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Latin-texted motets of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries from England are known from far more compositions – albeit often in fragmentary form – and from far more manuscript sources than contemporaneous Latin motets found on the continental mainland. They play a prominent role in the history and development of the motet in its various manifestations and offer modern performers and scholars attractive works demonstrating a high level of individualization and innovation. And yet, the history of the medieval motet in this period has been written with an implicit bias that traces almost exclusively the French and Latin motets found in continental sources. In this light, the discovery of the Dor rotulus becomes a timely spur to fresh consideration of some aspects of the Latin-texted motet in England c. 1280–1320. After introductory comments about the motet as a type of composition, and some words about dating and the numbers of pertinent known motets, this chapter contextualizes certain features and developments of the Dor motets within the English motet corpus, and also within some contexts that incorporate contemporary motets from the continental mainland.
What is a Motet?
In order to identify which compositions in musical sources can be classified as motets, the place to begin is with a summary of their general characteristics as presented by contemporaneous medieval writers on music. The principal attributes of the polyphonic motet that they enumerate are that (1) it is written in two or more voices that proceed against one another, mainly by consonances, (2) it is musica mensurabilis (rhythmically and notationally measured in all voices), (3) it has a distinctive voice part – the tenor – that functions as a fundamentum and is often a cantus prius factus, and finally, (4) it is polytextual (cum diversis litteris), with the significant addendum that even the tenor may be a text-bearing voice.
Beyond the theorists’ initial attributes, we are aided by additional kinds of evidence. First, the music theory treatises often cite titles or musical incipits as examples and use the word ‘motet’ as an identifier. These cited motets can lead us to music manuscripts where they are found amongst groups of similar compositions. Further, there are surviving lists of contents for music manuscripts (for example, LoHa, Fauv, Trém) that use ‘motet’ to designate one or more series of pieces, all or some of which are surviving compositions.
The surviving lower portion of the recto of the Dor rotulus preserves most of the two upper voices of the now longest known voice-exchange motet, Margareta pascens oves. Its highly descriptive text recounts spectacular events from the vita of St Margaret of Antioch. Until now, most of this four-voice motet was unknown to scholars, as was its impressive size: four strips from Fountains contain only a small portion of one upper voice, which is now confirmed to come from the end of the motet, and a substantial portion of one of the tenor voices, whose textual incipits indicate that it comes from the middle sections of the motet. But with the discovery of Dor – and in combination with Fountains – its poetic text is now complete, the two upper voices are nearly wholly extant, about 40 percent of one tenor voice survives, and its overall length and structure become clear, totaling a mammoth 382 longs (including voice-exchange repeats) organized into seven sections.
The primary objectives of this chapter are threefold: to introduce, contextualize, and reconstruct this fascinating motet. Accordingly, the following first presents an account of what survives in Dor and Fountains, illustrates how the sources fit together, and in the process elucidates Margareta’s salient textual, melodic, and formal characteristics. Next, an examination of three large-scale comparands reveals many characteristics shared amongst themselves and with Margareta, along with several interesting differences, including a variety of ways of delineating structure; these other large-scale compositions likewise exemplify the high degree of innovation and experimentation established in the previous chapter with the smaller-scale voice-exchange motets. Finally, due in part to Margareta’s kinship with its comparands, and by drawing on melodic and sonorous features of those motets, a reconstruction of the entire four-voice texture of Margareta is offered.
Margareta Pascens Oves
Margareta is notated in Dor in two parallel columns, and as in Ascendenti/Viri above it, the right-hand column has been trimmed away vertically about half way across (Figure 1.2 in Chapter 1). But because the two extant voices – Cantus I on the left and Cantus II on the right – repeat through exchange in each section of the motet, reconstruction of the text and pitch of Cantus II missing from the trimmed right-hand column is straightforward.
