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Medieval psalters as witnesses to liturgical song

Tuesday 25 April 2017, 5.30PM

Dr Emma Hornby (University of Bristol) will give a lecture, organised by the Centre for Medieval Studies.

Christians in medieval Iberia had their own liturgical practices, independent of the Roman liturgy, until the late 11th century. Although about 40 surviving manuscripts and fragments bear witness to the Old Hispanic liturgy, it has remained a niche interest for scholars, in part because of its ‘peripheral’ status. A further, major, challenge is notational: thousands of Old Hispanic chants have been preserved, but in a notation that does not show pitch or intervals. We cannot transcribe or perform this material nowadays; it remains silent.

This lecture presents some of Dr Hornby's recent research, in collaboration with Kati Ihnat (Nijmegen University), on this material. They have been exploring the use of psalmody in medieval Iberia. North of the Pyrenees, Benedictine monks sang the entire psalter every week; secular cathedral communities sang the psalter every three weeks. Scholars have argued fiercely about whether the Iberian evidence points towards a three week cycle, or even no psalm cycle at all. In attempting to understand and judge these arguments, we made a close analysis of two Iberian psalters, one from the 11th century and the other from the 12th. (BNE 10001, and LBL add. 30851; images of both manuscripts are now freely available online). As they delved into the contents more and more deeply, they found themselves completely over-turning previous scholarly ideas about the shape and priorities of the liturgical day on the Iberian peninsula in the early middle ages.  They have also been able to interrogate the unpitched neumes in which the psalm antiphons are preserved, resulting in the first attempted understanding since medieval times of the musical logic of the repertoire. Here, Dr Hornby introduces these beautiful and striking manuscripts, their cultural context, and their significance for medievalists, for musicologists, and for those who enjoy a good detective story.

Free tickets can be obtained through Eventbrite. Please contact Medieval Studies with any queries: cms-office@york.ac.uk.

Location: King's Manor K/133