Monday, January 5, 2015

On Adémar de Chabannes (989–1034)

James Grier, professor of music history at the University of Western Ontario, has been working on music and liturgy in medieval Aquitaine for more than two decades—notably on the contributions of the colorful monk Adémar de Chabannes.

In his 2013 article for the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Grier documents how, in the second half of 1027, Adémar de Chabannes contributed the musical notation to the production of an elaborate liturgical manuscript (currently Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS latin 1121) at the scriptorium of Saint Martial in Limoges. While doing so, Adémar introduced the innovative technique of placing the neumes in strict alignment along the vertical axis of writing in accordance with their relative pitch. The accurate heighting of the neumes revolutionized the teaching of music at Saint Martial, and eventually throughout Aquitaine.

(Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Tours, 13 July 2005, and the meeting of the American Musicological Society at Nashville, 9 November 2008.)

Marc Montgomery's coverage, “Canadian Musicologist Makes 900-year-old Discovery,” appears as a Radio Canada International blogpost of 22 October 2014, with an 9-minute audio interview our readers are certain to enjoy.

Professor Grier points to a page in the manuscript on his computer screen. This particular section is entirely in Adémar de Chabannes hand; illustration, lyrics and musical notation. This led to the realization that it was Adémar who had created the musical notation for the entire manuscript with this innovation of vertical spacing of notes to designate pitch. (from Professor Grier the lyric reads: “Probauit eum deus et sciuit cor suum; cognouit semitas suas; deduxit illum in uia aeterna, et nimis confortatus est principatus eius.” God judged him and knew his heart; He recognized his way of life; He led him into the eternal way, and too little strengthened is his dominion.)

CLICK PHOTO FOR INTERVIEW Grier is author of The Critical Editing of Music (Cambridge UP, 1996) and The Musical World of a Medieval Monk: Adémar de Chabannes in Eleventh-Century Aquitaine (Cambridge UP, 2006), he has also published numerous articles on music and liturgy in medieval Aquitaine; his critical edition of music copied by Adémar de Chabannes recently appeared in the series Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis (2012).

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