THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

31 May 2014

Scraped Away Songs

As you may have already seen if you follow @BLMedieval on Twitter, we have just uploaded images of one of the British Library's smallest but most important medieval music manuscripts onto Digitised Manuscripts.

Egerton_ms_274_f003r
Ave gloriosa virginum regina, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 3r

Egerton MS 274 is a fascinating and unusual collection of secular songs and liturgical music in French and Latin, written in northern France in the thirteenth century. The pages measure 15 x 10 cm, making this a perfect pocket-book for an individual singer. Some of the pieces are set for two different voices, though, which would have needed careful handling. You can read more about the contents at Trouvère Songs Online.

Egerton_ms_274_f041r
A two-part conductus 'Mundus a mundicia', from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 41r

The manuscript is one of the major sources of French chansons of the Trouvères, but frustratingly most of the first stanzas of the songs – as well as quite a number of the melodies – have been scraped away by a fourteenth-century scribe and replaced by Latin plainchant.

Egerton_ms_274_f102r
The words and music of a French song scraped away and replaced by a Latin responsory chant, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 102r

The book started life probably in the 1260s as a seamless collection of songs of divine praise and songs of courtly love, presumably intended for a noble patron who was as much involved at church as at court. A later owner in the fourteenth century evidently had less time for courtly love, and changed the function of the book, making a much more ecclesiastical compilation in the process.

Egerton_ms_274_f037v_detail
Detail of a miniature of a monkey at work, from a musical miscellany in French and Latin, Egerton MS 274, f. 37r

The manuscript contains a number of interesting miniatures throughout, including our favourite above, of a monkey at work - perhaps literally 'aping' the carpenter next to him.

We'll be adding some more medieval music manuscripts to the website over the next few months: keep an eye on this blog and our colleagues’ excellent Music Blog for more information.

-  Nicolas Bell

Comments

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.