book!

Although he wrote at least two and possibly four substantial music treatises in the 1320s, Jehan des Murs’s primary preoccupation at the beginning of his career appears to have been with figuring out and disseminating within Paris a new system of astronomy devised in the court of Alfonso X in Toledo. Recent scholarship on Jehan’s writings on astronomy offers a more accurate chronology of his output and activity than was the case in 1970 when Ulrich Michels published on the music treatises. We now have a greater understanding of Jehan’s central role in the introduction and development of Alfonsine astronomony in Western Europe—a system that was to hold say until the revolution of the Copernican heliocentric model. This paper reconciles the facts we know of Jehan’s biography with these new assessments of Jehan’s activity as an astronomer in the 1320s. Jehan’s tables of the stars’ and planets’ positions, based upon the experiential data gathered from his own observations made using the latest technologies, along with the new methods he devised for allowing others to easily calculate planetary longitudes, finally offered the possibility of a more precise and accurate calendar. And although Jehan nominally acknowledges his debt to older scholars (in much the same way as he does in Notitia artis musicae), he is more concerned with recording the true positions of the celestial bodies and precisely measuring reality than he is in ‘standing on the shoulders’ of those who have gone before. His writing betrays a confidence (and some might say arrogance) about the veracity and importance of his work and his conclusions. This paper contends that a similar attitude pervaded Jehan’s work as a music theorist where the aim is to more precisely measure, and indeed reform the entire system of musical time with one more clearly based upon the physical reality of sound and time as a sensibly perceived, and a lack of concern with appeasing those invested in older, less accurate, systems.

Chanson Citation Guillaume de Machaut Medieval Refrain Philippe de Vitry

Song and Competitive Citation

My review of Yolanda Plumley’s book The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut (OUP, 2013) has recently been published in Plainsong and Medieval Music, who have graciously provided a link to download a free PDF, available here:

The citation and first paragraph of my review follows:

Karen Desmond. Book review of The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut by Yolanda Plumley (Oxford University Press, 2013) in Plainsong and Medieval Music 24 (2015), pp. 99-103.

Anyone who listened to BBC radio broadcasts from the 1950s to the 1980s should remember the popular game show My Word. The last segment of the show featured the two team captains, Denis Norden and Frank Muir, competing to tell the best story that would explain, and end with, a famous phrase or quotation supplied by the game show host. Listeners delighted in the anticipation of the catchphrase, for as the clock ran down, it seemed that the phrase became more and more incompatible with the story unfolding. Norden and Muir endeavoured to outdo each other’s displays of erudition, constrained by the generic requirements of the show’s format, the imposed time limit on their story’s length, and the need for the story to end with the supplied quotation. Such competitive composition, or ‘poetic jousting’ as Yolanda Plumley terms it, between medieval poets and composers, is at the centre of her new book on fourteenth-century song, The Art of Grafted Song: Citation and Allusion in the Age of Machaut. In it, through a virtuosic display that traverses almost a century of song, and considers almost 350 works (as listed in the ‘Index of Cited Compositions’ at the end of the book), Plumley examines the circumstances in which, and the processes by which, fourteenth-century faiseurs plucked material from other contexts and ‘grafted’ it—to use Plumley’s horticultural metaphor, derived from the medieval verb enter (p. 10)—into new works.

Liège Liturgical Chant

The Celebration of the Founder Bishops of Liège

I’m happy to provide a link to a wonderful book by Catherine Saucier that I reviewed recently for Early Music, and which is now available on the website Oxford University Press through advance access. I’d highly recommend reading this book not only to those interested in medieval liturgy or the city of Liège, but to anyone interested in the involvement of individual actors in the structuring the narrative of their past, and in particular their civic past, and in how we as cultural historians might recover that narrative through careful analysis and consideration of the the partial remnants that survive in the archives, liturgical books, literature, art, and architecture of a medieval city. The link to the PDF by kind courtesy of Oxford University Press follows, as does the citation and first paragraph of my review.

Karen Desmond, ‘Clergy and City’. Book Review of A Paradise of Priests: Singing the Civic and Episcopal Hagiography of Medieval Liège by Catherine Saucier (University of Rochester Press, 2014) in Early Music (April 2015).

