I have now completed work on an open access project, which I began in 2007:
Songs for funerals and intercession. A collection of polyphony for the confraternity of St Barbara at the Corbie Abbey, Amiens, Bibliothèque Centrale Louis Aragon, MS 162 D. Edited by Peter Woetmann Christoffersen
The project is available on the site http://amiens.pwch.dk/, where it can be accessed in two different formats.
The online version consists of the music published as single PDF files, supplemented by linked pages with comments on every song, description of the MS, bibliography, lists of sources etc., and an extended introductory article ‘Prayers for the dead, funeral music and simple polyphony in a French music manuscript of the early sixteenth century’.
This labyrinthine material can in addition be found organized in a linear form as two PDF books in A4/Letter format:
Volume 1 – Introduction and appendices (96 pp.)
Volume 2 – Edition of the manuscript with the commentary, lists of sources and bibliography (262 pp.)
According to my interpretation the MS Amiens 162 was made in Paris in 1502 in cooperation between a professional music copyist and the young monk Antoine de Caulaincourt. The MS contained simple polyphony for funerals and commemorative services, and it was to be used in a confraternity, Confrérie Ste Barbe, at the big Benedictine monastery in Corbie (near Amiens). During this period the monastery was struggling to preserve its privileges as an independent religious institution, which it had enjoyed for nearly a thousand years. It was a fight against the French kingdom, against the bishop of Amiens, and – maybe primarily – against the ideas of a new age, fought with arguments as well as violence. A bold move to bolster its position was the demolition of the abbey’s old main church and starting the building of a vast new one in 1502. The founding of the confraternity and the ordering of the music manuscript in Paris were probably deliberate moves to ensure local support for the building project.
The MS offers music whose sound may compare with contemporary art music in fullness and solemnity, but monks who were neither able to read modern mensural notation nor improvise simple polyphony could perform it. Their competence in singing the daily liturgy was sufficient for this sort of polyphony. The repertory was carefully selected from different traditions, and it was revised and supplemented after use, which contributes to its uniqueness.
We do not know anything about the confraternity and its relations with the monastery, except for the fact of the existence of the music manuscript. This, of course, brings up many questions and hypotheses, which may be discussed. On the other hand, we know more about the main persons in the story, abbot Pierre d’Ostrel and Antoine de Caulaincourt. The last mentioned gave in fact an almost day-to-day account of life in the monastery in his Chronicon corbeiense - and he signed the music manuscript.
With my best wishes
Peter Woetmann Christoffersen
University of Copenhagen