That ‘ars nova’ feeling

Detail of threads from “Abraham Entertaining the Angels” from Scenes from the Lives of Abraham and Isaac. Photo by Cristina Balloffet Carr, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Talking Heads, ‘New Feeling’ (Talking Heads:77, 1977)

The fourteenth-century moderni made a point of the ‘subtlety’ of their new art of music. Their comments on its subtlety (subtilitas) certainly got Jacobus worked up:

Some moderns consider those singers crude, uneducated, foolish, and ignorant who do not know the new art [of music], or who do not sing according to that art but according to the old art. And, consequently they consider the old art crude and almost irrational, yet the new art subtle and rational.

According to Jacobus, the musical subtleties embraced by the moderni were confusing, difficult, and malformed.  In turn, the moderni appear to have dissed the old art, calling it crude. Critiquing up-and-comers for unnecessary complexity is a well-worn trope, and in the second chapter of Music and the moderni, 1300-1350, I step through this trope’s use by previous writers, including Seneca and John of Salisbury, who both warned of the dangers of bedazzlement with stylistic superfluities.

Many of the subtleties of modern music that irked Jacobus – the syncopations, the precise subdivisions of duration, the new metrical possibilities – were made possible through the new system of ars nova notation outlined in theory treatises of the time. But the undercurrent in both Jacobus’s critique and the moderns’ embrace of the aesthetic of subtlety is not only that the ars nova sounded new, and incorporated new notational techniques, but that it ‘felt’ new.

Mary Carruthers has written eloquently on how the sensory perception of surfaces contributed to the aesthetic of beauty in the Middle Ages (The Experience of Beauty in the Middle Ages, Oxford, 2013); similarly, Paul Binski highlights the surface motion of architectural curvilinear forms, whose flexible  ‘undulation . . . inclines us by its wandering’ (Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice, and the Decorated Style, 1290-1350, Yale, 2014). One of my book’s illustrations features this delicately (and subtly) crafted Parisian table fountain from 1320-40) as an example of this haptic quality of subtlety in the visual arts.

Becoming attuned to the surface aesthetic of ars nova music is one way into understanding its new ‘feel’. Most of my chapter steps through of a comparison of two motets (one old, probably written in the mid-1310s, and one new, possibly written c.1350) in terms of their surface sound, which I’ll highlight here with two short audio excerpts.

In the ‘old’ motet (Vitry’s Tribum/Quoniam), a sparse two-voice texture predominates, with the three-voice texture reserved for points of arrival on perfectly consonant vertical sonorities. The resulting texture is one of opposition and sharp contrast, as you can hear in the excerpt below, where moments of dialogue or movement between two voices are continuously and regularly interrupted by exclamations fo sustained sonorities in all three voices.

Excerpt from Tribum/Quoniam (sung by the Orlando Consort, Philippe de Vitry and the Ars Nova: 14th-century Motets)

In the ‘new’ motet (the anonymous Apta/Flos) the textural changes are less overt, and the two contrasting textures, complex hockets and contrapuntally directed melodic exchanges, combine in a denser variegation of ebb and flow. Listen especially for the voice that begins in the middle of the texture (at 00:23), and crosses to the top with the words ‘et a grata gratia linea‘ (‘and with a pleasing line of grace’).

Excerpt from Apta/Flos (sung by the Orlando Consort, Philippe de Vitry and the Ars Nova: 14th-century Motets)

Click to see score

One of the first mentions of the term ‘texture’ (which derives from the Latin ‘textus’- woven; see the beautifully woven gold threads above) in a description of music comes from an anonymous fourteenth-century music theory treatise, the stitching together of textural contrast in vocal polyphony is compared to a delicate textile (see Rob C. Wegman’s full translation of this treatise here).

Here, one hockets, here, one draws [the notes] like threads, another syncopates . . . so that, like a solemn silk cloth, stamped by a variety of lengths, figures, and depictions, it completely restores the soul and nourishes the whole hearing.

Perhaps he had in mind an ars nova motet like Apta/Flos.


Up soon: the rhythmic innovations of the ars nova and the role of astronomer/music theorist Jean des Murs . . . 

Music and the ‘Moderns’


The music notation developed by ars nova theorists in the first half of the fourteenth century ushered in possibly the most significant change in the way in which musicians and composers in western Europe thought of musical composition, that is, as an act facilitated by the visual forms of music notation. Brand new possibilities were afforded by the expanded variety of note shapes, rests, dots, and metrical combinations. Jean des Murs (fl. 1312-47), a leading French astronomer and mathematician who first appears on the Parisian scene in the 1310s, was one of the main developers of the new music notation. Of it, he claimed : “Whatever can be sung, can now be written down.” Ars nova notation precipitated a series of new compositional techniques that characterised fourteenth-century music, such as syncopation, counterpoint, and complex repetitive formal structures. It also generated heated debate, especially among music theorists based in Paris. The attitudes of its proponents – the so-called “moderni” – prompted laments like this from Jacobus, a vociferous critic of the ars nova

Oh, so much abuse, so much illegality, so much vanity, so much insolence, so much uselessness, so much rudeness! Oh, so much presumption in the figuring of the notes, so much confusion! (Speculum musicae, book VII, chapter 27)

My new book Music and the moderni, 1300-1350: The ars nova in theory and practice, which was published by Cambridge University Press last month, explores the writings, music, and interactions of the main ars nova protagonists, and identifies and explains what was at stake for them (and the rest of us). Through contemporaneous accounts, I situate the musical developments of this crucial half century within the cultural and intellectual context of the time.