Full Text:


In A Paradise of Priests, Catherine Saucier weaves a compelling narrative centered on the lives of Liège’s founder-bishops as celebrated in the hagiography, art, rituals, and music made, enacted, and reenacted by the medieval clerical population of the Liège. Through an expert examination of an impressively vast array of sources—including archival, liturgical, artistic, and hagiographic—Saucier analyses the changing image of the city and its founder-bishops through nine centuries of documentary record. The story centers on the celebration of the lives and deaths of three bishops—Theodard (d. ca. 668), Lambert (d. ca. 700), and Hubert (d. 727)—who were credited with the foundation, promotion, and protection of Liège. Liège, a large and wealthy city, and capital of the prince-bishopric from 985, had large numbers of secular clergy, encompassing a cathedral and seven collegiate church chapters totaling (in the fourteenth century) between 700 to 800 canons (p. 32). It was, as Petrarch observed, a ‘place noted for its clergy’ (p. 4).

Guillaume de Machaut Medieval Refrain Motet

Jennifer Saltzstein on the Refrain

My review of Jennifer Saltzstein’s new book The Refrain and the Rise of the Vernacular in Medieval French Poetry published last year (2012) by Boydell & Brewer has been published in Speculum (July 2014). The link to a PDF follows as does the first paragraph of my review:

Jennifer Saltzstein’s revisionist study of refrains in the music and poetry of medieval France examines why specific refrains were invoked in specific compositional contexts and within specific communities. The results of this study bring into question the long-held assumption that surviving refrains are the remnants of a lost repertoire of orally transmitted popular song. Through her examination of refrain transmission and distribution, Saltzstein instead relocates refrain quotation within the literate traditions of their clerical poet-composers in order to reveal “an intellectual framework for the practice of refrain usage that has largely been overlooked, namely, the conception of auctoritas in medieval writing” (29).

Escorial O.II.10 Jean des Murs Medieval Music Theory

The ‘Partes prolationis’ of Jehan des Murs

I delivered a paper on a newly-transcribed fourteenth-century treatise on mensurable music (possibly written by Jehan des Murs) at the 42nd Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference held at the University of Birmingham, 3-6 July 2014. I hope to put the text of the treatise online when I have it fully transcribed: so far I have about 85% of its text deciphered. What follows below is the paper abstract, a works cited list, and a video of my presentation slides with an audio recording of my paper.


Within the mid-fourteenth century Parisian manuscript F-Pn lat. 7378A, three as yet unedited music treatises are found, copied in a tiny, highly abbreviated script in a section of the manuscript devoted mostly to the music treatises of Jehan des Murs. The incipits of the three treatises are as follows: ‘Omnes homines scire desiderant’; ‘Partes prolationis quot sunt’ and ‘Celebranda divina sunt officia in ecclesia’. Lawrence Gushee suggested that Jehan des Murs may be their author, since des Murs listed a book loan of a work authored by him with incipit ‘Omnes homines’ in the Escorial manuscript (O.II.10) that contains his autograph annotations. This paper considers the content of the second treatise, which appears to be closely related to Jehan des Murs’s own Compendium artis musicae. The Compendium begins: ‘Partes prolationis quot sunt? Quinque’ whereas the answer to the same opening question posed in the F-Pn lat. 7378A treatise is ‘Quattuor’. The text of this treatise is considered as a witness to early Ars nova theory as it relates to des Murs’s early works and to the transmission of these texts within the layer of F-Pn lat. 7378A that is devoted to works by des Murs (on both music and astronomy) and his contemporaries in these fields.

