Friday, July 08, 2011

Sing, Sing, Sing!

   There have been some roistering discussions on the subject of digitising books, but those of us in love with medieval manuscripts can only applaud the ever growing corpus of fully digitised manuscript material that is appearing. I mean, yes, we would love to be able to see and feel and pore over and smell the originals, but we can at least see a much greater sample these days from our own desktop. The e-Codices site from Switzerland is one of the most magnificent, and continually growing.
  Their most recent newsletter reveals a project that has taken this to another level. Musical Treasures from the Library of St Gall shows us some significant samples from a project on early church music. Notker Balbalus (840 -912) was an important composer of early church music, inventing certain musical forms. He is better known to historians as Notker the Stammerer, who wrote a life of Charlemagne. I don't know what it says about historians that he should be known forever by his affliction rather than as Notker the Magnificent Musical Composer.
  His work has been reconstructed by ploughing through various copies which are to be found on the e-Codices site, and having them recorded by the early music ensemble Ordo Virtutum. On the website you can see pages from the various manuscripts while listening to the music from those pages being sung. Fascinating for those of us untutored in early medieval musical notation who think neumes look like trails left by worms across the page. If you really like it you can buy the CD. There are links to all manner of other related materials.
  What makes this a second generation digital project is that not only is it a quite splendid multimedia presentation on the web, it was actually generated from material already displayed on the web. A few Anglophonic institutions which retain suspicious attitudes to anyone wanting to actually utilise images of their hoarded treasures would do well to take a look at this and ponder.
  And yes, I know that the limitations of early musical notation mean that we don't know if it actually sounded exactly like that, but it does bring the pages alive.

No comments: