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Stability and variation in office chants of the Sarum Sanctorale



This article uses multiple witnesses of the chants from four offices of the Sanctorale, transcribed from twelve manuscripts and an early printed antiphonal, in order to assess the stability of chants in late medieval sources associated with the liturgical ‘Use of Sarum’. Whilst there is usually a ‘main’ melodic reading or version for each chant, a considerable degree of variation exists among the readings from various witnesses. The data which support this argument allow manuscripts to be linked by networks of shared melodic material, both through melodic readings identical and present in multiple sources, and through divergences from such main versions. These observations help to illuminate something of the diversity of the written melodic tradition, raising wider questions about the relationship between written witness and performed reality, and about the fixity of ‘Sarum Use’, at least as far as it was transmitted in written form.



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1 Pfaff, Richard W., The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History (Cambridge, 2009) (hereafter LME), 350. Indeed, even in 1780 the antiquarian Richard Gough remarked that he would ‘leave it to the connoisseurs in music to determine whether the Sarum chant differed from that of York, Bangor or Hereford’. Gough, Richard, British Topography, new edn (London, 1780), 2: 321 (emphasis original). Roger Bowers and others favour ‘the Use of Salisbury’ as preferable to the peculiar expansion of a contraction, noting that liturgiologists ‘have – inconsistently but very properly – refrained from referring to any such monsters as the “Herf Use”, or the “Use of Eborum”’. ‘Sarum’ for Bowers is ‘unhistorical, inconsistent and unscholarly’. See Roger Bowers, ‘Choral Institutions within the English Church: Their Constitution and Development 1340–1500’, Ph.D. diss., University of East Anglia (1975), 2014. The present author uses ‘Sarum’, partly for the sake of consistency with previous scholarship, to refer to the transregional liturgical pattern of the later Middle Ages and ‘Salisbury’ to refer only to the cathedral and its liturgy.

2 A historiographical survey of scholarship in this area may be found in Cheung Salisbury, Matthew, ‘Rethinking the Uses of Sarum and York: A Historiographical Essay’, in Understanding Medieval Liturgy: Essays in Interpretation, ed. Hamilton, Sarah and Gittos, Helen (Farnham, 2015), 103–22. For printed liturgical books, see Hughes, Andrew et al., Cataloguing Discrepancies: The Printed York Breviary of 1493 (Toronto, 2011) and Cheung Salisbury, Matthew, ‘Early Printed Books and the Modern Resources That Describe Them: The Case of the Hereford Breviary of 1505’, in The Perils of Print Culture, ed. McElligott, Jason and Patten, Eve (Basingstoke, 2014), 5163. Barbara Haggh-Huglo and Sarah Ann Long have considered the editorial process incumbent in producing liturgical books for other regions. See Haggh, Barbara, ‘The First Printed Antiphoner of Cambrai Cathedral’, in Gestalt und Enstehung musikalischer Quellen im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert, ed. Staehelin, Martin (Wiesbaden, 1998), 75103; and Sarah Ann Long, ‘The Chanted Mass in Parisian Ecclesiastical and Civic Communities, 1480–1540: Local Liturgical Practices in Manuscripts and Early Printed Service Books’, Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois (2008). Both identify the influence of various factors on the production of service books. Cambrai is an example of another diocese where only one printed Antiphonal was produced in the Middle Ages, also in Paris (by Simon Vostre).

3 Frere's Antiphonale is, as advertised in the subtitle, ‘a reproduction in facsimile of a Manuscript of the thirteenth century, with a dissertation and analytical index by W.H. Frere’. The manuscript in question is Cambridge, University Library Mm.II.9, which Frere attributes to Barnwell, Cambridgeshire on the basis of local observance of saints. Both the beginning and the end of Mm.II.9 are imperfect, so Frere supplemented it where lacking with facsimiles of Salisbury Cathedral MS 152, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 948, and a few images of the printed Sarum Antiphonal of 1519/1520.

