Musicologie Médiévale

Resources for medieval musicology and liturgy

A handbook for historical performance practice(s) of Western chant traditions

A Handbook for historical performance practice(s) of Western chant traditions should be edited:
It should make clear what we know for CERTAIN about historical performance practices in Western chant traditions throughout the centuries (c. 800-c.1800) and what seems probable in the light of sources. A good selection of notational sources with performance practice informations should be discussed. ALL relevant theoretical sources should be excerpted and the relevant passages should be included in the original languages as well as in English translations.
Relevant iconographical sources and the rooms where chant was being performed should also be considered.
Parameters of performance practice which should be discussed are: chant ensemble sizes; voice types and combinations of voice types used (where, when, on which occasions); positioning of singers; pitches; tempi; rhythm and agogics; phrasing; articulation; ornaments; declamation; cheironomy.
The relevance of liturgical occasion/text for certain performance practice parameters should also be made clear.
Important would be to outline the differences of performance practices according to place and time (in chronological order) and to try to describe which practices were (probably) more widespread, which lasted longer and which were (probably) more confined to a particular place or time.
The book should be provided with well-chosen notational examples (always with transcription in modern notation) and some facsimiles of especially relevant passages in original notation sources.
The monograph should include an exhaustive bibliography for books and articles on historical performance practices in Western chant traditions.
A good index should include all sources, places, names, neumes, terms etc..
The book should also include a CD/DVD with audio examples in which certain performance practice informations from sources are being performed according to their (probable) musical meaning: for instance certain neumes (alone and then in a longer chant context) etc..
All chant recordings which the editors deem especially relevant for the understanding of historical performance practices of Western chant traditions should also be listed.
The monograph could first be made as a web project (with many links to original sources and other websites) and then be published in the form of a book (also as an e-book).

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Replies to This Discussion

Have you any idea who would be the author/editor of such a big project? Which publisher? Funding?

Regards,

Karin Strinnholm Lagergren

It would be Christmas ! It is a beautiful program for a university.

Xavier Terrasa

Wuau, interesting indeed! I second the Karin's question.

All the best

Manuel

very dangerous project, as many important issues are still the object of passionate discussions...

(modality, rhythm, ornaments...)

I guess that the people who are already specialists for Western chant would be the best people to do this. Helpful would also be to work together with people who are regularly reading medieval Latin sources - they could make translations of whole sources or passages and give advice on the (probable) meaning of some words which are not so clear. I also think think that the collaboration with singers is important in order to try out and come close to the PROBABLE meanings of some source informations and to make audio examples: where the exact meaning of source information on performance practice is not so clear and there are several possibilities open for discussion, it seems good to try out such informations in appropriate chant passages in order to come close to the most probable solution(s) which seem most convincing. 
My idea was to found a new center for the study and performance of Western chant on the island of Reichenau - a beautiful and tranquil place with beautiful historical churches -  and not far from St. Gall and the Schola Cantorum in Basel: Many things regarding performance practice could be tried out (and possibly be recorded on audio/video) there in chant concerts.

VERY attractive and helpful would of course be to form a sort of network of historical places for the study and performance of Western chant: Metz, Reichenau, St. Gall, St. Riquier, Cluny, Rome, Benevent, Limoges etc.

Such a project would not only sum up what we know for CERTAIN about historical performance practice informations in Western chant, it would also VERY probably contribute to actually SOLVING some open questions and it would without doubt provide a good handbook for so many chant performers where they can look up many source informations and learn how to apply them appropriately. Such a project is only "dangerous" for performers who are in reality NOT very interested in coming close to the true or probable meanings of historical performance practice source informations but rather in their OWN views. So the term "dangerous" reveals a lot - for me such a project is absolutely NECESSARY, not "dangerous".

The problem with the handbook-idea is the apparent desire for simplification and shortcuts of the discussions. I see no references to literature, nor sources, nor performers. Just opinions and wishful thinking.

A next step is already suggested in the 'FUNDAMENTAL abuses' paragraph: the division between (the innocent?) West and the (terrorist?) East. But ignoring their common roots and history would (in my view) be a big mistake and is therefore undesirable and indeed even dangerous. The point of Musicologie Médiévale is to inform and to discuss, not to simplify and make propaganda. The idea of a handbook in my view therefore is a mistake, at least for now and the near future. Please tell me what kind of 'necessity' such a book could possibly have? I am looking forward to your answer.

Yes. As I said, it is dangerous because it supposes that fundamental issues are settled.

Much better to have different "schools" in free competition and open discussion

It seems that Christoph just continued this discussion there. I do not agree, that such a handbook is just terroristic propaganda or written by a wolf in a lamb's skin (whether from the West or from the East). But instead of pouring out the water with the child, I can also read Geert's comment as a suggestion to discuss lost Western traditions together with living Eastern ones, since they had been already used as "sources." The desire to establish now a more distinct style for the reconstructed or re-invented traditions seems very legitimate.

It would finally fulfill an urgent request made by Peter Jeffery long years ago, and it would also discuss critically recent experiences in the field of historically and ethnologically informed performance practice. And by the way, the first experiments of the Studio der frühen Musik were accompanied by a deep feeling of inferiority during a meeting with traditional musicians of Morocco (see the first edition 1977 of the Basler Jahrbuch für historische Musikpraxis). Nevertheless, musicians profited a lot by the first experiments of pioneers like Thomas Binkley and Andrea von Ramm.

Now it is time to look forward, and this includes definitely not to ignore the experience collected during the last twenty years. This is not just a subjective question of individual taste!

One of the aspects that have almost not been considered concerning performance of Western Early Christian traditions is the problem of the scales, intervals, and just intonation, while we know from the treatises that the theoretical scale was the Pythagorean one and neums, in different modes, are different when approaching a same interval, which shows that there were different scales as well, e.g. using the natural third (G mode). There are some performances taking this into account.

The project of such a Handbook is great, but certainly very hard to carry on. Thanks for the idea!

Iegor Reznikoff

The closest we have is Tim McGee's The Sound of Medieval Song, which was published in 1998, so 20 years ago. It's rather like reading a doctoral dissertation, and I've heard no evidence that any recordings have been done based on it.

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