A new facsimile of a half-millennium-old manuscript needs to know who its audience will be. Reproductions of stunningly beautiful sources, such as the Squarcialupi Codex or the newly available Chansonnier Cordi-forme, need little justification, for they entice the scholar, student, and buyer with a sheer brilliance unknowable in modern transcription. But what of more mundane, everyday manuscripts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance? How do they justify their high prices and shelf space?
This new facsimile edition provides the answers. Visually, the St. Emmeram Codex is a decidedly unspectacular Germanic source from the mid-fifteenth century. Lacking even a single illumination, copied by scribes content to use just black and red inks, it is the type of source that in the past would have been studied only through modern editions and grainy microfilms. Yet opening the new facsimile immediately makes the importance of the new publication obvious. Seeing the manuscript in facsimile is like beginning an archeological dig through layer upon layer of scribal decisions, reorganizations, and interpolations, none of which are apparent in a modern inventory or edition. One encounters black notation and pieces from the dawn of the fifteenth century next to more modern pieces in white notation, sandwiched between chants written with German Hufnagel notation. The disordered look of the manuscript raises questions for the reader that the excellent commentary volume then helps to solve.
The commentary begins with an extremely useful three-page introduction by Martin Staehelin, who describes the manuscript’s varied contents, the current theories about its genesis—as the personal collection of the clerk Hermann Pötzlinger (d. 1469)—its dating, its international and German repertories, and its significance despite the errors in many of its musical readings. Summary essays of this sort should be standard for all commentaries; with this and the inventory alone, casual readers can effectively dive right into the facsimile. Ian Rumbold and Peter Wright’s commentary is aimed at a much more specialized audience, detailing the history of such items as strips of reused parchment removed from the bindings (which Rumbold and Wright use to connect this codex to other manuscripts from Pötzlinger’s donation to the monastery of St. Emmeram) and sixteen different bibliographical labels. The density of most (but not all) of their sectional discussions is mitigated by clear statements of what we may expect to learn from the study of, for instance, scribal changes or mensuration signatures. It also does not require much time wading through the footnotes to see the importance of bringing all this information together into a single commentary: several of the most significant publications about the manuscript appear in German-language sources that only the best-stocked libraries are likely to have. A serious omission from the commentary is the lack of an alphabetical index to the manuscript, a tool so useful that even the original compilers of the source made sure to include one. (The original index is transcribed, but that index lacks the pieces from the final stages of copying.)
The most significant contributions of the commentary are in the datings based on paper types, descriptions of scribal activity, repertorial layers, and musical notation. This last section is also a masterful demonstration of the power of integrating musical examples into the main body of the text. Rhythms, ligatures (multiple notes written in one gesture), and even full musical lines are reproduced as parts of sentences, obviating the need to consult figures elsewhere on the page or in the book. One hopes that after seeing their effectiveness here, more publishers and editors will drop their reluctance toward what is surely the most concise and simple way to discuss technical issues. However, some of the notational discussions overlook relevant literature. Following Tom R. Ward’s lead (in his “A Central European Repertory in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 14274,” Early Music History 1 : 325–43), the editors assert that the prolation signs and are indigenous to Central European compositions and treatises. However, these signs have long been known from Italian trecento theoretical and practical sources, especially the Mancini Codex (with which St. Emmeram shares repertory) and the Parma fragment. (Further discussion of these signs may be found...