The two fragments Dor a and b (10959a and 10959b) stood at the beginning of an imposing musical rotulus which contained four or more large-scale motets, composed and copied in England in the first quarter of the fourteenth century. As happened to most musical manuscripts of the period when their contents became obsolete, this rotulus was dismantled and the parchment recycled: in the case of these two fragments, as binding material for administrative documents. The extant motets are:
1 Ascendenti sonet geminacio/ Viri Galilei/ [Tenor I]/ [Tenor II]
2 Margareta pascens oves/ [Tenor I]/ [Tenor II]
3 Regina preminencie/ Gemma nitens/ … mater es intacta
4 Naufragantes visita/ Navigatrix inclita/ T. Aptatur/ … velox perpetrat
The first composition listed, hereafter Ascendenti/Viri, along with the second and fourth, Margareta and Naufragantes/Navigatrix, are four-voice motets; Regina/Gemma is a three-voice motet. The first two are monotextual, the last two polytextual.
On both sides of the rotulus, the motet on fragment a continues on b with a loss of two staves between the fragments; see Figures 1.1–1.4. Both fragments have been cut off vertically, losing about half of the second column of each recto (and consequently of the first column of each verso), and there is further damage, especially at the bottom of a, whose upper and lower edges are now ragged, apparently from rodent damage. The top and bottom of leaf b have been trimmed off almost horizontally. Both were surely more regularly shaped and similar in size when used to cover now-lost documents. Fragment a has a substantial top margin, and both fragments retain a small portion of left-hand margin on rectos, right-hand margin on versos.
Ink color is consistent, and the close coordination of ruling and text–music placement attest the work of a single scribe. Andrew Wathey points out inconsistencies with the text hand, such as in the formation of descenders, which led him to judge the script as of moderate quality, but it is neat and accurate. The music is exceptionally carefully and handsomely notated; the appearance of the whole is entirely professional.
Voice-exchange motets piqued the imaginations of composers in England, as is attested by the variety of unique features and compositional approaches exhibited in the numerous extant examples of this type of motet. The two Dor motets Ascendenti sonet geminacio/ Viri Galilei and Margareta pascens oves demonstrate aspects of this remarkable variety, and highlight English composers’ affinity for experimentation, not only within the broad genre of the motet, but specifically in the crafting of voice-exchange motets. The discovery of the Dor rotulus prompts a fresh examination of the surviving voice-exchange motets from the early fourteenth century. Ascendenti/Viri, a motet with relatively short sections of exchange, along with many of its comparands, will be the focus here; the much larger motet Margareta and several related compositions will be treated in Chapters 4 and 5.
This chapter discusses salient textual, musical, and structural features of Ascendenti/Viri, and offers a reconstruction of its missing portions. To contextualize the motet – and in response to the fact that most of the voice-exchange motets have not been granted any attention since Lefferts’s work on them in the 1980s – the following also examines five comparable compositions. These works each exhibit unique characteristics, illustrating the high degree of compositional innovation present in the repertory. First though, what is a voice-exchange motet? The opening phrases of Ascendenti/Viri provide a glimpse.
Sections I and II of Ascendenti/Viri
Ascendenti/Viri, a motet on the Ascension, unfolds in six sections of uniform length (16L each) and concludes with a brief coda (4L). The first two sections of the motet appear in Example 3.1. The text in Cantus I begins by celebrating Christ’s Ascension into heaven: ‘For him that ascendeth, let paired trumpets resound together with dancing’ (‘Ascendenti sonet geminacio | tubarum resonancium cum tripudio’). The last syllable of the rhyming words ‘geminacio’ and ‘tripudio’ divide this 8L period into two, each marked by a long, at 4 and 8. Cantus II sings only for half of the time, its two entrances coinciding with the last ‘o’ syllable of Cantus I’s eleven- and thirteen-syllable lines: the voice first enters at 4, addressing ‘Ye men of Galilei’ (‘Viri Galilei’), and then at 8 asks those men, Jesus’s apostles, ‘why do ye wonder?’ (‘quid vos admiramini?’).
