Ars nova Digital Humanities Medieval Music Theory Motet Music notation

My JAMS review of the Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum (TML)

My review of the Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum (TML) for the “Digital and Multimedia Scholarship” reviews section of the Journal of the American Musicological Society is now out. Here’s a link to a PDF of my review, by kind courtesy of the University of California Press. The first paragraph follows:

The Thesaurus Musicarum Latinarum (TML), subtitled an “Online Archive of Music Theory in Latin,” is among the handful of online resources that early music scholars consult with frequency—the other two being the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music (DIAMM, an image archive and catalog of manuscripts transmitting medieval polyphony) and the Cantus database (a searchable catalog of plainchant). All three were first developed in the earliest days of web-based scholarly resources, and all three have shed their HTML 2.0 look-and-feel courtesy of recent updates to their interface design. This review considers the newest version of the TML, released in 2017, focusing both on the improvements in usability and functionality of the 2017 version, and on the aims and scope of the TML project in general.

I’m also delighted to read Kate Helsen’s review of my “Measuring Polyphony” project, which is in the same issue (and in the same PDF linked to above). Here’s a brief excerpt:

The website Measuring Polyphony uses the most recent technology in digital transcription to “animate” upward of sixty of these motets as found in the pages of several well-known thirteenth- and fourteenth-century manuscripts. This project is more than simply a digital update to the more traditional format of the printed edition; each piece is linked to a high-resolution image of its appearance in the original manuscript, and an audio playback (in MIDI) is available for listening while watching the notes in the various voice parts turn red as they sound. These visual and auditory features lift these motets out of their traditional identity as academic notation exercises and imbue them with life, appealing to the “musician” within the “musicologist.” As a medievalist, my view is that we badly need this kind of revitalization, especially in the current academic climate, in which our field flirts increasingly with extinction.

Kate Helsen, “Review: Measuring Polyphony: Digital Encodings of Late Medieval Music,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, 72/3 (2019), 912-920, at 913.


Digital Humanities Motet

Measuring Polyphony

I’m very excited to announce the launch of the Measuring Polyphony website, a project I’ve been working on since my time as a postdoctoral Banting Fellow at McGill University.

The ‘Measuring Polyphony’ project presents, for the first time, digitisations of polyphonic compositions written during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in mensural notation, and linked directly, in most cases, to high-resolution images of the original manuscript sources, and live playback of the mensural scores as MIDI. I began this project at McGill, and I’m now continuing it at Brandeis University, with the support of a Provost’s Innovation Grant. The project leverages the potential of the rich digital image repositories of music manuscripts and the community-based standards for encoding music notation of the Music Encoding Initiative (MEI) and newly tools available libraries and tools for rendering MEI on the web, such as Verovio.

‘Measuring Polyphony’ has three goals:

  • makes scored-up transcriptions in the original notation and audio (MIDI) freely available online to performers, scholars, and the general public, presented alongside images of the original music manuscripts;
  • encodes the medieval notation in a standardised machine-readable format so that the music data can potentially be be searched or analysed using current tools, and through this interoperability make the data available to other websites and applications; and
  • makes the processes and tools for digitally encoding mensural polyphony in mensural notation freely available so that other stakeholders can easily and rapidly enlarge the dataset.

For more information on the encoding process, and to view and listen to the repertoire already encoded, bookmark Be sure to check out the acknowledgments to the entire project team and the project advisory board. Please be in touch if you have a repertoire of mensural compositions that you would like to encode and make available online.

For technical information on various aspects of the project, visit the Measuring Polyphony Github page.

Ars nova Digital Humanities Motet Philippe de Vitry

Digitally encoding early fourteenth-century motets

As a two-year Banting Fellow at McGill University, along with finishing my monograph, I’m also working on a project to digitally encode a core repertory of French motets from c. 1300 to 1340. With members of the SIMSSA team based at the Schulich School of Music, we eventually plan to present these transcriptions in an online web application side-by-side with images from the manuscript sources (or at least those with publicly-available images), and also to provide some web-based analytical tools for this repertory. Because the motets will be encoded in a standardised machine-readable format, and made available for download to the general public, other researchers and programmers will be able to access this data to conduct their own digital analyses of this repertory.

