Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music



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  • Michael Scott Cuthbert, Trecento Fragments and Polyphony Beyond the Codex (PhD, Harvard University, 2006)

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This thesis seeks to understand how music sounded and functioned in the Italian trecento based on an examination of all the surviving sources, rather than only the most complete. A majority of surviving sources of Italian polyphonic music from the period 1330– 1420 are fragments; most, the remnants of lost manuscripts. Despite their numerical dominance, music scholarship has viewed these sources as secondary (and often neglected them altogether) focusing instead on the few large, retrospective, and predominantly secular codices which mainly originated in the Florentine orbit. Connections among manuscripts have been incompletely explored in the literature, and the omission is acute where relationships among fragments and among other small collections of polyphony are concerned. These small collections vary in their construction and contents—some are not really fragments at all, but single polyphonic works in liturgical and other manuscripts. Individually and through their very numbers, they present a wider view of Italian musical life in the fourteenth century than could be gained from even the most careful scrutiny of the intact manuscripts. Examining the fragments emboldens us to ask questions about musical style, popularity, scribal practice, and manuscript transmission: questions best answered through a study of many different sources rather than the intense scrutiny of a few large sources. Our view of the trecento is transformed by moving the margins into the center. Many cities emerge as producers of “high-art” polyphony. French-texted music abounds in the fragments (at least fifteen sources mingle Italian and French repertories). The Francophilia of the next century has long been viewed as a discontinuity with the past, but it should now be considered an extension of trecento practice. The space for sacred music in the trecento also increases dramatically. The dissertation reports the discovery of a new Paduan fragment, along with a radical reassessment of the Paduan sources. It includes 51 transcriptions, nearly all of unpublished works previously considered too fragmentary or difficult to transcribe. Twelve new identifications of pieces are made, including new sources for Esperance, Je voy mon cuer, Fuyés de moy, and Mass movements by Engardus, Zachara, and Ciconia.

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