Cantum pulcriorem invenire: Music in Western Europe, 1150-1350

The conference Cantum pulcriorem invenire: Music in Western Europe, 1150-1350, hosted at the University of Southampton by the AHRC-funded project of the same name between the 9th and 11th of September 2013, was the second in a series of Ars Antiqua conferences which began at Princeton in November 2011. The conference was not live-tweeted throughout, but to see the reactions of tweeters, see #arsantiqua2013 or the storify. Since the project behind the conference focuses on the conductus, it is unsurprising that there were a good number of papers focusing on this understudied genre. Yet many other common themes emerged throughout the conference, bringing productive, exciting, and sometimes unexpected connections between papers. Given that the conference comprised thirty-four papers, a thorough overview of the content of each and every paper must wait for the no doubt eagerly awaited volume of conference proceedings. To provide a representative sample of what was a focused and stimulating conference, it seems best to make use of the connections thrown up between different papers and present a discussion of five broad themes that emerged from among the panoply of subjects presented.

1)    The Conductus

One of the main themes to emerge from this conference was new work on the conductus, a theme which reached full expression in the evening concert, given by Rogers Covey-Crump, Christopher O’Gorman, and John Potter , which was dedicated solely to the genre. Back in the conference room, proceedings began with Charles Brewer’s (Florida State University) consideration of the heritage of Audi tellus, audi magni maris limbus, an abecedarium appearing in Montpellier, Bibliothèque de la ville, ms. 6. He focused on the later transformation of the first two lines of the song into a litany which asked ‘Ubi sunt’? Outlining the connections of all these versions, he introduced the distinguished cast of characters appearing in this litany, including Plato, Aristotle, Paris, Helen, Samson, and David. He was followed by Rebecca A. Baltzer (University of Texas), who presented a consideration of the conductus found in Madrid, Biblioteca nacional, 20486, as the two-voice Mater patris et filia; in Burgos, Monasterio de Las Huelgas, 9, as a three-voice piece on this same text; and in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut.29.1, as the three-voice Veri solis et presentia. Baltzer characterised Madrid, Biblioteca nacional, 20486 as typically reducing three voice exemplars to two voice versions, yet after an examination of the musical relations between the versions, and especially of the contrapuntal framework in the three-voice version, Baltzer concluded that the two-voice version had been written before its three-voice counterpart. Thomas B. Payne (College of William and Mary) then addressed the concordances found between syllabic and melismatic sections of conducti, a phenomenon he named ‘syllabic/melismatic identity’. Presenting an inventory of these passages, which present the same musical material in different notations, Payne compared their extent and placement within the structure of conducti in order to prompt further discussion on the relation between melismatic and syllabic sections of conducti.
There were, of course, contributions from members of the Southampton project. Gregorio Bevilaqua considered the role of the melismatic sections of conducti, known as caudae, taking the conductus Librum clausum et signatum as a case study. After analysing which words of the conductus text were set by the melismatic caudae, he observed that the caudae could be seen as highlighting those words and so as amplifying the meaning of the text. Linking this with references within the text of this conductus to practices of glossing, Bevilaqua argued that the placement of caudae within conducti can often be seen as providing a kind of gloss on the text of the conductus in which they are placed.  Amy Williamson discussed the conductus repertoire as found in English manuscripts, raising issues of insular provenance and how it might safely be defined. She concluded that while style alone is often inconclusive in distinguishing an insular conductus, a simpler style of conductus occupied about 20% of the insular repertoire. She also remarked that there seemed to be a looser attitude to genre in insular manuscripts than those from the continent.
2)    Interactions between Polyphonic and Monophonic Repertoires