Works Cited

Chabás, José, and Bernard Goldstein. “John of Murs Revisited: The Kalendarium solis et lune for 1321.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 43 (2012): 412-37.
Chabás, José, and Bernard R. Goldstein. The Alfonsine Tables of Toledo. Vol. 8, Archimedes: New Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2003.
———. “Early Alfonsine Astronomy in Paris: The Tables of John Vimond (1320).” (2009): 207-94.
———. “John of Murs’s Tables of 1321.” Journal of Astronomy 40, no. 3 (2009): 297.
Desmond, Karen. “New Light on Jacobus, Author of Speculum musicae.” Plainsong and Medieval Music 9, no. 1 (2000): 19-40.
Goldstein, Bernard R., and David Pingree. Levi ben Gerson’s Prognostication for the Conjunction of 1345. Vol. 80/6, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society, 1990.
Gushee, Lawrence. “Jehan des Murs and his Milieu.” In Musik – und die Geschichte der Philosophie und Naturwissenschaften im Mittelalter, edited by Frank Hentschel, 339-72. Leiden: Brill, 1998.
———. “New Sources for the Biography of Johannes de Muris.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 22 (1969): 3-26.
Hugonnard-Roche, H. L’oeuvre astronomique de Thémon Juif, maître parisien du XIVe siècle. Genève/Paris1973.
Jacquart, Danielle. “Rapport de la Table ronde Les disciplines du quadrivium (Paris et Oxford, XIIIe-XVe siècles).” In L’Enseignement des disciplines à la Faculté des arts, edited by Olga Weijers et al., 239-47. Leuven: Brepols, 1997.
Michels, Ulrich. Die Musiktraktate des Johannes de Muris. Vol. 8, Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1970.
Poulle, Emmanuel. “The Alfonsine Tables and Alfonso X of Castille.” Journal for the History of Astronomy 19 (1988): 97-113.
———. “Jean de Murs et les tables alphonsines.” Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen âge 47 (1980): 241-71.
Rico, Gilles. “Music in the Arts Faculty of Paris in the Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Centuries.” D. Phil. diss., Oxford University, 2005.
Ristory, Heinz. Denkmodelle zur französischen Mensuraltheorie des 14. Jahrhunderts. Vol. 81, Musicological Studies. Ottowa: The Institute of Mediaeval Music, 2004.
Thomson, Ron B. Jordanus de Nemore and the Mathematics of Astrolabes: De plana spera. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978.
Tomasello, Andrew. Music and Ritual at Papal Avignon, 1309-1403. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1983.
Wathey, Andrew, and Margaret Bent. “Vitry, Philippe de.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online,
Werner, Eric. “The Mathematical Foundation of Philippe de Vitri’s “Ars nova”.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 9 (1956): 128-32.

Digital Humanities Jean des Murs Medieval Music Theory Motet Philippe de Vitry

Greedy for New Things

I am very grateful to have been awarded a one-year NEH Research Fellowship for my book project on music and music theory in the early fourteenth century. I commenced the fellowship in January of this year (2014) and I’m happy to report that research and writing has been proceeding apace. By way of outlining what I’ve been working on, I’ve pasted below the ‘Abstract’ and ‘Research and Contribution’ sections of the my grant proposal. These are written for a general audience, but give some idea of the scope of my project.


The literary theorist Terry Eagleton once observed: “All periods are modern, but not all of them live their experience in this mode.” Musicians and composers of the early fourteenth century did appear to live their experience in this way: their contemporaries labeled them as “the moderns” (“moderni”) and their compositional art as “new” (Ars nova) in opposition to that of the thirteenth century, which they called “old” (Ars vetus). My book Greedy for New Things: The Meaning of Novelty in Early Fourteenth-Century Music will explore novelty as a concept in music and other intellectual endeavors in Europe during the later Middle Ages, and identify the moments when fourteenth-century musicians sought out novelty, why they might have done so, and how their music was judged when they did.

* * * * *

The Ars nova was the equivalent of a medieval “avant-garde” movement with a sound that combined new rhythms, harmonies and texts in complex structural and formal layers. The complexity was made possible by the emergence of a new system for writing down musical rhythms. There are relatively few compositions that survive from this time: the most well-known are in the Roman de Fauvel (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 146), a manuscript compiled c1317-1318. Two theoretical treatises mark the advent of the new style: the Notitia artis musicae (“A Short Introduction to the Art of Music”) by Jehan des Murs (c1321) and another treatise from around the same time by the composer Philippe de Vitry, or at least based on his teachings. The actual circumstances in which the music of the Ars nova emerged, however, remain murky. It seems likely – and this is rare in the history of western music – that the notational system of the Ars nova was worked out in theory before it was applied in practice. As Richard Taruskin has remarked: “Never before nor since has theory ever so clearly – or so fruitfully – outrun and conditioned practice.”

In the 1990s there was a flurry of activity around the Roman de Fauvel and its cultural contexts (Roesner et al., eds., Leech-Wilkinson, Bent and Wathey, eds., Dillon), and more recently Elizabeth Eva Leach and Anna Zayaruznaya have made major contributions to our understanding of the Ars nova composers Guillaume de Machaut and Vitry. Ars nova music theory, on the other hand, has suffered some neglect (see, however, Gallo, Haas, Fuller, Hentschel, Tanay). In the last few years, there has also been a resurgence of interest in thirteenth-century music (the Ars antiqua) – witness the two major international conferences on the Ars antiqua in Princeton (2011) and Southampton (2013) – yet traditionally there has been a tendency for scholars to focus on either the Ars antiqua or the Ars nova, and the transitional period, which saw the emergence of the new style, has often been given short shrift. Given its historical significance, much also remains to be done on the music notation of the Roman de Fauvel manuscript and other contemporaneous manuscripts. Building on my previous work on medieval music theory, my monograph will analyze the music theory and notation of this transitional period, in the context of how medieval intellectuals in many fields articulated and evaluated notions of the “new.”

