Session 26 (Free Papers): Early music sources: Questions of circulation

Tuesday, 7 July 2021, 11.00-13.00, Room 209 | Chair: David Fallows (University of Manchester)

The Leuven Chansonnier’s place in fifteenth-century song transmission networks | Ryan O’Sullivan (KU Leuven)

Since the recent discovery of the Leuven chansonnier (LC), various hypotheses regarding its provenance have emerged. David Burn’s assessment of its repertorial contents placed it alongside the so-called Loire Valley chansonniers. This group is made up of the Copenhagen, Dijon, and Laborde, Nivelle, and Wolfenbüttel chansonniers. Paula Higgins’s ground-breaking work of the 1980s is largely responsible for the now generally accepted hypothesis that all of these songbooks have their provenance in the Loire Valley. However, her argument focused on the de palacio bit[uricensis] inscription that places Nivelle in Bourges. The Loire Valley hypothesis relies on Nivelle’s relatedness to the other four songbooks. Recent work by Jane Alden and David Fallows has brought this relatedness into question. The core members of this group—the Copenhagen, Dijon, and Laborde songbooks—share a scribal concordance (the Dijon Scribe), while the Wolfenbüttel chansonnier contains much of the same repertoire as the first layer of Laborde in synoptic readings. These four chansonniers can thus confidently be referred to as a group, but their relationship to Nivelle—and the newly discovered LC—remains to be elucidated. Fallows’s discovery of the “Estiene Petit” acrostic in Wolfenbüttel shifts its probable provenance to Paris, where this notaire et secrétaire du roi is believed to have spent much of his life. The LC’s particularly high rate of concordance with Wolfenbüttel (39%) and the first layer of Laborde (31%) may give the impression of similar provenance and dating, but the variants in its song readings show that it was copied from very different exemplars. Many of its readings are similar to the Dijon Scribe’s, but others are more similar to those copied far from the French court, e.g., in Burgundy, Savoy, and Italy. This paper will present the results of a complete analysis of the LC’s variants with the aim of situating the songbook more accurately within fifteenth-century song transmission networks.

Codex Speciálník as a local authority? The transmission of polyphony in Bohemian sources around 1500 | Lenka Hlávková (Charles University Prague)

In the 1990s, the new wave of scholarly interest in the Bohemian collection of polyphony Codex Speciálník (CZ–HKm II A 7) focused above all on the establishing of a revised dating (ca. 1485–1500) and identification of internationally transmitted concordances. A closer look at the repertory written in the void mensural notation and preserved also in other Bohemian sources from the time around 1500 shows that there was a significant amount of polyphonic compositions of probably local origin circulating in Bohemia. The aim of this paper is to identify the network of a common repertory and to draw a preliminary picture of the cultural background of the compositional and performance practices of recent polyphonic music in Bohemia around 1500.

Songs at the sacrifice: Gemischte quarthandschriften and music for the mass | Andrew Kirkman (University of Birmingham)

One of the most striking conclusions I was able to reach in my book The Cultural Life of the Early Polyphonic Mass concerned the scope of music used in the celebration of Mass. Considerable evidence extending as far as the late fifteenth century bears witness to the use of secular songs at Mass (including at the focal point of the elevation) not just as cantus firmi but in their original unvarnished forms. Most such evidence comes in the form of repeated proscriptions, their persistence clearly implying the obstinacy of the practice’s survival.

Such censures tail off before the 1430s, but strong archival and manuscript evidence supports the view that the practice persisted before that time via the use of manuscripts, dubbed by Besseler “gemischte Quarthandschriften”, that combine ostensibly separate secular and sacred genres. This paper will address the contents of a series of manuscripts from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, considering their possible functioning at Mass in terms of patronage, acoustics, hearers and—as a crucial corollary—intelligibility of texts.

A tale of two cities: Relationships between a Northern and an Italian manuscript | Peter W. Urquhart (University of New Hampshire)

CambraiBM 18 and VatS 23 share four masses, a statistically improbable connection only recently evident, although both manuscripts have been studied for more than a century. The many sources of Josquin’s De beata Virgine Credo suggest that these two manuscripts are both close to an archetype of the mass, and quite close to each other, providing the link between sources from North and South. Richard Sherr (1976) wrote on the issue of signature flats in the Credo, implying that Italian sources presented the original configuration, largely clear of signature flats. My results indicated the reverse, that flats were part of the original conception.

The contrast between CambraiBM 18 and VatS 23 puts a long-standing issue into physical form, between acceptance of notation as sufficiently prescriptive, versus the assumption that inflections were “strictly accidental or ancillary”. My work supports the former view, while the latter remains the standard assumption in our field. The issue has never been fully resolved. The relationship between these two sources suggests that one depended on the other. Which way did the transmission flow? I have claimed that the influence went from North to South. And now there is more evidence to consider: three other concordant masses by Prioris, Fresneau and Josquin provide unmistakable evidence of the direction. Establishing the relationship between CambraiBM 18 and VatS 23 reveals the genesis of Josquin’s most widely distributed mass, and in turn clarifies issues of performance practice and musica ficta that have so long been misconstrued.