Songs in British Sources c.1150-1300
Edited by Helen Deeming
First published in 2013
Dimensions (mm): 330 x 254 x 30
Partly as a result of the nature of their manuscript transmission, songs from the period 1150 to 1300 have remained unknown or unnoticed with the exception of Sumer is icumen in and Angelus ad virginem. The rich variety of content in MB95 is therefore an important corrective and addition to our knowledge of the period, and is evidence for a vigorous interest in the cultivation and preservation of song in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Not all the songs edited here originated in Britain, but their presence in manuscripts of British origin suggests that all were at least sung here. Most items are found uniquely in single music sources, or with text-only concordances, and around half are published for the first time.
This new volume in the sturdy series Musica Britannica represents an exceptional publication which should revolutionize future perspectives on the insular song repertory of the Middle Ages. Various features of its contents make it a bold and unusual volume for Musica Britannica, a series with many volumes of neglected works by Elizabethan, Jacobean or 18th-century British (and mainly English) composers. Helen Deeming’s volume presents the earliest repertory in the series to date and contains monophonic music, music with French and Latin texts, (as well as English ones), and much that is anonymous, in contrast to the usual fare of polyphonic pieces, with English texts (for sung music), and often with named authors. In a further innovation, not only is the volume supplemented by the inclusion of a few manuscript images, but further commentary on notation is available online via the Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music (www.diamm.ac.uk/resources/sbs).
This volume is designed to enable the songs edited here to be viewed as a repertory, despite their wide variety. Nonetheless, it is not comprehensive, and part of the introduction is dedicated to explaining the rationale for choice and exclusion. The songs that Deeming views as being readily available in good modern editions, for example, are omitted, although her view depends in part on whether the editorial approach is, like Deeming’s, to present a reading that is substantially that of a single manuscript. As Deeming admits, ‘others may disagree with the choices I have made about inclusion and exclusion’, but her decisions chart a moderate course, well supported in her measured and authoritative introduction and fulfilling her aim ‘to bring to light a wealth of new pieces never before published, and to re-establish the musical context of pieces that have long been known, in an attempt to recreate as much as can be recovered of the song culture of medieval Britain’. In sum, this volume is an exciting, original and magnificent achievement, a splendid addition to the Musica Britannica series.
Elizabeth Eva Leach – Excerpts from review in Early Music © The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press