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La sequenza medievale: atti del convegno internazionale, Milano 7-8 aprile 1984.

It goes without saying that a conference on the medieval sequence, held in Milan as part of a festival entitled 'Musica e poesia a San Maurizio', should include discussion of sequences from Italy, or rather those examples of the form found in Italian manuscripts. Yet until very recently the specialist literature has neglected these works and the manuscripts containing them, choosing instead to concentrate on the sequences attributed to Notker Balbulus and others of a similar type, notably those found in Western manuscripts with the same or similar melodies. The reasons for this neglect are understandable if by no means satisfactory. Notker's famous letter to Bishop Liutward, in which he explains how he came to write his first sequences, apparently mentions a monk from Jumieges ('Gimedia') as a source for his own compositions. The search for the earliest sequences has therefore concentrated on St Gall and all points west, particularly the manuscripts from the south of France which enjoy the twin advantages of age and readability. A second problem is the relatively poor textual state of internationally famous sequences in Italian manuscripts. This has led some earlier editors to consider the entire peninsular tradition corrupt or even decadent, though in truth the textual state of a liturgical manuscript depends as much on the preferences and ability of the scribe as on the imminence of an 'authentic tradition'.

The papers collected in this volume provide several good reasons for taking the Italian sequences seriously. In 'The Italian Sequence and Stylistic Pluralism: Observations about the Music of the Sequences for the Easter Season from Southern Italy', Lance Brunner points out remarkable and unusual features in several examples found in Beneventan and other southern Italian manuscripts. These include one or two items in verse, instances of longer or shorter melismas (very rare in the north), some extraordinary repetitions of text. and another instance of the 'variation versus' first described by Kenneth Levy. Professor Brunner's general conclusion - that Italian sequences followed quite different principles from their northern counterparts - seems to me irresistible, at least for the examples he describes. They survived, he believes, because of the 'different aesthetics and aspirations' obtaining in Italian churches during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This latter terminology strikes me as rather vague (if not exactly wrong) and perhaps implies a certain distrust of historical reasoning - an attitude which recurs in several other papers in this volume. Yet l cannot imagine how Italian musicians could have chosen such unusual and distinctive chants for their church services without having had concrete reasons for doing so, and I should have thought that their tastes derived from historical circumstances as well as personal preference. The manuscript record admittedly provides very little information about the composition of particular early sequences, but comparisons with other types of chant, such as hymns and tropes, have already led to some useful hypotheses concerning possible early models. This would apply to, say, Kenneth Levy's 'Lux de luce: the Origin of an Italian Sequence', The Musical Quarterly, lxxii (1971), 40-61, and to Clemens Blume's suggestion (in Analecta hymnica, liii. 316-18), that two sequences for the Beneventan saints Nazarius and Celsus, 'Caeli sidera' and 'Laetetur caelum', represent 'debris' from old hymns in Sapphic metre. Alejandro Planchart and John Boe have drawn attention to similar cases among tropes found in the same manuscripts.

Ritva Jacobsson's 'Short Reflexions on Beneventan Easter Sequence Texts' evidently originated in collaboration with Professor Brunner's article and overlaps with it to a degree. The great Swedish philologist devotes several paragraphs to 'Ad sepulchri custodes', a sequence paraphrasing an Easter Vigil ceremony (such as the 'Visitatio sepulchri') in more or less poetic language. She considers that the Beneventan form of this work, which survives in manuscripts from several pans of Italy, presents the closest of all to the original - a remarkable conclusion, considering the odd language of the Beneventan sources. I should have liked to see the arguments for this explained in detail, since the sequences (unlike the tropes) offer relatively few opportunities for research into variant forms of a single work. Most of Dr Jacobsson's remaining comments concern 'thematic' and 'typological' features that may or may not occur in sequences and other hymnody from elsewhere. She, too, prefers discretion to valour in drawing historical conclusions from this material. Still, it occurs to me that 'Ad sepulchri custodes' may belong to a generally conservative tendency in southern Italy, according to which old chants - perhaps sung in the old Beneventan rite - were remade rather than allowed to disappear.