The verso of the Dor rotulus contains substantial fragments of two more motets, Regina/Gemma and Naufragantes/Navigatrix. In contrast to Ascendenti/Viri and Margareta on the recto, and Rota versatilis (Chapters 3, 4, and 5), these two compositions are not voice-exchange motets. Each has a unique method of construction, relationship between voices, and approach to employing a cantus prius factus.
Regina/Gemma, the subject of this chapter, is the lone three-voice motet on the rotulus. Remarkably, the motet presents a cogently tuneful, texted melody in its middle voice, to which independently texted top and bottom voices are coordinated. Because we will propose that the middle voice was the starting point for Regina/Gemma, and since a ‘tenor’ label for the lowest voice of a stratified three-voice motet such as this often has the connotation of being a cantus prius factus, we instead identify the voices here as Cantus I, II, and III (from highest to lowest). The wordier, rhythmically more active Cantus I draws upon melodic and textual elements from Cantus II, and Cantus III moves more slowly below. All three texts honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. Portions of the motet survive in two additional manuscripts; a comparison of all three sources invites questions of genesis and genre. Although lacunae remain, this unusual motet is of great interest, not only because of its middle-voice cantus prius factus and its texted, occasionally droning Cantus III, but also because significant portions of the motet exist elsewhere as a two-voice conductus. It will be argued that the conductus was created from the motet, yet the number and variety of variants between them complicate the picture.
Several segments of Cantus III and intermittent parts of Cantus I are missing because of the gap between av and bv of Dor, and due to the trimming of the left-hand column of the two membranes (Figures 1.3 and 1.4). Fortunately, however, because the entirety of Cantus II survives, we know the motet consists of 144L (see Example 6.6, a transcription of the motet). Two concordances, Cgc 512 and Lbl 3132, preserve various portions of Regina/Gemma, and help to fill most of the missing portions of the music of the lowest voice (but only a few words of its text) and a small amount of music and text of Cantus I.
Musicologists are dependent on the vigilance and generosity of colleagues for information about new discoveries that turn up in unexpected places. Julia Craig-McFeely, as manager of DIAMM, was informed on 2 February 2017 of a new discovery in private possession by Mark Forrest, archivist at the Dorset History Centre. With his preliminary photographs, I was able to affirm the importance of the new find: two trimmed and nearly adjacent parchment membranes from the beginning of what must have been an imposing English polyphonic rotulus of the early fourteenth century containing four large-scale motets. I provided a preliminary description of these major compositions, all damaged and incomplete due to trimming. Three were known in fragmentary or different form elsewhere, and one was completely new.
I was asked not to make the discovery public because of the sensitivity of their private ownership, but the intention was to transfer them to a public repository. The fragments are now on deposit at the Dorset History Centre, where they have been flattened and restored and are publicly accessible; they are now available on DIAMM. The call number is Dorset History Centre (D.H.C.), D-FSI, acc.10959. The two fragments are designated 10959a and 10959b. They will be referred to here as a and b, the source as a whole as Dor. They were previously held at Melbury House, Melbury Sampford, Dorset, the seat of the Strangways family, subsequently the Earls of Ilchester, and remain the property of the family.
It may seem disproportionate that a whole book is here devoted to the contents and context of just two fragments from a lost music manuscript, but it has proved opportune to reevaluate the English motet of the period and to situate the new discovery in relation to comparable compositions. English medieval polyphony survives almost entirely as fragments. There are no complete or nearly complete English manuscripts between the Winchester Troper of c. 1000 and the Old Hall manuscript, compiled for the chapels of Thomas Duke of Clarence and then of Henry V in the 1410s. Even that, with 112 folios of English sacred music from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, is only three-quarters complete. Everything between these dates is fragmentary, mostly leaves recovered from bindings, often cut down and lacking their facing pages, with the consequence that a high proportion of the compositions represented are also incomplete.
