A Virtual Volume on Vitry

October 31 was Philippe de Vitry’s birthday! He would have turned 727 if he were, I dunno, Cthulhu or an elf or something. Happy Birthday, PdV!

In related news, this month saw the three-year mark of an international symposium on Vitry that was held at Yale on November 6–7, 2015. (On the one hand, it’s hard to believe it’s been three years. Then again, my daughter, who kicked emphatically in utero through the whole motet concert, turned two-and-a-half in September, so I guess it has been that long.)Screenshot 2018-11-20 10.41.52

My co-organizer Karen Desmond and I decided not to do a conference volume, but rather encouraged the participants to submit articles to journals appropriate to the wide range of work that was presented. The result has been that indeed a wide range of work on Vitry has recently come out in a range of books and journals. Mission accomplished!

But there are nice things about edited volumes as well, so I though it would be fun to assemble a bibliography of work stemming from the conference, which can act as something of a virtual conference volume. Here it is, with links where they are available. I’ll update this post as new things come out. (Famous last words.)

  • Margaret Bent and Kevin Brownlee, “Icarus, Phaeton, Haman: Did Vitry Know Dante?” forthcoming in Romania.
  • Karen Desmond, “Arts old and new,” Chapter 4 of Music and the moderni, 1300-1350: The ars nova in Theory and Practice (Cambridge, 2018), 115–59.
  • Karen Desmond, “‘One is the loneliest number . . .’: the semibreve stands alone,” Early Music 46, no. 3 (forthcoming), pre-print freely available here.
  • Karen Desmond and Anna Zayaruznaya, Editorial to the Vitry issue, Early Music 46, no. 3 (forthcoming), pre-print freely available here.
  • Elina G. Hamilton, “Philippe de Vitry in England: Musical Quotations in the Quatuor principalia and the Gratissima Tenors,” Studi Musicali, Nuova serie 09, no. 1 (2018), pp. 9–46.
  • Jared C. Hartt, “The Problem of the Vitry Motet Corpus: Sonority, Kinship, Attribution.” Music Theory and Analysis 4 (2017), 192–228, linked here.
  • Anne Walters Robertson, “A Musical Lesson for a King from the Roman de Fauvel,” in Music and Culture in the Middle Ages and Beyond: Liturgy, Sources, Symbolism, ed. Benjamin Brand and David J. Rothenberg (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 242-62.
  • William Watson, “Philippe de Vitry, Levi ben Gershon, and the Consonant Whole Tone.” Music Theory and Analysis 5 (2018): 28–57. https://doi.org/10.11116/MTA.5.1.2
  • Anna Zayaruznaya, “New Voices for Vitry,” Early Music 46, no. 3 (forthcoming), pre-print freely available here. and see the related blog post.
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Petre/Lugentium à 4!

Philippe de Vitry’s biggest motet, the 250-breve Petre/Lugentium, got even bigger when a tenor-contratenor voice pair for the motet came to light in a parchment fragment unglued from a binding. Here it is, courtesy of the Stadtbibliothek Aachen, where it lives:


A fragment of Philippe de Vitry’s motet Petre/Lugentium surviving in Aachen Beis E 14, fol.(2)r (photo courtesy of the Stadtbibliothek Aachen)

I first ran into this source c. 2013 in a 2001 publication by Joachim Lüdtke.[1] In an article just released online by Early Music (and which you can read for free by following this link—thanks OUP!) I evaluate its significance for our understanding of Vitry, especially of his motets Petre/Lugentium and Phi millies/O creator.

Petre/Lugentium was composed by Vitry in December 1342 in honor of Pierre Roger (1291–1352) in his first year as Pope Clement VI. It is an amazing motet with spectacular hockets, made only more spectacular now by the participation of two lower voices. To supplement the article I have made two new editions of it that incorporate the information that can be gleaned from this badly rubbed but ultimately legible fragment:

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How old was old?

Allegory of Old Age

Old Age depicted c. 1340 in a copy of the Roman de la Rose, Morgan Library MS M.503, fol. 3v (detail)

In 1350 Petrarch wrote a letter to Philippe de Vitry, a composer about whom I’m currently writing a book, complaining about something Vitry had said in a letter to another dude, which letter Petrarch had seen. The details don’t matter for present purposes, though I’ll get into them in the book. Anyway, in the course of berating Viry for this crazy and self-indulgent thing he’d written, Petrarch complained that Vitry was getting old—not physically, mind, but mentally: “videris… michi, vir egregie, non tam corpore quam animo senuisse” (you seem to me… to have aged not so much in body as in mind). Now Vitry was born in 1291, and was already 58 years old when Petrarch lashed out. If you are like me, you’ve often heard it asserted that medieval people were considered old by age 40, or 50, or some other age that makes us feel healthy and superior compared to our feeble distant ancestors. I’ve always been suspicious of such claims for reasons that are probably obvious from my tone here, and from the more concrete data from my realm of music history: We know that Vitry died at 70 and we think that Machaut lived into his late 70s; Ockeghem and Du Fay lived a long time too. Is composition the elixir of life? If not, what’s going on? Continue reading

I am a “materia” girl

New publication: Anna Zayaruznaya, “Materia matters: Reconstructing Colla/Bona” in A Critical Companion to Medieval Motets, ed. Jared Hartt, 287–99. Boydell and Brewer, 2018.