The discoveries I present in this book challenge prevailing narratives of the ars nova, which had previously coupled the emergence of the ars nova too specifically to the c. 1320 copying date of the famous Roman de Fauvel manuscript. I propose instead that the musical aesthetics of the fourteenth-century moderni, derided by older theorists like Jacobus, is bound up with ideas of subtilitas and mathematical precision in notation and style only exemplified in writings and music compositions from the 1330s and 1340s. Music and the moderni, 1300-1350 revisits broader questions about both the chronology and character of the ars nova, and how changes in theory and notation can engender changes in style and practice.

In series of blog posts of the next few weeks, I will introduce some of the ideas and music discussed in my book. Next up: the aesthetic of subtilitas (subtlety)–a surprisingly hard-to-pin-down term with both positive and negative connotations in the Middle Ages–and how it was embraced by the fourteenth-century moderni.

Medieval Notation Seminar at Brandeis

Guillaume de Machaut, Doulz amis (ballade) as copied in BnF fr. 1584 (Machaut A), fol. 456v

A quick post about one of the courses I’ll be teaching at Brandeis this Fall 2018: “Seeing Sound: The History and Practice of Notation to c.1500.” To the left is one of the songs we’ll work on–a two-voice fourteenth-century ballade by Guillaume de Machaut. This is an intense but fun course, and very hands-on. Each week students work on a different medieval notation–from chant through to keyboard tablatures of the fifteenth century–learning how to interpret and transcribe the notation directly from high-quality images of the original manuscript sources, and from the explanations given in contemporaneous theory treatises. Brandeis University is part of a cross-registration consortium within Boston that includes Tufts University, Boston University, and Boston College, so if you are a student in any of these institutions and are interested in taking the course, please get in touch. For a course flyer, click the link below.  The course blurb follows.

Notation Seminar Flyer

The late ninth century witnessed a major technological breakthrough in the transmission of music in western Europe that was to have far-reaching consequences. Chants that had been taught orally for several centuries began to be encoded on parchment using signs placed above text syllables that recorded the shape and contour of the chant melodies. Systems of music notation spread rapidly across Europe, and took root as the way to record, archive, share, and (eventually) compose music. This graduate seminar course examines the form and function of music notation, and how the writing down of music transformed music practice. Students will transcribe music from a variety of early notation systems, working with high quality facsimiles and online reproductions of the original manuscripts.

Did Philippe de Vitry write a music theory treatise?

My article titled ‘Did Vitry write an Ars vetus et nova?’ has just been published in the Journal of Musicology. By kind permission of the University of California Press, I have posted a PDF of the article on my personal page. The article abstract is as follows:

In book 7 of his Speculum musicae, the fourteenth-century music theorist Jacobus structures a defense of music as it had been practiced in the thirteenth century by such eminent musicians and theorists as Lambertus, Franco, and Petrus de Cruce against the practices of certain unnamed moderni active at the time of Jacobus’s writing. While Jacobus’s quotations from various theoretical works by Jehan des Murs have long been recognized, it previously had been supposed that the remaining quotations were jumbled references from many different theorists. With specific reference to Philippe de Vitry only two quotations from the text edited in vol. 8, Corpus scriptorum de musica, had been identified previously. In fact, there is substantial sustained treatment of a single author, whom I have termed the doctor modernus and who is not Jehan des Murs, that occupies at least five contiguous central chapters of book 7. Following Jacobus’s practice in the previous six books of commentary on a handful of specific works, the writing of Book 7 appears to have been structured around the written works of just four theorists: Lambert, Franco, Jehan des Murs, and the doctor modernus. Furthermore, Jacobus’s vehemence toward the doctor modernus was particularly pronounced and may indicate a personal relationship between the two men. His treatise is quoted with reference to some fundamental ars nova theories, such as extension of long notes beyond the duplex long, remote imperfection, the use of imperfect longs, and imperfect measure in general, and his treatise is described as outlining the precepts of both the old and new arts. The similarities between the treatise of the doctor modernus and many ars nova theory texts (some of which were attributed to Vitry) hints at the possibility that the treatise of the doctor modernus may have been the ancestor text that these other texts had in common, and hence also that Philippe de Vitry may have been the author of the text known to Jacobus, whose subject was the Ars vetus et nova .

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.

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.

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.”

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.

Florentius on Music

My review of Florentius de Faxolis: Book on Music, edited by Bonnie Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), will appear in the November issue of Early Music. It is available now online through advance access on the Early Music site. Copyright belongs to Oxford University Press, and it is now their policy to allow authors to include links on their personal websites to free access versions of their work. So, by kind permission of Oxford University Press, here is the Full text version and the PDF version of my review. The first paragraph reads:

This elegant volume—issued as part of the I Tatti Renaissance Library series—offers the Latin text and an English translation of a 15th-century treatise on music written by the musician and priest Florentius de Faxolis (1461–96). The editors, Bonnie J. Blackburn and Leofranc Holford-Strevens, also provide detailed notes to both the text and translation, an opening chapter that serves to introduce Florentius the man and his cultural context, a chapter on Florentius’s Latin, and a textual commentary that elaborates on some of the more significant or interesting points of theory contained in his Liber musices.

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.

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