Compositional Planning, Musical Grammar and Theology in Old Hispanic chant

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Arts


At first glance, medieval liturgical chant is often taken as being synonymous with Gregorian chant. Despite the wide transmission of that repertoire, however, it is not the only early medieval tradition to have survived. The Iberian peninsula had its own independent chant tradition until the late-11th century, nowadays known as Old Hispanic chant. The main obstacle to appreciating and understanding Old Hispanic chant is the almost complete absence of transcribable melodies. By the time pitched notation was introduced to Iberia in the late-11th century, the Hispanic rite had been largely replaced by the Gregorian tradition. The Old Hispanic sources show where the melodies rise and fall, but do not specify precise intervals. This has acted as a veil, preventing scholars from appreciating what does survive and severely constraining melodic analysis of the tradition. Attempts to analyse the Old Hispanic melodies remain isolated, and generally focus on simple recitations, such as the responsory tones (studied by Don Randel, Clyde Brockett and, most recently, Susana Zapke).

Rather than continuing the search for a way of transcribing Old Hispanic notation, this study uses only melodic shape to analyse the formulaic Old Hispanic chants sung during Lent (the threni, some Lenten laudes, and the Easter Vigil canticles). Understanding the way that textual accents and syntax interact with the melodies is an important part of understanding the musical grammar, and this combines with the work of my collaborator, Prof. Rebecca Maloy (University of Colorado), on the chant lyrics, which focuses on the role of biblical exegesis in the choice and treatment of liturgical text. Gaining a sense of the musical grammar and textual aesthetic of these formulaic chants enables us to explore the way in which they relate not only to their Gregorian equivalents but also to the cognate chants found in the local traditions of Rome, Milan and Benevento.

This study has two objectives, one practical and the other theoretical. The theoretical questions are addressed through a monograph, which explores how the formulaic Old Hispanic Lenten chants function musically, how text and music relate, how this compares to other European traditions, and what these combinations of text and melody meant historically, liturgically, and institutionally in early medieval Iberia. Musicologists have specialised skills in the deciphering and analysis of medieval musical notations which enable us to add significantly to the understanding of those in historical, liturgical and theological disciplines, and we hope that the monograph will be a model for future scholarship in the field.

A scholarly monograph on this subject is long overdue, and our background in comparative chant analysis, chant transmission, and text-music relations in chant uniquely places us to research and collaborate on it. It is equally important to us to communicate in an accessible way and to a wider public about this little-known musical repertoire and the medieval integration of theology with daily life. Our practical objective is to communicate the excitement of the scholarly 'treasure hunt' to the wider community, while also involving current students in the presentation of our findings, providing a model to which potential university students can aspire of musical performance together with an academic approach. We will present a series of lecture-recitals with my choir, the Bristol University Music Department Schola cantorum, including the few transcribable Old Hispanic chants, cognates in other European traditions, and tentative and purely illustrative realisations of some sample chants from the project. These events will bring this medieval sound world and its historical and theological context alive to audiences of early music enthusiasts, school and college pupils, the academic community, and the general public in Bristol and beyond, further facilitated by posting event footage on Youtube.

Planned Impact

While a cross disciplinary academic audience is the focus of the monograph, the other outputs of the project are aimed at a much wider audience. I will be giving lecture recitals and leading lecture-workshops to demonstrate the research findings, while exploring the pedagogical, mnemonic and theological roles of Old Hispanic chant, and giving audiences the opportunity to participate in singing some of the handful of Old Hispanic chant which survive in pitched notation. The precise emphasis will vary according to the audience.

The most central beneficiaries are perhaps the members of the Bristol University Music Department Schola Cantorum, who will assist me in providing sung musical examples in the lectures. They will become intimately familiar with this sound world from the inside, as well as having the opportunity to perform in a variety of contexts and to very varied audiences. The rest of the beneficiaries might be considered to fall under the umbrella of community outreach, in varying forms. The lecture-recital in the Department of Music will bring the research findings to university staff and students as well as to the large and loyal group of townsfolk who regularly attend performances and public lectures in the building. The lecture-workshop at St Mary, Redcliffe builds on our visit there in 2008, drawing in locals as well as early music enthusiasts from across the region. The workshop for school and college pupils in the music department will have the side effect of encouraging local applications to the university, and promoting wider participation in higher education. The projected event at Tewkesbury will be aimed at a Christian audience, looking in particular at the implications of our research for their liturgical and spiritual experience of Lent. The final event, in London, brings the project findings to a mixed academic and non-academic audience. It is impossible to predict the potential audience for the Youtube presentation. Perhaps it will go viral!

The potential benefits to our audiences vary: some may be inspired to study music at university; some may see deep resonances with their own spiritual life; some may introduce chant singing, with its health-enhancing endorphin release, in their own choirs; some may go out and buy a history book, or perhaps even our book. The direct impacts are cultural and spiritual as well as contributing to the growth of knowledge.
Each of the projected events links into already-established networks of contacts, communication and expertise. I have previously been involved in organising a highly successful workshop and concert at St Mary, Redcliffe; the Music Department has previously invited school and college pupils for a day of exploring academic music with staff. The London event comes under the auspices of the Institute for Musical Research and the lecture-recital in the music department will be part of our existing concert series. My ability to communicate effectively and engagingly to a non-specialist audience about my research is proven over more than a decade of regular public speaking engagements from local history groups to the Associates of The Schola Gregoriana of Cambridge, and from the Christ Church Incumbents' Conference to the WI.


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HORNBY E (2013) Text and formula in the Milanese cantus in Plainsong and Medieval Music

Title Discovering Old Hispanic Chant', Lecture recital, May 2010. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Finding a way into Old Hispanic chant', Lecture recital, February 2010. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Music in Medieval Toledo', Concert as part of the Leeds International Medieval Congress. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Workshop and Tenebrae service 
Description performed by members of my student schola cantorum as well as members of the public: a service based on medieval Tenebrae, using some of the surviving pitch-readable Old Hispanic chants. St Pauls Church, Clifton, Bristol, March 2013 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Description New methodology for analysing medieval music preserved only in non-pitch-readable notation. In depth study of Lenten Mass chants in the Old Hispanic tradition, exploring not only their musical characteristics but also the way in which the melodies can promote a particular 'reading' of the text, contributing to the contemporary theological landscape and building on the theology of Isidore of Seville and Gregory the Great, among others.
Exploitation Route Already happening - this was the launch point for an ERC "consolidator" grant which I currently hold (2013-18), collaborating again with Rebecca Maloy, and with a team of two postdocs and two PhD students.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description The research on this grant was used as one of my department's impact case studies for the REF; the document can be supplied if necessary.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

Title Old Hispanic Lenten Mass proper chants and readings have been sent to the Cantus Planus team in Regensburg, and are awaiting them to place the dataset online. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No