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  • The Production and Reading of Music Sources: Miseen-page in Manuscripts and Printed Books containing Polyphonic Music, 1480–1530 ed. by Thomas Schmidt and Christian Thomas Leitmeir
  • Elisabeth Giselbrecht
The Production and Reading of Music Sources: Miseen-page in Manuscripts and Printed Books containing Polyphonic Music, 1480–1530. Ed. by Thomas Schmidt and Christian Thomas Leitmeir. Pp. xl + 541. (Brepols Publishers n.v., Turnhout, 2018. €75. ISBN 978-2-503-57961-0.)

'[T]here is no text apart from the physical support that offers it for reading (or hearing), hence there is no comprehension of any written piece that does not at least in part depend upon the forms in which it reaches its readers.' When Rogier Chartier wrote this in the early 1990s (The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe between the Fourteenth and Eighteenth Centuries, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Cambridge and Oxford, 1994), 9), he summarized a shift in focus: away from the text as a way to transport meaning towards the text's manifestation on the page. Long before the wider material turn in the humanities, early book historians, going back to the 1960s, started to understand text as an object: an object in which not only the disposition of words but also of non-verbal elements and even empty space have a story to tell about its makers and an impact on its users. The material manifestation of text on the page reflects the needs, wishes, and influences of all members of what Robert Darnton called the 'communication circuit' (see 'What is the History of Books?', in The Kiss of Lamourette: Reflections in Cultural History (NewYork, 1990), 107–36).

This is especially true for music books—after all, they are books that by their nature require careful decision-making by their makers to allow readers and performers to use the book in a meaningful way. In the last decade or so scholars have given increasing attention to the material aspects of music books (both manuscript and printed), among them Jane Alden (Songs, Scribes, and Society: The History and Reception of the Loire Valley Chansonniers (New York and Oxford, 2010)) and more recently Kate van Orden (Materialities: Books, Readers, and the Chanson in Sixteenth-Century Europe (New York and Oxford, 2015)), to name only two representative examples. Never, however, has this been done on a large, comparative scale. In particular, the specific question of mise en page, the placing of textual and non-textual elements in music books, has only been examined in passing. This lacuna has now been filled by The Production and Reading of Music Sources. Looking at a wealth of music books from the period 1480 to 1530, this significant volume places the material manifestation of the text at its core. With a close examination of all elements on the page—such as the notation, the text, paratextual elements, and, most crucially, visual decoration—the mise en page becomes the starting point for an exploration of the communication circuit's many elements.

In fact, The Production and Reading of Music Sources is much more than merely the volume in front of us. It is the culmination of a five-year AHRC-funded project and complements its other major outputs, the website ( as well as two previous publications (two special volumes of the Journal of the Alamire Foundation, 6/2 (2014) and 7/1 (2015) respectively). Together, they make a hugely significant contribution, both within and beyond musicology. By giving the question of mise en page in music books such prominence, this study contributes significantly to the wider field of scholarship on the material text. For despite the insistence that music books are, fundamentally, books, and can thus be looked at from the perspective of book history, they are also a very peculiar subset with their own challenges. By taking these problems seriously and understanding them with expertise from musicology, book history, and art history, new paths in researching mise en page are forged. What The Production and Reading of Music Sources thus achieves is a significant enrichment of the general study of the book as material text through the inclusion of a 'niche' product, namely...


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