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Medieval Psalters as Witnesses to Liturgical Song: the Iberian Case

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The King's Manor

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York

YO1 7EP

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Centre for Medieval Studies
York Medieval Lecture Series

Dr Emma Hornby
(University of Bristol)

Medieval Psalters as Witnesses to Liturgical Song:
the Iberian Case

Christians in medieval Iberia had their own liturgical practices, independent of the Roman liturgy, until the late 11th century. Although about 40 surviving manuscripts and fragments bear witness to the Old Hispanic liturgy, it has remained a niche interest for scholars, in part because of its ‘peripheral’ status. A further, major, challenge is notational: thousands of Old Hispanic chants have been preserved, but in a notation that does not show pitch or intervals. We cannot transcribe or perform this material nowadays; it remains silent.

This lecture presents some of my recent research, in collaboration with Kati Ihnat (Nijmegen University), on this material. We have been exploring the use of psalmody in medieval Iberia. North of the Pyrenees, Benedictine monks sang the entire psalter every week; secular cathedral communities sang the psalter every three weeks. Scholars have argued fiercely about whether the Iberian evidence points towards a three week cycle, or even no psalm cycle at all. In attempting to understand and judge these arguments, we made a close analysis of two Iberian psalters, one from the 11th century and the other from the 12th. (BNE 10001, and LBL add. 30851; images of both manuscripts are now freely available online). As we delved into the contents more and more deeply, we found ourselves completely over-turning previous scholarly ideas about the shape and priorities of the liturgical day on the Iberian peninsula in the early middle ages. We have also been able to interrogate the unpitched neumes in which the psalm antiphons are preserved, resulting in the first attempted understanding since medieval times of the musical logic of the repertoire. Here, I introduce these beautiful and striking manuscripts, their cultural context, and their significance for medievalists, for musicologists, and for those who enjoy a good detective story.

The King's Manor - K/133

Image: British Library. Interlace initial 'B'(eati) with a horse's head terminal. Origin: Spain, N (Silos).

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The King's Manor

Exhibition Square

York

YO1 7EP

United Kingdom

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