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The Ingressus Pilatus Chant in Medieval German Drama Stephen K. Wright One of the most vexatious problems facing editors of early European religious dramas is the question of how to reconstruct musical passages indicated only by brief incipits. The problem of expanding incipits is especially acute in the case of medieval German Passion plays and Easter plays, which are unusually rich in musical settings borrowed from the liturgy.l In both Latin and vernacular plays, incipits were used as a shorthand device by scribes who could assume that their readers were already so familiar with Christian ritual that they would immediately recognize from a mere word or two exactly what liturgical passage was meant and how it was to be chanted. To compensate for the modern reader's lack of familiarity with the language and music of the Divine Office and the Mass, editors are now obliged first to identify and then to expand incipits in order to arrive at a reasonable approximation of medieval performance practices. This task is not always an easy one. To begin with, an incipit may be too vague to permit any positive identification. The Alsfelder Passionsspiel (1501), for example, has three separate stage directions calling for angels to sing "ad laudem" or "ad laudem Salvatoris" without indicating what specific song of praise the redactor had in mind.2 Second, an incipit can sometimes point to several possible sources beginning with the same phrase. A case in point is the betrayal scene in the so-called Benediktbeurer Passionsspiel (late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century) which seems to derive from a conflation of the Gospel accounts in Matthew and John.3 Third, once the source has been identified, it can still be difficult to know how much of the original liturgical setting the performer was actually meant to sing, since the incipit indicates where the chant is to begin but not necessarily where it should end. For example, when a rubric in the Innsbrucker (thüringisches) Fronleichnamsspiel requires the prophet Joel to sing the Dies irae, one immediately recognizes the opening 348 Stephen K. Wright349 words of the sequence from the Mass for the Dead, but it is impossible to determine how many of the sequence's twenty stanzas the actor was meant to chant in a given performance.4 Finally , it is important to remember that the liturgy itself was not a monolithic, static entity, but rather a body of constantly evolving worship practices subject to both historical change and regional variation, thus adding still more uncertainties to modern attempts to expand the truncated forms found in medieval stage directions. In light of these difficulties, it is clear that expansions of incipits must always be regarded as hypothetical reconstructions. One corollary of this proposition is that serious misapprehensions can arise when an expansion is viewed as a definitive element of the original text rather than as an informed guess about an unrecoverable performance practice. The danger is compounded when editorial choices are predicated on anachronistic assumptions about the relationship between the play's dominant plot line (derived from biblical and apocryphal narratives) and the musical texts borrowed from the non-narrative rites of Christian worship. In what follows, I want to consider the case of the Ingressus Pilatus incipit found in several German plays dating from the late twelfth to the late sixteenth century. An examination of how this incipit came to be expanded in two radically different ways provides a cautionary example of what can happen when editors succumb to thoroughly unmedieval notions of literary genre, narrative coherence, and linear plot sequence. In the case of the Ingressus Pilatus, editorial interventions resulted in the rejection of an easily identifiable liturgical source in favor of a recondite narrative source on the basis of untenable assumptions about the nature of plot design in early religious drama. Consequently, an ingenious but ultimately implausible hypothesis which posits twin origins for a single incipit came to be uncritically accepted as an established fact by generations of readers. The Ingressus Pilatus incipit is found in a total of ten medieval religious plays composed in German-speaking areas. Five of the texts are Passion plays: one in Latin (Das Benediktbeurer Passionsspiel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 348-366
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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