Renaissance sources of polyphonic music not only convey a rich repertoire of some of the most impressive music ever written. From the point of view of their layout or mise-en-page, they are also amongst the most complex books of their time. They typically combine verbal text, musical notation and other graphic devices, and the different voice parts are arranged to be read separately by the performers, yet to be performed simultaneously. As an integral part of the production and use of these books, the mise-en-page thus provides crucial information for the understanding of the repertoire that is transmitted through them. Some sources of polyphonic music (particularly earlier ones) have been examined in detail from this viewpoint, but a unified methodology and a consistent terminology are still lacking.
The project which will disseminate its findings through this online resource represents the first systematic study of the ways in which these three layers interact on the pages of manuscripts and printed books produced between c.1480 and 1530, when polyphonic music had spread across the whole of Europe and had achieved its fullest variety in terms of source and repertoire types. It investigates the ways in which meaning is constructed through these interactions by the makers and users of these sources.
The website will make available a database of mise-en-page information for all extant sources from this period (c.300 manuscripts and exemplars of c.80 editions) to facilitate comparisons and codification. As part of this work, we are developing a template for the description of the page layout and are also compiling a terminological glossary which can become a standard resource for future research.
Furthermore, we are analysing and comparing a sample of c. 25 sources (c. 20 manuscripts and c. 5 printed editions) in detail. These sources encompass a broad geographical and chronological range as well as the full breadth of formats, layouts, functions, repertories, languages and levels of decoration which can be found during this period. In the online presentation of these sources, we map correlations between visual and textual elements through electronic markup, establish cross-references to the database and to other images with similar (or opposing) strategies of visualization, and provide a prose commentary for a number of selected openings. The sample sources will also be available for online browsing in their entirety, enabling users to contextualize the conclusions within the wider context of the source.
Finally, in collaboration with the vocal ensemble Cappella Pratensis, we are exploring with performers how an understanding of the original mise-en-page (which tends to disappear in a modern transcription) informs the ways in which the music is sung and heard. The performances and a combined CD/DVD release will include multimedia projections of marked-up sources to convey this to the audience, providing a guide through the various visual layers.