Nota Bene: Reading Classics and Writing Melodies in the Early Middle Ages.
Medieval musical notation--stereotypically with large notes (neumes), perhaps in staves--involves considerably more than liturgical passages. As we learn from Jan Ziolkowski's rewarding new book, neumation occurs not only in liturgical works but also in select passages of classical writings, in manuscripts from "the late tenth to the end of the twelfth century" (5), which originate from the Ottonian rather than the Carolingian period, as some had thought (105). Ziolkowski's aim is ambitious: "to seek to understand which texts were chosen for the notation of melodies, what can be known of the persons who composed, noted, consulted, and performed the melodies, how the melodies may have related to the form and content of the texts, what inspirations and analogues the composers, notators, and performers could have found for their activities, and why the notation ceases after a couple of hundred years in which it became widespread" (1-2). A medieval literary historian and Medieval Latin philologist, Ziolkowski is chiefly interested in the cultural context of neumed texts; as he puts it, his project is "ultimately literary-historical, paleographico-codicological, and ethnomusicological" rather than musicological (2-3).
Ziolkowski divides Nota Bene into five chapters, beginning with the scope of the project and important definitions (Introduction) and developing the arguments through "The Recording and Use of Neumes" (chapter 2), which concerns interlinear glosses, because neumes in classical texts invariably appear in the spaces above the Latin verse lines. Chapter 3 takes up "Reasons for Neuming of the Classics," including issues of "metre and melody" and "Rhetorical Emphasis on Pathos and Speech." The investigation of emotional speech leads gracefully into chapter 4, "Inspirations and Analogues," which explores the possible singing of texts in Roman antiquity, lament in sacred texts (Jeremiah, the planctus Mariae, and the grieving of Rachel), and the possible influence of popular song. In his final chapter, Ziolkowski analyzes "The Decline of the Neumed Classics." Two useful appendices offer an inventory of the neumed classics and "Speeches in Classical Passages with Neumation." The latter reveals at a glance which works received neumation and exactly where.
Readers unfamiliar with the issues Ziolkowski treats in Nota Bene may not realize how controversial, even contentious, they have proved to be in scholarship. The reason for this is that so little is known about the practice of neumation and cantillation (the singing of texts) in the medieval period. Nevertheless, theories abound, and to Ziolkowski's credit he presents the conjectures forthrightly. He regards his book as a first effort in an attempt to understand the cultural implications of providing classical texts with musical notation. Ziolkowski scrupulously presents various possibilities as answers for the questions he asks. For example, in discussing a passage by pseudo-Regino of Prum, Ziolkowski outlines two previous arguments about the passage: either that hymn music was applied to a Horatian ode or that music from a Horatian ode was applied to the Christian hymn "Ut queant laxis." Ziolkowski conceives another possibility: "that the melody of both the hymn and the ode may have been modeled at least partly upon women's song" (214). A question to which Ziolkowski frequently returns concerns whether manuscript notation represents marks for declamation or "particular progression of tones in a chant or melody" (221). What is the quality of the declaiming, chanting, or singing?
What can we say confidently about the neumed classics? Ziolkowski points to the importance of the schools and literacy in nurturing an oral, "memorial culture" that developed new techniques for learning classical texts. Schoolmasters, cantors, and librarians doubtless neumed the texts as aides memoires. "The neumators," says Ziolkowski, "who may often have been the very individuals who had most need and greatest desire to consult the neumes, probably wrote down only as much of the melodies as they needed tojog their memories to recall the remainder" (55). Ziolkowski believes that neumators included neumes as a way to enhance the value of their texts, like rubrication, glossing, or illumination: "In those centuries when Latinity and cantillation went hand in hand, making at least parts of the classics chantable or singable would have endowed them with added value" (57). Ziolkowski argues that the classics represented an aspect of literacy. One thinks here of Augustine remembering how, in school, he wept for Dido as part of his education in the classics (see 162-64, 167, 218-20). Ziolkowski compares neumation to highlighting or flagging "purple passages" in significant classical texts. Hence singing most likely was memorable and an aid to memory for students in monastic and cathedral schools.