Jacopo Mazzeo’s  (University of Southampton) paper combined the theme of conducti with another topic which came to the fore during the conference, the connection of polyphonic repertoires to monophonic ones, either through quotation of entire voice parts, or through the use of refrains. Mazzeo focused on the first of these, presenting two conducti whose voice parts had concordances with both vernacular and Latin monophonic song: the conductus Quisquis corde et oculi, which shares its music with, among others, Bernart de Ventadourn’s Can vei la lauzeta mover, and the conductus Veris ad imperia, which is concordant with the monophonic song A l’entrada del tens clar.
Elizabeth Eva Leach’s (University of Oxford) paper both drew attention to the manuscript Oxford, Bodleian, MS Douce 308, which has only begun to attract scholarly attention fairly recently (see Mary Atchinson’s 2005 volume). Leach used the versions of a song in Douce 308 to question the relation of polyphony and monophony in the thirteenth century. The first stanza of the song E bergier, si grant anvie is also found in a polyphonic context in a group of motets found in numerous sources, including Montpellier, Bibliothèque Inter-Universitaire, Section Médecine, H196, Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Guelf.1099 Helmst,  and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, (‘La Clayette’). While the concordance has long been acknowledged, it has scarcely been studied and Leach’s analysis revealed that not only is one of the upper voices (the duplum, the second voice up, including the tenor) concordant with the first stanza of the song, but there are significant textual similarities between following stanzas and other voices of the motet. Leach also formulated a proposed chronological pattern of transmission for the concordant materials. She argued that the triplum (the third voice up , including the tenor, with the incipit He sire) in the triple motet version found in Montpellier, Bibliothèque Inter-Universitaire, Section Médecine, H196 and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France,, was written in isolation from the other two voices and added in later by a scribe, as it doubles the other two voices for a large proportion of the motet. Also considering this motet complex, Margaret Dobby (Université de Poitiers) came to slightly different conclusions about the chronological development of the motet versions. She argued for a hypothetical three-voice version including the He bergiers and the He sire voices.
Gaël Saint-Cricq (Université de Rouen) presented a crucial link between monophonic and polyphonic repertoires in his study of the use in the motet repertory of textual and musical forms which have two sections, the first of which is based on a repeat or variation of one idea, often expressed in the form AAX. He outlined a corpus of motets which use this form and studied to what extent it is connected to its well-known use in the Trouvère repertory, where it is often known as pedes-cum-cauda form, after Dante. Catherine A. Bradley (University of Oxford/ Stony Brook University) outlined a corpus of nine clausulae, that is, melismatic polyphonic compositions based on a tenor derived from the melismatic sections of liturgical plainchant. These nine clausulae all contain melodies which are most often associated with vernacular refrains, short sections of text and music that are cited throughout medieval music and literature. Each of the refrain melodies in the nine clausulae have what Jennifer Saltzstein has called ‘intertextual’ refrain concordances, that is, each of these melodies is found, often with its associated texts, in numerous musical situations. After showing that many of these clausulae are clustered together in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut, 29.1, Bradley moved to a number of case studies, in which she used difficulties the scribe had clearly encountered in notating the clausulae (in one case, never finishing the middle of one clausula) to argue that these clausulae had started life as motets, which were then translated into the different style and notation of the clausulae. She argued that these kinds of findings, more of which can be found in her article in the 2013 issue of Early Music History, should lead to the abandonment of the traditional narrative that a clausula normally comes before its related motet.

3)    The Refrain

The refrain, and the connections it makes between different genres of music and text, proved to be a major theme throughout the conference, and so the announcement of a refrain database developed by Anne Ibos-Augé and Mark Everist was a welcome one. Ibos-Augé and Everist outlined the kind of information the database would hold about each refrain, including text, music in modern edition, full concordance information, and much else, along with the numerous ways in which these records will be searchable. The session concluded with consultation from the two developers about the kind of information and search functions that would be most desirable. One of the most tantalising suggestions was that this database could eventually be connected up with other sources in the future. Jennifer Saltzstein’s discussion of refrain citation centred around the motet Quant voi le douz tans venir/ En mai quant rose est florie/[Immo]latus. The materials out of which this motet is made have a wide circulation; they appear as a two-voice motet in Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Guelf.1099 Helmst, a three-voice motet in Montpellier, Bibliothèque Inter-Universitaire, Section Médecine, H196 (twice!), and in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, They also appear as a two-voice clausula in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 29.1,which Saltzstein argued to be a transcription of the motet. The voice part ‘Quant voi’ (triplum in some sources, motetus in others) appears as a chanson in the group of Trouvère chansonniers known after their commonly used sigla as the KNPX group. The motet closes with two intertextual refrains, simultaneously presented in different voice parts; Saltzstein considered the contrapuntal framework at the point of citation in each of the motet’s manuscript presentations and argued that the substantial dissonance found in some manuscript presentations resulted from attempting to incorporate both these quotations with the tenor, a problem better solved in Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, than in the other motet sources. This led to an important discussion of the role of dissonance in thirteenth-century motets, especially as a signpost to quotation.
4)    Manuscript Sources

Another facet of Ars Antiqua scholarship that found itself at the fore of this conference was the detailed study of manuscripts, whether that was new interpretations of already known manuscripts, newly discovered fragments, or a focus on the palaeographical aspects of the manuscript.
a)     New Interpretations

Among the first category was the manuscript presented by Helen Deeming (Royal Holloway, University of London), London, British Library, Egerton MS 274, known to many different disciplines by different sigla, a fact symptomatic of the variety of the contents, but also of approaches which fail to consider the manuscript as a ‘whole book’, the cornerstone of Deeming’s approach. Deeming’s palaeographical and codicological analysis allowed her to draw connections between different types of song, notation, and text. Isabelle Ragnard (Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne), was also looking at manuscripts with fresh eyes when considering Adam de la Halle’s play Le Jeu de Robin et Marion. Considering two manuscripts that contain the play,  Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France fr. 25566 and Aix-en Provence MS 166, Ragnard suggested taking the latter more seriously, arguing that its readings provide new insights on the relations on song and voice in the play, as well as having implications for the connections of the play to wider musical contexts.
b)     Newly Discovered Fragments

The second category comprised David Cataluñya (Würzburg University), Eva M. Maschke (University of Hamburg/ University of Southampton) and Elina Hamilton (Bangor University). Among the panoply of new sources presented by Cataluñya , some of the most keenly appreciated were those providing concordances for the famous motet Fa fa mi fa/Ut re mi, which had been thought to have only one incomplete source, in the codex from Las Huelgas (Burgos, Monasterio de Las Huelgas, 9). By analysing the further text that these concordances presented, Cataluñya argued that the motet was addressed to nuns of Cahor, and was a defence of polyphonic singing. Given Pope John XII’s links with Cahor, Cataluñya suggested that this motet might even be read as a ‘contrabull’ to the famous Docta sanctorum, which attacked various practices of polyphonic singing in the 1320s. Maschke explored the use of manuscripts of thirteenth-century polyphony as bindings for other manuscripts. She focused on manuscripts emanating from the now-dispersed library of the Dominican house at Soest, and showed how fragments of manuscripts originally from this library found themselves in manuscripts including Cambridge, Sidney Sussex College, MS 117. Hamilton discussed the diagrams in a new fragmentary source of the music treatise De speculatione musicae by Walter of Evesham Abbey, presenting the differences between them and the diagrams found in the most-consulted copies of Walter’s treatise.
c)      Palaeographical Aspects

In the final category of this theme were Eleanor Giraud (University of Cambridge) and Katherine Kennedy Steiner (Valparaiso University/Princeton University). Giraud presented her work on notational hands in Dominican thirteenth-century chant manuscripts, laying out four features which have enabled her to identify musical scribal hands. She explained the variations which can occur in the production of F-clefs, custodes, plicae, and ligatures, and suggested how these observations may be applied to polyphonic manuscripts. Kennedy Steiner addressed palaeographical issues in the manuscript Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf.628 Helmst., comparing the hand of the text in this manuscript with hands found in contemporary administrative documents from St. Andrews, long known as the point of origin of this manuscript. In these documents, Kennedy Steiner found ample evidence of scribes with the abilities and resources necessary to copy the manuscript and posited a Francophile community in Scotland among which these scribes would have flourished.
5)    Rhythmic Modes and their Notation

Many speakers were occupied with the concept of rhythmic modes, how they were expressed in notation, and how both of these were connected to thirteenth-century music theory.  Lawrence Earp (University of Wisconsin, Madison) developed the concept he first presented at the American Musicological Society conference in 2012 – that the beginnings of metrical rhythm depended on the declamation of rhythmic poetry. Unlike earlier theories of word-based rhythm, such as that of John Stevens, the focus here was not on dance song, whose relation to movement necessitates some kind of metre. Rather, he focused on examples of organa quadrupla, that is, melismatic polyphony in four parts, which is built on top of tenors drawn from liturgical plainchant and only sets a few words from the original plainchant text. The theorist known as Anonymous IV attributed these organa to the composer, Perotin. There are also versions in which these normally highly melismatic pieces are provided with syllabic texts that were written, according to Anonymous IV, by Phillip the Chancellor. These syllabically texted versions, often called organa prosulae to distinguish them from the melismatic organum proper, are usually assumed to postdate the melismatic versions. However, Earp argued that the organa prosulae actually predate their melismatic counterparts and that the patterns of their syllabic poetry determine the metrical rhythms in which the melismatic versions can be performed. The issue of how a system such as that of the six rhythmic modes might have developed also occupied Alejandro Planchart (University of California, Santa Barbara). He outlined the basic axioms that he believed would have to be in place for a system of modal rhythm to be viable. By defining these, and applying them to clausula on the tenor TANQUAM from Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf.628 Helmst. , he argued for a gradual development of the system of modal notation. Michael Friebel (Institüt für historische Musikforschung), in a presentation which ranged widely and in great detail over the theoretical treatises of the thirteenth century, argued that the origin of modal rhythm was deeply indebted to hocket and the rhythmic solutions worked out especially for the purpose. Rob C. Wegman’s (Princeton University) paper included similarly close readings of theoretical treatises, especially the treatise known as Anonymous IV. He argued that the modal system was a conflation of theoretical understandings about ligatures and concepts of a set of rhythmic patterns or modes. In teasing out the function of these two parts of the modal system, Wegman was able to discuss problems of modal interpretation through a series of examples.
Judith A. Peraino (Cornell University) did not address the origin of the modal system but rather its reception in a song found near the end of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale  fr. 844. Ki de bons est souef flaire (f. 215) has six stanzas, the first five of which use, in sequence, the rhythmic modes according to Franco of Cologne’s treatise, the Ars cantus mensurabilis. Franco outlines five different ways in which longs and breves can be combined, and each stanza of the song has a rhythm which corresponds to one of these modes. The sixth stanza, with no modes left available for it, instead demonstrates in its rhythms Franco’s rules for interpreting notes when they are joined together in ligatures. Peraino, drawing on Carolyn Abbate’s call for a ‘drastic’ approach to musicology rather than a ‘gnostic’ one, characterised this method of rhythmic organisation as finding a ‘drastic solution to a gnostic notation.’
These five themes were in no way the only ones to come out of the conference, and throughout, the discussions and questions which followed papers were fascinating. The themes give a sense that scholarship on Ars Antiqua music maintains a laudably strong focus on manuscripts, and methods of interpreting them, but is open to new ways of thinking about the manuscripts, their contents, and connections between them.  Each of these themes feels like a rapidly developing field in which much remains to be done. The conductus project as Southampton is constantly growing and evolving, and many of the other major themes of the conference will surely thrive, due in no small part to connections made and correspondences started at the conference. While there will be more conferences in the series, there was unfortunately no hint as to where or when they might be. Still, when it does occur, it will certainly be exciting to see how each of these fields has developed.
Matthew Thomson (University of Oxford)