Guillaume de Machaut

Snake Music!

vipereMy essay on Machaut’s use of animal imagery in his Balades 27 and 38 has been published in Early Music History. I’ve also included new transcriptions of these balades in my article. With the kind permission of Cambridge University Press, this link provides a direct free download of this article. Here is the abstract of the article:

In balades 27 and 38, Machaut likens the wounds suffered by the lover to those that result from the poisons of deadly beasts. He invokes animal imagery to depict the beloved and her behaviour: she encloses within her being monstrous beasts that repel and repulse the lover, causing him grievous bodily harm. In the course of both balades the deadly beasts transform into various allegorical characters that are personifications of secular vices. One of these characters, Refusal (‘Refus’), emerges as central. Machaut personifies the lady’s rejection of the lover’s advances (which he makes through words/music) as the courtly vice Refusal. In Balade 27, it is her sense organs that enact this refusal: her ears cannot hear him, her mouth rejects him, and her Look kills him. I explore the resonances of Machaut’s sadistic and animalistic lady in two spheres: the courtly, where the obvious antecedents for Machaut’s imagery are the courtly bestiaries; and the sacred, where parallels between Refusal and the deadly sins of pride and envy can be detected, as suggested by my interpretation of these two balades and some of Machaut’s motets, and the links I set forth between these sins, vices, and the senses that partake in them.

Digital Humanities Manuscripts

Real Live Books!

Screen Shot 2013-09-29 at 17.55.10I was recently invited to give a short presentation as part of a panel on how research relates to the theme of “liveness” for an interdisciplinary symposium “Rethinking Liveness: Music, Performance and Media Technology” hosted by the Department of Music at University College Cork. I had not previously attempted to articulate explicitly how liveness relates to my own work and to medieval studies in general, but it turned out to be a useful frame. My remarks follow below.

My first monograph, which I am currently researching and writing, is concerned with the concept of novelty, and how newness is characterized, defined, and considered as an aesthetic within the music of the later Middle Ages. Also, through my research on music theory of the Middle ages I attempt to connect theoretical treatises to particular individuals: the authors, the scribes who transmitted or communicated these texts, but also the textual communities who used these texts (see Brian Stock, The Implications of Literacy: Written Language and Models of Interpretation in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, on “textual communities”), recognising all of their presences in the material object that survives in our time. I also consider the impact of the particular technology of the ‘critical printed edition’ – i.e., our modern presentations of a medieval texts – on our understandings of the “works” these texts contain, and how we might use new digital technologies to in some way “reanimate” the persons who interacted with these texts, or “recreate” for ourselves new ways that we can interact and live with these texts.

We primarily use digital technologies are used in medieval studies in two ways: 1) access and dissemination through the large-scale digitization of medieval manuscripts (Gallica, BVMM (Bibliothèque Virtuelle des Manuscrits Médiévaux, Vatican Library, etc.); and 2) analysis of the digitized object(s), that may draw attention to aspects of form, structure, style, or comparisons, that were previously unnoticed because of the particular technology in which they were previously stored (whether manuscript, or printed edition). The metaphor of “bringing texts to life” may be apt, if cliché (“this book/TV programme/film/website will bring history to life”!). Turn the phrase around, and it is a key term in medieval textual studies, describing a key characteristic of medieval texts that is embodied in their variance, mutability, and non-fixity, that is most often described with a french phrase “textes vivants” or living texts.

When we make a critical edition we create an idealized version of a text that never existed (lived) in reality. Direct access to the manuscript tells of the other lives of these texts and each manuscript version represents a particular instantiation resulting from the experiences of the scribe, illuminator, author, reader or performer. This is a dynamic, rather than a static process and renders a text that scholars have described as moving or mobile – Paul Zumthor famously termed this phenomenon the mouvance of medieval texts.

A lot of the work I’ve been doing recently is with a music theory treatise that we called the Ars nova – a text that has been privileged in our music histories as announcing and articulating the concepts of new musical style evident in the music of the early fourteenth century, and until recently considered to have been written by the important medieval composer Philippe de Vitry c1320 (Fuller 1985). This historical narrative resulted partly due to the processes required for presenting this text in a printed book format. The source situation tells a different story, for there is in fact no one definitive text of the Ars nova, but many different versions, transmitted in many different manuscripts. Being able to access these manuscripts directly and individually, and reading them as particular instantiations of this work of theory brings us into more direct contact with the performative life of particular manuscripts.

