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Songs at the Sacrifice: Text, Music and Meaning in the Late Medieval Mass

Wednesday 19 January 2022, 4.00PM to 5:30 PM

Speaker(s): Andrew Kirkman (University of Birmingham)

Attend the seminar in person, or online via zoom (Meeting ID: 998 9220 5308; Passcode: 390939).  

Abstract: One of the most striking conclusions I was able to reach in my book The Cultural Life of the Early Polyphonic Mass concerned the scope of music used in the celebration of Mass. Considerable evidence extending as far as the late fifteenth century bears witness to the use of secular songs at Mass (including at the focal point of the elevation) not just as cantus firmi but in their original unvarnished forms. Most such evidence comes in the form of repeated proscriptions, their persistence clearly implying the obstinacy of the practice’s survival.

Such censures tail off before the 1430s, but strong archival and manuscript evidence supports the view that the practice persisted before that time via the use of manuscripts, dubbed by Besseler ‘gemischte Quarthandschriften’, that combine ostensibly separate secular and sacred genres. In my talk today I will take a look the contents of a series of manuscripts from the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, with a view to considering their possible functioning at Mass in terms of patronage, acoustics, hearers and—as a crucial corollary—intelligibility of texts.

Location: Music Department, Room D003, Sally Baldwin Buildings, Wentworth Way