Medieval Music Theory

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.

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.

Liturgical Chant Manuscripts Medieval Music Theory

Review of Ars musicae septentrionalis

I’m a bit late posting this but my review of Ars musica septentrionalis: De l’interprétation du patrimoine musical à l’historiographie, ed. Barbara Haggh and Frédéric Billiet (Presses de l’université Paris-Sorbonne, 2011) was published in Notes over the summer (Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association 68 (2012), pp. 811-814). Here’s the first paragraph:

This collection of essays was prompted by the bicentennial birth anniversary of Charles-Edmond-Henri de Coussemaker (1805–76). The volume celebrates the music of northern France (“ars musica septentrionalis”) from ninth-century chant to the polyphony of the fifteenth century, and had its first incarnation as a conference held in Cambrai and Douai in 2005, directed by Barbara Haggh and Frédéric Billiet. The conference was held concurrently with an exhibition of manuscripts held in Douai, Cambrai, and Bailleul (the birthplace of Coussemaker). The exhibition inspired the publication of a separate book that included a catalog and discussion of Coussemaker’s library (Bruno Bouckaert, Mémoires du chant. Le livre de musique d’Isidore de Séville à Edmond de Coussemaker [Neerpelt: Alamire; Lille: Ad fugam, 2007]); the byproduct of the scholarly conference is the book of essays under review here. An overarching theme of these essays is a concentration, for the most part, on primary source research, including both manuscript studies and archival research. Questions of repertory transmission and interpretation, liturgical issues, and historiography are broached via the examination of certain northern French manuscripts, some of the most beautiful examples of which were owned by Coussemaker, as noted by Billiet in his introduction to the volume (p. 8).