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The Melodies of the Medieval Church-Dramas and Their Significance William L. Smoldon I The late Karl Young, in the Preface to his monumental work, The Drama of the Medieval Church (Oxford, 1933), wrote the following: Another aspect of these plays which has been generally un­ explored is their melodies. I do not feel called upon to apologize for having treated these pieces from an exclusively literary point of view, and were a defence required, one could cite eminent precedents. It is an obvious fact, however, that since the plays of the Church were actually sung, our knowledge of them cannot be complete until such of their music as exists has been published, elucidated and heard. . . . The adequate editing and exposition of the music associated with the dramatic texts . . . would assist a demonstration of relationships, and would probably disclose unsuspected traditionalisms or originalities throughout the body of plays. Its chief contribution, however, would consist, I think, in opening to us the full charm of these dramatic pieces. . . . (I, xiii-xiv) With the music of most of these works “ elucidated,” and a number of them “published and heard” in their true and complete shapes, I propose to show in the course of this article that each of Karl Young’s prophecies can be found to have been fulfilled. I would question, however, whether the “ chief contribution” would be “the opening to us of the full charm of these dramatic pieces.” Fully equal in importance are the new facts, regarding early music-drama and medieval music generally, which come to light when the melodies are studied in detail and depth. It might have been better if the distinguished Karl Young had realized the necessity for apologizing for omitting serious consideration of the music. “Eminent precedents” do not excuse this neglect, which has continued past his time. What has been forgotten by the “literary” writers on the subject is that the works that they are considering are not just dramas (relying on text and spoken delivery alone to bring about their effects), but music-dramas, in which every word is sung, and where the effects of the dramatic texts are often enough con­ siderably enhanced by the vocal melodies given to them. The tech­ niques of this vocal music are far subtler than is commonly supposed. 185 186 Comparative Drama Moreover, as I have indicated above, much general evidence of importance concerning every aspect of the development of these music-dramas can be gathered, once comparative studies based on the music are made. Certainly much knowledge can, and has been, obtained from literary conclusions alone, but it is my experience that any dogmatic statement made concerning these works, based on evidence drawn from a text, must be tested by reference to the accompanying musical setting. This latter evidence may confirm the textual conclusions, but I have found that there are occasions (some­ times very important ones) when it confutes them. There was a much earlier protest than mine against this obsession with the texts of those works which disregards entirely their musical settings. Some years before 1860, when manuscripts of “liturgical drama” were beginning to attract attention, the great pioneer music­ ologist, C. E. H. de Coussemaker, had been making a special study of the examples available to him which happened to show their musical settings on stave-lines (twenty-two in all), and in that year he published transcriptions of them, under the title of Drames litur­ giques du moyen âge. Gregorian paleography was in its infancy (it was Coussemaker who first realized the basic principles of neume notation) ; the Benedictines of Solesmes had not yet begun to publish the results of their scholarly labors towards restoring the authentic melodies of the Roman liturgy; yet Coussemaker’s book is a historical landmark, even though, denied the opportunity for comparisons such as access to a large number of manuscript versions would have afford­ ed him, he made numerous errors of musical transcription. 1 But he was well aware of the real nature of the material he was handling. Objecting to the “text only” treatises that were already current, he wrote in the Preface to his own work: . . . mais leurs publications, qui reproduisent des...


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