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  • Fifteenth-Century Settings of the Gloria and Credo
  • Robert Nosow
Fifteenth-Century Liturgical Music VIII: Settings of the Gloria and Credo. Transcribed and Edited by Peter Wright. (Early English Church Music, 55.) London: Published for the British Academy by Stainer & Bell, 2013. [Foreword, p. v; acknowledgements, p. vi; contents, p. vii–viii; abbrevs. & list of plates, p. ix; introd., p. xi–xxiv; score, p. 1–303. ISMN 979-0-2202-2349-5, ISBN 978-0-85249-933-7. £95.]

Anonymous music, especially polyphonic music from before 1600, creates endless problems for the musicologist. Unlike paintings, there are no x-rays to reveal earlier layers of composition, or paint pigments to analyze via mass spectrometry. The tools for analyzing stylistic features remain unrefined, compared to the elegant assessments of brush strokes, perspective, color, and narrative typical of art history. For fifteenth-century Latin music, musicologists rely on large-scale markers including genre, mensuration, text distribution, and cantus firmus treatment to determine the origins of anonymous works. This is true for English music, which retained distinctive characteristics even as it circulated anonymously across Europe, often with the ascription “Anglicanus” or “de Anglia.” During the same period, virtually no music from the Continent was copied in England itself.

These circumstances inform Peter Wright’s impressive edition of individual Gloria and Credo movements for the series Early English Church Music. The volume is divided in four parts: complete settings of the Gloria and Credo, followed by fragmentary settings of the Gloria and Credo. Only five of the nineteen complete works have composer attributions, to which Wright provisionally adds two more. Three of the twenty-nine incomplete settings survive with attributions. The edition prefaces each work with an editorial commentary that includes easy-to-read critical notes, plainsong cantus firmi, and an individual discussion of text setting. In keeping with the current editorial policy of the series, the music is rendered in diplomatic notation, but transcribed in score, to the extent of displaying coloration and conflicting mensurations among voices, of which there are many. Each part has measure markers to denote the length of one breve. Because mensural notation is contextual in orientation, the length of individual notes and the coordination among voices are shown by their relative spacing on the page. Conceptually, this editorial method offers a strong visual representation of the separate, yet interdependent voices that sound in performance.

The parameters of the edition—the determination of which settings are English—are based on the work of a small cadre of scholars, notably Brian Trowell (“Music under the Later Plantagenets” [Ph.D. diss., University of Cambridge, 1960]), Charles Hamm (“A Catalogue of Anonymous English Music in Fifteenth-Century Continental Manuscripts,” Musica Disciplina 22 [1968]: 47–76), Gareth R. K. Curtis (“Stylistic Layers in the English Mass Repertory, c. 1400–1450,” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association 109 [1982–83]: 23–38), and Andrew Wathey (Gareth R. K. Curtis and Andrew Wathey, “Fifteenth-Century English Liturgical Music: A List of the Surviving Repertory,” Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle 27 [1994]: 1–69). It is disappointing that the introduction sidesteps a discussion of thirteen excluded [End Page 154] works, which are listed only in footnote 27. As Wright notes, however, “our views of what defines a musical composition as English are bound to change as our understanding of English style increases” (p. xiv). It is to this understanding that the edition makes its greatest contribution.

The inclusion of the twenty-eight fragments is important from a historical point of view; all occur in sources of English provenance. Of these, only Gloria no. 27 has questionable origins. A single voice part in alto clef, it possesses a bouncy tunefulness more characteristic of Latin music from Italy. Copied on the flyleaf of an herbary, it is an isolated work, altogether typical of the fragmentary remains of British sources. Most of these contain only one or two voice parts. The compositions are all dated to the first half of the fifteenth century, although one—the Gloria Exaudi pie pater, no. 19, a charming four-voice setting in simple trochaic rhythms—may have originated in the late fourteenth century. One can only admire the care and assiduity accorded these...


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