A useful feature of Ziolkowski's book is its illustrations. Ziolkowski includes fourteen plates of classical texts with musical notation. The illustrations provide detailed testimony to methods of neumation, including neumes that move up and down (diastematic neumes) and those that do not (adiastematic neumes). Plate 7 from a printed book shows through neumes the correct scansion of the opening line of Vergil's Aeneid. A breve sign indicates heavy stress while a semibreve signifies light stress, all presented in diastematic symbols which range over only two lines of the five-line staff. This marking of quantitative metre, by the way, is not the norm for medieval codices of the tenth to the twelfth centuries. Schoolmasters were concerned with their students' understanding of the classical verse as prose, in other words, for simple meaning. As Ziolkowski reminds us, that first line of the Aeneid would read, rhythmically, "Arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris," rather than with the quantitative stress on "cano" and "Troiae" (127). Quantitatively, those words would be scanned "cano" and "Troiae" An interesting and instructive text that Ziolkowski examines occurs in a manuscript of Statius's Thebaid, book 12, Argia mourning for Polynices (plate 13). The neuming begins with line 325 ("Huc attole genas"), with a melisma after "Huc." There is another after the first syllable of "thebas" (line 326), and a striking, extended melisma between the phonemes "he" and "u" of the word heu, "alas" (line 328). As is typical for neumed passages of classical texts, the musical notation begins with Argia's direct speech, which is charged with emotion. The illustrated pages of Vergil and Statius, both related to pedagogy, show different possible uses for musical notation in rendering classical texts.
In his final chapter, Ziolkowski discusses reasons for the decline of the neumed classics. This analysis highlights major arguments presented earlier in the book. His main point here is that by degrees Latin literacy "became disentangled from liturgy." One crucial step in the disentangling was the decline in the training of clerics and future monks: "The learning of basic Latin and the learning of chant drifted apart" (230). Training in thirteenth-century universities diverged substantially from training in monastic scriptoria. Ziolkowski even points to the emergence of the Goliards in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, poets "who were affiliated not with the old monasteries but rather with courts, cathedral schools, rising universities, and urban centers" (232). In musical practice there was movement away from chant and monophony toward polyphony. Another reason for the abandoning of neumed classics was the prominence given to musical staffs and more precise notation, a system that required more space than manuscript interlineations afforded. It is instructive that Ovid's writings, studied and glossed beginning in the twelfth century, were not neumed. As the importance of the liturgy lessened and other classical writings came into prominence in the schools, the zeal for neuming also waned.
Ziolkowski's book shows the likely close connection between the study of the classics and the analysis of sacred works. Harmonizing or reconciling classical poetry and Christian doctrine was, of course, a continuing medieval project, as the writings of Servius, Boethius, the author of the Ovide moralisee, and Boccaccio all witness. As Ziolkowski states the case: "monks and clerics were grounded in classical literature as part of their preparation for using biblical Latin, for chanting biblical and liturgical Latin, and for employing a half-living oral Latin that fused biblical and classical components with many others. Setting to chant-like melodies portions of the most highly esteemed classical texts offered a way both to celebrate the grandeur of the classics and to draw closer to the Church" (199). Study of Ziolkowski's arguments should equip readers with greater appreciation for the role of the classics in early medieval education.
Although the book's subject is ostensibly only a blip in the cultural landscape, the issues Ziolkowski examines--Latin literacy, oral performance and memorial versus textual cultures, the relation of the liturgy to the Latin classics, Ottonian pedagogy, and attitudes toward the classics--are of critical importance for understanding early medieval literature. I must add a few words about the book's style. It is everywhere lucid and often entertaining--a good read. The title is a play on words involving the relations between nota, "note" (as in manuscript manicules), "notate," and musical notation. To characterize a possible explanation for the rise in neumation in the schools, Ziolkowski compares neumation to modern diagramming of sentences (58). Describing Quintilian's explanation of how a verse line should be executed, Ziolkowski quotes a statement attributed to the young Caesar: "si cantas, male cantas: si legis, cantas" [If you are singing, you sing badly; if you are reading, you are singing] (183). Quintilian's quotation sums up in a phrase the issues that occupy the book (and which are so difficult to pin down) concerning pronunciatio (oral delivery). Ziolkowski usefully compares the singing of the neumed classics to recitative in musical oratorios (165). Let readers of this book, then, beware: they will doubtless learn considerably more about medieval cultural and textual practices than they might imagine when they first open the book. Let us also hope that Ziolkowski's study will initiate a profitable dialogue between and among Latin philologists and musicologists.
James M. Dean
University of Delaware
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|Author:||Dean, James M.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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