Eleanor – Musical Notation in Medieval Paris

I came to Emmanuel in 2009 to study for an MPhil in Musicology. I am now in my first year of studying for a PhD in Music, thanks to the support of a Derek Brewer Research Studentship.

Derek Brewer’s research interests were, coincidently, in a similar period of history to my own. He had a keen interest in medieval English literature; I myself have a fascination for medieval music. I am very grateful for the studentship from Emmanuel as without it students like me would be unable to undertake further studies.

It was in my second year as an undergraduate at Newcastle University that I developed an interest in medieval music. I took a course on music within the liturgy, and for the assessment I had to transcribe a medieval liturgical service from digital copies of medieval sources. This gave me my first taste of working with medieval music and navigating my way around manuscripts; from then on I was hooked. The topic of my research has changed somewhat since then, but I am still working on music and manuscripts: my PhD focuses on the copying of music into manuscripts made in thirteenth-century Paris.

During the thirteenth century in Paris, there was a growing demand for books by the students and masters of the burgeoning University. In response to the University and other clients, a community of bookmakers developed and flourished, consisting of professional scribes, artists, illuminators, bookbinders, parchment-makers and booksellers. These tradesmen would have worked together at different stages of book production and even collaborated with other people from their own trade, for example two scribes might have worked together on one manuscript. However, very little is known about who copied notation into music books, or what part such notators would have played within the booktrade. I want to try to find out more about the notation of music manuscripts, and how this intersected with the rest of the Parisian booktrade.

This year I have begun by focusing on Dominican manuscripts: in the mid-thirteenth century, the Dominicans undertook a reform of their service books in order to eliminate regional variations and create a unified liturgy. In conjunction, they wrote a set of rules prescribing how music should be notated so that all their service books would have the same style. This striving within the Dominican Order for a uniformity of content and style provides an interesting starting point from which to look at their manuscripts.

As chance would have it, there are several surviving Dominican manuscripts from mid- to late-thirteenth-century Paris, including three that were used as master-copies from which all other manuscripts were to be copied. One is now held in the British Library, making trips to visit it easy. Whilst other relevant manuscripts are held further afield (Rome, Paris, Salamanca, Philadelphia ...), visiting them will not be too much of a hardship! I am looking forward to my travels over the next two years, to having further opportunities to access and study music manuscripts, and to the possibility of discovering more about the work of notators in thirteenth-century Paris.