Redemption and the “Missa L’Ardant desir”

Recently I have been thinking again about the Missa L’Ardant desir, an anonymous polyphonic mass that was at the centre of a previous piece of research on the use of unusual signs in fifteenth-century music notation. The remarkable Confiteor from the Credo of this mass is but one of a number of distinctive features in this mass. Like many polyphonic settings of the Ordinary of the Mass from the middle of the fifteenth century (or slightly later, perhaps the 1460s, in the case of the Missa L’Ardant desir) this setting repeatedly uses a preexistent tune, mostly in the Tenor, throughout its settings of the five items of the Ordinary of the Mass, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus dei. This preexistent tune, called the cantus firmus meaning ‘the fixed song’, could be drawn from either a liturgical chant (a chant sung in the Mass or the Holy Office) or a secular song, both courtly and also popular street songs. In the case of the L’Ardant desir melody, there is no surviving court song that corresponds to the L’Ardant desir text incipit or melody used in the Mass, although the tenor survives in two settings (nos. 133 and 134) from the Buxheimer Organ Book, a mid-fifteenth century book of early organ or keyboard tablature now in the Bavarian Library at Munich. Continue reading “Redemption and the “Missa L’Ardant desir””

Armchair philology – Musical treasures from the Austrian National Library

Philology—the study of early texts, their meaning and how they have been passed down through the ages—has has traditionally consisted of researchers chasing after books and manuscripts scattered throughout libraries and archives. I use the adverb “traditionally” with some irony since for some time now researchers have done much of their work sitting at a desk (or occasionally in an armchair) pouring over facsimiles, photographic images on 35 millimetre microfilm, and increasingly digital images on a computer’s screen, of original sources. Researchers are spending less time with the original manuscripts. Although it is important that archivists maintain access to the original sources, it is also important that these sources are conserved for future generations. There are many music manuscripts that have been the subject of intense scrutiny over the last century, and between their handling by scholars and sometimes fraught attempts at conservation by their owners, the condition and legibility of these sources has noticeably declined. Though I am inclined to give examples, I won’t because that would give the impression that I am censuring particular individuals, libraries or archives. The reality is that time has simply taken its toll on these books.

Continue reading “Armchair philology – Musical treasures from the Austrian National Library”

Towards a new taxonomy of medieval music writing? Part 1

For the past month or two I have been writing a grant proposal for a detailed study of late medieval music writing (or notation). Beside the obvious aim of attempting to secure funding for future research, grant writing is often a useful for focusing one’s ideas about research and also identifying those fundamental problems that lay at the heart of one’s field. Here I reflect on one of those problems. Continue reading “Towards a new taxonomy of medieval music writing? Part 1”

Unusual signs and Angevin politics

In early 2006 I sent a draft piece examining some unusual examples of notation in some polyphonic songs from around 1400 to colleagues Yolanda Plumley and Anne Stone. To my pleasant surprise, Plumley and Stone invited me to contribute to their collection of essays on the famous Chantilly Codex. Most of the chapters in this collection originated at a conference held in mid September 2001 at Tours, France. It was much to my disappointment that I wasn’t able to attend this conference. On the other hand, a three-month sojourn earlier in the year researching in various European libraries had consumed most of my energy, resources and the patience of those I had to leave behind in Australia. Continue reading “Unusual signs and Angevin politics”

‘Looking Back’ in 2010

In August last year my long-gestated article on a curious case of notational complexity from the last quarter of the fifteenth century was published in Music & Letters. Almost a decade ago, Rex Eakins brought to my attention a fascinating piece of musical notation in a early choirbook from the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel (the manuscript is now in the Apostolic Library at the Vatican). Continue reading “‘Looking Back’ in 2010”