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.

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