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Recent Researches in the Music of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance

Rebecca Maloy, general editor

Recent Researches in the Music of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance  presents editions of music from the thousand-year period extending from ca. 500 to 1500 C.E. As one might expect, the music of this period is extremely diverse, starting with the monophony inherited from antiquity, but developing a system of organizing voices polyphonically that would become one of the most distinctive features of western music. In accord with the traits of the period it represents, Recent Researches in the Music of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance offers an array of music that is correspondingly rich and diverse, encompassing the principal types of both monophony and polyphony that were composed during the period.

One of the most vibrant areas of musical creative activity in the early Middle Ages was the composition of tropes and sequences, written to embellish the plainchants of the Roman mass and office. These two monophonic genres are the focus of two editions in the series, Early Medieval Chants from Nonantola, and Beneventanum Troporum Corpus. The former presents tropes to the items of both the Proper and Ordinary of the mass, as well as processional antiphons and sequences from northern Italy; the latter provides synoptic transcriptions of the repertoire of tropes cultivated at one of the most important monasteries in southern Italy, the abbey of Montecassino. That the creation of tropes and other monophonic music not only continued, but took new directions in the later Middle Ages is attested by two further editions. The soaring melismatic flights of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei tropes in Monophonic Tropes and Conductus of W1 suggest the virtuosity of the singers at the cathedral of Notre Dame in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Florence Laudario, on the other hand, presents a less elaborate, but no less attractive repertoire of religious songs in the vernacular that was cultivated by confraternities of laudesi in Tuscany and Umbria in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

As vital as monophony remained during the course of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, it was the development of polyphonic music that truly became the hallmark of western musical creation. The earliest documents to this development date to the ninth century, but its great florescence was ushered in during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the advent of a means of notation that could convey specific rhythmic values. The center of this development, the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, resounded not just with elaborate monophonic music, but with the most advanced types of measured polyphony. This series presents two of the key genres of this new music, the conductus and motet. Arguably the earliest type of composed polyphony (not based on a preexistent model), the conductus impresses even today with its brilliance and extraordinary contrapuntal ingenuity. These features are on ample display in The Conductus Collections of Ms Wolfenbüttel 1099 , a collection of thirty works for two and three voices from the Notre Dame manuscript known as W2. The most forward-looking new genre at Notre Dame, though, was the motet, arising in the thirteenth century and continuing into the fourteenth century and beyond. The various stages in its development can be traced easily in the edition of the largest manuscript containing these works, The Montpellier Codex. A special case is the edition of Motets and Prosulas by Philip the Chancellor, noted as both theologian and poet, to whom there are more pieces attributed—texts, and possibly music—than any other figure associated with Notre Dame during this period.

Although they make their first appearance only in the thirteenth century, polyphonic settings of songs in the vernacular became a favorite type of composition during the fourteenth century and even more so during the fifteenth and sixteenth. The genre is represented in this series by three volumes of arrangements of popular songs from the early Renaissance: Johannes Ockeghem's Fors seulement, Hayne van Ghizeghem's De tous biens plaine, and the most popular Italian song of the fifteenth century, Fortuna desperata. All of these could be performed as vocal or instrumental works, or a combination of both. Likewise representing the fifteenth century are editions of the collected works of Johannes Vincenet, Johannes Cornago, and Johannes Martini; the works of the last-named edited in volumes devoted respectively to masses, secular pieces, and various other genres of sacred music.

In every case the editions in Recent Researches in the Music of the Middle Ages and Early Renaissance include a discussion of historical context and performance practices, complete translations of texts, and a critical report. Where necessary, as is the case with the Beneventanum Troporum Corpus, the edition also provides a transcription of the original notation in all its complexity and richness. The goal of these editions is to make the music of the past available to performers and scholars of the present in a form that is a pleasure to use and that represents the highest standards of musical scholarship.


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