The long Middle Ages: Forms of notation in early modern non-professional manuscripts containing sacred music
Beitrag zur Tagung Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Brussels 2015
Ute Evers, University of Augsburg, Germany
Ulrike Hascher-Burger, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
From late medieval manuscripts we know the phenomenon of mixed notations. This is quite typical for manuscripts written by non-professionals. Since music historiography tends to focus on complex polyphony, we are inclined to assume that mixed notations are deficient. However, mixed notations are characteristic for non-professional music manuscripts, not only in the late Middle Ages, but in later times as well. This indicates that there was a culture of music writing based on medieval notational styles parallel to the established professional music transmission in the 16th and early 17th centuries. We would like to present two non-professional traditions from this time using mixed notations: German Passion plays and a Dutch Cantuale from the Beguinage in Amsterdam.
Late medieval and early modern Passion plays from the German speaking area predominantly use gothic notation. However, other notational styles were deliberately used for different melodical and rhythmical styles. Songlike melodies with a triple metre are written in semi-mensural notation using rhombic notation with caudae (e.g. Mary Magdalene's “Mantellied” in the Alsfeld Passion play). In 16th century Passion plays from the Alpine region the chants of the synagoga with fantasy Hebrew-sounding lyrics are set in black mensural notation (e.g. in plays from Admont and Sterzing). In a few cases different notational styles are mixed within the same melody (e.g. elements of horseshoe nail notation and white mensural notation in the opening song of the Brixen Passion play).
A Cantuale written around 1600 and stemming from the library of the Beguinage in Amsterdam (today Nijmegen, University Library, ms. 402) includes liturgical chant and religious songs, both monophonic and polyphonic. The main corpus of this manuscript is written by one hand using four kinds of music notation: gothic notation, black and white mensural notation, and modern notation. In several melodies elements of two or three notations are mixed. Although a broad range of music notations appears in this manuscript, the notations are not generally used as separate notational systems but constitute a unity to some extent.
The main questions of our paper are: Why did scribes use more than one notation? What are the benefits of this choice on the one hand? And how far did notational traditions influence the notational choices on the other hand?