Offertory Verses as performed by Early Music New York and directed by Frederick Renz.
After years of study, many deep in the manuscript room at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, an award-winning musicologist from Western University discovered the earliest surviving handwritten manuscripts featuring notation above musical text or lyrics – a technique fundamentally still used today.
The near-millennium-year-old documents were authored by Adémar de Chabannes (c. 989-1034), a monk of the Abbey of Saint-Cybard in Angoulême, France during the early 11th century, and the discovery was made by James Grier from Western’s Don Wright Faculty of Music.
Winner of a Killam Research Fellowship in 2009, Grier’s findings were published earlier this year in the prestigious Journal of the American Musicological Society and he will present highlights from the article tonight (October 21) at the London Public Library (Central Branch) in the Stevenson & Hunt Room. The free public event begins at 7 p.m.
Audio Sample of Probauit as performed by Early Music New York and directed by Frederick Renz.
“Adémar’s foremost contribution to musical practice was as a scribe. In that regard we have a staggeringly huge collection of his music, more than 900 pages in his autograph music hand,” explains Grier. “But an equally significant contribution was that he introduced the principle of placing notes in the vertical space above musical text in such a way to show the musical distance between two notes.”
Adémar’s autograph music sheets, now collected at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, are the earliest surviving large-scale practical sources to use accurate heighting – the device by which musical notation communicates pitch precisely.
Grier says it is difficult to overstate the importance of this technique for the history of music and musical language in Western civilization.
“Placement on the vertical axis remains the standard convention for indicating pitch in notation in Western culture and there is far greater weight on pitch than on many other elements such as dynamics and timbre,” explains Grier.
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Bibliothèque nationale de France
The Bibliothèque nationale de France collects, preserves and makes known the national documentary heritage. Its digital library, Gallica, provides access to more than 2.5 million documents.