Three of the contributions to this volume discuss sequences found in particular manuscripts, all of Italian origin, and attempt to distinguish probable local products from those of wider circulation. Giulio Cattin provides an 'abozzo di analisi testuali' for the Italian sequences in two manuscripts from the region of Ravenna: Padua, Biblioteca Capitolare, A.47 (which was probably copied for Ravenna itself), and Modena, Archivio della Cattedrale, O.1.7 (possibly from the nearby town of Forlimpopoli). His analyses concentrate on theological and literary issues, including the remarkable 'musical' vocabulary of 'Eia organica cantica', a sequence for St Agatha, and the elegiac distichs of 'Annua praesentis recolamus gaudia festi', a sequence for the patron of Ravenna, St Vitale. This latter work occurs in both manuscripts under discussion and nowhere else, which suggests (at least to me) that its circulation may always have been very narrow. Professor Cattin offers little comment on the music or the differences between his two sources, but these are nevertheless considerable and, I think, of some interest. For the Modena manuscript includes a number of archaic features, including the very Byzantine-looking italian neophytes' chants, that are missing from the slightly later Padua manuscript. Piero Damilano's 'La sequenza musicale a Bobbio' deals not with the five unique items, which he published long ago (Rivista italiana di musicologia, i/2 (1967), 1-36), but with the remaining sequences in three manuscripts dating from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. These fall quite naturally into groups found predominantly in Italian, German and southern French sources, as befits the geographically central position of northern Italy - and perhaps especially, as Father Damilano remarks, the proximity to Bobbio of trade routes between France and Rome. Agostino Ziino lists the contents of a fragmentary gradual from central Italy, formerly the property of Remo Giazotto and now belonging to Giorgio Fanan of Turin. This manuscript was apparently copied at the beginning of the twelfth century and includes four sequences, two tropes, a monophonic conductus and a farced epistle (Pll. 4c and 6 are reversed, incidentally). Among the more remarkable characteristics of this fragment is 'Virgo Israel decus', a sequence found previously only in southern French manuscripts and in two significantly different versions, one of which (preserved in a single manuscript) includes two additional verses. The Italian manuscript presents a third, incomplete version which differs from both of these in musical and literary aspects. Professor Ziino compares these versions without assigning any clear priorities (unlike Blume in Analecta hymnica, liii. 177) - though he mentions the tempting possibility, first suggested by Bruno Stablein but later withdrawn, that the Italian version may be the oldest. The grounds for such a conclusion are probably much too meagre. But I would suggest that some of the variants in the text may be due to variations in the basic form of the melody, which in some places may have been familiar with a quite different text. For the melody is in fact a common one, often named 'Eia turma' or 'Adorabo minor', that recurs with many other texts and in several different versions.

The earlier literature, notably Richard Crocker's excellent The Early Medieval Sequence (Berkeley, 1977), provides many reasons for supposing that Notker drew on a melodic tradition common to the eastern and western halves of the former Carolingian Empire. His melodies nevertheless differ considerably from those of comparable works found in the southern French sources, especially in the occurrence of 'single' (as opposed to paired) verses. So it remains an open question, still hotly debated, whether Notker reworked melodies from sequences already in existence, as Crocker believes, or whether he drew on a local tradition of sequentiae (wordless melismas sung after the alleluia verse) that differed from comparable melodies in the West. Crocker pours scorn on previous accounts, derived from the letter to Bishop Liutward, that the earliest sequences originated in the process of adding a text to the sequentia, preferring instead to stress the monk from Jumieges and the 'poor verses' which Notker sought to improve. Yet the manuscripts themselves, and some external evidence besides, indicate that some of the melodies once circulated independently and in several different forms. Some remarkable new evidence for this view appears in David Hiley's work on the sequentiae found in Chartres, Bibliotheque Municipale, MS 47, a very early manuscript of Breton use that was destroyed in World War II. Contrary to expectation, the manuscript contained melodies that differ considerably from the 'German' sequences attributed to Notker and (to a lesser extent) from the southern French sequences as well. Taken together, these observations imply the existence of a third melodic tradition for the sequence, perhaps known only in Brittany but nevertheless very old, on which composers may have drawn. This in turn casts doubt on Crocker's theory that creative effort alone could account for melodic differences in comparable works from east and west. Professor Hiley instead reads a quite different series of events into Notker's letter, according to which Notker wrote new texts to melodies with which he was already familiar, perhaps reworking one or both as he went. Melodic variants would therefore have arisen either because St Gall had its own versions of the melodies, as wordless sequentiae, or because they circulated orally. This account of the evidence gives far more weight than Crocker does to the melodic resemblances between sequences and alleluias, and reopens the field to comparisons with other chants, such as the Ambrosian and Mozarabic alleluias, which seem to have known similar elaboration.

