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Medieval Music Literature

Medieval Music Literature

Christensen, Thomas (University of Chicago)

THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL MUSIC, March (2011)

Abstract

Literature on music in the Middle Ages poses special challenges to the historian. There is first of all the obvious fact that there is a great deal of it. (The number of extant medieval music theory texts alone exceeds 800 in number.) There is furthermore a substantial body of regulative literature concerning the usage of music in the church or monastic orders. Music is a topic that finds mention in many philosophy and theological texts, in scientific writings, in commentaries of Biblical or classical literature, in academic lectures and religious sermons. On a more informal level, we can find mention of music in quotidian or secular writings such as letters, diaries, and chronicles, not to mention as a subject allegorized in court poetry or chivalric legends. It is not simply the quantity and variety of writings on music that challenge the medieval historian, though. There are complex paleographic and codicological issues associated with a manuscript culture that must also be addressed. It is the exception in medieval literature to have a manuscript that is without outstanding textual questions. Often—and in some literary genres, typically–we do not know the author of a given text or even its provenance and approximate date.

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