Some insights into late medieval music notation

As 2012 draws to a close, it pleases me to learn that the journal Early Music has published my article examining an anonymous late fourteenth-century song, Aÿ, mare, amice mi care. This Latin rondeau was discovered among an odd assortment of music fragments by Mark Everist just a few years ago but until now has not been satisfactorily transcribed nor its notation discussed. Thanks to the generosity of Oxford University Press, I am able to provide readers of my blog with a free-access URL to my article for their personal use only. The details of the article are as follows:

Jason Stoessel, ‘Revisiting Ay, mare, amice mi care: insights into late medieval music notation’, Early Music 40/3 (2012): 455-468. doi: 10.1093/em/cas101. Free access links: PDF or HTML.


In late 2009, Mark Everist published a report on the rediscovery of a set of music fragments in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Among these is a hitherto unknown work, Aÿ, mare, amice mi care. This article provides a new reading and reconstruction of damaged portions of this tiny yet exceptional Latin song. Most significantly, a close reading of the song’s notational devices, including a canon, provides new and unequivocal evidence for the intersection of musical cultures on either side of the Alps. The composer of this song was evidently trained in ‘Italian’ Trecento music theory, but used ‘French’ Ars Nova notation. As such, Aÿ, mare can be situated as an early example of breve-equivalent notation. These findings contribute to music history’s understanding of how composers on the Italian peninsula received and cultivated the Ars Subtilior style in the decades either side of 1400. They also contribute to (or complicate) an ongoing dialogue concerning the origin(s) of the Paris fragments.

Keywords: Ars Subtilior; Ars Nova; Trecento; canon; mensuration signs; breve equivalence



Apel, Willi, ed. French Secular Compositions of the Fourteenth Century. 3 vols. Vol. I: Ascribed Compositions, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 53. [Rome]: American Institute of Musicology, 1970.

Bent, Margaret. “Ciconia, Prosdocimus, and the Workings of Musical Grammar as Exemplified in O Felix Templum and O Padua.” In Johannes Ciconia, Musicien De La Transition, edited by Philippe Vendrix. 65-106. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003.

———. “The Early Use of the Sign Ø.” Early Music 24/2 (1996): 199–225.

———. “Notation, §3, 3: Polyphonic Mensural Notation c. 1260–1500.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. xviii: 129-40. London: Grove, 2001.

———. “Principles of Mensuration and Coloration: Virtuosity and Anomalies in the Old Hall Manuscript.” In Le Notazioni Della Polifonia Vocale Dei Secoli IX-XVII. Antologia – Parte Seconda: Secoli XV-XVII, edited by Antonio Delfino. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, forthcoming.

Busse Berger, Anna Maria. Medieval Music and the Art of Memory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

———. Mensuration and Proportion Signs: Origins and Evolution. Oxford Monographs on Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

———. “Cut Signs in Fifteenth-Century Musical Practice.” In Music in Renaissance Cities and Courts: Studies in Honor of Lewis Lockwood, edited by Jessie Ann Owens and Anthony M. Cummings. 101-12. Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 1997.

Cappelli, Adriano. Lexicon Abbreviaturarum. Leipzig: J.J. Weber, 1928.

DeFord, Ruth I. “The Mensura of Ø in the Works of Du Fay.” Early Music 34/1 (2006): 111–36.

Della Sciucca, Marco, Tiziana Sucato, and Carla Vivarelli, eds. Marchetto da Padova: Lucidarium – Pomerium, La Tradizione Musicale, 12. Firenze: Edizioni del Galluzzo per la Fondazione Ezio Franceschini, 2007.

Dronke, Peter. Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages: New Departures in Poetry 1000–1150. 2nd ed. London: Westfield College; University of London Committee for Medieval Studies, 1986.

Dumitrescu, Theodor. “The Solmization Status of Sharps in the 15th and 16th Centuries.” Studi Musicali 33 (2004): 253-83.

Everist, Mark. “A New Source for the Polyphony of the Ars Subtilior: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Nouvelles Acquisitions Françaises 22069.” In A Late Medieval Songbook and Its Context: New Perspectives on the Chantilly Codex (Bibliothèque Du Château De Chantilly, Ms. 564) edited by Yolanda Plumley and Anne Stone. 283–301. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009.

Gallo, F. Alberto. “Die Notationlehre in 14. Und 15. Jahrhundert.” In Die Mittelalterliche Lehre Von Mehrstimmigkeit, edited by Frieder Zaminer. Geschichte Der Musiktheorie 5, 257–356. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1984.

———. La teoria della notazione in Italia dalla fine del XIII all’inizio del XV secolo. Bologna: Tamari, 1966.

Gozzi, Marco. “New Light on Italian Trecento Notation Part 1: Sections I-IV.1.” Recercare 13 (2001): 5-78.

Greene, Gordon Kay, ed. French Secular Music: Ballades and Canons. Vol. 20, Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century. Monaco: L’oiseau-lyre, 1982.

Günther, Ursula. “Das Ende der Ars Nova.” Die Musikforschung 16 (1963): 105–20.