The media or technology through which texts can be presented, whether manuscript, printed book, or webpage provides different – pardon the modern term – user experiences. The manuscript book – written on the skin of a dead animal, whose hair and flesh side we can still feel when we interact with these books – was a technology often used in quite different ways to the ways in which a printed book came to be used: for example, communal reading was common, particularly when performing music. The narrative of many medieval works, as accessed through both text and image, is often less linear than that which is presented in later printed works – for example, as found in the Roman de Fauvel (as pointed out by many modern scholars, including Nancy Freeman Regalado) and the Roman de la rose.

Once digitized, we can use digital technologies to manipulate and analyse the digitized data.  Bruce Holsinger flags for us the digital archive project of Joanna Swafford at UVa, which allows the the viewer/listener to hear and see this archive of Victorian songs simultaneously while reading the scores online, integrating audio files with high-resolution images of first edition scores. We talk about websites going “live” –this website is almost alive – the experience watching it is like watching a player piano.

The Josquin Research Project, led by Jesse Rodin at Stanford University works, offers digital tools for accessing and analyzing music from c.1420-c1520, including Josquin’s music. This video describes how this digitized data was used to present visualizations of the musical analysis of motets as they were performed live at a concert in the Spring of 2013. Professor Ge Wang, a composer and collaborator for this event, comments on the video that the essence of the visualizations “preserve the life, the soul of the music, while also carefully, perhaps experimentally, provide a different place through which to experience this music.’

In his blog, Burnable Books, Bruce Holsinger invited Machaut scholar Deborah McGrady to write a guest blog to discuss her experiences of working with digital texts. McGrady taught a course in Spring 2012 at UVa titled “Textual Bodies: The Making of Books, Authors and Readers in the Middle Ages,” which used as its primary source material the huge collection of digitized versions of Machaut’s manuscripts (in libraries all over the world, many at bibliotheque nationale). Some of the questions she asked of her students were:

Do weight, texture, and shape of books embody meaning?

Can we restrict reading to an intellectual activity removed from sensual encounters with the objects we hold in our hands, scroll over on our screens, violate or embellish with our marginal comments?

Once the course was finished, McGrady remarks:

I ended it with an unprecedented personal need that far surpassed intellectual justification and that was only satiated when I arrived at the BN and had a codex in hand. When big data creates a need to touch, feel, and smell the codex to satisfy a research agenda, it introduces just the kind of radical change (still) needed in Medieval Studies.

Many us became medievalists because of the particular objects that we get to work with, i.e., medieval manuscripts that are fascinating and often gorgeous physical objects. The way in which we used to research involved traveling to wonderful libraries and archives and physically touching these books, which were once touched by the scribes of the manuscripts, who knew much more about their contents than us, but with whom we attempt to closer to through the physical study of these manuscripts, and the tactile experience of their work. We’re left an intriguing dilemma: these digital technologies which provide access and offer new and dynamic ways of interacting with medieval texts at the same time radically subvert the intimate and resonant experience of interacting with a ‘Real Live Book’.

Digital Humanities Medieval Music Theory

To all desiring knowledge . . .

Although my online edition of the fourteenth-century treatise Omni desideranti notitiam has been live for some months, I recently acquired, and was very kindly given permission to display, color images from the Newberry source of the treatise, so I thought this was a good time to post about my edition here.

This key music theory text within the fourteenth-century Ars nova tradition is found in three manuscript sources of Italian provenance dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth-centuries: in a manuscript copied by G. Frater de Anglia in Pavia in 1391, and now preserved in the Newberry Library in Chicago (Ms. 54.1, ff. 52v-56v, hereafter Cn); in a manuscript of Italian and Catalan origin dating from the early fifteenth century, Seville, Biblioteca Capitular y Colombina, Ms. 5-2-25, ff. 63r-64v (hereafter Sc); and a late fifteenth-century paper manuscript of Italian origin, Siena, Biblioteca comunale, Ms. L.V.30, ff. 129r-129v (hereafter Su).