SIMSSA’s web-based tools can display, search, and browse manuscripts containing neumatic notationand analyse interval successions in countrapuntal music (using a programming framework based on Michael Scott Cuthbert’s music21 toolkit). These projects work with repertories written in neumatic notation and common practice notation: the goal of this project is to encode the details of the mensural notation of fourteenth-century motets. These specific notational details (such as note shape, mensuration, dots, plicas, etc.) and details of layout (such as staff or page ends) could eventually inform any online editions based on these encodings, and the subsequent digital analysis of this mensural repertory.

First things first, however. The initial phase of this project, already underway, aims to create critical encodings of a selected repertory of motets. The transcriptions are taken from a single manuscript source (and thus are diplomatic transcriptions and not editions), and the digital encodings of these transcriptions follow the MEI schema (a core set of rules developed for encoding music notation documents as XML). The MEI schema has a basic mensural notation module: some modifications and additions will probably have to be made to this module in order to capture and describe the features of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century mensural notations. Once the files are encoded in compliant MEI, it should be relatively straightforward to display the encoded transcriptions on the fly using a tool like Verovio, or to write programs to search or analyse the repertory using VIS or music21. At present, the encodings capture the following notational features:

  • the shape of each note (duplex long, breve, semibreve, minim, etc.);
  • rests as notated in the manuscript;
  • the actual duration of each note (whether notes are perfected, imperfected, or altered);
  • the implied mensuration (in some motets this is clearer than in others);
  • ascending and descending plicas added to longs or breves;
  • dots of division and perfection;
  • downward stems on semibreves;
  • staff breaks and page breaks;
  • ligature groupings and ligature type (c.o.p., with or without proprietas, with or without perfectio);
  • the underlaid text (in diplomatic transcription, expanding abbreviations, but without editing or standardising the spellings).
Garrit gallus in MEI
This figure shows the opening of the motet Garrit gallus/In nova from the manuscript Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, f. fr. 146 (hereafter Fauv), a marked-up transcription in Sibelius, with articulation marks indicating specific notational features, and the MEI file showing the content of the first long in the triplum voice. CLICK on the image for a larger version.

For the first phase of data entry, I’ve chosen to work with a representative sample of the French motet repertory dating from c. 1300 to c. 1340 (i.e., bridging the ars antiqua and ars nova). From the motets of the eighth fascicle of Mo, Fauv, and Br, I have chosen to encode those motets that have 3 or more syllabic semibreves in one or more voice parts. There are 23 motets in Mo 8 that fit this criteria, and 21 more that are in Fauv and/or Br. Added to this are six more motets specifically cited in the early ars nova theory sources (all six are also found in Iv and Trem). A final category comprises motets that are found in both Iv and Trem, and in one other of the following ars nova sources: either cited in a fourteenth-century theory treatise (other than the early ars nova treatises previously mentioned), or in one of the following music sources Cambrai, Durham, Pic, Strasbourg or Lbl 41667. This category adds a further 11 motets, bringing the total to 61 motets. These are listed at the end of this blog post.

These encodings, at present, capture the diplomatic transcription of each motet from one manuscript source: however, it would be possible at a later stage to overlay readings from concordant sources (through the Critical Apparatus module of the MEI schema) and thus produce online critical editions of these compositions. For example, a motet such as Tribum/Quoniam in this phase of the project is transcribed from a single source (in this case Fauv), and with all semibreves (whether in groups of two, three, or four) encoded simply as semibreves separated by dots of division (although those semibreves notated with a downward stem are specified in the encoding), if the concordant reading in Br were also to encoded, the semibreves minimae notated in this source (with upward stems) would be distinguished as such. Encoding the motets in this way allows for flexibility in imposing a mensural interpretation, for example, in those Fauv motets where it is unclear whether they are in tempus perfectum or imperfectum. One could envision an online edition where a performer could easily switch back and forth between different editorial interpretations of mensuration or rhythmic duration.

I would welcome any feedback regarding additional suggestions regarding the specific notational details to be encoded, or regarding the repertory chosen for this first phase of the project. We have already transcribed marked-up versions of 43 of these 61 motets into Sibelius, and are now working to convert them into MEI files, and to transcribe the remaining motets. Expanding the repertory in the future will simply be a matter of streamlining the process of transcription and conversion (for example, if we or others wanted to encode the remaining additional fascicles of Mo). Please feel free to leave your comments here, or email me directly.

