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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