Friday, November 27, 2009

Oxford scholar wins award for medieval music manuscript

An Oxford University Emeritus Fellow has received a prestigious award from the American Musicological Society for an 'outstanding scholarly edition in the field of musicology' that she has been working on for almost 35 years.

The 2009 Claude Palisca Award has been awarded to Bologna Q15: The Making and Remaking of a Musical Manuscript, an introductory study and facsimile edition by Dr Margaret Bent described as ‘a scholarly achievement of the highest order’.

Dr Bent’s work was the ‘unanimous choice’ for this year’s award. The Palisca Award committee said it was described by one of its members as ‘an exemplar of "regal musicology", a career-crowning achievement that will forever set a benchmark for facsimile editions.’ It described the quality of photography and reproduction as ‘breathtaking’.

Aside from Dr Bent's contributions, the publication has other links with the Oxford Music Faculty. DIAMM (the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music), based in the Faculty, played a central role in providing the high-quality photography for the facsimile as its co-director Dr Julia Craig-McFeely undertook the photography, typesetting and layout. DIAMM is to be a key part of the Faculty's well-advanced plans to establish a Centre in Early Music.

Dr Bent said: 'I have been working on this manuscript for many years, alongside other projects. Compiled in the Veneto, it is the most important manuscript of international musical repertory of the early 15th century, and our only source for much music by major composers such as Du Fay.

'Codicologically it is extremely complex; its various revisions carry rare and valuable evidence about how a repertory underwent rapid renewal in the hands of its contemporaries – sorting it out is like a cross between a jigsaw puzzle and peeling the skins off an onion. My introductory study is a major new contribution to scholarship, and will enable future scholars to understand and use a central manuscript that has been puzzling and inaccessible.

'I'm particularly glad the citation not only praised my work, but the collaboration with Dr Julia Craig-McFeely, who did the photography, digital restorations, layout and typesetting for the whole volume so successfully that DIAMM is about to launch its own series of music facsimile publications, starting with the famous Eton Choirbook.'

The committee said: ‘Photographed in colour when it was disbound, with illegible pages digitally restored, the edition allows us to read some music for the very first time. Initials have been filmed on both sides enabling the editor to discern music that was discarded when the manuscript was recopied. Reproducing the original cover, watermarks, and gathering signatures, the facsimile can actually claim to be more useful and informative than having the original on one's desk.

'The editor has prefaced the facsimile with a magisterial essay of 383 folio-sized pages, which provides a history of the manuscript, its structure and chronology, the circumstances surrounding its various recopyings and revisions, and an overview of the nature, style, and reception of the 328 compositions it transmits.’