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Medieval Music and the Art of Memory

Anna Maria Busse Berger (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN: 9780520240285
June 2005
$85.00, £66.00
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This bold challenge to conventional notions about medieval music disputes the assumption of pure literacy and replaces it with a more complex picture of a world in which literacy and orality interacted. Asking such fundamental questions as how singers managed to memorize such an enormous amount of music and how music composed in the mind rather than in writing affected musical style, Anna Maria Busse Berger explores the impact of the art of memory on the composition and transmission of medieval music. Her fresh, innovative study shows that although writing allowed composers to work out pieces in the mind, it did not make memorization redundant but allowed for new ways to commit material to memory.

Since some of the polyphonic music from the twelfth century and later was written down, scholars have long assumed that it was all composed and transmitted in written form. Our understanding of medieval music has been profoundly shaped by German philologists from the beginning of the last century who approached medieval music as if it were no different from music of the nineteenth century. But Medieval Music and the Art of Memory deftly demonstrates that the fact that a piece was written down does not necessarily mean that it was conceived and transmitted in writing. Busse Berger's new model, one that emphasizes the interplay of literate and oral composition and transmission, deepens and enriches current understandings of medieval music and opens the field for fresh interpretations.
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
List of Music Examples
List of Abbreviations
Chapter 1. Prologue: The First Great Dead White Male Composer
Part 1. The Construction of the Memorial Archive
Chapter 2. Tonaries: A Tool for Memorizing Chant
Chapter 3. Basic Theory Treatises
Chapter 4. The Memorization of Organum, Discant, and Counterpoint Treatises
Part 2. Compositional Process in Polyphonic Music
Chapter 5. Compositional Process and the Transmission of Notre Dame Polyphony
Chapter 6. Visualization and the Composition of Polyphonic Music
Anna Maria Busse Berger is Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis and the author of Mensuration and Proportion Signs: Origins and Evolution (1993).
“Important and provocative study of medieval music.”—Early Music History
“She leads the way for others in the discipline to question long-held assumptions and query historical prejudices that may still operate today. Her uncovering of the complicated relationships between orality and literacy in music has far-ranging implications for later periods.”—Janette Tilley H-Net Reviews
“Groundbreaking in its scope, depth, and thoroughness.”—Jams
“If you are looking for intellectual stimulation of interdisciplinary nature, you will find here one of the most stimulating books of the last years.—Philomusica
“Medieval Music and the Art of Memory is clearly an important work. Its reconsideration of entrenched assumptions in the scholarly literature will likely provoke intense discussion…. This book deserves the close attention of anyone interested in medieval music. It will also deepen and fortify the growing body of work on memory in other disciplines.”—Speculum: A Journal Of Medieval Stds
“Anna Maria Busse Berger's important new book is the first sustained response to the role of memory in the learning, transmission and composition of medieval music… This is an important book that will challenge perceptions and suppositions that still dominate medieval music history.”—Donald Greig The Musical Times
"It is extremely rare to find first-rate traditional mastery and a first-rate speculative imagination combined in a single scholar. Professor Busse Berger is that rarity. Medieval Music has a narrative that flows with compelling assurance and conviction. This book will rock medieval musicology to its foundations, and permit the erection of a much firmer, more interesting, and more realistic structure to take the place of the old. "—Richard Taruskin, author of Oxford History of Western Music

"This complex and stimulating book is notably rich in its interdisciplinarity. Rather than remaining trammeled by a false dichotomy between the oral and the written, Berger takes the lead with Mary Carruthers and others to probe provocative questions of memory, memorization, and mnemonics. The best, and most appropriate, single word to describe Medieval Music and the Art of Memory is 'unforgettable.'"—Jan Ziolkowski, coeditor, with Mary Carruthers, of The Medieval Craft of Memory and editor of Dag Norberg's An Introduction to the Study of Medieval Latin Versification

The Wallace Berry Award, Society for Music Theory

ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, American Society of Composers, Authors, & Publishers

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