Books Features

New Medieval Books: Music in the Middle Ages

Five recently published books about medieval music.

Angel song: Medieval English music in history

By Lisa Colton

ISBN: 978-1-315-56706-8

Excerpt: This book is stimulated by a desire to explore the ways that the stories of English medieval music has been constructed, received and transformed, to reveal the mythologies of Merrie England that continue to pervade recent discourse. My aim is to reappraise medieval English musical history, challenging assumptions, authorities, champions and legacies. There can be no single, authoritative chronology in English music; there remains many histories of English music waiting to be told. Instead, I will reveal common trajectories within music-historical writing in the distant and more recent pasts, identify contradictions and open historical avenues for future scholarship.

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The Musica of Hermmannus Contractus

Edited and translated by Leonard Ellindwood, revised by John L. Snyder

University of Rochester Press
ISBN: 978-1-58046-390-4

Publisher’s Overview: A polymath and monk, Hermannus Contractus (1013-54) contributed to the important advancements made in European arts and sciences in the first half of the eleventh century, writing on history, astronomy, and time-keeping devices, among other topics, and composing several chants. His music theory, founded on a systematic treatment of traditional concepts and terminology dating back to the ancient Greeks, is concerned largely with the organization of pitch in Gregorian chant. Hermann’s approach stems from Germanic species-based thought, and is marked by a distinction between aspects of form and aspects of position, privileging the latter. He expresses this in terms imported from then-new developments in Italian music theory, thus acting as a nexus for the two traditions. Numerology and number symbolism play significant roles in Hermann’s theories, and his critiques of other theorists offer insights into medieval intellectual life. Hermann also uses chant citations and exercises to help his readers apply theory to practice.

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Guy of Saint-Denis, Tractatus De Tonis

Edited and and translated by Constant J. Mews, Carol J. Williams, John N. Crossley, and Catherine Jeffreys

Medieval Institute Publications
ISBN: 9781580442541

Excerpt: The writing of Guy of Saint-Dens about plainchant is not widely known. Sometime in the early fourteenth century, this monk from Saint-Denis, one of the oldest Benedictine abbeys in France, composed a treatise about the eight tones or melodic types into which all plainchant was conventionally classified. While it had often been monastic practice to list chant in this way in a Tonale (tonary), Guy offers an unusually sophisticated analysis in his Tractanus de tonis. He divides his work into two parts: the first providing a theoretical basis for understanding the tones into which all chant is divided; the second, particular examples of chants with their tones.

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Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos

By Andrew Hicks

Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780190658205

Publisher’s Overview: Composing the World charts one constellation of musical metaphors, analogies, and expressive modalities embedded within a late-ancient and medieval cosmological discourse: that of a cosmos animated and choreographed according to a specifically musical aesthetic. The specific historical terrain of Hicks’ discussion centers upon the world of twelfth-century philosophy, and from there he offers a new intellectual history of the role of harmony in medieval cosmological discourse, a discourse which itself focused on the reception and development of Platonism.

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Sources of Identity: Makes, Owners and Users of Music Sources Before 1600

Edited by Lisa Colton and Tim Shephard

ISBN: 978-2-503-56778-5

Except: The papers included in this volume were presented, in much shorter form, at a conference entitled ‘Sources of Identity: Makers, Owners and Users of Music Sources Before 1600’ held a the University of Sheffield in 2013. The stated aim of the event was to leave aside the traditionally dominant view of early music sources as a means of access to medieval and Renaissance repertories, focussing instead on the people who commissioned, made, owned and used music books, and on their reasons for so doing. In the terms proposed by a recent study of art patronage in the period, what was the ‘payoff’ enjoyed by individuals and groups who created and deployed such objects?

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