Scribes and Editors at Work and at Play

Last month I was very pleased to receive an offprint of a chapter of mine that develops and expands on a paper that I originally gave at the Early Music Editing: Principles, Techniques, and Future Directions conference held in Utrecht, 3-5 July, 2008. The abstract of the original paper read:

This paper seeks to establish a prima facie case for a new edition of the repertoire of music from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century which is today referred to as the music of the ars subtilior. Although most of this body of compositions has been published in monumental editions in the 1970s and 1980s, these editions leave much to be desired both as sources of further scholarly enquiry and also as editions to be used for performance. This paper will detail some of the existing problems of published editions (including misreadings, errors, incomplete realisations) and how they might be avoided in a future edition using new technologies. In particular it will focus on cases within the scribal record of the ars subtilior that embody significant variants, including erasures representing scribal revision and/or scribal alteration of notational process. The emerging paradigms embodied by new technologies offer significant opportunities to move beyond Lachmannian and Bédierian theories of text criticism to principles of editing which preserve multiple local variants and empowers readers with a choice of readings. 

Needless to say the final form of my chapter moved away from critiquing earlier editions to explore concepts, methods and approaches in the editing of late medieval music. The reader would also be correct in assuming that this chapter reads as a sort of manifesto for an online edition of Ars subtilior music. (‘Ars subtilior’ is a convenient term used to describe the flamboyant style of polyphony (many voiced music) from around 1370 to as late as the mid 1420s.) Indeed one of the issues at the forefront of my mind was how emerging technologies in online editions might address some of the problems that editors were/are faced with when editing this music. Although online edition platforms are now an established fact, the chapter nonetheless highlights to readers some of the unrealised benefit that they promise for the editing of particular musical repertoires.

In one sense, online editing platforms offer solutions for dealing with a more ancient ‘technology’ for reproducing musical notation. Medieval music was written by hand (hence is always found in manuscripts): music printing presses didn’t exist until the second half of the fifteenth century. When a medieval musical composition survives in two or more sources, an editor often encounters differences between them, sometimes errors, sometimes perfectly performable and acceptable readings. One example I discuss, Goscalch’s  En nul estat (or Car nul estat), survives in two copies with slight differences in the Contratenor voice. Both readings are perfectly acceptable, even if complex in their genesis.

Different readings of Contratenors (Ct) in
Different readings of Contratenors (Ct) in “En nul estat”

For me, the challenge was how might an editor easily and coherently preserve for readers, students and performers of this music this last category of differences. After all, if several versions of a song, for example, existed, performers might consider which one (or more!) they prefer. Moreover, switching between each version should not require a specialist training in music editing. On the other hand, the presence of similar distinct readings over groups of sources might “tell” students something about how this music was transferred from place to place, or even allow them to discuss other factors that influenced their copying. My chapter also serves in part as a statement of method and approach for an online edition of a major source from the late middle ages that will soon appear (after a long delay also) on the fantastic Computerized Mensural Music Editing project.

As is commonly the case with collections like this, the time between submitting copy to the patient and hard-working editors and its publication is sometimes a little longer than everyone initially expected, especially given that the printed version of the collection will not appear until later this month. But that’s life. I am able to provide readers with advance access to my chapter here on my personal blog. It is provided solely for the purposes of personal study and may not be reproduced or copied without my and the publisher’s written permission. The chapter’s bibliographic details and download link follow:Jason Stoessel, “Scribes at Work, Scribes at Play: Challenges for Editors of the Ars subtilior,” in Early Music Editing: Principles, Historiography, Future Directions, ed. Theodor Dumitrescu, Karl Kügle, and Marnix van Berchum, 51–75 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013). Click on the following link to read/download a copy of my chapter: Scribes at Work (8.1 MB download)

Happy reading and please feel free to leave a comment if and when you download my chapter.

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