Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Opening the Geese Book

Fans of spiffy Internet sites will enjoy Opening the Geese Book, a collaborative project involving the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, where the two-volume manuscript is housed (US-NYpm M. 905); directors Volker Schier and Corine Schleif at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Arizona State University; and impressive lists of international participants and patrons. The site presents all 1,120 pages of the manuscript in full-color facsimile with unrestricted access, amplified by selected chants recorded by the Schola Hungarica, videos with background information and critical commentary in English and German, a codicological report, archival sources, and bibliography. 

To quote from the release launching the site in November 2012:
The lavishly and whimsically illuminated manuscript known as the Geese Book is a Gradual produced in Nuremberg, Germany between 1503 and 1510. It preserves the complete mass liturgy compiled for the church of St. Lorenz and used until the Reformation was introduced in the city in 1525. In 1952 the parish of St. Lorenz presented the book to Rush Kress for “the American people,” out of gratitude for the support of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation in rebuilding the church after the destruction of World War II. In 1962 the manuscript assumed its place in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, where it remains today—the largest book in this famous collection.

The volumes are renowned for their high quality decorative illumination including fanciful pictures, provocative and satirical imagery of animals, dragons, and wild people. The work takes its name from an enigmatic illustration showing a choir of geese singing from a large chant manuscript with a wolf as their choirmaster. A fox, who has joined the choir, extends his paw menacingly in the direction of one of the geese.
Vol. II, fol. 94r shows the Alleluia O Sebalde, from the Mass for Saint Sebaldus sung at St. Lorenz each 19 August)—beginning with the last syllable of the first line, -na of verna. Click on the audio bar to hear the Alleluia.

What results is, in its own way, moving indeed, for, as the project notes: 
In its digital form the Geese Book can return home to Nuremberg and indeed be available universally, without leaving the protective environment guaranteed by the Morgan Library and its conservators. ... It is hoped that such digital facsimiles with commentaries and sources might come to replace the far more costly printed facsimiles of past generations. Such limited luxury editions could only be purchased by exceptional libraries since copies were priced upwards of $10,000.

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