Mo (fascicle 8)

Mout ai/Li dous/PORTARE (Mo 305)
O presul/ O virtutis/SACERDOTUM (Mo 306)
Dieus comment/ O regina/NOBIS CONCEDAS (Mo 307)
Par une matinee/O clemencie/D’un joli dart (Mo 309)
In sompnis/Amours/IN SOMPNIS (Mo 310)
Se je chante/Bien doi amer/ET SPERA(BIT) (Mo 311)
Au tans nouvel/Chele m’a tolu/J’ai fait tout nouveletement (Mo 312)
Dieus, comment puet/Vo vair/(TENOR) (Mo 314)
Se je sui/Jolietement/OMNES (Mo 316)
Aucun qui/Iure/[VIRGO] MARIA (Mo 317)
On parole/A Paris/ Frese nouvele (Mo 319)
De mes amours/ L’autrier/Defors Compiegne (Mo 321)
Marie assumptio/Huius chori /(TENOR) (Mo 322)
Li savours/ Li grant/Non veul mari (Mo 323)
Amor potest/Ad amorem/(TENOR) (Mo 328)
Virginale/ Descendi/ALMA (Mo 330)
Je cuidoie/ Se j’ai folement/SOLEM (Mo 332)
A maistre Jehan/Pour la plus/ALLELUYA (Mo 334)
Cis a petit/ Pluseur dient/PORTARE (Mo 335)
Amours/Solem iusticie /SOLEM (Mo 338)
Balam inquit/Balam inquit/BAL(L)AAM (Mo 340)
Huic ut placuit/Huic ut placuit/[HUIC MAGI] (Mo 341)
Qui d’amours/Tant me/VIRGA YESSE (Mo 342)

Fauv and/or Br

Quare fremuerunt/Tenor
Detractor/Qui secuntur
Trahunt/Ve qui gregi
Orbis orbatus/Vos pastores
Je voi/Fauvel
Se cuers/Rex
Servant/O Philippe
La mesnie/J’ai fait nouveletement
Inter amenitatis/Tenor
Inflammatus/Sicut de ligno
Garrit/In nova
Mater formosa/Gaude

Early ars nova theory (also in Iv and Trem)

Mon chant/Qui doloreus
Tuba/In arboribus

Iv and Trem and one of the following (Cambrai, Durham, Pic, Strasbourg or Lbl 41667 or a later ars nova theory treatise)

Cum statua/Hugo
O canenda/Rex
Se grasse/Cum venerint
Qui/Ha Fortune
Se pauor/Diex
Fortune mere/Ma dolour
L’amoureuse flour/ En l’estat
Je commence/Et je seray

Manuscript abbreviations

Mo  Montpellier, Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire, Section Médecine, H196

Fauv  Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, f. fr. 146

Br Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, Ms. 19606

Iv  Ivrea, Biblioteca Capitolare, Ms. 115

Trem Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, nouvelles acquisitions françaises 23190 [olim: ms of the duchess de la Trémoïlle]

Cambrai Cambrai, Mediathèque municipale, Ms B 1328

Durham Durham, Chapter Library, MS C.I.20

Pic Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Collection de Picardie 67

Strasbourg Strasbourg, Bibliothèque municipale, MS. 222.C.22

Lbl 41667 London, British Library, Add. 41667

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.”

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.

Digital Humanities Manuscripts Medieval Music Theory

My 2012 AMS Paper: The Ars nova and its hypertexts

I’m experimenting with a new presentation style (à la Lawrence Lessig), and I used it for my AMS paper this year (AMS New Orleans 2012 was terrific, btw, lots of medieval papers AND many digital tools/humanities papers). I’ve made a web-optimized (i.e., tiny and a little blurry but optimized for web delivery) QuickTime movie of my presentation, included below. I probably should have made a ‘live’ recording of the paper, as the audience was well-engaged (and there are very different issues of timing and response time when delivered in front of real live people), unfortunately I did not have the forethought to do so. Although I distributed a handout with the paper at AMS, the version I’ve recorded here does not require the handout. For reference purposes I’m including a ‘Works Cited’ list below. A more expansive version of this research will be forthcoming as an article in the 2012 volume of Musica disciplina.

