By Stuart Frost
The pages that illustrate this blog entry are from a magnificent missal in the V&A’s collections, one of the finest surviving examples of a fourteenth century Gothic manuscript. A missal is a book which contains all the texts and music needed by a priest to celebrate Mass. This particular missal was made for use at one of the altars in the royal abbey of St Denis, Paris. The book is displayed in Room 9 The Rise of Gothic 1200-1350.
Visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to see manuscript but also to explore a larger selection of openings from the book through a touch-screen interactive placed nearby. In addition, for the first time visitors will also be able to hear a recording of one of the chants preserved in the musical notation written on the missal’s pages.
The missal was commissioned for the abbey of St Denis and because it was used there it includes specific references to both the abbey and its patron saint, Saint Denis. Saint Denis is the patron saint of France. He was believed to have been sent to Gaul to convert pagans to Christianity in the third century. Although St Denis preached initially with great success he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded. His martydom is depicted in the illumination depicted in the photographs that heads this blog entry.
The strong connection between the manuscript and Saint Denis dictated that if we were to record only one piece from the missal it should ideally be a piece that related to the abbey or its name saint. Staff, students and professional singers from the Royal College of Music recently recorded Salve Pater Dyonisi (Hail Father Denis). the notation and words for which can be seen in the images to the left and below. This piece would have been performed on the Feast Day of Saint Denis. Salve Pater Dyonisi comprises seven verses which praise St Denis and two other saints who were martyred with him, Saint Rusticus and Saint Eleutherius. The words are sung in Latin to music that was adapted from pre-existing pieces to create a fresh work.
A short film that introduces the missal and which documents the recording of Salve Pater Dyonisi has just been posted on Vimeo. If you’d like to see the film please click on the link provided below. The superlative artistic qualities of the missal are easy to appreciate but the recording of some of the music that its written upon its pages will hopefully give visitors a greater feel for how the manuscript was originally intended to be used.
I’m delighted that visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to hear for the first time a piece of music that was originally performed in Saint Denis abbey around 1350. The recording will also be made available online. Watch this space for more information. Happy New Year to everyone!
Click here to see the film about the Saint Denis Missal and the recording of Salve Pater Dyonisi on Vimeo.