Thursday, December 18, 2008

Medieval music brought back to life

Music from a medieval manuscript that has not been heard since the 15th century has been brought back to life, thanks to researchers at The University of Nottingham.

The project, involving collaboration with academics in Germany, has resulted in the production of a modern colour facsimile of one of the largest, oldest and most important collections of vocal music to survive from late-medieval Europe, as well as a CD recording of some of the music it contains. The St Emmeram Codex is a handwritten anthology of 255 compositions of mostly polyphonic music ( music for more than one voice ), both sacred and secular. The manuscript belonged to the Benedictine monastery of St Emmeram in Regensburg, Germany, but since the early 19th century has been kept under lock and key in the Bavarian State Library in Munich.

The three-year research project, 'The Music Anthology of Herman Pötzlinger', was supported by a £256,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council ( UK ). The work was carried out by Professor Peter Wright and Senior Research Fellow Ian Rumbold from the University of Nottingham's Department of Music, and involved collaboration with academic colleagues in Munich and Regensburg.

The codex was put together by a priest, Hermann Pötzlinger ( died 1469 ), and a number of assistants during the late 1430s and early 1440s. It reveals a strong Central European interest in the acquisition of music from Italy, France, the Dutch and Flemish low countries and England. Many of the pieces were written in Pötzlinger's own hand, and they include a large number of works by the Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Du Fay, one of the best known composers of the early Renaissance in Europe. Most of the compositions are written in an international style, but many use musical styles and notation that are native to the region.

Such is the value and significance of the codex that both the musicologists and the Bavarian State Library felt it was vital to produce a complete facsimile which could be published to make it available to a much wider academic community, as well as to performers. The publication of this high-quality reproduction will also ensure that the extremely fragile original manuscript can be better preserved and protected.

Extensive trials with modern digital photographic techniques were carried out to decide on the best processes to carry out the reproduction of the original manuscript without damaging it and in such a way as to achieve the best results.

The publication of the resulting fine colour facsimile was followed by a recording of the works by professional singers 'Stimmwerck', now available on CD ( AE10023 ). The main findings of the project are due to be published next year in a monograph by Ian Rumbold with Peter Wright: Hermann Pötzlinger's Music Book: the St Emmeram Codex and its Contexts ( Boydell and Brewer ).

Professor Peter Wright said: “This has been a tremendously rewarding project. Thanks to a very generous grant from the AHRC, and our good fortune in being able to secure the services of the leading authority on the St Emmeram Codex, namely Ian Rumbold, it has been possible to carry out an in-depth investigation of this endlessly fascinating manuscript and its various contexts. We now probably know more about its compiler and owner, Hermann Pötzlinger, than we do about any other music scribe of the period. One of the most exciting things of all has been the collaboration with Stimmwerck, and hearing music that has lain dormant for more than half a millennium brought to life”.

An edition of the whole manuscript, which will make all of the music available to performers and students, is in preparation.