4 Richard Pfaff identifies this heterogeneity throughout LME. Haggh-Huglo, ‘The First Printed Antiphoner’, 372, suggests that the illusion of uniformity amongst liturgical sources ‘reflect[s] post-Tridentine and post-Vatican II thinking’. In the case of Cambrai, ‘the first sources to refer to a diocesan Use of Cambrai are printed ones’ (ibid., 387). Sherry Reames has identified families of variants in Sarum office lessons in five separate publications, most recently ‘Unexpected Texts for Saints in Some Sarum Breviary Manuscripts’, in The Study of Medieval Manuscripts of England: Festschrift in Honor of Richard W. Pfaff, ed. George Hardin Brown and Linda Ehrsam Voigts (Turnhout, 2010), 163–84. A comprehensive study of office books from England may be found in Salisbury, The Secular Liturgical Office in Late Medieval England (Turnhout, 2015) (hereafter SLO), which uses evidence from nearly 200 liturgical books to show the types of textual variants they contain. For a discussion of the variation in chants for the votive Lady Mass in Sarum manuscripts and printed books, see the apparatus to John Harper, Sally Harper and Matthew Salisbury, Lady Mass According to the Use of Salisbury, Early English Church Music 59 (London, forthcoming).

5 The best study of the printed Sarum Antiphonal is Williamson, Magnus, ‘Affordable Splendour: Editing, Printing, and Marketing the Sarum Antiphoner (1519–20)’, Renaissance Studies, 26/1 (2012), 6087.

6 See Hughes, Anselm, Septuagesima: Reminiscences of the Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society, and of Other Things Personal and Musical (London, 1959), 21, 34.

7 The other principal editorial projects to which one may have recourse are The Use of Salisbury, ed. Nicholas Sandon, 6 vols. (Moretonhampstead, Newton Abbot, 1990–9), editions of the Ordinary and the Proper of the Mass; and The Sarum Rite, ed. William Renwick, ‘a multi-volume performing and scholarly edition of all the surviving liturgy and music of the Sarum Rite’ Renwick's resource, which is an excellent pragmatic resource for performance, takes as its principal sources the modern reprint of the 1531 printed Breviary (for whose deficiencies see Salisbury, SLO, ch. 1) and the manuscripts of Frere's Antiphonale Sarisburiense, supplementing absent contents from several printed editions including the 1519–20 Antiphonal.

8 René-Jean Hesbert, Corpus Antiphonalium Officii, 6 vols., Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta, Series Maior 7–12 (Rome, 1963–79).

9 Pfaff, LME, 429.

10 For a summary, see Salisbury, SLO, 2.

11 Pfaff, LME, 364, correctly contradicts this assessment: there was a ‘self-conscious’ and detailed Sarum tradition which dated from before 1220 and Bishop Poore.

12 The Experience of Worship in Late Medieval Cathedral and Parish Church, led by John Harper and Sally Harper at Bangor University, is introduced in an Arts and Humanities Research Council case-study here at

13 See Salisbury, SLO.

14 Useful studies which exemplify the trans-regional approach include Underwood, Peter, ‘Melodic Traditions in Medieval English Antiphoners’, Journal of the Plainsong and Mediaeval Music Society, 5 (1982), 112, and Hiley, David, ‘Thurstan of Caen and Plainchant at Glastonbury: Musicological Reflections on the Norman Conquest’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 72 (1986), 5790.

15 Among many others, references to Frere's Antiphonale as a representative witness of Sarum chant may be found in such studies as Bergsagel, John D., ‘An Introduction to Ludford (c.1485–c.1557)’, Musica Disciplina, 14 (1960), 105–30; Holman, Hans-Jorgen, ‘Melismatic Tropes in the Responsories for Matins’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 16/1 (1963), 3646; Burstyn, Shai, ‘Power's “Anima mea” and Binchois’ “De plus en plus”: A Study in Musical Relationships’, Musica Disciplina, 30 (1976), 5572; Williamson, Magnus, ‘Royal Image-Making and Textual Interplay in Gilbert Banaster's “O Maria et Elizabeth”’, Early Music History, 19 (2000), 237–78; and Helsen, Kate, ‘Evidence for the Oral Transmission of the Great Responsories’, Acta musicologica, 83/2 (2011), 181204.

16 Suppose, for instance, the material being edited was a work by a canonical author.

17 It also seems likely that the large noted breviary Salisbury Cathedral Library MS 224 (formerly Bodleian e Mus 2) was at Bedwyn from the late fourteenth century until the late fifteenth century.

18 Bathe, Graham and Harper, John, ‘Fragments of Sarum Liturgy in the Seymour Family Archives’, Wiltshire Archaelogical and Natural History Magazine, 108 (2015), 159–84, at 165.