Karen Desmond, “Texts in Play: The Ars nova and its Hypertexts (Including a Digital Edition of the Music Treatise Omni desideranti notitiam),” Musica disciplina 57 (forthcoming, 2012).

Further research plans for this project include a fuller consideration of all texts within the Ars nova tradition, and exactly how all of this relates to the Libellus texts (major and minor), and to other transmissions of these theories, such as found in the Quatuor principalia, the Sweeney anonymous treatise, and in the Berkeley manuscript transmission (e.g., the mysterious Dr. Goschalcus of Paris, etc.).


Early Ars nova theory sources present a complex web of interdependencies. Apart from the more substantial texts of Jehan des Murs and Marchetto da Padova, there are a number of sources containing short texts that appear to emanate from the orbit of Philippe de Vitry. Vitry’s role as the author of a definitive written text, however, is now regarded as doubtful, with the hypothesis favored that the extant sources are but remnants of an oral teaching tradition possibly originating with Vitry. We can study these ‘Vitrian’ texts today through editions published in various edited volumes, in journal articles dating from 1908, 1929 and 1958, and in the nineteenth-century Scriptores edition of Edmond de Coussemaker. The differing presentation formats, and specific editorial policies and accessibility issues, however, have served to obfuscate attempts at the analysis and interpretation of these texts.

While HTML versions of many medieval theory texts are available online (TML, Lexicon musicum Latinum), technologies available today could better present the relationships between these texts. In this paper, I demonstrate how these technologies might realize the potential of truly ‘hyper-textual’ editions that would reflect the fluidity and variance that characterize medieval texts. As a proof of concept, I have prepared a digital edition, following the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), of one important early Ars nova text (incipit ‘Omni desideranti notitiam’). This is the first modern edition of this text, which is extant in three Italian sources dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. My analysis of Omni desideranti notitiam demonstrates that Jacobus de Montibus used it, in his Speculum musicae, as a primary authority for the Vitrian tradition (in a written version), as did other fourteenth-century theorists. I reconsider the importance of this text within the early Ars nova, and I extrapolate on the advantages of presenting all the Ars nova texts online. Modern readers of a digital editions, using hypertext, could mimic the intertextual and indeed hypertextual experience existent within the medieval work (whether text or music), whose web of reference and allusion becomes apparent those in on the ‘game.’

Works Cited

[Anonymous]. De musica mensurabili. [Anonymous] De semibrevibus caudatis. Edited by C. Sweeney and A. Gilles. Vol. 13, Corpus scriptorum de musica. [Dallas, Texas]: American Institute of Musicology, 1971.

Aluas, Luminita Florea. ‘The ‘Quatuor principalia musicae’: an Introduction, Critical Text, and English Translation with Commentary’. Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1996.

Anglès, Higini. “De cantu organico: tratado de un autor catalán del siglo XIV.” Anuario musical, 13 (1958), pp. 18-24.

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

Anonymous. De valore notularum tam veteris quam novae artis (Ms. Paris, Bibl. Nat., lat. 15128). Anonymus, Compendium musicae mensurabilis tam veteris quam novae artis (Ms. Paris, Bibl. Nat., lat. 15128). Anonymus, De diversis maneriebus in musica mensurabili (Ms. Saint-Dié, Bibl. Municipale 42). Edited by G. Reaney. Vol. 30, Corpus scriptorum de musica. Neuhausen-Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag, American Institute of Musicology, 1982.

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.

Cuthbert, Michael Scott. “Palimpsests, Sketches and Extracts: The Organization and Compositions of Seville 5-2-25.” In Ars Nova Italiana del Trecento VII, edited by F. Zimei, pp. 57-78. Certaldo: Libreria Musicale Italiana, 2009.

Duhamel, Pascale. “L’enseignement de la musique à l’Université de Paris d’après le manuscrit BnF lat.7378A.” Acta Musicologica, 79 (2007), pp. 263-89.

Fischer, Kurt von. “Eine wiederaufgefundene Theoretikerhandschrift des späten 14. Jahrhunderts (Chicago, Newberry Library, MS 54.1-olim Codex cujusdam ognoti bibliophili Vindobonensis).” Schweizer Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft, 1 (1972), pp. 23-33.

