Comparative analysis of medieval liturgical chant repertoires, East and West

Activity: Other activity typesCollaboration


Medieval musicology is characterized by its vast repertory of music. It is an endless source of both fascination and frustration for those who study it - the sheer number of chants involved in the medieval liturgy, and the variety of difficult-to-interpret notational systems. My work on Old Hispanic chant has focused on the combination of musical signs into individual chant melodies. My research in the last decade with Rebecca Maloy has shown that melodic grammar is present, and can be defined, even when pitch and intervals are lost forever. By contrast, Kate Helsen’s projects tend to consider larger swathes of the Gregorian chant repertory, gaining an overview of musical grammatical tendencies across thousands of chants: a macro-analytical approach, where my habits have generally been micro-analytical. Two such projects Helsen is currently actively involved in are: Cantus Ultimus which builds new digital tools for thousands of points of meta-data concerning digital images of musical manuscripts; and Melodic Construction and Evolution, in which over 6,000 individual chants catalogued by Andrew Hughes in his Late Medieval Liturgical Offices (1994, 1996) are analysed using analytical algorithms, n-grams, and neural networks. We have previously exchanged notes, ensuring that our encoding standards take both perspectives into account, in the hope that one day we might meet in the middle of the micro/macro spectrum. The present collaboration is our first step toward working together to formulate a more integrated approach, robust enough to tackle analysis of the most difficult early medieval repertoires from both East and West (Gregorian, Old Hispanic, Armenian, Georgian, and Palaeobyzantine.) In this collaboration, I will also develop contacts with Tamar Chkeidze and Ekaterine Oniani, who work on the untranscribable medieval Georgian notation. This notation is based on fundamentally different premises from western notations, and we will incorporate in our work the analytical and conceptual questions that arise in Georgian notation, to lay the foundations for other early medieval chant notations and repertoires in our transcription and analysis methodologies.
Period15 Feb 201931 Jul 2019
Degree of RecognitionInternational