Seeing Medieval Music

Generations of Princeton undergraduates and graduate students in the Department of Music have learned about music history in part by class visits to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. For well over a half century, medievalists and chant specialists at Princeton have figured prominently in visits to the Manuscripts Division to see Latin and Greek manuscripts. Among the music faculty have been Kenneth Levy, Margaret Bent, Peter Jeffery, and now Jamie Reuland, who has visited twice in spring 2017 with her graduate seminar, Medieval Musical Style and Notation (MUS 504). The most recent visit was to see and learn about a thirteenth-century Gradual (Princeton MS. 245), just acquired through the cooperative efforts of the Manuscripts Division and the Mendel Music Library. In the new West Consultation Room of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (see photo below), Professor Reuland (center) uses the Gradual to illustrate Christian liturgy and musical notation for the graduate students (left to right) Carolyn Watts, Jane Hines, Mumbua Kioko, and Ambra Casonato.

A Gradual is a liturgical manuscript containing the sung portions of the Mass, with text and musical notation. Religious houses needed Graduals as part of their complement of service books. While Princeton has many such books, the new acquisition offers a particularly good example for instruction and research. This Gradual was produced in the second half of the 13th century for a Dominican religious house, probably located in northern France or the southern Low Countries. The manuscript contains 176 parchment leaves (measuring 34.0 x 24.5 cm), with text in black and red ink, square notation on four-line red staves, ten large illuminated initials, and pen-work decoration in blue and red. Below is a close-up of the initial G for the word Gaudeamus (Latin for “Let us rejoice”), inhabited by a green, blue, and red dragon. The gold and rich colors of the illuminated initials are still vivid after seven centuries. The manuscript probably left the Dominicans around the time of the French Revolution, when monasteries were being closed and their property sold. From 1912, the Gradual was in the library of the British collector Allan Heywood Bright (1862-1941), whose descendants sold it and many other manuscripts in 2014.

Most liturgical manuscripts in the Manuscripts Division are described in Don C. Skemer, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library (2013), 2 vols.; and Nancy Sevcenko and Sofia Kotzabassi, Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth-Nineteenth Century: A Descriptive Catalogue (2010). More recent acquisitions are described in the Library’s online catalog, as are music manuscripts in the Scheide Library.

Professor Reuland and graduate students

Princeton MS. 245 (detail)