A musical fragment from Anglo-Saxon England

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A musical fragment from Anglo-Saxon England by John Haines in Early Music, Vol. xxxvi, No. 2
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  Early Music  , Vol. xxxvi , No. 2 © The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.doi:10.1093/em/can036, available online atwww.em.oxfordjournals.org 219  I   t is rare nowadays to find reference to a previously unpublished medieval source with music nota-tion, especially one dating from the earliest periodof music writing. ‘Precisely when and where neumeswere first used in the medieval West is not known’,as David Hiley and Janka Szendrei have recently put it. fn1   1 The earliest-known fragments —   about threedozen or so —   date from the 9 th century, and theearliest complete books with music notation survivefrom the turn of the 9 th to the 10 th century. fn2   2 So thediscovery in an 8 th-century book at the CathedralLibrary in Durham of neumes which have escapedmusicological notice until now is significant. fn3   3 At firstglance, the discovery is small: a single line of musicpreceded by two ligatures. But given that these neu-mes may date from the 8 th century and thus antici-pate the earliest-known English music writing by two centuries, it is an important musical fragment.The provenance of the source in which the neumesare found, the famous scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow in northern England, may shed new lightnot only on the earliest English tradition of notat-ing music, but also on the earliest music writing inthe West. The reader should be warned, however.Not only is it difficult to date the Durham neumesbecause they were added to the main text, but thereis no precedent for them; that is to say, no evidenceuntil now has survived of music notation from the 8 th century. Although an 8 th-century srcin for theDurham neumes is questionable, it is neverthelessstill a hypothesis which merits at least thoughtfulconsideration. The Durham Cassiodorus The source in which the neumes are found isa famous redaction of a famous text, the Com-mentary on the Psalms or Expositio psalmarum  by Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator( c   . 487  – 580 ). Cassiodorus wrote his commentary not long after his conversion in the late 530 s, mak-ing this a less-mature work than his better-known Institutiones  . fn4   4 As P. G. Walsh explains in his transla-tion of the work, one of the srcinal features of the Expositio psalmarum is the concluding section foreach psalm which provides a practical applicationfor the early medieval reader. In Cassiodorus’s read-ing, the psalms become, among other things, a vehi-cle for teaching the liberal arts, especially music. fn5   5  Beyond the psalms’ obvious fit to the topic, musicproves to be of special concern to Cassiodorus. fn6   6 Inthe Expositio psalmarum  , he adds material culledfrom his reading of Augustine’s De musica and othersources. In his commentary on Psalm 80 , for exam-ple, he digresses on different divisions for music.There is one which distinguishes between harmon-ics, rhythmics and metrics; a second way differen-tiates musical instruments into percussion, stringsand wind instruments; a third separates music intosix harmonies; and a fourth distinguishes 15 tones. fn7   7  Cassiodorus’s thoughts on music, especially those inthe Institutiones  , would have an enduring impact onmedieval intellectual life, especially during the Caro-lingian revival.Of the 15 manuscripts which transmit the Exposi-tio psalmarum  , the so-called Durham Cassiodorus(Durham, Cathedral Library, Ms. b.ii  . 