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Reconstructing the music of a medieval reburial service

People often ask me, what was one of the biggest surprises about finding the medieval order of reburial? There are a few things and I have written about the seventeenth-century copyist and physically, unassuming manuscript in previous posts. Another thing that surprised me, as a musicologist, was that there was not any musical notation. However, this does not mean there is not any music involved in a medieval service of reinterment – just that, whoever compiled the original medieval manuscript, did not feel the need to provide the music. Why did they not include the music? The best explanation is that they thought it could be easily sourced from other books of music owned by the institution.

Bangor Pontifical

So, what indicators are there for music in the manuscript? The title of the music is given in the text, such as ‘Ps[almus]. In exitu Israel’ or ‘Antiphonam In paradisum’. In total, there are seven psalms and six antiphons, as well as other musical items (like the Kyrie eleison). From these titles, I could go and source the music from other fifteenth-century manuscripts.

I am not going to lie, my life would have been a lot easier if the manuscript had contained musical notation. Reconstructing the music took me a long time and via several university libraries, eventually to North Wales where I found the most reliable source with which to reconstruct the music. This was the Bangor Pontifical, a beautiful illuminated manuscript. It was copied in East Anglia in the early fourteenth century and was still being used by the bishop of Bangor in 1465-94 (Richard Ednam), the same time the reburial rite was compiled (it was used in 1475).

Pontificals are bishop’s books and they rarely contain musical notation. I needed to consult a pontifical or bishop’s book as the reburial manuscript clearly stated that a bishop was the key celebrant in this ceremony. I was lucky to find a contemporaneous manuscript with the same choral items as those stipulated in the reburial rite.

I wanted to verify that the music in the Bangor Pontifical was closely related to other sources, so I also looked at other fifteenth-century books of chant in various libraries and it was (see below – you don’t need to be able to read music to see that these four sources are highly analogous).

Once I had reconstructed the music, I asked the choir of New College, Oxford, to sing it for me. To hear some of the music being sung, click here. My next blog post will discuss how the musical items in this manuscript have influenced those being sung at the Reinterment of King Richard III next week.

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