The text as preserved in Cn has no modern edition: it was edited in the nineteenth century by Coussemaker, apparently from a copy of this manuscript transcribed by Coussemaker’s friend Ferdinandus Wolf. The text from Sc was transcribed by Higini Anglès in an article from 1929 (other than his expansion of scribal abbreviations, there are no editorial interventions in this transcription, with the exception of a few exclamation marks). Su was edited by Gilbert Reaney and included as one representative of the Vitrian tradition presented in volume 8 of Corpus scriptorum musicae (1964; there was no mention by Reaney in the introduction to the text of the parallel versions found in Cn and Sc). As mentioned in a previous blog post, I presented a paper on this edition at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in New Orleans (Oct 31-Nov 4, 2012) and it is also the the subject of my article forthcoming in Musica disciplina: ‘Texts in Play: The Ars nova and its Hypertexts’, Musica disciplina. Once this article is published, I will post here on the importance of this treatise within the Ars nova tradition, and the relationship between it, Vitry’s Ars nova treatise and the Libellus of Jehan des Murs. Suffice it to say for the moment that the Omni desideranti notitiam is attributed to Philippe de Vitry in two of its three manuscript transmissions, and there is no good reason to doubt the veracity of these attributions.

For now, I wanted to introduce some features of my online edition. This online edition of the Omni desideranti treatise is intended as a proof-of-concept model for a digital editing approach to medieval music theory. It follows TEI encoding standards (the most up-to-date guidelines may be found at Using the XML files based on the TEI schema, a traditional critical edition is offered, where variant readings are displayed in the footnotes. Diplomatic transcriptions of the text as found in the three different sources are presented in parallel with high-quality images of the manuscript sources (here’s the transcription of the Chicago ms). The free software tool ZoomifyTM allows the user to zoom in on these images, while also protecting the image files from illegal downloads (to access the Zoomify images, click on the ‘CLICK TO ZOOM’ links in the right columns of any of the transcription pages, see for example, the transcription page of the Seville ms). An English translation is provided, and a collation of the the three witnesses generated by the JuxtaTM web service. Using the same data files, PDF, Word, ePub versions of the texts and translation can be generated: these are provided as downloads on the website. The advantages of this edition include the higher level of transparency into any editorial interventions as the evidence of the transcriptions and the original source documents are displayed side-by-side. In addition, it allows for a greater degree of interactivity on the part of the user as one can examine paragraphs or sections of text more closely. This edition is intended to spark comment and debate about the future and potential of these types of approaches for musicology, and for any feedback to assist other individuals and institutions working on larger, more robust and scalable applications. I would be happy to receive any comments or feeback on the edition.

Works Cited

Anglès, Higini. “Dos tractats medievals de música figurada.” In Musikwissenschaftliche Beiträge: Festschrift für Johannes Wolf zu seinem sechzigsten Geburtstag, edited by H. Osthoff W. Lott, and W. Wolffheim, 6-10. Berlin: Breslauer, 1929.

Coussemaker, Edmond de. Scriptorum de musica medii aevi. Novam seriem a Gerbertina alteram collegit nuncque primum edidit E. de Coussemaker. 4 vols. 1876, facsimile edition; G. Olms: Hildesheim, 1963.

Philippi de Vitriaco Ars nova. Edited by Gilbert Reaney, André Gilles and Jean Maillard. Vol. 8, Corpus scriptorum de musica. [Rome]: American Institute of Musicology, 1964.

Manuscripts Motet

Emma Dillon and The Sense of Sound

My review of Emma Dillon’s new book The Sense of Sound: Musical Meaning in France, 1260-1330 published last year (2012) by Oxford University Press, is now available online at The Medieval Review (publication date: January 4, 2013). The link to the review follows as does the first paragraph of my review:

The urban landscape of France at the turn of fourteenth century vibrated–just as it does today–with sound. This medieval soundscape is the subject of Emma Dillon’s new book, which invites the reader on a whistle-stop tour of the variety of contexts and activities in which sound assumed a central role. What is left to us today of this world is exclusively visual: we may still gaze on the art and architecture of that time–but we must recreate and reimagine its sound world from the scant evidence that is preserved in visual media. We “hear” their poets by reading words transcribed on manuscript pages, and we “hear” their music through our recreation of their music notation systems, which necessarily involves interpretation even with respect to the most fundamental elements as pitch and rhythm. Other details of how their music sounded and resounded (timbres, dynamics, vocal and instrumental forces employed, and so on) are even more difficult to ascertain. But Dillon goes beyond summoning music manuscripts in her examination of sound and meaning in medieval life, tapping into a rich variety of source materials that includes literary accounts, manuscript illuminations, and prayer books.