A fragmentary parchment rotulus, now housed at the Wrocław university library, but probably copied in France around the middle of the fourteenth century, is one of nine manuscript sources for Philippe de Vitry’s popular motet Colla/Bona. The notation in the rotulus is mostly ars nova, as it is in all the other manuscript copies of this motet, yet the Wrocław has a curious series of dots, highlighted here in the beginning of the triplum in the image above. The dots offer a tantalising clue indicating that the motet may have been copied from an exemplar in an older style of notation, not dissimilar to that found in Roman de Fauvel manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, f. fr. 146), where groups of semibreves that comprise a breve are separated by dots.
The Wrocław rotulus is not the only fourteenth-century rotulus that shows evidence of notational updating. In my newest article published online today in Early Music I analyse this example, and the evidence for notational updatings in two other mid-century rotuli that transmit ars nova motets (Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, Ms. 19606 and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Collection de Picardie, 67).
Does the fact that the motets I identify were not originally copied in ars nova notation mean that they are not actually ars nova motets? This article begins to address this question, outlining some criteria by which we might begin to identify motets that must have been composed subsequent to the systematization of the ars nova notation system by Jean des Murs, Vitry and others during the 1330s. The ars nova then encompasses a variety of activities: scribes updating older motets into the new notation (as we find in these three rotuli), composers writing motets that fully exploited all the possibilities of ars nova notation, and theorists documenting (or in Jacobus’s case criticising) the theoretical underpinnings of the new system.
My article abstract follows, and, by kind permission of Oxford University Press, a free-access link to the online article (click here). Once you click the link, you can read the online HTML version, or click ‘PDF’ to download a PDF. OUP asks that this link not be distributed on social media, though you may link to my personal blog post with the link.
The 14th-century music theorist Jacobus devoted a complete chapter of his Speculum musicae (SM vii.37) to a critique of what he termed ‘solitary’ semibreves (semibreves solitarias). He listed several arguments against the moderns’ use of solitary semibreves. The present essay considers what this motet repertory that used solitary semibreves might be. The emergence of the Ars Nova is often identified with the newer motets copied in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France fr. 146 manuscript of the Roman de Fauvel, but solitary semibreves are not found in the motets of Fauvel. In this article, I examine some ambiguities of the semibreve notation in BnF fr. 146. I then consider the evidence of another group of motets classified as Ars Nova motets by music historians since they are explicitly notated in Ars Nova notation in manuscript sources copied later than BnF fr. 146. These motets contain clues indicating that they were originally copied in a notation similar to that used in the Roman de Fauvel. That is, these motets too (originally) had no solitary semibreves. To find the solitary semibreves of Jacobus’s complaint then, and per consequens, the music of Jacobus’s ‘ars nova’, we must identify compositions that appear to have been originally conceived in Ars Nova notation. This article closes with a brief consideration of some of these motets.
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)
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 . . .
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 http://www.measuringpolyphony.org. 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.
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 notation, and 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).
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
Trahunt/Ve qui gregi
Orbis orbatus/Vos pastores
La mesnie/J’ai fait nouveletement
Inflammatus/Sicut de ligno
Early ars nova theory (also in Iv and Trem)
Mon chant/Qui doloreus
Iv and Trem and one of the following (Cambrai, Durham, Pic, Strasbourg or Lbl 41667 or a later ars nova theory treatise)
Se grasse/Cum venerint
Fortune mere/Ma dolour
L’amoureuse flour/ En l’estat
Je commence/Et je seray
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
Jennifer Saltzstein’s revisionist study of refrains in the music and poetry of medieval France examines why specific refrains were invoked in specific compositional contexts and within specific communities. The results of this study bring into question the long-held assumption that surviving refrains are the remnants of a lost repertoire of orally transmitted popular song. Through her examination of refrain transmission and distribution, Saltzstein instead relocates refrain quotation within the literate traditions of their clerical poet-composers in order to reveal “an intellectual framework for the practice of refrain usage that has largely been overlooked, namely, the conception of auctoritas in medieval writing” (29).
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, f.fr. 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.”
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: https://scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/15235/13.01.04.html
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.
The availability of high-quality manuscript images online (hat tips to DIAMM, Gallica, the Stanford Machaut project and Musicologie Médiévale) has forever changed the study of medieval music. For those of us with an interest in the late medieval motet, there are now color images of each folio in the key Montpellier manuscript (H 196, Facultè de Medecine, Montpellier; better-known by its sigla Mo) available online, through the Faculté de Médecine. Previously, images of Mo were only available in black and white via Yvonne Rokseth’s 1936 facsimile edition (Y. Rokseth, Polyphonies du XIIIe Siècle. Le manuscrit H 196 de la Faculté de Médecine de Montpellier, 4 vols. [Paris: Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre, 1935-1948]). The interface to the image collection is not the easiest to navigate, however, as it is a collection of images organized by filename, with three resolutions of images for each folio. The following chart lists the compositions included in fascicle 8 of Mo, with links to the highest resolution images on which these compositions appear. No earth-shattering research here, but hopefully a set of links that will be useful for some.
[Extra bonus! Here’s a link to the illumination discussed by Edward Roesner in his article on the motet Ne m’a pas oublié, Mo 207 (fols. 246r-v) (E. Roesner, ‘Subtilitas and Delectatio: Ne m’a pas oublié,’ in Cultural Performances in Medieval France: Essays in Honor of Nancy Freeman Regaldo, edited by E. Doss-Quinby, R. L. Krueger and E. J. Burns [Cambridge: Brewer, 2007]).
 This foliation is according to Rokseth. The contemporaneous foliation at top center is the one used by Rokseth; the pencil foliation at top right is two numerals behind Rokseth (the pencil foliation appears to be the one the filenames of the Montpellier images follow).
 This image is incorrect in the online version; they replicate the image that is for f. 353 v, and so the image for f. 354v is missing.