30 ) is theearliest-surviving redaction. It is well known to arthistorians and palaeographers as one of the mostbeautiful extant products of early Anglo-Saxonscribal culture, in the company of the LindisfarneGospels from the early  8 th century and the Codex Amiatinus from the 7 th century. The Durham Cas-siodorus is contemporary with the former, and bothwere copied in Northumbria; like the Codex Amiat-inus, the Durham Cassiodorus was likely compiledat the scriptorium of Monkwearmouth-Jarrow  John Haines A musical fragment from Anglo-Saxon England  a  t  P  on t  i  f  i   c i   a  Uni   v e r  s i   d  a  d  C  a  t  Ã ³  l  i   c  a  d  e  C h i  l   e  on S  e  p t   e m b  e r  9  ,2  0 1  3 h  t   t   p :  /   /   e m . oxf   or  d  j   o ur n a l   s  . or  g /  D o wnl   o a  d  e  d f  r  om   220 early music may 2008 where the Venerable Bede ( 673  – 735 ) worked. fn8   8 For atime it was believed that the Durham Cassiodoruswas written by Bede himself  —   ‘de manu Bede’ as the 14 th-century inscription on f. 1   v  declares. fn9   9 How-ever, this has been all but discounted by modernscholarship which has demonstrated that the book is the work of at least six scribes who finished work-ing around 750 (the view supported by R. Bailey, E.H. Zimmerman, E. A. Lowe and T. D. Kendrick)or shortly after 700 , in a less popular view (T. J.Brown). fn10   10 At best, Bede would have been involvedin a final stage of compilation of the codex. Even if doubt is cast on Bede’s involvement, the DurhamCassiodorus remains rightly famous as a typically Northumbrian product in the scope and sophisti-cation of its craft. The book ’s adaptation of InsularMinuscule script represents an important phasein palaeography, and its two large portraits of KingDavid are iconographically significant. fn11   11  The manuscript is a large volume ( 420 × 295 mm),and was carefully prepared as a presentation copy of some sort. The bulk of the book (ff. 5   r   - 264   v   ) datesfrom the mid- 8 th century, with ff. 1   r   - 4   v  having beenadded in the 12 th century. The first of the six or soscribes involved in the srcinal 8 th-century comp-ilation worked up to f. 82 ; it is this first section thatconcerns us. fn12   12 First to be copied was the main text,in leisurely, large letters, in an insular half-uncialhand. The letters are described as ‘generally broad’, and the main hand as a ‘careful, expert but some-what self-conscious majuscule’. fn13   13 The text mod-ule is 3 mm, excluding descenders and ascenders. fn14   14  The ink is now dark brown, as seen in illus. 1  . AsR. A. B. Mynors points out in his catalogue of Dur-ham manuscripts, no special ornaments were addedto the text, except for red rubrics, presumably thenext stage of copying. They too can be seen in illus. 1  ,some quite faded, such as the five-line title near thetop of the left-hand column indicating the end of Psalm 16 and the beginning of Psalm 17 . Occasion-ally, the rubricator put in a red capital, or a black letter surrounded by red dots characteristic of theinsular style. fn15   15 Beyond this, corrections were made tothe main text in a darker ink verging on black. Thesecorrections include not only punctuation marks, butalso changes such as the ‘I’ above ‘Dilegante’ in the second line from the bottom left-hand column inillus. 1  . Indeed, ‘I’ spellings are favoured over ‘E’ ones in the earliest redactions, as has been pointed outby Marc Adriaen. fn16   16 Still later, textual additions andglosses were made in an insular cursive minusculehand not found in illus. 1  . fn17   17 In the commentary of hiscritical edition of the Expositio psalmarum  , Adriaenstates that the Durham source, although the earliest-known redaction, was probably a shorter version of an older, now-lost exemplar, a point to which I willreturn later in this article. The cursive minusculeglosses presumably attempted to reinsert the impor-tant parts of the text. fn18   18 All of this writing took placein the course of the srcinal redaction, likely some-time before or around 750 . As far as is known, thebook never left the north of England, and by the 14 thcentury had travelled from Wearmouth-Jarrow toDurham Cathedral Library where it is now housed. fn19   19  Before arriving at the musical notation found atthe bottom of f. 24   r   , it is important to say somethingmore about the rubrication already mentioned. Thered ink or paint has aged unevenly. The colour now ranges from a bright orange to a brown-black, hav-ing faded in a manner generally typical of red ink. fn20   20  It is most faded in areas which have been frequently exposed to deteriorating factors over the centuries,as in the popular image of the victorious Davidshown in illus. 