19 Ibid., 167. The Temporale supplies contents from Advent until Christmas Day, and then Trinity Sunday and the days following. From the Common of Saints: part of Matins, Lauds, and Terce for Apostles, part of Matins for One Martyr; None to Second Vespers on feasts of a Confessor also Abbot, First Vespers and most of Matins for Several Confessors.

20 Ibid., 165, 168.

21 Ibid., 168. The addition of the feast of St Edmund of Abingdon suggests it may have been made prior to 1246, and it is noted that the manuscript was still in use beyond the suppression of the feast of St Thomas Becket in 1536.

22 Ibid., 166.

23 Williamson, ‘Affordable splendour’, 60, 85.

24 Ibid., 71.

25 Ibid., 73.

26 Ibid., 77. See also Haggh, ‘First Printed Antiphoner’; and Long, ‘The Chanted Mass’.

27 The texts and (one reading of) the chants for these four offices may readily be consulted in Frere's Antiphonale or in the 1519/20 printed Antiphonal.

28 The introductory dissertation of Frere's Antiphonale is the first significant study of responsory chants. Others include Ruth Steiner, ‘The Responsories and Prosa for St Stephen's Day at Salisbury’, The Musical Quarterly, 56/2 (1970), 162–82; and Helsen, ‘Evidence for the Oral Transmission of the Great Responsories’.

29 A statistical calculation indicating the spread of a group of observed values: a high standard deviation indicates the spread is considerable; a low standard deviation indicates most values are close to the average. In this case, a high standard deviation indicates deviance from the main melodic version, and a low standard deviation closeness to it.

30 It should also be noted that, probably as a result of its being near the end of the Sanctorale and therefore prone to manuscript damage or wear, the entirety of Cecilia's Office is absent from BL Additional 28598 and Lansdowne 463, and it is incomplete in Cambridge Mm.II.9 and the Seymour fragments (these zero results are not considered in the calculations).

31 Percentages out of the total are not given for two manuscripts which do not have transcriptions for every item. In Cambridge Mm.II.9 the figures exclude the Office for Cecilia which is incomplete at the end of the third Matins responsory. Only forty-eight items are present in the Seymour fragments.

32 See Timothy Morris, ‘The Augustinian Use of Oseney Abbey: A Study of the Oseney Ordinal, Processional, and Tonale (Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson c. 939)’, Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford (1999); and Anna Parsons (now Howard), ‘The Use of Guisborough: The Liturgy and Chant of the Augustinian Canons of the York Province in the later Middle Ages’, Ph.D. diss., University of Exeter (2004).

33 It is also worth mentioning that Cambridge Mm.II.9 has been frequently identified as an Augustinian manuscript from Barnwell, Cambridgeshire. Pfaff does not think so, and his contention may be upheld by the consistency of this manuscript's melodies with those of the majority of the definitively Sarum sources. Frere, of course, also thought it a representative manuscript, and his belief, too, seems to have been upheld.

34 Tudor Edwards, Owain, ‘How Many Sarum Antiphonals Were There in England and Wales in the Middle of the Sixteenth Century?’, Revue Bénédictine, 99 (1989), 155–80.

35 Edwards, ‘How Many Sarum Antiphonals’, 176.

36 Pfaff, LME, 511.

37 Williamson, ‘Affordable Splendour’, 62.

38 Harrison, Frank, Music in Medieval Britain (New York, 1959), 103.

39 Bond, Maurice F., Inventories of St George's Chapel Windsor Castle 1384–1667 (Windsor: The Dean and Canons of St George's Chapel, 1947), 32–4.

40 Harrison, Music in Medieval Britain, 102.

41 Bowers, ‘Choral Institutions’, 2006.

42 Ibid., 2016–17.

43 Cited in Bowers, ‘Choral Institutions’, 2022.

44 Ibid., 3021.

45 Ibid., 3022.

46 See Haggh, ‘First Printed Antiphoner’, 97.

I am indebted to the following individuals: my assistant Emily Lanigan, who helped with the task of transcribing chants; Annie Beliveau, for assistance with the musical examples; John Harper, for advice and information about the Seymour fragments; Jennifer Rushworth, for transportation and photography; and Julia Craig-McFeely and DIAMM, for the loan of equipment. The Ranworth Antiphonal appears by the kind permission and the material assistance of the Rector and Wardens of St Helen's Church, Ranworth, Norfolk.

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Stability and variation in office chants of the Sarum Sanctorale



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