Editor’s Choice: Caroline Palmer talks The Montpellier Codex

The Montpellier Codex
The Final Fascicle. Contents, Contexts, Chronologies
Edited by Catherine A. Bradley, Karen Desmond

No, this isn’t the latest Dan Brown, it’s actually on medieval music. The Montpellier Codex, a manuscript dating from the thirteenth/early fourteenth century (perhaps) is one of the most important sources for our knowledge of early music and particularly motets (it’s the largest single collection of them) – many pieces are only found here, and if it had been lost, we would never have been aware of them.

However, it’s always been something of an enigma, and particularly its very last section – the “eighth fascicle” – which contains most of the unique pieces located here, and doesn’t really match the rest – it’s a mixture of the old and the very new in terms of technique, notation, and style, and no-one has quite been able to deduce what it’s doing there, or why.

The essays in this volume concentrate on this final section. They look at such matters as the relationship between the fascicle and the rest of the manuscript; the scribal hand in which it’s written; and what it contains. There are also analyses of the pieces themselves. And the book is rather delightfully completed with an essay on the performance and recordings of some of the music. Apparently the conductor wanted “non-wobbly” tenors who would not be “too self-consciously virile”. I’m going to try not to think about this at choir practice tonight.

It will actually appeal to a wide range of audiences, more perhaps than it might at first seem – obviously to early music scholars, but also to those interested in manuscript studies/the transition to the printed book, and art historians (there are two chapters on the illuminations within the manuscript; it’s very lavish), amongst others.

Related titles:
Hermann Potzlinger's Music Book Young Choristers