This summer saw the publication by Boydell and Brewer of the very attractive Critical Companion to Medieval Motets edited by Jared Hartt. I was invited to contribute an analytical case study and after some deliberation (so many motets, so little time) I decided to write about Philippe de Vitry’s Colla iugo subdere/Bona condit cetera. This is one of Vitry’s most widely transmitted motets, surviving in at least ten sources and cited as an example in the ars vetus et nova treatise complex. Andrew Wathey briefly discussed the texts in 2005, revealing them to be chock full of little quotations, possibly pulled together from a florilegium. But Colla/Bona has not been the object of a dedicated analysis.

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Read Panna’s new book for free!

Upper voice coverThis morning I got some surprising and very welcome news about my book Upper-Voice Structures and Compositional Process in the Ars nova Motet, which was technically released last month by Routledge. Thanks to a partnership with ReadCube, the entire book is available online, without strings and without login. You can’t download it, but you can read it in full for the next 60 days by clicking here!

The representative from the press wrote: “Those you share the links with will be able to read the full book online and there are no restrictions on how many people you can send the link to” (emphasis original). So please help me spread the word!

I won’t say much about what the book is about—I think the title pretty much says it all. This is not interdisciplinary medieval studies work like my first, and it’s also much shorter than The Monstrous New Art. It presents a pretty straightforward thesis about how the outcomes of music analysis and interpretation can differ depending on the analyst’s point of departure. There is also much more music theory here than in my previous book:  the biggest takeaway on that front concerns the terms “color” and “talea,” which come out of the book meaning something a bit different from what we have tended to think.

I say that Upper-Voice Structures and Compositional Process in the Ars nova Motet was “technically published” because it hit a bit of a snag in production:

At least they got my last name right!

This issue is getting worked out and a new print run is in the works. But even once out it will be expensive, so I hope this ReadCube thing helps mitigate that somewhat. If you do read it, let me know what you think!

torculus resupinus, gluteus medius: some thoughts on the 2018 Historical Notation Bootcamp

Yesterday afternoon I came across this sentence in the novel I’m slowly working my way through this summer:

“I’m talking nonsense, I know, but I would rather babble away and at least partially express something difficult than reproduce impeccable clichés.”

It made me smile, because in the past week I have had many moments that felt a little like that. It was the week of the Historical Notation Bootcamp, an intensive four-day crash course on the history of music writing in the West that I co-teach with Andrew Hicks. This was our third year of running the program, which is funded by the Beinecke Library, the Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance at Cornell, and the music departments of both institutions; it furnished me with a third annual mid-August occasion to stop and wonder in gratitude at the drive and dedication, curiosity and patience, of the graduate students and colleagues who show up.

We call the event a bootcamp, which can sound a bit gimmicky until you see our schedule. We squeeze in 27 hours of instruction into four days (not including optional extra evening review and Q&A sessions with graduate student tutors): Continue reading

Much Ado about Variants

New article post: Anna Zayaruznaya, “Evidence of Reworkings in ars nova Motets,” Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis 38 (2014, published 2018): 155–75.


Conferences on wide-open themes often sound to me like a thing better in the imagining than in the doing (let’s have a conference on “the feline”! A session on the number 3?), but there’s no way this article would ever have come about if I hadn’t been invited to participate in a symposium on the theme of “Reworkings” (subtitle “Musical re-Elaboration and Cultural Context”) organized by Pedro Memelsdorff in November 2014 at the Schola Cantorum in Basel. Granted, “reworkings” is more specific than cats (if less cuddly), and I learned that an invitation like that is really a question in disguise. What can you say within your domain of expertise and interest about the topic of [conference theme]? I had never thought much about whether or to what extent the repertory I work on had been subject to reworkings. Which is not to say that there isn’t important work on added contratenors and triplum voices added to motets and songs. But there’s also a prevalent rhetoric about the “inessential” qualities of these added voices. As for motets surviving in various systems of notation, we tend to think of these not as reworked, but only renotated, leaving the “essential” elements of pitch, rhythm, and vertical sonority left untouched. That may or may not be right, but even so: motets are remarkably textually stable, mutatis mutandis.

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Welcome to my blog

Hi there! Thanks for stopping by. This blog is a new enterprise launched in the Summer of 2018 and it is a work in progress. It lacks many of the things that a good blog would have, but I hope that an infrastructure will emerge as I figure out what it is I like to blog about.

Here are some of the things I hope to accomplish in this space:

  • comment on my own work, providing context and extra or related materials for articles and chapters as they are published
  • write about useful articles or books that I come across in my research
  • muse about the process, as well as the products, of researching and writing
  • talk about hockets. because let’s face it, nothing is better than ho-

So please stay tuned, or follow, or subscribe, or do whatever it is that you like to do. And I’ll plan to post a few times a month. And we’ll just see how this goes. K?