What’s new in medieval polyphony?

Posted on: December 18, 2014

“A few lines of music written down 1,100 years ago, spotted by chance by a postgraduate student in a manuscript in the British Library, have proved to be the earliest example of polyphonic choral music, where the voices sing different melodies combining to make one composition,” reports Maev Kennedy in Wednesday’s (12/17) Guardian (London). “The scrap of music, which would have lasted no more than a few seconds, was written on the bottom of a page of a portrait of a saint and has been dated to around AD900. Although there are very early treatises on such music, the discovery is the earliest practical example intended for use by singers—the next oldest known is from a collection known as the Winchester Troper … dated to around 1000. The short composition in praise of Saint Boniface was spotted by chance by Giovanni Varelli, a PhD student from St. John’s College, Cambridge … Varelli, who specialises in early music notation, spotted that the piece was written for two voices. He believes its significance was missed by other scholars because the notation, which pre-dates the invention of the stave, is hard to read for non-specialists.”

Posted December 18, 2014