Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Motive behind the Manuscript

Yesterday I used my national site on to write about Marie et Marion, the latest recording by Anonymous 4 on harmonia mundi to perform music from the Montpellier Codex. Taking my musicology studies seriously, I took issue with the fact that the Wikipedia entry for this manuscript described the music it contains as having been "composed." Those who have been following my posts on this site know that I have been fascinated with the fact that the very concept of "composing" did not exist (at least in any recognizable form) in the thirteenth century and only began to emerge in the sixteenth (which also happened to be century in which the printing of music emerged). More proper descriptions of the activities of the Montpellier monks would be that they were "compiling" or "documenting" music that was being "made in the field" (or in a more ecclesiastical setting), rather the way Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály did on their ethnomusicological adventures.

On the other hand, it would probably be fair to say that those monks did not see themselves as ethnomusicologists. If that was, indeed, the case, then why did they go to so much trouble? As one who is particularly interested in motivated action, I found myself asking just what motivated them to do this task. The simplest answer is that just about anything that any monk did was done "for the greater glory of God" (or words to that effect). While this may have been the primary motivation, it is worth observing that there is a fair amount of secular material in the codex, particularly on the subject of courtly love (thus accounting for "Marion" in the title of the new Anonymous 4 recording). Did the monks include this material, perhaps covertly, for the sake of a "guilty pleasure?"

That is certainly one possibility. Another is that they anticipated a remark that Martin Luther would make when he was compiling his own hymn book a few centuries later. He had no trouble appropriating secular tunes to go with the words of his hymns, and Albert Schweitzer's biography of Johann Sebastian Bach even goes so far as to claim that he was known to observe that the Devil cannot have all of the good tunes to himself! One could imagine the monks of Montpellier feeling the same way. They may not have ever said such a thing to anyone, but they still could have believed it!

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