———. “Das Manuskript Modena, Biblioteca Estense α.M.5.24 (olim Lat. 568=Mod).” Musica Disciplina XXIV (1970): 17–69.

Haar, James. “Some Introductory Remarks on Musical Pedagogy.” In Music Education in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, edited by Russell E. Murray, Susan Forscher Weiss and Cynthia J. Cyrus. 3–22. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2010.

Leach, Elizabeth Eva. “Interpretation and Counterpoint: The Case of Guillaume De Machaut’s De Toutes Flours (B 31).” Music Analysis 19/3 (2000): 321–51.

Long, Michael. “Musical Tastes in Fourteenth-Century Italy: Notational Styles, Scholarly Traditions, and Historical Circumstances.” Unpublished PhD dissertation, Princeton University, 1981.

Memelsdorff, Pedro. “What’s in a Sign? The [natural sign] and the Copying Process of a Medieval Manuscript: The Codex Modena, Biblioteca Estense, α.M.5.24 (Olim Lat. 568).” Studi Musicali 30 (2001): 255-79.

Omont, Henri. Bibliothéque Nationale: Catalogue Général Des Mansucrits Français. Nouvelles acquisitions françaises, IV, No. 10001–11353 et 20001–22811, Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1918.

Plumley, Yolanda. “Playing the Citation Game in the Late 14th-Century Chanson.” Early Music 31/1 (2003): 20–40.

Reaney, Gilbert, ed. Early Fifteenth-Century Music. edited by Armen Carapetyan. Vol. iv: Anonymous Chansons from the Ms Oxford, Bodleian Library, Canonici Misc. 213, Corpus Mensurabilis Musicae 11. s.l.: American Institute of Musicology, 1969.

Reynolds, Robert Davis. “Evolution of Notational Practices in Manuscripts Written between 1400–1450.” Unpublished PhD dissertation, Ohio State University, 1974.

Richardson, W.F. “The Latin Prefix Sesqui–.” Prudentia 17 (1985): 37–41.

Schiltz, Katelijne, and Bonnie J. Blackburn, eds. Canons and Canonic Techniques, 14th–16th Centuries, Analysis in Context; Leuven Studies in Musicology. Leuven: Peeters, 2007.

Schreur, Philip, ed. Tractatus Figurarum. edited by Thomas J. Mathieson, Greek and Latin Music Theory Series, 6. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

Smilansky, Uri. “Rethinking Ars Subtilior: Context, Language, Study and Performance.” Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Exeter, 2010.

Stoessel, Jason. “The Interpretation of Unusual Mensuration Signs in the Ars Subtilior.” In A Late Medieval Songbook and Its Context: New Perspectives on the Chantilly Codex (Bibliothèque Du Château De Chantilly, Ms. 564) edited by Yolanda Plumley and Anne Stone. 179–202. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009.

———. “Looking Back over the Missa L’ardant Desir: Double Signatures and Unusual Signs in Sources of Fifteenth-Century Music.” Music & Letters 91/3 (2010): 311–42.

Stone, Anne. “Che cosa c’è di più sottile riguardo l’ars subtilior.” Rivista Italiana di Musicologia 31/1 (1996): 3–31.

———. “Glimpses of the Unwritten Tradition in Some Ars Subtilior Works.” Musica Disciplina 50 (1996): 59–93.

———. The Manuscript Modena, Biblioteca Estense, alpha.M.5.24: Commentary. Ars Nova Nuova Serie 1. Lucca: Lim Editrice, 2005.

———. “Self-Reflexive Songs and Their Readers in the Late 14th Century.” Early Music 31/2 (2003): 180–95.

———. “Writing Rhythm in Late Medieval Italy: Notation and Musical Style in the Manuscript, Biblioteca Estense, Alpha.M.5.24.” Unpublished PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1994.

Tanay, Dorit. Noting Music, Marking Culture: The Intellectual Context of Rhythmic Notation 1250-1400. Musicological Studies and Documents. Edited by Ursula Günther Holzgerlingen: American Institute of Musicology, 1999.

Vecchi, Joseph, ed. Marcheti De Padua Pomerium. Vol. 6, Corpus Scriptorum De Musica. s.l.: American Institute of Musicology, 1961.

Wegman, Rob C. “Different Strokes for Different Folks? On Tempo and Diminution in Fifteenth-Century Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 53/3 (2000): 461–505.

Woodley, Ronald. “Sharp Practice in the Later Middle Ages: Exploring the Chromatic Semitone and Its Implications.” In, Music Theory Online 12, no. 12.2 (2006).

Note: The responsibility for the grammatical blunder in the first sentence on the second page of the article rests solely with the author. Mea culpa!

4 thoughts on “Some insights into late medieval music notation

  1. Hi Jason,
    Looks fascinating, and congratulations! Unfortunately, the “free access” seems to have expired, as when I click on the links it indicates that I need a subscription (and my institution only gets “Early Music” through JSTOR. Would you mind sending me a PDF?

  2. This article comes in a perfect time! I’m now studying medieval notation at my masters class of Musical Paleography. Thank you so much for the contribution.
    Best wishes from Portugal.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s