Franco de Colonia. Ars cantus mensurabilis. Edited by G. Reaney and A. Gilles. Vol. 18, Corpus scriptorum de musica. [Dallas, Texas]: American Institute of Musicology, 1974.

Fuller, Sarah. “A Phantom Treatise of the Fourteenth Century?  The Ars nova.” Journal of Musicology, 4 (1985), pp. 23-50.

Gervais, Bertrand. “The Broken Line: Hypertexts as Labyrinths.” Sources. Revue d’études anglophones (1998), pp. 26-36.

Gilles, Andrè. “Un témoignage inédit de l’enseignement de Philippe de Vitry.” Musica Disciplina, 10 (1956), pp. 35-54.

Gilles, André, Jean Maillard, and Gilbert Reaney. “Philippe de Vitry, Ars nova (French translation).” Musica Disciplina, 11 (1957), pp. 12-30.

Gilles, André, and Gilbert Reaney. “A New Source for the Ars nova of Philippe de Vitry.” Musica Disciplina, 12 (1958), pp. 59-66.

Jacobi Leodiensis Speculum musicae. Edited by R. Bragard. Vol. 3, Corpus scriptorum musicae. Rome: American Institute of Musicology, 1955-73.

Johannes de Muris Notitia artis musicae et Compendium musicae.  Petrus de Sancto Dionysio Tractatus de musica. Edited by U. Michels. Vol. 17, Corpus scriptorum de musica. [Dallas, Texas]: American Institute of Musicology, 1972.

Klaper, Michael. “‘Verbindliches kirchenmusikalisches Gesetz’ oder belanglose Augenblickseingebung? Zur Constitutio Docta sanctorum patrum Papst Johannes’ XXII.” Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 60 (2003), pp. 69-95.

Kügle, Karl. “Vitry, Philippe de.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Allgemeine Enzyklopädie der Musik, edited by L. Finscher, cols. 58-67. Kassel, New York: Bärenreiter, 1994-2008.

Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. “The Emergence of Ars Nova.” Journal of Musicology, 13 (1995), pp. 285–317.

Marchi, Lucia. “Music and university culture in late fourteenth-century Pavia: The manuscript Chicago, Newberry Library, Case ms 54.1.” Acta musicologica, 80 (2008), pp. 143-64.

Michels, Ulrich. Die Musiktraktate des Johannes de Muris. Vol. 8, Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner, 1970.

Ms. Oxford, Bodley 842 (Willelmus), Breviarium regulare musicae.  Ms. British Museum, Royal 12. C. VI., Tractatus de figuris sive de notis.  Johannes Torkesey, Declaratio trianguli et scuti. Edited by G. Reaney. Vol. 12, Corpus scriptorum de musica. Rome: American Institute of Musicology, 1966.

Muris, Johannes de. Ars practica mensurabilis cantus secundum Iohannem de Muris: Die Recensio maior des sogenannten “Libellus practice cantus mensurabilis, edited by Christian Berktold. Edited by C. Berktold. Vol. 14, Veröffentlichungen der Musikhistorischen Kommission. München: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften; C. H. Beck, 1999.

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

Reaney, Gilbert. “A Postscript to Philippe de Vitry’s Ars Nova.” Musica Disciplina, 14 (1960), pp. 29-32.

Reaney, Gilbert, André Gilles, and Jean Maillard. “The ‘Ars nova’ of Philippe de Vitry.” Musica Disciplina, 10 (1956), pp. 5-12.

Reaney, Gilbert, Andrè Gilles, and Jean Maillard. “Ars nova magistri Philippi de Vitriaco.” Musica Disciplina, 10 (1956), pp. 13-34.

Taruskin, Richard. Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, The Oxford History of Western Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Wathey, Andrew, and Margaret Bent. “Vitry, Philippe de.”

Wolf, Johannes. “Ein anonymer Musiktraktat aus der ersten Zeit der ‘Ars Nova’.” Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch, 21 (1908), pp. 33–38.

___. “Ein Beitrag zur Diskantlehre des 14. Jahrhunderts.” Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 15 (1913–14), pp. 504–34.

___. “Ein Breslauer Mensuraltraktat des 15. Jahrhunderts.” Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 1 (1918–19), pp. 329–45.