An introductory paper about some recent findings concerning the rhetorical functionalities of microtones as notated in five Romano-Frankish manuscripts written between 1030 and 1270.

In addition, words with syllables on microtones in tracts analysed, seem to re-appear as scenes in illustrations of the Utrecht Psalter (Reims 820-830).

In case members Musicologie Médiévale will attend the Cantus Planus conference in Dublin next week, I will be happy to discuss these preliminary findings of my doctoral thesis (in progress) with you, with documentation.

I had my decisive ‘Aha-Erlebnis’ on Christmas Eve last year (luckily after desert). That was long after the deadline agreed for submitting Cantus Planus conference papers, so you will not see my name or this subject in the program.

I will have a PowerPoint presentation with me about the assumed connection between the Utrecht Psalter and microtones as described above: The Soundtrack for an Illustrated Carolingian Psalter.

For comments or a chat in Dublin next week, please mail: 

With regards,

Leo Lousberg

An art rediscovered ? Microtones as rhetorical
tools in medieval liturgical chant.pdf

160729 Microtones as rhetorical tools.pdf

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  • Dear Leo

    Please allow me an immediate response to your preliminary observations:

    1. I agree with you, the use of chromatic and enharmonic tetrachord elements do not mean, that the diatonic genus has been left, there are microtonal attractions within a diatonic melos, similar to the practice we know from Orthodox singers today (concerning diatonic mele). Microtonal attraction within Latin traditions obviously did function in a similar way, but there are in no way identical with the practice of living traditions today (I agree if someone claims for the independence of these traditions). There are many theorists who did a lot of efforts to describe them, but the reception among mediaevists today reveal that competences are still lacking. A musician familiar to this practice has no problem to recognise their attention...

    The use of a chromatic tetrachord which I found in Jerome of Moravia's treatise (meaning a change from the diatonic to a kind of chromatic-enharmonic genus or μεταβολὴ κατὰ γένος, "genus change"), is not based on an "over-theoretisation", because Jerome's description and the terms used by him are very precise (he describes a tetrachord division based on "semitonium", "trihemitonium" and "diesis", so nothing we can find within Volpiano's school), but it was obviously reserved to the practice of organum singing. I assume that a genus change was not accepted within the ecclesiastic mode, at least not in theory. But the practice of florid organum explains, why this issue belongs to the 12th century.

    We will keep in touch!


  • Dear Oliver,
    Microtonality has been a controversial subject for over 150 years now. I do not expect a sudden acceptance of an issue that undeniably contains some elements of a paradigm shift. I would highly appreciate your comments and look forward discussing the issues involved with other contributors to this group. In the months to come, I will share the detailed results of my analysis with the members of this group.

    Two preliminaire observations:
    1. Chronicles and treatises from the 9th until the late fourteenth century explicitly mention enharmonic pitches in contemporaneous performances, some of them even stress the elitist character of it. Why do these reports of contemporaneous reception get so little attention in the debate?
    2. To my humble opinion, much of the discussion about this subject seems to reflect what I would tend to consider as a twelfth-century Parisian Dominican over-theoretisation, which tries to explain everything by forcing the argumentation through a modal template/mold. As I see it, after having analysed a number of formulaic chants, is that microtones on enharmonic positions were added to a diatonic melodic framework in order to signal a meditative element in the text. And that is, I think, where theory ends.

    Thank you for your encouragements,

  • Dear Leo

    I wished to have this discussion already in 2009, but it was not really welcome yet, to tell the truth.

    Except Dublin, there is throughout the year the possibility to discuss the performance practice and microtonal shifts of certain compositions and their notated sources within the group "Mélos et ses microtones". As you know, you are always welcome there, but you can already observe, that most of the members inscribed here do not like the subject, or at least have not much to say about it.

    On the other hand, my discussion of Rebecca Maloy's essay dedicated to William of Volpiano's and Adémar de Chabanne's school and their notational habits found quite a resonance.  My contribution touches a lot of questions you are discussing in your draft here, but also the question about absonia. I had many private correspondences around it (even polemics in other discussions here, although I think it is an issue which needs great precision and clarity, because it touches basics of the cantors' craftship).

    I will read carefully your draft and I will answer to it here, so that also other colleagues interested in the subject might exchange with us, if they wish.

    I wish you good luck and a lot of resonance at Dublin, a lot of inspiration and energy, and much patience which you will definitely need!

    See you soon


    Mélos et ses microtones
    Je propose ce groupe afin de rassembler les descriptions des types mélodiques, qui apportent certains détails sur les cadences, les changements micro…
  • Hoi Leo,

    Ik kijk ernaar uit om jouw paper in Dublin te beluisteren!


    Karin Strinnholm Lagergren

  • Bonjour,

    Merci pour ce pdf !

    Toutefois, n'y a-t--il pas quelques illustrations spécifiques tirées des manuscrits ?

  • Merci beaucoup pour le partage de votre pdf !

    Je ne serai pas à Dublin, c'est donc un plaisir pour moi de vous lire !

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