The melodies discussed by Professor Hiley evidently formed the basis for many different sequences, including some that appear mostly, or even exclusively, in Italian sources. It remains to be seen just how many of these were imported from further north and how many were actually composed on the peninsula, since previous research has tended to converge on the more unusual items of unquestionably Italian origin. Yet the manuscripts provide rather little evidence for the geographical origin of works in this 'international style', and it may well turn out that Italy exported sequences in addition to creating products for domestic consumption, as Christopher Hohler once argued in a stern (and somewhat unfair) review of Crocker's book. A recent article by Susan Rankin, 'The Earliest Sources of Notker's Sequences', Early Music History, x (1991), 201-33, even casts doubt on the authenticity of some items attributed to Notker by Wolfram yon den Steinen, in Notker der Dichter und seine geistige Welt (Berne, 1948) - a reassessment of which seems to me long overdue. This would probably remove one of the main reasons for believing that sequences found in both Germanic and Italian manuscripts normally represent Germanic works imported into Italy and not the other way round.

It remains a matter for debate, in my view, whether or not the St Gall manuscripts represent the 'best' sources for the sequences they contain. Marie-Noel Colette understandably takes this matter for granted when discussing the neumatic notation of these manuscripts, which (like others from the region) present the melodies not only in one- and two-note neumes over the appropriate syllables but also in much longer neumatic groups in separate columns adjacent to the text. These longer groups naturally include the full range of signs common to these manuscripts (with the general exception of liquescent neumes) and thus provide information about the performance of sequences, as about other forms of chant, particularly with respect to longer and shorter notes. And as with other forms of chant, the meaning of the neumes is often open to question. Here the 'semiology' of Dom Cardine forms the starting-point for a series of reflections on the performance of the neumes and the relationship between the syllabic and melismatic forms of the melody. Dr Colette has since slightly modified her views on this subject, so it would perhaps be unreasonable to criticize the article at greater length.

Michel Huglo's contribution touches on a range of issues he has discussed elsewhere (sometimes in collaboration with Nancy Phillips) and of which he is an acknowledged master. The two works under discussion, 'Aurea personet lyra' and 'Audi chorum organicum', appear in theoretical as well as liturgical manuscripts, including musical terminology that seems well suited to teaching purposes. Both works exhibit some of the typical characteristics of the sequence, above all the pairs of verses each set to a single melody, but they belong rather to that mysterious group of chants known variously as the 'archaic sequence', 'sequence with double cursus' or even 'pseudo-sequence' whose relationship to the wider repertory of liturgical chant is in fact quite tenuous. Professor Huglo presents a provocative, though somewhat fragile, chain of evidence associating these two particular examples with churches known for their choir schools and organs. He provides further evidence, from a much narrower range of sources, that either (or both) could be sung as parallel organum in at least some places, a suggestion which is in accord with the selection of a similar work, 'Rex caeli', for the organum examples in the Musica enchiriadis. There remains the question why the author of the treatise, and the authors of the rubrics mentioned by Professor Huglo, favoured these unusual chants over the more usual sequences and tropes. I have the impression (derived from 'Rex caeli') that these choir-school compositions represent a very late stage in the life of the form and would have been considered exceptional at virtually any time.

A further group of articles deals with later sequences from the eleventh century onwards, when the strophes became gradually more regular, the texts more rhythmical and consistently rhymed, and the music more prone to short-winded phrases. Wulf Arlt explores some of the so-called transitional sequences from the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, notably the famous and influential 'Letabandus', and he compares the readings of several early manuscripts. Observing certain discrepancies in the transmission of these works, he concludes that aural transmission played only a minor role and suggests instead that 'a secondary area of transmission' (perhaps in the East) was involved - in other words, the original melody was revised. Oral transmission and revision could easily have occurred side by side, of course, but in recent years discussion of the one has tended to thwart discussion of the other, and it is easy to see why Professor Arlt would rather keep them apart. Perhaps a comparison with the various forms of adaptation and revision in the troubadour repertory would have been valuable, both in regard to the music (the names of Hendrik van der Werf and Hans-Herbert Rakel naturally come to mind) and the text (I have found some useful reflections on this in Amelia E. Van Vleck, Memory and Re-Creation in Troubadour Lyric, Berkeley, 1991). Professor Arlt has also done the sequences a valuable service by discussing points of comparison with the strophic songs known as 'versus', 'Benedicamus' and 'conductus', which are closely related and occasionally interchangeable in the manuscripts (though the sequence only rarely attained such a perfectly regular strophic form).

