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Archive for November, 2009

Music from the leaf of a choirbook

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

By Stuart Frost

Leaf from a choirbook, about 1250, Germany or northern Netherlands.  Museum no. 1519I’ve chosen to illustrate this blog entry with a manuscript leaf that was orginally part of a choirbook made around 1250, probably in Germany. The leaf is decorated with an illuminated letter that depicts the Annunciation, the moment when the Angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary and tells her that she will give birth to Christ. Click on the image for a larger picture and more information about the choirbook leaf.

The leaf also contains the musical notation and the Latin words for a piece of Gregorian chant, Missus est Gabriel or the Angel Gabriel was Sent. Thanks to the efforts of staff and students and the Royal College of Music visitors to the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will be able to listen to a recording of this piece of music in the gallery where the choirbook leaf is displayed. The music will be delivered through headphones and an audio-point built into one of the gallery seats.

If you’d like to know more about the choirbook leaf and the recording of the piece of music I’ve provided a link below to a short film that we made to document the work. In the film curator V&A Rowan Watson explains why the V&A has a large collection of individual manuscript leaves, the female choir is shown rehearsing the piece of music and Jennifer Smith of the Royal College of Music explains the work involved in transcribing the notation from the original manuscript.

Recording peformances of medieval chant in a church, 17 June 2009. Photograph by Lorena Meana.Chants like Missus est Gabriel originated in monasteries where the singing of the Divine Service seven times a day was required of those following the Rule of St. Benedict. Gregorian chant accompanied the celebration of Mass and other services that took place throughout the liturgical year. Chant has a long history and although it has been subject to many changes and reforms over the centuries it remains in use for worship today.

The choirbook leaf will be displayed in Gallery 8 Faiths & Empires 300-1250 as part of a display about Great Chuches and Monasteries. The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will open to the public on Wednesday 2nd December 2009. It is hard to believe that after so many years the project is almost finished.

Click here to see the film about the choirbook leaf and the recording of Missus est Gabriel on Vimeo. The recording of Missus est Gabriel will also made be available on the V&A’s website in due course.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project.

The Listening Gallery project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Listening Gallery Part 4: Music for the harpsichord

Monday, November 9th, 2009

By Stuart Frost 

The Medieval & Renaissance Galleries will open to the public on Wednesday 2nd December 2009. As you might expect installation of the objects and displays is dominating the work of the project team at the moment and will continue to do so over the short period of time that remains.

For those of you who are keen to get an impression of what is going on behind the scenes I have posted some photographs on the Medieval & Renaissance Flickr site. I’ll add further photographs on a weekly basis. The easiest way to reach the Flickr site is by clicking on the image below.

Harpsichord by Giovanni Baffo, 1574, Venice. Museum no. 6007-1859From my own point of view most of my time over the last couple of weeks has been focussed on the final scripting and recording of over forty audio tracks. These will integrated with the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries via fourteen audio-points, small touch-screen computers with headphones located at fixed points throughout the displays. Most of the tracks will also be available online via the V&A’s website. The recording and post-production of over eighty-four pages of script is now complete which I have to say is something of a relief. I’ll focus on just one audio track here.

The richly decorated instrument that illustrates this blog entry is a harpsichord made in Venice in 1574 for a member of the wealthy Florentine Strozzi family. The keyboard will be part of Palace and Home, a display that focuses on the elite Renaissance interior and the activities that took place there. The decision to provide recordings alongside the harpsichord to give visitors a sense of what the instrument sounded like was one of the more straightforward ones.

The V&A’s harpsichord, made by Giovanni Baffo, is no longer in playable condition. The instrument was acquired by the V&A primarily because of the superlative quality of its wonderfully rich and elaborate decoration. However there is an early harpsichord in the Museum at the Royal College of Music that is in playable condition. Thanks to our collaboration with the Royal College we were able to obtain a number of recordings of tracks that were performed on this instrument by Giulia Nuti.

The piece of music that visitors to Gallery 62 will be able to listen to is called Passemezzo di nome antico and was written by Marco Facoli. Facoli was born in Venice where he flourished as a composer in the late 16th century. The musical notation for this piece of music, contemporary with the Baffo harpsichord, is preserved in a manuscript in the library of the Royal College of Music. It is exceptional for the period for such a long and complex piece of solo music written out at length in a manuscript to have survived.

There are several advantages to obtaining recordings of previously unrecorded tracks like Passemezzo. One of the most significant benefits is that the pieces of music can be matched very closely to the objects which they are being used to interpret. New recordings can also be made more widely and freely available via the V&A’s website without getting involved in complex and sometimes expensive licensing issues.

To find out more about the harpsichord made by Giovanni Baffo from curators James Yorke and Kirstin Kennedy, and to watch footage of the recording of Passemezzo at the Royal College of Music, click on the link to the short film provided below. If you have any questions or comments please do post them below and I’ll respond to them as soon as I can.

Click here to see the film about the Baffo harpsichord on Vimeo.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project.

The Listening Gallery project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The Listening Gallery Part 3: A Notation Knife

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

By Stuart Frost

I’ve written about The Listening Gallery project before. It  is a two-year collaboration between the Royal College of Music and the V&A. The project draws on recent research in music, art & design and technology. One of the aims of the project is to connect key objects in the V&A’s collections with recordings of music that help visitors understand both the objects, and the cultural contexts to which they belonged, more fully.Notation Knife, Museum no. 310-1903.

New and existing recordings of music were integrated into the V&A’s major Spring 2009 exhibition, Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence (4 April to 19 July 2009) as part of the first phase of the Listening Gallery. A series of over thirty new recordings have been made for the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (opening 2 December 2009). The music will be available in the galleries and online via the V&A’s website. My colleagues, Peter Kelleher and Maike Zimmerman, very kindly agreed to film some of the work involved in producing the recordings. A series of short films are now complete and will be added to the website over the coming weeks. 

The first film focuses on a knife made around 1550, the blade of which is etched on both sides with musical notation. The flat blade indicates that the knife was probably used to serve or present slices of meat. The object has been the focus of a great deal of thorough research undertaken by Flora Denis who has investigated a number of key questions. Why was musical notation engraved on the blade? Was this music actually meant to be sung? How many other knives like this one survive and was the V&A’s knife part of a larger set? The notation on the knife was recently transcribed, rehearsed and recorded at the Royal College of Music. To watch the film and find out more about the knife, the research, the music and the Listening Gallery project please click on the link provided below.  

If there are any questions that you’d to ask, or comments that you’d like to make, please do post them below. 

Click here to see the film about the notation knife on Vimeo.

Click here to find out more about the Listening Gallery project. 

The Listening Gallery project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.