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Prophetic “Play” and Symbolist “Plot” in the Beauvais Daniel Jerome Taylor First composed and played by students at the cathedral school of St. Peter in Beauvais about 1140, and popular enough to have been carefully recopied nearly a hundred years later in the one manuscript of it remaining to us,l the Danielis ludus or “Play of Daniel” has become something more of a pièce célèbre for performing groups in our land and time than one suspects it ever quite became in its own. Text and music were first transcribed and edited by F. Danjou in the middle of the last century in his “Le Théâtre religieux et populaire au xiiie siècle: le Mystère de Daniel”2 and slightly more than a decade later by Edouard de Coussemaker in his Drames liturgiques du moyen âge.3 In our century, Karl Young, interested in the “evolution” of modem drama from “a spontaneous new birth and growth within the confines of Christian worship,” as he thought, included the Daniel, but without the music, in his Drama of the Medieval ChurchA What gave the Daniel its popularity in our time, however, was its performance by the New York Pro Musica in January, 1958, “probably for the first time since the Middle Ages in the Romanesque Hall at The Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in Fort Tryon Park, New York,”5 the late Noah Greenberg being director, and Lincoln Kirstein producer. Brooks Atkinson in The New York Times called the production an “hour-long invocation to glory.”6 Within a year Oxford University Press issued a slim volume containing full transcription of the medieval music in modern notation, a Latin text of the libretto with English translation, essays and drawings on staging and costumes, and notes on correct Latin pronunci­ ation.? In addition, a hi-fi stereophonic recording of the Pro 191 192 Comparative Drama Musica performance appeared.8 These materials, together with numerous performances of the play by the Pro Musica in this country and abroad, have stimulated school groups, church groups, indeed academics in professional conclave, to attempt faithful reproduction of the play.9 They are not always sure that their reproductions are authentic, and, sometimes without having realized or intended it, are surprised to find that they have man­ aged to evoke a moving religious experience for secular audi­ ences— as if a moment from Christian Europe’s cultural past had somehow come to life in an allegedly post-Christian world. To be sure, authenticity of production and impact, religious or not, varies directly with the fidelity of producer and cast to the intent of the Daniel’s art. Essentially the play is a multimedia vehicle for congregational metanoia: it offers the audience new grounds for faith in God, and, upon their discovery of these grounds, invites their reversal of any personal religious indiffer­ ence or lukewarm passivity. The play terminates, perhaps one should say culminates, when the libretto, in its last words, con­ fidently directs that the cantors will now intone the Te Deum. It is as if the whole assembly, actor-singers and audience, dropping their previous distinctness of role, will wish to break into this ancient hymn, a lyric outpouring of joyful praise and penitent petition, addressed in plainsong to the immediately present “Thou” of God, the expected consequence of the effect which the play is intended to produce upon all alike. This hypo­ thesis concerning the intent of the play’s art, an intent or goal which would have determined the instrumental nature and function of every part of the play, anticipates what one may well learn from analyzing the play’s intrinsic form, its liturgical con­ text, its materials and its setting, and from pondering modem productions which have seemed either remarkably or only relatively successful for reasons it is possible but not always easy to identify. What becomes clear on reflection is that one does not dis­ cover or deliver the Daniel’s intent simply through its words— the speeches and choruses and brief acting directions which Young was content to print. The speeches are skeletal, stylized, and afford no realistic development of thought...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 191-208
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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