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Unit information: Medieval Music Palaeography in 2015/16

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Unit name Medieval Music Palaeography
Unit code MUSI30121
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Hornby
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Music
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

Taught in 2015-16 by Dr Elsa De Luca.

This unit will introduce students to the editorial challenges presented by medieval musical notations. We will discuss concepts such as ‘philology’ and ‘critical interpretation’, and present the methodological issues related to the creation of a modern edition from an early music score. Different kinds of medieval musical notation will be presented and explained in detail. The students will be actively engaged with the interpretation and transcription of medieval music throughout the course.


Students will gain familiarity with and experience of reading primary sources of medieval music. They will look closely at, analyse and transcribe some medieval notations.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:

  1. Discuss the origins and development of musical notation in Western Europe in the Middle Ages
  2. Use the correct nomenclature for medieval musical notations and the conventional palaeographical terminology
  3. Comment critically on a primary source of medieval music, identifying the most important features and the meaningful palaeographical details
  4. Understand the issues related to the transcription of music written in early notational systems
  5. Think critically about, interpret correctly and make philological transcriptions of medieval music

Teaching Information

Weekly 2-hour class, focused on weekly assignments and developing the skills for the upcoming assignments and take-home paper.

One two hour class of focused preparation for the take-home paper.

Assessment Information

  • Weekly transcription assignments x 8, of which the best five marks contribute 50% of the unit mark. ILO 3 - 5
  • Final portfolio submission of extended transcription (to be set by the unit convenor) with 1000-word commentary, contributing 50% of the unit mark. ILO 1 - 5

In each case, the commentary relates directly to the transcription exercise at hand, explaining the relationship between the source material and the transcription decisions made.

Reading and References

Bent, Margaret, ‘The Grammar of Early Music: Preconditions for Analysis’, in Tonal Structures in Early Music, ed. Cristle Collins Judd (Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998)

Hiley David, ‘Notation’, in Western Plainchant - A Handbook (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1993), pp. 340-401

Levy, Kenneth, ‘On the origin of neumes’, Early Music History 7 (1987), pp. 59-90

Rankin, Susan, ‘On the Treatment of Pitch in Early Music Writing’, Early Music History 30 (2011), pp. 105-75

Rastall, Richard, The Notation of Western Music: an introduction (London, Melbourne, Toronto: J.M. Dent, 1983)

Treitler, Leo, With voice and pen: coming to know medieval song and how it was made (Oxford University Press, 2003)