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Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC)

05/2012 manuscript  of the month

Detective Work -
Hunting for Music Manuscripts Reused in Various Bookbindings

What happened to medieval parchment manuscripts that were not in use any more and that took too much space in the library? In many cases, the parchment was reused in bookbindings of other manuscripts or early printed books (incunables). There, the dismembered fragments remain undiscovered until modern scholars or librarians incidentally find them. Many sources that transmit one of the most famous collections of music history, the 13th century manuscripts associated with the cathedral Notre-Dame of Paris, ended up like this. Sometimes, they are found in parent volumes far away from Paris, like this example in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New York’s Columbia University shows.

Conductus fragments as a pastedown
New York, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia
University, N-66, conductus fragments as a pastedown

The three main sources of the Notre-Dame repertoire are in Florence (I-Fl Plut. 29.1) and Wolfenbüttel (D-W Cod. Guelf. 628 Helmst. (677) and D-W Cod. Guelf. 1099 Helmst. (1206)) today. These 13th century anthologies are organized in a systematic way: Each genre is usually copied into separate fascicles. The central genres of the time were organum, conductus and motet. The liturgical organum was performed at the Cathedral Notre-Dame of Paris. However, the conductus repertoire, a collection of Latin songs, also contains conducti of other than French origin. One of the conducti found in the Columbia fragment depicted here, only legible after a digital reconstruction, is the conductus Porta salutis ave the style of which points to an English origin.

Conductus fragments as a pastedown
US-NYcub N-66, last page of the bifolium,
digital reconstruction (Andreas Janke, MA, University of
Hamburg): 3pt conductus Porta salutis ave

The conductus fragments in the Columbia incunable US-NYcub N-66 belong to the most recent discoveries of the Notre-Dame repertoire. Surprisingly, the Columbia fragment turned out to be another remnant of a lost music book that was destroyed by a 15th century bookbinder. In the 1980s, three conductus fragments (D-F Fragm. Lat. VI. 41) were found in the binding of an incunable from the dissolved Dominican convent in Frankfurt on the Main. The incunable US-NYcub N-66 formerly belonged to the library of the Frankfurt convent as well. As both parent volumes contain the same theological treatise, Nicholas of Ausmo’s Pisanella, one of them was sold as a duplicate to a private owner and was donated to Columbia University in 1967. Both book bindings contain recycled parchment from the same music manuscript; further fragments of this destroyed music manuscript are lost or hitherto undiscovered.

US-NYcub N-66, Binding
US-NYcub N-66, Binding

The provenance of the parchment is not necessarily the same as the provenance of the parent volume; it was not uncommon that bookbinders bought used material stemming from other places. However, as the Frankfurt University library found out in a long-scale research project, the Frankfurt Dominicans intensively recycled old material from their own library. Thus, we have good reasons to assume that the bookbinder destroyed and reused a music manuscript that once belonged to the Dominican library itself.

Besides, the conductus fragments from the Frankfurt convent are not the only case in which Dominicans played a role in the dissemination of the Notre-Dame repertoire. Recently, Peter Christian Jacobsen discovered organum fragments in a bookbinding from the Dominican convent in Nuremberg (D-Nst Inc. 304. 2°). The well-known Wimpfen fragments (D-DS 3471) were even clearly designed for local use in a German-speaking community: They contain a middle high German text in the tenor of the famous motet Homo luge/Homo miserabilis/ Brumans est mors.

Given that parchment fragments in bindings were usually not catalogued, it is not impossible to find further sources of the Notre-Dame repertoire in bindings of manuscripts or incunables like this. Thus, modern musicologists have to be codicologists and detectives as well in order to draw connections between sources and to systematically look for further undiscovered fragments.

GENNRICH, Friedrich (1958): Die Wimpfener Fragmente der Hessischen Landesbibliothek Darmstadt: Faksimile-Ausgabe der Handschrift 3471, Summa musicae medii aevi 5. Darmstadt: Selbstverlag.
JACOBSEN, Peter Christian (2006): “Kleinüberlieferung mehrstimmiger Musik vor 1550 in deutschem Sprachgebiet. VII: Ein neues Fragment zum Magnus Liber Organi”. In: Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, 1. philologisch-historische Klasse, Jg. 2006, Nr. 3, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 153-166.
MASCHKE, Eva M. (2010): “Neue Conductus-Fragmente aus dem ehemaligen Dominikanerkloster in Frankfurt am Main”. In: Studi Musicali. Nuova serie 1,2, pp. 295-312.
POWITZ, Gerhardt (Ed.) (1994): Mittelalterliche Handschriftenfragmente der Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main, Kataloge der Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt am Main, Bd. 10. Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann.
STAEHELIN, Martin (1987): “Conductus-Fragmente aus einer Notre Dame-Handschrift in Frankfurt a. M.”. In: Nachrichten der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Göttingen, 1. Philologisch-historische Klasse, Heft 8. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 179-192.
STAEHELIN, Martin (1997): “Die Erforschung mittelalterlicher Musikfragmente. Ein Beitrag zur Revision unserer musikgeschichtlichen Vorstellungen”. In: Bibliothek und Wissenschaft, 30, pp. 26-40.
STEENSLAND, Lars (2005): “Trash and Treasure. Russian Parchment Fragments in Swedish Archives”. In: Brunius, Jan (ed.): Medieval Book Fragments in Sweden. An international Seminar in Stockholm 13-16 November 2003. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, pp. 210-226.

New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, N-66

  1. Parchment fragment (pastedown of N-66):
    One surviving bifolium of a destroyed music manuscript.
    Content: Conductus Sursum corda elevate (2pt) and conductus Porta salutis ave (3pt).
  2. Parent volume:
    Incunable Goff N-66: Nicolaus de Ausmo, Supplementum Summae Pisanellae and Astesanus, Canones poenitentiales. Nuremberg: Georg Stuchs, for Anton Koberger, 20 June 1488.
    Provenance: Frankfurt on the Main, library of the Dominican convent (dissolved in 1802).

For other images of this book, and for a growing number of medieval manuscripts in the United States, please see the Digital Scriptorium website

Text by Eva Maschke