Compositional Planning, Musical Grammar and Theology in Old Hispanic Chant

People involved in this project

Principal investigator:

School Arts
Department Music
Dates 01 November 2009 - 30 April 2011
Funder AHRC/ESRC, Religion and Society programme
Contact person Dr Emma Hornby

More about this project

At first glance, medieval liturgical chant is often taken as being synonymous with Gregorian chant. Despite the wide transmission of that repertoire, however, it is not the only early medieval tradition to have survived. The Iberian peninsula had its own independent chant tradition until the late-11th century, nowadays known as Old Hispanic chant. The main obstacle to appreciating and understanding Old Hispanic chant is the almost complete absence of transcribable melodies. By the time pitched notation was introduced to Iberia in the late-11th century, the Hispanic rite had been largely replaced by the Gregorian tradition. The Old Hispanic sources show where the melodies rise and fall, but do not specify precise intervals. This has acted as a veil, preventing scholars from appreciating what does survive and severely constraining melodic analysis of the tradition. Attempts to analyse the Old Hispanic melodies remain isolated, and generally focus on simple recitations, such as the responsory tones.

Most scholars studying the repertoire have looked closely at the notation, seeking a way of transcribing Old Hispanic notation. By contrast, this study uses melodic shape to analyse the formulaic Old Hispanic chants sung during Lent (the threni, Lenten psalmi, and the Easter Vigil canticles). Understanding the way that textual accents and syntax interact with the melodies is an important part of understanding the musical grammar, and this combines with the work of my collaborator, Prof. Rebecca Maloy (University of Colorado), on the chant lyrics, which focuses on the role of biblical exegesis in the choice and treatment of liturgical text. In this research we have been able to gain a sense of the musical grammar and textual aesthetic of these iberian chants, despite their lack of pitch-readable notation.