When the call came over the ALIA RareBooks distribution list earlier this year that there would be a symposium on manuscripts at the university of Sydney, I immediately registered. Parchment manuscripts, musicology and calligraphy are not my specialties, but interested as I am in printer’s decorated initials, I could see some relevance in my attendence.
I went to see these:
By the way, these are digitised. You can view them here.
The speakers list was impressive, more so when I got there than on paper. I didn’t know anyone; had no idea that I would be in the presence of some brilliant minds and thinkers. It is a very niche set of talks surrounding processional manuscripts in Sydney University’s Fisher Library rare book collection. To be honest I didn’t realise the minutiae into which the speakers would be delving. It’s been two years since I completed Thomas Forrest Kelly’s online course on Books in the medieval liturgy (HarvardEX), and I was a bit fuzzy on some terms. As I listened to speakers compare square notations from similar books, I felt part of a bigger world; that there is a world where research is conducted on what could be for some people, obscure topics, but very important for the development of society in general.
The Keynote speaker David Andres Fernandez was presenting some findings of his examination of processional books Add. MS 358,F406, F380 and F407, with comparison to exemplars from Seville. His book on this subject was to be the evening’s book launch, which included a short concert of some of the music contained therein. I do not write much detail of his presentation because I didn’t understand it all. However it was well received my the knowledgeable audience who did not hesitate to ask questions.
At the book launch downstairs, I met fellow ALIA bloggers Nicholas Sparks and Diana Richards. Meredith Lawn, music librarian at the SLNSW, gave me great tips on how to find early music in the catalogue (for their watermarks of course). I’m such an innocent; I just siddle up to people and introduce myself – if only I had remembered how to introduce myself in Spanish – and start chatting, not knowing who people are. Just about everyone there was either a doctor of this or a professor of that, all humble and generous and very approachable. To our delight a sextet sang songs from the manuscripts; these were open for viewing in the rare book room. There was plenty of mingling, eating and examination of manuscripts.
The next day was divided into 4 sessions. Julie Sommerfeldt, Manager of Rare Books Collection, whom I met in 2012 at the LRBSC in London, was the perfect hostess for such an event opened the floor for the first day’s speaker, Nicholas Sparks who delightfully introduced us to the history of the Fisher Library’s collection.
Simon Polson’s Talk about talking about manuscripts posed the problem of nomenclature when describing manuscripts: do the defining words refer to the space in which the item is used or to the user of said item, referring here as an example to the word “augustinian”. He discovered that in the manuscripts he examined many of the pages contained recycled images from other manuscripts and that some pages were palimpsest, that is pieces of parchment whose words have been removed and recycled for the use of other text.
Jason Stroessel’s paper was read out by Alan Maddox. It examined the gauges of the staff, and he proposed that 4 scribes were the makers of this processional. Incongruities in the rubric suggested that perhaps it may have started out as a book written for monks, but ended being produced for an abbess.
Morning teas are great opportunities to mingle. Sometimes I don’t know what to say to people. However mingle I did. Throughout the day at all these eating opportunities I spoke with people in the hopes that next time we meet our acquaintance will be renewed in a more relaxed manner. Some people have very sympatico faces; faces that just make you want to know them. Others, you can tell that they probably feel as awkward as you are feeling. It’s like living in a Jane Austen novel, but the reality is that if you are shy and you go to a function by yourself you do not have the benefit of being introduced to others. And if you are all shy, then there is silence and missed opportunities.
Robert Curry examination of the Regla de Sancta Clara Fisher 364 also uncovered the possibilities of four scribes to the manuscript. St Clare’s personal rule was one of poverty; but if you followed St Clare’s St Urban rule, then your life in the sisterhood would be much easier. I am so glad I live in the modern world. I was learning ecclesiastical history in dribs and drabs. By mid-morning I had made the following notes to self:
- return to the study of paleography
- learn more about the ruling popes and who were they exactly
- re learn the order of prayers
- read up on the council of Trent
- Re-do the online course on liturgical books
And of what importance would this be to me? Actually there is much symbolism in title pages, printers’ initials and printers’ devices, so it wouldn’t hurt me to know this stuff. What other things did I learn?
- What is a melisma? a group of notes sung to one syllable of text.
- What is an acceptable variant within a family ? that might be of written notation or printer’s blocks or watermarks…
- What is a letra gruessa? a fat letter – and later in printing terms, there is similarity with the black letter family.
And thanks to Meredith I finally found out what a viola de gamba was.
From Kathleen Nelson’s presentation on the antiphonal Fisher F1, I learned about letras caudinales – second most important letters, used for psalms, and letras quebradas, broken letters, (again here we can relate to the printed black letter or the quebrada in tango) used for verses.
The Canadians Barbara Swanson and Debra Lacoste were both charming and warm. I realise I am talking more about the people than about the presentations. At the end of the day it is all about connections; and I made lovely connections with these very learned people.
There was not much in the way of binding descriptions. The exhibition was focused on the pages not the bindings, so not much joy there either. So yes, I was only just keeping my head above the waters.
If you can’t go to Sydney, visit the digital versions. I had a great time; it ran smoothly and on time, and my thanks go out to Julie and Jane for giving us this fantastic opportunity.