Chapter 12 Lessons

Women feature to a significant degree in Music in the Medieval West, both as subjects and as active agents. In Chapter 12, several communities of women are met, as patrons of books and as makers of music codices. One of the most striking of these communities is the Dominican convent Paradies bei Soest, in Westphalia, an area in north-west modern Germany. The first book-producing sister we meet from this institution is Elisabeth of Soest, who in 1360, designed, copied, and flourished an entire gradual for the friars of Dortmond, a near-by town. Elisabeth included a large group of sequences in her book, and she said she added some beyond what was traditional in Dominican books at the time, “with special permission.”

The manuscript, Dortmund B 6, is unfortunately not on line, although it is depicted and discussed in some detail in a forthcoming book: Liturgical Life and Latin Learning at Paradies bei Soest, 1300-1425: Inscription and Illumination in the Choir Books of a North German Dominican Convent (by Hamburger, Marti, Schotheuber, and Fassler). In Elisabeth’s elegantly drawn initials are often woven micro-texts that comment on the liturgy, a preface to things to come in the convent scriptorium.

Düsseldorf 11 is a gradual (and so contains the music for the Mass liturgy) with a sequentiary, copied and illuminated by the sisters of Paradies bei Soest in around 1380. It is on line so we can study it in this lesson:

The very beginning of the book is a special fascicle that was bound with it fairly early in its career as there is a reference to it in the main corpus of the manuscript by a later hand. Page 2 of this supplement shows the many aspects of work that went into the preparation of manuscripts in the sisters’ scriptorium during the campaign that produced D 11: music, text, copying, design, artwork, and scholarship. The page has been carefully laid out to include many figures who hold commenting scrolls. If you check out the chant by incipit in CANTUS you will see what it is: the large R for Regnum followed by mundi et omnem ornatum (the bars over vowels represent m or n).

Take a trip to CANTUS to see if the chant is there: and it is. You can click on a picture from a manuscript that dates from the 14th century and see if the pitches match to make sure you have found the chant: it is a responsory, sung on common of virgins, but also sung for many individual virgins’ feasts too in the liturgy. It has a verse, as you can see, and this too is the customary one. An office piece, here at the opening of a gradual? Why? It is because this is part of a supplement providing special pieces or missing pieces. The rubrics say “quando aliqua induitur” sung “when something is put on” and that something is probably the sister’s garment, worn as a sign of her joining the community at Paradies. By studying all the aspects of this statement designed by an for women, you can enter into their imaginations and get a sense of how they thought about their lives.

You can see that the inscriptions surrounding and woven into the page and its main initial provide commentary on the meaning of the consecrated life. Use the tool to blow up the initial. The figure at the top is John the Evangelist, who can be identified by an eagle on his breast, his attribute as a soaring mystic. He says: “Dedit eis filios Dei fieri” from the Gospel of John 1:12, the complete verse which reads: “But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name,” a direct statement about the sister being one of Christ’s own. To the right is St. Dominic in characteristic Dominican garb, quoting from the vita compiled for him by Humbert of Romans, a leader of the order in the thirteenth century: (“Hereditario iure relinquo caritatem, humilitatem, castitatem, paupertatem”) “I bequeath by hereditary law: charity, humility, chastity, poverty,” and thereby reminding the sister of what she is signing on to by taking vows. In the upper register of the letter R we see Christ and Mary, and in the lower register Mary links hands with the angel Gabriel, in a kind of Annunciation with the cast of a legal vow. The Devil lurks to the right, ready to pounce. Far down the left hand side of the page is a king, holding an inscription, and this is David the Psalmist, who, along with John the Evangelist is a common presence in the decoration of this extraordinary book.

We have studied chants from the Easter Mass in the Primer and in other chapters of the textbook and Anthology. Easter is found in the gradual on page 258, graced by a magnificent letter R for the introit “Resurrexi,” painted by an artist whose style is somewhat different from that of the initial studied above. This artist paints only for major feasts in the gradual, and decorates with a great deal of gold paint as well. At the top of the page with a red eagle on his breast is John the Evangelist, and to the bottom is King David, each holding scrolls.

But down below David, in the folds of golden decoration, can be seen two Dominican sisters, dressed in characteristic white garments, and creating a female presence that is often found in this book. They are at prayer, surrounded by texts which say: Resuscita me tu domine miserere mei, from Psalm 40:11, the entire part of the verse saying: “But thou, O Lord, have mercy on me, and raise me up again…,” joining the sisters to the action of the Easter mystery. These praying nuns are labelled with their initials in red: E H on one and U on another, providing yet another example of how the creators of this codex made this book their own. The women almost told us their names!