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Unit information: Medieval Music Palaeography in 2016/17

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Unit name Medieval Music Palaeography
Unit code MUSIM0044
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
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

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 discussed in detail. The students will be actively engaged with the interpretation and transcription of medieval music throughout the course.


The 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. By the end of the course they will be able to comment critically on the information given by an early music score using the correct terminology

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
  6. Describe the epistemological basis of medieval music palaeography

Teaching Information

Weekly 2-hour classes, focused on weekly assignments and developing the skills for the upcoming portfolio.

One tutorial on the portfolio submission

Assessment Information

  • Eight weekly transcription assignments. The eight marks are averaged to contribute 50% of the unit mark. Some of the assignments will include an editorial commentary (maximum of 500 words for a single assignment). ILO 1 - 6
  • Final portfolio of commentary (1250 words) and transcriptions, on material selected by the student, contributing 50% of the unit mark. ILO 1 - 6

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)