A Cambridge researcher and world-class medieval music performers are teaming up to recreate songs that haven’t been heard in 1,000 years, the University of Cambridge reports.
“Songs of Consolation” was performed Saturday at the British university and was reconstructed from a manuscript that was stolen from Cambridge and thought lost for 142 years and recently recovered. The songs were written down in “neumes” — symbols used for music notation during the Middle Ages.
According to Cambridge, recreating the music was no easy task, because neumes, unlike modern-day sheet music, didn’t refer to distinct notes or keys, but instead represented “melodic outlines.” Musicians of the time relied heavily on aural tradition — or one generation passing it to the next.
“Neumes indicate melodic direction and details of vocal delivery without specifying every pitch and this poses a major problem,” said Cambridge University’s Dr Sam Barrett, who recreated the melodies. “The traces of lost song repertoires survive, but not the aural memory that once supported them. We know the contours of the melodies and many details about how they were sung, but not the precise pitches that made up the tunes.”
Barrett painstakingly recreate the songs by piecing together “surviving notations from the Cambridge Songs and other manuscripts around the world and then applying them to the principles of musical setting during this era,” according to Cambridge.
Barrett tapped the three-piece group, Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia, who are experts in medieval music, to perform the recreated melodies.
Watch the performance, as posted by Cambridge, here: