WR - Fw: new medieval music manuscript

larkin at webstar.net larkin at webstar.net
Mon Nov 8 19:29:26 PST 1999

Here's something that Almaith ingen Cormaic forwarded to me that 
the bards in the region might be interested in.


       Modern technology aids the
       recovery of medieval music

                  BY JIM MCCUE 
  A SHORT piece of music from around 1400, recovered
  by new image-processing techniques, will receive its first
  per- formance for nearly 600 years at a seminar in
  London today. The piece is a setting of the Marian text
  Beata viscera, and has been recovered from the
  "Worcester Fragments", a collection of more than 50
  vellum leaves that were used to bind books at Worcester
  Cathedral in the late 15th century. 

  Its recovery is just one of the fruits of the establishment of
  the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music by Dr
  Margaret Bent of All Souls College, Oxford, and
  Professor Andrew Wathey of Royal Holloway, University
  of London, who are using advanced techniques to bring to
  light notations that have been obscured by time, or

  The electronic archive is drawing upon manuscripts of
  medieval polyphonic music in more than 60 British
  libraries, and hopes to extend its scope abroad. 

  Most of the pre-Reformation music that has come down
  to us has survived by chance, because once it went out of
  fashion the manuscripts were regarded as expendable.
  Some were scraped clean - because vellum was valuable
  - and written over again; other scraps were re-used as
  binding materials (or, in one case, as backing for ceiling
  paintings at New College, Oxford). This neglect was
  compounded by wilful destruction at the Reformation. 

  In later centuries, the fragments were often discovered
  when books were taken apart for rebinding but sadly, until
  the late 19th century, they were routinely discarded. The
  survival rate is notably higher in libraries which did not
  undertake wholesale rebinding programmes in Victorian
  times (when inferior materials were often used which
  themselves now need replacing). 

  Despite this perilous history, manuscripts and fragments
  continue to be discovered, and the number known has
  grown by a third in the past 30 years to 900, comprising
  around 2,000 pages. 

  The work of the project manager, Dr Julia CraigMcFeely,
  manipulating the digital images and "lifting off" later
  overwriting, has made it possible to recover music not
  visible to the naked eye, and works can then sometimes
  be reconstructed by reference either to other fragments or
  to substantially complete texts such as the Eton
  Choirbook or the Old Hall Manuscript in the British
  Library. Analysis of the virtual manuscripts has also
  provided new evidence for dating and attribution of 14th
  and 15th-century music by English composers. 

  Another of the project's notable successes has been with
  a palimpsest manuscript now at Corpus Christi College,
  Oxford. In this instance, a 15th-century scribe copied a
  prose work - Geoffrey of Vinsauf's Liber metricus de
  nova poetria - over a music book from the previous
  century, which may have originated at the Benedictine
  Abbey at St Albans. Since its rediscovery in the 1970s,
  the music has been considered illegible, but performable
  transcriptions can now been made. 

  Today's seminar at Royal Holloway, 11 Bedford Square,
  London WC1, begins at 5pm. 

  Details of the Digital Image Archive can be obtained on
  the Internet at users.ox.ac.uk/~diamm/

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