Coronavirus (Covid-19) Information

Major AHRC Grant awarded to PRoMS – 'The Production and Reading of Music Sources, 1480-1530'

Music manuscripts and printed editions from the 'Golden Age' of polyphony are to come under close scrutiny in a three year research project.


The Renaissance period has bequeathed upon us an unrivalled richness of musical sources. Manuscript from across Europe have survived - providing a breadth of examples from the large and highly decorated to the very small and unadorned copies of musical notations.


Leading experts in early music manuscripts at Bangor University’s School of Music will be combining their expertise with art historians from the Warburg Institute (University of London) to study the layout of these musical scores from the period between 1480-1530. They will work with The Centre for Computing in the Humanities (CCH) at Kings College London to create a major digital library and resource as well as organis a series of conferences, workshops, concerts and publications. The three-year research grant of nearly £800,000 by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the biggest ever grant awarded by the council to a single project in the field of music, underlines the significance of this project.


The period represents the apogee of the production of musical manuscripts, when they reached their fullest variety, with striking physical appearance and often great artistic beauty –combining musical notation with the written word and sometimes lavish illumination, a visual complexity hardly found in any other type of source. The way in which this was laid out – different to today's score notation – saw great variety across Europe, a variety which has never been studied systematically.


As project leader, Professor Thomas Schmidt-Beste of Bangor University’s School of Music explains:


“In the past, these pieces of music have been ‘translated’ into modern notation so that performers can read them, using current singing and performance styles. We are missing important aspects of how this music worked in transmission and in performance which are held within the notation and the very layout of the manuscripts – which are our only window into the music of that period.”


“The most obvious visual difference to the modern eye is that the voice parts are written separately – not in 'score', with the parts neatly arranged one below the other. Some manuscripts contain written instructions on the page – sometimes in black or red or even blue. We don’t fully know how the layout and these devices would have affected the performance. Another issue is size: Some manuscripts were very large, intended to be read by many singers at once, and some very small. This alone would influence the way a piece would have been sung and how it would have been heard by the audience.”


“These elements will be teased out and the music brought alive by working with the renowned vocal ensemble Capella Pratensis: they are used to singing from early notation and will explore with us how the layout of the original sources informs actual performance.”


Creating a digital resource of these manuscripts – with full commentaries, the ability to instantly compare and contrast different manuscripts, and a project blog which will allow all visitors to the site to share their reactions – will enable the researchers to share their findings and enable others – performers, scholars, early music lovers, Renaissance enthusiasts in general – to explore the sources and their context as well.

Publication date: 31 May 2011