- The Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle. Contents, Contexts, Chronologies ed. by Catherine A. Bradley and Karen Desmond
Manuscript studies, late medieval, music, notation, polyphony, art history
The Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle, edited by Catherine A. Bradley and Karen Desmond, is a wide-ranging collection of essays [End Page 421] exploring the last fascicle of a thirteenth- and/or early fourteenth-century music manuscript: the Montpellier Codex (Bibliothèque interuniversitaire, Section Médecine, H.196, hereafter Mo). Mo is an important witness to polyphony of the Middle Ages, containing, among other items, the largest extant collection of medieval motets in Latin and French. While this repertoire and Mo as an object have a rich history in scholarship, this is the first book-length work on a single fascicle of the manuscript. As such, it represents a kind of deep dive into a relatively small collection of medieval musical works and the impetus behind their compilation.
Bradley and Desmond provide a capable and accessible primer to Mo in their introduction, outlining the broad scholarly consensus on the production and dating of the rest of the manuscript (the "old corpus" of fascicles 2–6 plus the later additions of fascicles 1 and 7 as well as supplements to fascicles 3 and 5). From there, they turn to the intriguing questions that the final section (fascicle 8) presents. These include the fascicle's contested dating, whether it was originally intended to serve as part of Mo or as a standalone manuscript, its low number of concordances with other manuscripts and the eclecticism of the repertoire it presents, and what Bradley and Desmond call the "crucial historiographical juncture" to which this fascicle bears witness through its inclusion of works that stand squarely in the tradition of thirteenth-century motets alongside those that feature notational and musical innovations.
The rest of the volume's contributors engage with these questions through a range of techniques, including paleography (Curran); iconographical analysis (Stones); consideration of page layout (Huck); engagement with thirteenth-century compositional practice as described by roughly contemporary music theorists (Pesce and others); examination of strategies for compilation and ordering (Grau); and melodic (Guhl-Miller), harmonic (Pesce), and rhythmic (Desmond, Dobby, Maw, and Wolinski) analysis of the eighth fascicle's motets. Such techniques will be familiar to any musicologist working on music of the Middle Ages, and though Bradley and Desmond's introduction acknowledges the importance of codicological and art-historical evidence in answering questions of dating and provenance, the fundamental locus of the volume's inquiry is musicological. Apart from Anne Ibos-Augé's study of refrains and practices of citation in Montpellier's motets, textual analysis [End Page 422] is largely absent from the volume. Where The Montpellier Codex: The Final Fascicle shines instead is its thoughtful and varied exploration of rhythmic techniques, especially as they relate to the fascicle's dating and its relation to both ars antiqua compositional practice and the innovations that led toward the ars nova. Indeed, the volume's second section ("Innovation and Tradition") focuses squarely on such questions, with three of its five chapters highlighting aspects of the fascicle's rhythmic language. Rhythm thus becomes an important marker of "newness" or "oldness" for many of the volume's contributors. This provides a useful focus to the volume, and many readers will no doubt appreciate these scholars' explorations of transitional notational practices, such as those employed in the fascicle's "Franconian" and "Petronian" motets (especially considering the short shrift given such practices in many introductory courses, where the modal notation of Notre Dame polyphony and the mensural innovations of ars nova composers usually form the bulk of students' study of rhythm in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries). Within this rhythmic study, Desmond's terminological framework for stratification of rhythmic activity in motet voices felt particularly useful to me, and I intend to present her concept in my own teaching.
Besides rhythmic language, another convergence of inquiry by the volume's...