Seminars in Medieval and Renaissance Music

All Souls College, Oxford

Hilary Term, 2022
Convenor: Dr Margaret Bent

The seminars in 2021-22 will continue on Zoom. The seminars are all on Thursdays at 5 p.m. UK time (GMT). The first (individual) presentation will be about half an hour, followed by invited discussants who will engage the speaker in conversation about the paper. The two joint presentations will have no additional discussants. In all cases, the floor will be opened for comments and questions by others after about an hour. We hope you will join us.

If you are planning to attend a seminar this term, please register using this form. For each seminar, those who have registered will receive an email with the Zoom invitation and any further materials a couple of days before the seminar. If you have questions, please email (

Seminar programme

Thursday 27 January, 5pm GMT

Lachlan Hughes (University of Oxford)

Laude and Lyric Poetry in Dante’s Florence

Discussants: Elena Abramov-Van Rijk (independent scholar, Jerusalem) and Blake Wilson (Dickinson College (PA))

The lauda, a form of vernacular song which flourished in the Marian confraternities of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Italy, has much in common with the lyric poetry written by Dante and his peers: the adoption of the ballata form, the development of a religiously inflected poetics of praise, the elevation of the vernacular, etc. Despite having much in common, however, the two traditions have typically been read as unrelated, in no small part due to an entrenched critical narrative, perpetuated by literary scholars and musicologists alike, which sees the poetry of medieval Italy as essentially ‘divorced’ from any possible musical execution, in stark contrast tothe hybrid model of the troubadours. If the medieval Italian poetic tradition is characterised by a conspicuous absence of (notated) music, then the lauda, preserved in the earliest extant collections of musically notated Italian poetry, seemingly has no place in it.

This paper will begin by exploring the origins, consequences, and limitations of such a critical framing, drawing on a historical overview of early (and largely unsuccessful) efforts at assembling a corpus of laude, beginning in the late nineteenth century. It will then present the principal musical sources of the thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century lauda and reflect on their problems and possibilities, before moving to a consideration of what might be gained by reading the secular poetry of Dante and his peers against the contemporary tradition of the lauda. In a broader sense, the paper will also reflect on the advantages of reading a single repertoire through different disciplinary lenses, and what this might tell us about the scholarly traditions in which we work.

Thursday 17 February, 5pm GMT

Antonio Calvia (Università di Pavia) and Anne Stone (CUNY Graduate Center)

Two Fragments, One Manuscript: Introducing a Newly-Discovered Italian Source of Ars Nova Polyphony

In 2019 and 2020 two largely intact parchment bifolios containing Ars nova polyphony were found independently in Milan-area libraries: one at the Biblioteca Universitaria in Pavia by Giuseppe Mascherpa (independent scholar) and Federico Saviotti (University of Pavia) and the other at the Biblioteca Trivulziana in Milan by Anne Stone. In May 2021, Saviotti, Stone, and Antonio Calvia realized that the two bifolios belonged to the same original manuscript, and began a joint project to study them together. This talk presents findings from our initial research into the origins, provenance, and contents of the “Codice San Fedele-Belgioioso,” a compilation of mass ordinary movements and secular songs whose internal evidence points strongly to a provenance in the Milan area c. 1400. The 12 compositions that survive appear to be unica: three mass ordinary compositions and nine French-texted songs with two surviving voices. The measurements of these bifolios (approximately 465×620 mm, with a page size of approximately 465 mm tall and 310 wide) are larger than any surviving manuscripts of polyphony contemporary with them, and the quality of the parchment and the elegance of the hand make it clear that the manuscript was professionally copied for an institution that had considerable resources. These finds thus have the potential to significantly expand our scanty knowledge of cultivated polyphony in late medieval Lombardy.

Thursday 10 March, 5pm GMT

John Milsom (Liverpool Hope University) and Jessie Ann Owens (University of California at Davis)

Thomas Morley’s A plaine and easie introduction to practicall musicke (London, 1597): new observations and discoveries

As we complete our research into England’s first major printed music treatise, we take this opportunity to share our current thoughts about Morley’s A plaine and easie introduction, and explain our strategy for publication. Underlying our work is a focus on ‘making’ – the processes of making a manuscript for the printer, and of making a printed book from that manuscript. Morley’s manuscript does not survive, so must be inferred from the finished book; but an investigation of its text does draw us into the materiality of his working methods, as he ‘tombles and tosses’ his various sources, whether acknowledged or not, and transforms them both to reflect his own understanding and priorities, and to make them conform to his design and purpose. The identification of Morley’s extensive ‘library’ of sources reveals a complex and multi-layered text, created in part from pre-existing materials and in part from his own experience and training as a musician. His distinctive voice emerges from the tantalizing accounts of musical practice evident in action verbs like foist, shift, stir, hang. Our investigation of the 1597 edition itself – the book qua book – has led to unexpected discoveries. We now believe that Morley, quite exceptionally, may have devised his treatise largely as a sequence of double-page spreads, and hence composed its literary content, music examples, tables and diagrams to fit into two-page openings. If our theory is correct, then layout is in effect an integral element of Morley’s text: pedagogy and design proceed hand in hand. Initially we had planned to publish a three-volume study in which our new edition of Morley’s text (vol. 1) is accompanied by a critical apparatus (vol. 2) and a set of essays by a distinguished cohort of musicologists (vol. 3). Our approach, however, has been transformed by the decision to add a full colour facsimile of a copy of the 1597 edition itself (vol. 4), allowing the book’s remarkable properties to be fully savoured and appreciated.

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