Category Archives: Notation

Musicalia Medii Aevi

A series launched by Brepols in 2011, Musicalia Medii Aevi is a collection of international studies that welcomes writings and reflections on the most innovative aspects of medieval musicology.

As one of the essential liberal arts in the Middle Ages, music was at the center of the era’s thought and culture. That is why the collection addresses the field of music as part of a wide and varied cultural history, often in interdisciplinary terms, offering a fresh look at the role of music in medieval society. The first volume in the series is The calligraphy of medieval music by John Haines.

Related article: Codici online

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Baroque birdsong

Along with its wide-ranging discussions of theoretical topics, the 1650 treatise Musurgia universalis by the German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) includes what may be the first transcriptions of bird songs.

The illustration gives the nightingale’s song followed by those of the chicken, the cuckoo, the quail, and the parrot; the latter says χαίρε (“hello”). Vox cuculi is notated as the familiar falling minor third heard in cuckoo clocks (see below).

A facsimile edition of the treatise has been issued by Georg Olms (Hildesheim, 1970; reprinted 2006).

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Filed under Animals, Baroque era, Musicologists, Nature, Notation, Science, Visual art

Melodiarium hymnologicum Bohemiae

Produced by a team of scholars from the Ústavu hudební vědy at Masarykova univerzita in Brno, Melodiarium hymnologicum Bohemiae is a digital catalogue of monophonic Latin, Czech, and German sacred song found in sources located in the Czech lands or imported into the Czech lands, from the earliest beginnings until the eighteenth century. The database, which is largely bilingual in Czech and English, includes facsimiles and text and melody indexes, along with numerous annotations. While users must establish logins, no fee is required; the resource is supported by the Ministerstva školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy České republiky.

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Filed under Baroque era, Classic era, Middle Ages, Notation, Renaissance, Resources

The first historical musicologist?

In the second quarter of the sixteenth century Nuremberg was the epicenter of the so-called German Josquin Renaissance; the music of Josquin des Prez (above) and his contemporaries formed the core of the repertoire taught in schools, sung by amateur choral societies, and included in the published anthologies that served those markets. As a music theorist and rector of one of the city’s principal schools, Sebald Heyden was confronted, perhaps for the first time in Western music history, with urgent problems regarding historical performance practice.

Although the music was only 40 to 50 years old, its mensuration and proportion signs were already obsolete and no longer understood. Heyden approached the task of recovering their  meanings from a historian’s perspective; by reading old treatises, studying old music in a local private collection, and analyzing his observations with abstract reasoning, he created a theory that enabled singers to produce what he believed to be authentic performances of music of the past. He read conflicting opinions on his topic, felt free to declare some authorities right and others wrong, and drew clear and consistent conclusions about problematic issues. His influence on later scholars was incalculable.

This according to “Sebald Heyden (1499–1561): The first historical musicologist?” by Ruth DeFord, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Filed under Musicologists, Notation, Performance practice, Renaissance, Theory

Nonsense neumes

Built at the behest of Richard Beauchamp, 13th Earl of Warwick (1382–1439), the Beauchamp Chapel at the Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick, is a remarkable survival of fifteenth-century architecture, sculpture, and—above all—stained glass. These windows are well known to organologists for their depictions of instruments and performance practice; they also provide useful information about chant and polyphony in fifteenth-century England by preserving fragments of neumatic notation.

Over the centuries craftspeople have restored damaged windows, and, lacking the requisite musical training, they often left replacement staves blank; but in two cases nonsense neumes were devised, supplying consistent-looking décor that most observers would never suspect was counterfeit.

This according to Alexandra Buckle’s “Fit for a king: Music and iconography in Richard Beauchamp’s chantry chapel” (Early music XXXVIII/1 (2010), pp. 3–20).

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Filed under Architecture, Curiosities, Middle Ages, Notation, Visual art