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Toledo Cathedral's Collection of Manuscript Plainsong Choirbooks: A Preliminary Report and Checklist
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Notes 63.2 (2006) 289-328


Toledo Cathedral's Collection of Manuscript Plainsong Choirbooks:
A Preliminary Report and Checklist

The Spanish primatial cathedral of Toledo possesses one of the largest surviving collections of indigenously produced plainsong sources deriving from any major ecclesiastical institution in Western Christendom. The collection comprises about 170 volumes for the Mass, Office, and processions, including atlas-size choirbooks produced for use in liturgical functions held in the cathedral's own coro (liturgical choir), and smaller volumes for its various chapels. Bound between leather-covered wooden boards, most of these parchment volumes were copied, illuminated, corrected, and bound in Toledo by the cathedral's regularly contracted lay craftsmen. Around thirty books of non-Toledan provenance have been added to the collection, forming a musical repository comprising in excess of 22,000 folios, the great majority of which, despite serious damage to some volumes, are entirely legible.

Despite its extraordinary importance, the Toledo collection of choirbooks has eluded serious scholarly attention for almost exactly a century. In 1905, P. Luciano Serrano, OSB, mentioned having examined "los cantorales de la Catedral," and reported that the collection "se compone de [End Page 289] unos cien volúmenes en folio."1 In fact, the cathedral's indigenously produced collection now consists of around 130 of these large-format heavily bound manuscripts and around forty books of chant in medium and smaller formats.2 We began cataloging the collection in late 2002, at the request of the then canon-archivist, Don Ramón Gonzálvez Ruiz, and we continued the task on site until mid-2003, with the enthusiastic encouragement of the dean, Don Santiago Calvo.3 A full catalog of the collection, commissioned by the dean, is now in preparation. We present here a preliminary report, to which a short form of the catalog—a provisional checklist with brief physical description of each book—is attached as an appendix. It must be emphasized, however, that, for reasons of space, the amount of information we present in the provisional checklist is extremely limited.

Today, the fondo de cantorales forms a discrete division of the cathedral's Archivo Capitular.4 It preserves almost all the plainchant choirbooks copied for use in the choir between the second quarter of the sixteenth century and the end of the nineteenth century. In addition, the Archivo Capitular houses separately a small but significant number of earlier chant volumes previously cataloged and integral to the Toledan liturgy, dating from as early as the last quarter of the eleventh century, and through to the last quarter of the fifteenth century. The collection of cantorales is of enormous musical and liturgical interest, by definition the most important (if, alas, incomplete) surviving record of the chant dialect known as canto toledano, and important too for the study of all aspects of manuscript book production in Spain.5 The artistic quality of [End Page 290] the many illuminations ranges from mediocre to extremely fine and priceless. Yet despite the primacy of the institution that commissioned them, the Toledo collection is relatively plain in appearance and presentation. Unfortunately, too, a significant number of the books have sustained serious water damage.

Some of the volumes, or parts of volumes in the case of the many composite bindings, were signed and/or dated by their respective scribes. Others are identifiable from a wealth of supporting documentation. Two types of documents in particular allow us to chart the history and preservation of the collection. The accounts of the Archivo de Obra y Fábrica contain a plethora of specific references to the scribes, illuminators, dates of production, and binding of identifiable volumes.6 Likewise, detailed inventarios of chant books form part of episcopal visitation reports dating from 1503 (Cardinal Cisneros; "Inv. 1503" in the checklist below), 1539 (Cardinal Tavera; "Inv. 1539"), 1580 (Cardinal Quiroga; "Inv. 1580"), 1600 (Cardinal Sandoval), 1649 (Cardinal Moscoso; "Inv. 1649"), and 1790 (Cardinal Lorenzana; "Inv. 1790").7

All of the volumes in question pertain to the...