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17 - Music manuscripts

from Part III - Themes, topics and trajectories

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 September 2011

Mark Everist
Affiliation:
University of Southampton
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Summary

Unless sounds are remembered by man, they perish, for they cannot be written down.

Isidore of Seville

Of all the evidence we rely on to construct the story of the medieval musical past, the manuscript is the most important, but also the most capricious. Not only are the extant sources just a tiny portion of the original bibliographic picture, but they also transmit repertories that were, in Nino Pirrotta's famous characterization, the ‘tip of an iceberg, most of which is submerged and invisible’. Created in a culture sophisticated in practices of memory and improvisation, the written record was one among many technologies for storing music. Moreover, the written record connects to oral practices in numerous ways: notation is a shorthand more than a prescription, assuming the invisible knowledge of a performer. Finally, writers from Isidore of Seville to Ingarden suggest a drastic distinction between inscription and performance: music exists in sound, and writing (on the page, or, in Isidore's case, in the memory) is a representation removed from musical reality.

If music manuscripts are incomplete witnesses to sound, they still have much to tell, particularly when we consider not just what they transmit, but also how they do so. ‘Manuscript’ is a retrospective designation that, as Peter Stallybrass reminds us, is only possible with the advent of print. No mere truism, this distinction emphasizes the technologies and materials of textual production: manuscripts are made by the hand.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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  • Music manuscripts
  • Edited by Mark Everist, University of Southampton
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Music
  • Online publication: 28 September 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521846196.019
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  • Music manuscripts
  • Edited by Mark Everist, University of Southampton
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Music
  • Online publication: 28 September 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521846196.019
Available formats
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Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Music manuscripts
  • Edited by Mark Everist, University of Southampton
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Music
  • Online publication: 28 September 2011
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521846196.019
Available formats
×