Leaf from a polyphonic choir book

June 26, 2009


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Click on image for a link to higher resolutions.


Leaf from a polyphonic choir book

England, ca. 1400

Script: Gothic

Parchment with ink and paint

Notation: Black mensural notation


This leaf is from a choir book: the verso is from a Te Deum, and the recto has part of an Agnus Dei and Sanctus. The recto (shown) is the countertenor part from an Agnus Dei. The notation indicates that the music is mensural, which is to say that each note has a specific value, much like our modern notation. Coloration in the notes designates particular values: notes after 1400 could be black-full, black-void, red-full, red-void. This leaf uses many black-full notes and is probably English.

From about 1225, vocal scores for polyphonic music were written so that each different voice part was written on different fields of the page.  This leaf appears to be from such a manuscript, as the verso has the high part of a Te Deum (which would have been in the upper left-hand quadrant of the page or at the top) and the recto has the countertenor part of an Agnus Dei (the upper right-hand quadrant of the page).  The first version of a vocal score as we know it, with all the parts stacked on top of each other in descending registers, did not appear until the mid-sixteenth century. 

Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis Text Leaf 12:385


One Response to “Leaf from a polyphonic choir book”

  1. If only I had a penny for every time I came here… Amazing read.

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