2  . Elsewhere, in the least-popularcorners of the book, the red ink is well preserved, asin the red dots surrounding an initial ‘C’ on f. 117   r   ,right-hand column. This change in colour is likely due to the most common cause of ink decay or age-ing: exposure to light. fn21   21 This explains why the redin the least popular corners of the book is betterpreserved. Either way, this red —   red being the sec-ond most common colour after black in medievalbooks —   has held up well. fn22   22 Despite the differencesin shading, then, the red used throughout the book appears to be all the same ink. This is especially clearin the case of colour gradations occurring within asingle line of rubricated text. This can be seen, forinstance, in the rubric mentioned earlier (illus. 1  ):‘Expli(cit) Psal(mus) .XVI. Inci(pit) Psal(mus).XVII.’. Here the ink colour varied from a dark brown in the initial ‘E’ to an orange by the end of this first word, even more clearly by the second line.In the victorious David painting found later in thebook (f. 172   v   , illus. 2  ), we see the same kind of varia-tion in the ring which David holds in his right hand.Incidentally, this image also demonstrates that, of   a  t  P  on t  i  f  i   c i   a  Uni   v e r  s i   d  a  d  C  a  t  Ã ³  l  i   c  a  d  e  C h i  l   e  on S  e  p t   e m b  e r  9  ,2  0 1  3 h  t   t   p :  /   /   e m . oxf   or  d  j   o ur n a l   s  . or  g /  D o wnl   o a  d  e  d f  r  om   may 2008 early music 221 all the colours used in the book ’s paintings, the col-our red has held up best to the ravages of time. The yellow paint in the border of the rectangle below David’s feet, in contrast, is nearly completely faded,whereas the orange-red in the two rectangles oneither lower side has held up well.This discussion of red ink brings us to the neumesat the bottom of f. 24   r   , for they are in the same dusty red found throughout the manuscript. The neu-mes are drawn finely, with the virga ranging from 2 to 3 mm in height. Several of the minuscule cur-sive glosses mentioned earlier in the bottom marginof the large folios are drawn rather close to the text,between 3 to 9 mm. The musical neumes, however,begin at 15 mm below the text, and settle in at 25 to 28 mm. In other words, the rubricator placed themusical notation with a little more discretion thanthe glossator. Since the folios were srcinally largerand were later cut down in the process of rebind-ing, the notation would have filled in a more amplebottom margin; presently the bottom marginalspace ranges from around 40 to 50 mm. All of this 1 Durham Cassiodorus (Durham, Cathedral Library, Ms. b.ii  . 30 ), f. 24   r   : end of Psalm 16 and beginning of Psalm 17    a  t  P  on t  i  f  i   c i   a  Uni   v e r  s i   d  a  d  C  a  t  Ã ³  l  i   c  a  d  e  C h i  l   e  on S  e  p t   e m b  e r  9  ,2  0 1  3 h  t   t   p :  /   /   e m . oxf   or  d  j   o ur n a l   s  . or  g /  D o wnl   o a  d  e  d f  r  om   222 early music may 2008 suggests that the music was a reference meant to beseen rather than a mere doodle, but not so promi-nently placed as the glosses.As can be seen in illus. 3  , the ink or paint of theseneumes is equally worn, as elsewhere in the book.Their shade of red is somewhere in between the twoextremes of colour discussed above, like that foundin the rubrics on the same folio (illus. 1  ). In otherwords, these neumes were likely drawn with thesame red ink used in the rubrications and two paint-ings. Thus they may well date from the middle, if not the first half of the 8 th century. As corroborating 2 Durham Cassiodorus (Durham, Cathedral Library, Ms. b.ii  . 30 ), f. 172   v   : victorious King David  a  t  P  on t  i  f  i   c i   a  Uni   v e r  s i   d  a  d  C  a  t  Ã ³  l  i   c  a  d  e  C h i  l   e  on S  e  p t   e m b  e r  9  ,2  0 1  3 h  t   t   p :  /   /   e m . oxf   or  d  j   o ur n a l   s  . or  g /  D o wnl   o a  d  e  d f  r  om 
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