While the series Early English Church Music (hereafter EECM) typically presents editions of sacred repertory in modern notation, for study and performance, three of its volumes offer facsimiles of manuscripts. EECM 26, for example, offered black-and-white images of 14th-century English sources (English polyphonic music of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, ed. F. Ll. Harrison and R. Wibberley (London: Stainer & Bell, for the British Academy, 1981)). However, its variable reproduction quality, the adjustment of images to fit the standard page size, and the lack of scale measurements (apparently cropped during the production phase) meant that the book was best used alongside primary archival work, since the nuances of colour, dimension and parchment quality were not always evident to the reader. More recently, Susan Rankin’s facsimile edition of the Winchester Troper (The Winchester Troper: facsimile edition and introduction, EECM 50 (London: Stainer & Bell, for the British Academy, 2007)) was presented in colour, with generous critical apparatus and extensive scholarly discussion to support the presentation of the 11th-century manuscripts. Outside of the EECM series, many publications have presented facsimiles of individual sources of early English music, from William J. Summers’s collection of later English music (English fourteenth-century polyphony: facsimile edition of sources notated in score, Münchner Editionen zur Musikgeschichte 4 (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1983)) to discussions of the ubiquitous song Sumer is icumen in, rarely mentioned without an accompanying image, whether as part of a scholarly article or used as a postcard from the British Library shop. In addition, numerous sources have been reproduced as illustrations in books, editions and journal articles since the 19th century; in some cases, their high quality presents evidence of the deterioration of medieval sources since the rise of interest in them—and thus in the number of people handling them—over the last several decades. The editors of EECM 57 lay out, with welcome clarity, those late 12th-, 13th-, and early 14th-century music sources ruled ‘in’ or ‘out’ of their plates, for various reasons. Some larger sources lying on the chronological periphery (such as the Later Cambridge Songbook, Cambridge University Library, ff. i. 17 (i), probably copied between 1180 and 1230), are already available in a modern facsimile edition. The well-known inventory of songs from a since-lost music book of the 13th century, found as part of London, British Library, Harley 978, is included as a plate because of its relevance to the host source, but its incipits are not integrated into the general index because concrete identification of several items is problematic. The editors helpfully catalogue any manuscripts of direct relevance to the corpus of 13th-century polyphony as part of the critical commentary, even where the sources are too early or too late for images to have been included as part of the main volume. The balance of inclusion/exclusion feels about right, and the usefulness of the catalogue is greatly enhanced by taking a pragmatic approach to sources on the fringes of the defined chronology. So, in the age of digital media, and with resources for viewing medieval sources expanding all the time, what are the advantages of the present edition? The first thing to say is that the volume pulls together diverse sources of 13th-century song, few of which are substantial enough to warrant individual publications; all are, in some ways, fragmentary, and some are damaged to the point that they would be unlikely to be reproduced elsewhere in print. The survival of Dorchester, Dorset History Centre, pe/nby/mi 1 (olimp 350/mi 1), which is enormously fragile on account of its preservation in a wall of the clock tower at Netherbury Church, Dorset, is but one example. Its journey from creation as a music source c.1200 to its use within the 15th-century building, and finally to its identification and conservation in the 1960s, borders on the miraculous; four musical items are visible. Summers and Lefferts’s edition presents over 60 sources across 349 plates; most manuscripts are held in archives within the United Kingdom, but some are from elsewhere in Europe and from the United States. In many respects, using an online repository of music images is more, not less, cumbersome when dealing with comparative work or attempting a holistic overview on this scale. (My own EECM facsimile volumes are peppered with light pencil annotations, none of which I have to log in with a password to view.) Almost all of the images in EECM 57 are in full colour, and all but one (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Ms. 8) are shown actual size. Many fresh images have been taken in preparation, and therefore the quality of reproduction is, in most cases, exceptionally high. In order to accommodate the different sizes of individual sources, some are orientated landscape, some portrait; this can made the book a little unwieldy, but is a good solution. A large section of EECM 57 is taken up with leaves from what have been collectively known as the Worcester Fragments, arranged according to the three ‘reconstructions’ into which the fragments have been gathered by musicologists over several generations. Held at various archives—Worcester Cathedral Library, the Bodleian, University of Oxford and the British Library—the fragments of what were largely three distinct collections are presented here in full. It is this section of the volume that is arguably the most impressive and valuable: it is immediately apparent from the juxtaposition of the various leaves that the umbrella term ‘Worcester Fragments’ does little justice to the diversity of repertory and original copying processes found within them. Refinements in photography have meant that the new images taken of pages from Worcester Cathedral Archives—the relevant manuscripts were taken to Cambridge University Library for capture—have benefitted from the use of techniques such as UV lighting to show details of correction, water damage, and palimpsests, features that go beyond what one can manage to determine with the naked eye. It is worth noting that the vibrancy of colour images has been achieved without retouching: in a world of airbrushing across many media, these images allow the manuscripts to speak to us directly on their own terms. The introductory sections of the edition are user-friendly; in particular, the catalogue eschews abbreviation where possible, and outlines the repertory of each source in sufficient detail to enable readers to consult the images in various ways. Working with the sources for such a long period has enabled several corrections to be made to descriptions found in previous scholarship by the editors, and these are well signposted in the commentary. In places, the recto or verso sides of a folio are reallocated (for example, the two parchment leaves of Göttingen, Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätbibliothek, Theol. 220 g, copied mid-century). The list of text incipits indicates the source in which each piece is found, and the item number within it; further detail of the specific plate on which the songs can be viewed would have been additionally beneficial. This handsome volume will undoubtedly stimulate further work on 13th-century polyphony, from studies of notational and copying practices to editing and transcription. It can easily be used alongside online images (for example, accessed via diamm.ac.uk), or for independent examinations of notational style. It is clear, especially from some of the more formal, institutional collections rather than the commonplace books, that many scribes were highly skilled in text, music and decoration. Although there are often advantages to seeing original sources first hand, it is right that we should use such resources as EECM 57 whenever possible to assist in the longer-term conservation of early music fragments. One area that the editors leave relatively untouched, other than reporting previous assessments with appropriate caution, is in matters of provenance. Summers and Lefferts note that only about half of the manuscripts included convey any sense of their first medieval owners, and in many cases that information relates to the origin of the host volumes to which the music leaves were subsequently attached as flyleaves, binding strips or wrappers. The diverse styles of handwriting in any one major source, and between sources over the century, mean that evidence of dominant copyists or scriptoria for polyphony is likely to remain elusive, however hard we look within this edition; however, the collected images will facilitate comparison with other texts of the period, whether non-musical or more conventionally liturgical (not least books of plainchant). It is arguably through crossing between such anachronistic categories of manuscript source that we might make progress in our understanding of copying practices in England. The volume can be used very effectively alongside both recent and older editions of medieval English music (notably Songs in British sources c.1150–1300, ed. H. Deeming, Musica Britannica 95 (London: Stainer & Bell, 2013); and English music of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, ed. E. Sanders, Polyphonic Music of the Fourteenth Century 14 (Paris and Monaco: L’Oiseau-Lyre, 1979)). The catalogue facilitates this sort of work by referring directly to published editions of pieces, and to wider literature on each source, especially where this surpasses information in standard reference works. Overall, the most recent facsimile project for Early English Church Music is of immense scholarly value. Clearly a labour of love, and a long-awaited publication for those following the subject, the editors should be congratulated for bringing to a successful conclusion a project that has spanned decades of preparation and benefits from their collective knowledge of the sources and repertory. © 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/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
Early Music – Oxford University Press
Published: May 30, 2018
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