Aurelio Roncaglia propounds a new and very complex argument associating the transitional sequence with the zajal, a metrical form cultivated in medieval Hispano-Arabic poetry which, according to some, provided a model for similar compositions in Romance languages such as the famous 'Cantigas de Santa Maria'. Some features of the zajal, notably the four-line strophes and final refrain, recur in Latin poetry such as the Christmas hymn 'In hoc anni circulo', the transitional sequence 'Verbum bonum et suave' and, later, the sequences associated with Adam of St Victor. An interesting aspect of this argument is the involvement of Hebrew, which drew on Arabic forms for both secular and liturgical poetry. Yet I must confess that I find very little of this convincing. The metrical structure of the late sequence is so different from that of the zajal that a connection between the two, if it ever existed, could only have affected matters of diction, and that might very well have reached the sequence by way of poetry in the vernacular. Besides, the Latin tradition provides an abundance of material in which the outlines of a detailed history can be imagined: a reasonable starting-point for such a history, I think, would have to be the adoption of balanced phrases in the music, with the associated repetition of motifs within as well as between verses, so that by means of subdivision the verse acquired a more or less strophic form. These phrases were normally quite short, often no more than four or five notes in length, so that longer words could be assigned phrases of their own and motifs could be freely exchanged within the strophe.

Composers of sequences seem always to have felt free to vary the length of their strophes for one reason or another, but by the twelfth century one particular scheme, the strophic form associated with 'Verbum bonum et suave', 'Laudes crucis' and the works ascribed to Adam of St Victor, had achieved overwhelming popularity. Generally speaking, this consists of an indeterminate number of lines, each consisting of eight syllables divided 4p + 4p ('p' indicates a paroxytone ending, 'pp' a proparoxytone) and concluded by a single seven-syllable line divided 3p + 4pp. Presumably the assertive ictus and consistent rhyming were innovations conditioned by musical necessity, by secular song and, as Professor Arlt maintains, by the new forms of liturgical chant that appeared in the eleventh century. Yet the general form of the strophe, sometimes named versus tripertitus cauditus, evidently derives from rhythmic forms of the trochaic septenarian metre, of which Venantius Fortunatus' 'Pange lingua gloriosi' is an early and prestigious example. D'Arco Silvio Avalle ('Dalla metrica alia musica', Lo spazio letterario del medioevo, 1: Il medioevo latino ; 2: La produzione del testo, Rome 1992, pp. 407-9) has noticed that even the general disposition of the sequence, with its tetramimeral caesura and catalectic final line, appears in 'Apparebit repentina', a poem 'de die iudicii' mentioned by Bede in his De arte metrica. The prestige of the Cistercian hymn may also have played a role, though in my view a subordinate one, in the adoption of the later sequence by reform movements of the twelfth century, as discussed by Margot Fassler in Gothic Song: Victorine Sequences and Augustinian Reform in Twelfth-Century Paris (Cambridge, 1993. See the preceding review, above (Eds.)).

F. Alberto Gallo draws attention to a passage mentioning sequences and cantilenae in the chronicle of the Franciscan Salimbene de Adam. Of particular importance are two confreres, active in Lucca and Siena during the years 1239-43, whose musical activities seem to have included the composition of additional polyphonic voices for works already in circulation. Various archival sources, from Siena and the Papal Chapel, testify to the performance of polyphonic sequences in Italy as early as the twelfth century. A group of manuscripts from Umbria and Tuscany, the very earliest sources of mensural polyphony in the region, all give sequences for patron or local saints, which naturally suggests a festive significance for these works (perhaps also that they never circulated widely). Many of the earliest sources provide little or no indication of rhythm for polyphonic sequences, and it remains an open question (I think) whether or not a rhythmic performance should be assumed. Bryan Gillingham finds some reason for believing that works copied without rhythmic indication could, and perhaps should, be performed according to 'modal rhythm' - that is, following the prevailing text accent. The manuscript Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, fonds lat. 5247, provides more or less unambiguous mensural notation for five out of the eighteen sequences, and in each case the longs and breves of the music do correspond to the stronger and weaker syllables of the text. Yet one of the sequences in non-mensural notation appears in a later manuscript with quite different music, this time in mensural notation. According to Dr Gillingham, examples like these occur only rarely among the sequences, most works appearing in the manuscripts in the one notation or the other. Still, I can think of one or two similar instances (not mentioned here) in the troubadour manuscripts and polyphonic conductus, so it may well be that some music notated entirely in longs could also be performed in differentiated rhythms. Or perhaps, as I should prefer to think, most singers would not have thought to perform a series of longs equally when they were set to a rhythmic text.

My only complaint about this volume as a whole concerns the lateness of its publication, some eight years after the conference for which the articles were first written. Some of the best contributions, notably those of Brunner, Gillingham and Hiley, deal with issues that were then current, even controversial, and would certainly have altered the course of research had they been published on time. Whether or not they will now do so remains to be seen, of course, for tastes change and the field is no longer as lively as it once was. Yet the medieval sequence still deserves more attention than it has hitherto received. The Italian sequences, the later sequences, the 'partly-texted' sequences, the 'transitional' sequences, the 'short aparallel' sequences, the melodic families, and the connections with the lai all desperately need further research.

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Author:Falconer, Keith
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1995
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