Chapter 2 Lessons

2A: One Text, Many Melodies

Four Sources:
Nevers, France, 12th century
Paris, BN n.a. lat. 1235, ff. 154r–154v

Italy, 14th century
Milan, Biblioteca Trivulziana 347, pp. 156–59

Cistercian manuscript, late 12th century
Heiligenkreuz, Stiftsbibliothek 20, f. 224

Rheinau, Germany, 1459
Zurich, Zentralbibliothek, Rheinau 21, ff. 91v–92r

Anthology 2.1

To work with the Ambrosian hymn “Eterne rerum conditor” is to encounter the ways in which the fingerprints of time and history are embedded in medieval repertory.  Each of the melodies provided in the Anthology is different (although two are closely related), and the differences relate to regional and historical developments such as the relationships between the melody from Milan and the Cistercian melody (see Music in the Medieval West, chapter 2).  The work here in the Digital Portal is to see if we can find at least one of the melodies online.

The first melody, Anthology 2.1, is a modern adaptation of the original found in the French National Library in Paris.  Increasingly the manuscripts held in this magnificent repository are available online at Gallica, the website of the library:

It is really quite easy to use; pull down manuscripts, and type in the number found in the siglum.  Although there are quite a few hits, you can scroll through and easily find the manuscript, which is a gradual (book containing the music of the mass, in this case with tropes and sequences) from Nevers, also containing some material for the office, including hymns.

As can be seen from using the pull down for specific folios, the melody of the hymn (found on fols. 154r-154v) is written out for every strophe, and in clear heightened notation, on the way to being square.  The pitch F is given a red line; and c a light yellow line to help guide the eye.  You can compare our modern transcription with the medieval book and note the many differences, from simple to complicated.

We might now see if we can find an image of the hymn as sung at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, using the same method followed for “Ave Maris Stella” in chapter 1 and building on what we already know.  So go to CANTUS: and type in “aeterne rerum” (CANTUS uses classical spellings); then pull down hymn (h) in genre, in if you like.  You can see that Paris lat. 15181 has three hits, but only one of them gives the full melody.  Click on it, and you have the melody as sung for this hymn at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in around 1300:

It is the same melody as that sung in Nevers!

The Situation in Switzerland:

Example 2.4 is held in Zurich, and when we see a Swiss repository, our spirits lift, as so many Swiss manuscripts have been digitized.   The goal is to digitize ALL medieval manuscripts in Switzerland, the country where some of the oldest and most important chant manuscripts are located:

Let’s see if Zurich, Zentralbibliothek, Rheinau 21 has been digitized.  Not yet!  But every year more are added.  We are trying to try to get this source bumped up in the queue.  Meanwhile, where would we try to find a late German version of the hymn?  Whenever you want an office chant like a hymn, you look through the sources in CANTUS.  For an exercise, let’s try it.  Go to CANTUS.

Type in Aeterne rerum, and H for genre, and you will get a list of all the sources with images to the far right.  Notice that the * is often present, meaning the entire melody is not there.  No MS marked D for (Deutschland) has an image of this melody (of course this means the library where the MS is held today, so one could read through sources and see if there are other possibilities).

As we have struck out 3 times out of 4 in finding on line sources for these melodies, here’s a winner, as found in the Carthusian Diurnal studied in Chapter 1.  At the beginning of the short hymnary (collection of hymns) found in the manuscript on fol. 288, is Eterne rerum. You can see right away that this is yet another melody differing from the four found in the Anthology, a Carthusian version.  It is recorded by Carthusian monks from the Grand Chartruse (the mother house of this religious order), and found on youTube.  If you compare what these monks sing today to the melody found in the Carthusian dirurnal, you will see they are the same:

As the chapters progress, and you learn more, you can return to this hymn, but already we know one thing, many liturgical books with hymns do not provide the melodies, for hymns were known by heart later than all other repertories of chant.  We also know that in Paris, in around 1300, one melody was sung at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and another at the Carthusian house right outside the city.

2B: What to do when the source is not online

The manuscripts containing examples 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4 are not yet online.  When this is case, scholars must work with microfilms (and of course visit the library that holds the manuscript, if possible).  There are several important repositories of medieval microfilms held in the USA, and few of which are mentioned here; any major research library will have a collection of its own.  There are important collections featuring chant and theory manuscripts at Harvard University (Isham Library), the University of Chicago, Catholic University of America, and the University of Notre Dame, including a microfilmed collection of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana,  St. Louis University has a microfilmed collection of most of the holdings of the Vatican Library:

For ordering microfilms. You can order microfilms of manuscripts directly from major libraries that hold the sources. This can be very complex, and only skilled librarians attempt it usually.  However, there are two repositories that will sell microfilms to you:

In the United States: Hill Monastic Manuscript Library, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minn.  This great repository welcomes guests to look at MSS (write ahead), and you can order microfilms of individual MSS, if you have obtained the permission of the holder of the source:

If you wished to order the source that contains Anthology 2.3 (Heiligenkreuz, Stiftsbibliothek 20) you could do so through the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library.  Heiligenkreuz, founded in the twelfth century, is the oldest continuously running Cistercian monastery in the world; a group of monks from the Abbey went platinum with a chant recording in 2009.  It is very likely that they would give HMML permission to sell the source to you or your library.

In France: Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes
The holdings are vast and the service is rapid and relatively inexpensive.  You will get microfiche (not microfilm).