How often does a complete 15th-century manuscript of polyphony turn up of whose existence nobody had been aware previously? That is what happened when in November 2014 a small chansonnier (in fact very small, c.12 × 8.5cm) was acquired by the Belgian art dealer Michel Ceuterick. In 2016 it was then purchased by the King Baudouin Foundation and deposited on permanent loan with the Alamire Foundation at Park Abbey in Leuven where it is to form the cornerstone of the ‘Library of Voices’ study centre for Flemish polyphony. The book is now available in facsimile with a commentary by David Burn (Antwerp: WPG/Davidsfonds, 2017), and the images can be viewed online at www.idemdatabase.org/alamire/items/show/166. The importance of the find can hardly be overestimated, with the book in a near-perfect state of preservation. It contains 49 French polyphonic chansons and one Latin motet, including twelve unica which had been entirely unknown thus far, and was clearly produced in the context of the group of so-called ‘Loire Valley Chansonniers’, adding a sixth exemplar to the five known until now. In order to initiate scholarly enquiry and debate, the Alamire Foundation invited a number of scholars to New York for a study day on 12 July 2017, preceded by the launch of a fundraising drive for its ‘Library of Voices’ project in the Morgan Library the night before. The audience was treated to a glimpse of the book itself, a lavish reception with Flemish delicacies, and most crucially a concert by Ensemble Sollazzo who presented a programme including the majority of the newly discovered songs, heard for the first time, together with some familiar favourites from the same book, in ever-changing configurations of voices and instruments. The following day, scholars and performers reconvened in the New York ‘Flanders House’—in fact not so much a house but a suite of rooms on the 44th floor of the New York Times building, offering spectacular views over Manhattan and surroundings; what must surely be one of the best views in the city, however, did not distract those present from focusing on the small object sitting on a plinth in the room. The Alamire Foundation, under the guidance of Bart Demuyt, David Burn and Klaartje Proesmans, had assembled a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of scholars specializing on late 15th-century manuscripts and secular French polyphony in particular: besides the members of the Sollazzo Ensemble and the author of this report, present were (in alphabetical order) Allan Atlas, Jane Alden, Ellen Beebe, Warwick Edwards, David Fallows, Fabrice Fitch, Sean Gallagher, John Hails, Paula Higgins, Valerie Horst, Ann Kelders, Honey Meconi, Scott Metcalfe, Leeman Perkins, Joshua Rifkin, Dennis Slavin, William Watson, Richard Wexler and Anna Zayaruznaya. Images of the manuscript, transcriptions of the hitherto unknown anonyma, and David Burn’s study of it had been circulated in advance, so all participants had had a chance to prepare. This meant that instead of formal papers, the day could be dedicated in its entirety to round-table discussions on a variety of loosely defined topics, aiming to identify issues raised by the new discovery: how does this book expand or articulate our knowledge regarding repertory? How does it ‘fit’ into the group of manuscripts known as the ‘Loire Valley Chansonniers’? Does it align itself closely with one or more of these in terms of production or repertory? How does its extremely small size (smaller even than the other books of the same type, with six rather than the more usual seven staves per page) impact on the layout and notation of the music? Can any of the anonymous unica be ascribed to known composers? What future lines of enquiry might be opened up by the new find? Needless to say, no definitive answers were forthcoming, but certain insights did begin to emerge, with many of the discussions focusing around the nature of the book as—in the word of one participant—an ‘A minus’ production: still a high-end object, but somewhat less lavish, less luxurious than some of the other Loire Valley Chansonniers, with the anonyma on the whole musically less ambitious. A book perhaps more affordable, more attainable to a slightly broader clientele (while still, of course, within the confines of the intellectual elite identified by Jane Alden and others as the market for these books)? A type of book, therefore, of which many might have been made and distributed at the time, but subsequently lost due to their size and—in relative terms—unassuming nature (bearing in mind that even in 2014, it was sold as a job lot with an illuminated Visitation and a statue of Mary!). This is only the beginning: all participants were unanimous in supporting the proposals by the Alamire Foundation to initiate a series of projects around the book in the context of the ‘Library of Voices’, and the ready availability of the source in both printed and online formats will further encourage engagement with the object and its contents. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Early Music – Oxford University Press
Published: May 23, 2018
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