Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Early polyphony

George Ferzoco has posted the following note on the Medieval Religion discussion group about an item on the Cambridge University website:

He wrotes "It does the heart good to see that such major discoveries continue to be made.

It’s from the early 900s (not 1900s, but 900s), and it’s a chant dedicated to St Boniface."

As the post explains the source appears to be in a monastery in NW Germany.

The article can be viewed at:

Scroll down the contents page to the link, which includes a video of a performance of the music.

Laura Jacobus added these images of polyphony:
Colleagues might also enjoy these images of polyphonic singers (as far as I know, the first times polyphony has been depicted) - both are at Assisi


St Francis preparing the Christmas Crib at Grecchio

(showing secular minstrels in corner )


Simone Martini St. Martin Chapel- monastic singers are also shown in the Funeral of St Martin, though not obviously polyphonic

Bonnie Blackburn explained the visual imagery as follows:

We can't be sure that they are singing polyphony (i.e. different melodies at the same time) rather than chant. When we see angels with choirbooks, then we know it is polyphonic, because chant was traditionally learnt by heart by the clergy, and we have no records of notation, let alone polyphony, before the early 9th century (this is why Giovanni Varelli's discovery is so spectacular). By the fourteenth century polyphony came to be valued as something special, and angels singing polyphonically became fashionable for artists (see the painting of Mary Queen of Heaven by the Master of the St Lucy legend in the National Gallery in Washington, where we can read the music, a known Marian motet by Walter Frye, Ave regina caelorum).

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