Nota Bene: Reading Classics and Writing Melodies in the Early Middle Ages (J.M. Ziolkowski)

J.M. Ziolkowski. Nota Bene: Reading Classics and Writing Melodies in the Early Middle Ages (PJML 7)

Nota Bene explores a little-known juxtaposition of verbal text and musical notation in the Middle Ages. This particular intersection deserves attention from those interested in music, the reception of classical Latin literature, the history of education, and the development of punctuation.

Between the late tenth century and the late twelfth century, the musical notation known as neumes was provided in dozens of manuscripts for, among other texts, a number of Horace’s Odes as well as for sections of epics by Lucan, Statius, and Vergil. These materials constitute a paradoxical corpus of “classical poems in plainchant” that complicates our views of both how students learned Latin and what was being sung in an era most often associated with Gregorian chant. The book wrestles first with the literary-historical puzzle of why certain passages and not others were “neumed” and later with the ethnomusicological riddles of how, where, when, and by whom the passages were sung.

Jan M. Ziolkowski is Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Medieval Latin at Harvard University, and the editor/translator of The Cambridge Songs.