The most outstanding physical feature of the Dorset music fragments is that they were once part of a rotulus. This chapter takes that observation as its starting point. It seeks to place the Dorset rotulus within the context of surviving medieval rolls with musical notation from the 1250s to around 1600 by correlating the evidence of manuscripts, images, and textual references. The current list of these manuscript rolls, international and multipurpose, stands at sixty-six items. English rolls, and rolls of motets, will be distinguished below.
Most categories of later medieval scroll are now under firm bibliographic control, and those of a given type (for example, administrative and judicial rolls, prayer rolls, genealogical rolls, heptarchy rolls, mortuary rolls, alchemical rolls, etc.) can be examined for conformity to generic norms. As we will see, however, the sixty-six musical scrolls in our list are not all of one kind. Rather, they fill a number of different textual and functional needs. What follows here is a proposal for a way to sort them out that yields a subset – including our manuscript – that is indeed one distinctive type cultivated for a limited period of time c. 1250–1375. This is the rotulus motetorum, a neologism offered here as a parallel to the late-medieval expression liber motetorum.
First, though, a few basics. The broadest operative generalization has it that over the course of the long Middle Ages, the ancient roll (rotulus, scroll) was largely replaced by the modern book (codex, liber, volumen). But surviving artifacts, images, and textual references demonstrate that the roll was never abandoned as a manuscript medium. Indeed, rolls were one of the two most common media for written texts in the later Middle Ages, the other being the codex, in the overall movement ‘from memory to written record’ in Western Europe in the 1100s and 1200s. From then into the 1500s, at a minimum, tens of thousands of later medieval rolls, especially administrative and judicial rolls, were inscribed, and thousands of them survive to the present day in public and private libraries, archives, and museums across Western Europe. Practically speaking, rolls – mundane and omnipresent – were the most familiar technology for writing down texts that would have been encountered on a daily basis by literate individuals.
Motets in the decades around 1300 have long been the focus of abundant, thoughtful scholarship, but most of this work has concentrated on motets on the continental mainland. Although a modest number of individual studies on English motets during this period have appeared in recent decades – these are referenced in this book – it has been over thirty-five years since a monograph was dedicated to the genre in England. The discovery of the Dorset rotulus with its four magnificent compositions has prompted another extended discussion. Motet composition c. 1280–1320, on both sides of the channel, was moving in multiple directions, from multiple starting points. The known Latin-texted English motets – impressive in number whether complete or fragmentary, or simply listed in a manuscript’s table of contents – themselves attest numerous approaches. And indeed, as the preceding chapters have demonstrated, composers of motets in England explored the potential of the genre with musicality and ingenuity.
Two of the four Dor compositions, Ascendenti/Viri and Margareta, are voice-exchange motets, as is Rota versatilis, a strong candidate for original inclusion on the rotulus; this type of motet was the focus of Chapters 3, 4, and 5 in this volume. Through reconstruction, detailed analyses, and a close examination of many comparands, we have seen how composers in England used the voice-exchange framework as an opportunity for creative variation on this approach to design. Innovative, individualistic approaches to familiar archetypes are not confined to voice-exchange motets but are manifest in the many types of motet cultivated in England, notably here in the two unconventional motets on the dorse of Dor, the three-voice Regina/Gemma and the heretofore unknown four-voice Naufragantes/Navigatrix. On the whole, we have seen how the four Dor motets and their comparands exemplify different approaches to overall design, repetition, refrain, variation, voice exchange, number of texted voices, declamation, strophism, voice function, voice leading, and sonority.
The attention here granted to these motets has highlighted several remarkable features of the English motet repertory and the manner in which it is preserved. The lower voices of Ascendenti /Viri in Dor are laid out by the scribe in a way that clearly illustrates its six-section structure; and this motet, with its single poetic text, becomes bitextual in performance. We also observed how Naufragantes/Navigatrix features an unusual system of chained text exchange with intermittent poetic texting in its lower voices.