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.

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