Anonymous, Aquitanian Repertory

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The Aquitanian Repertory is a blanket term used to identify music produced in the French region of Aquitaine in Southwest France between the tenth and early thirteenth centuries, most in manuscripts originating…
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The Aquitanian Repertory is a blanket term used to identify music produced in the French region of Aquitaine in Southwest France between the tenth and early thirteenth centuries, most in manuscripts originating from the abbey of St. Martial in Limoges. The Aquitanian repertory contains the oldest sizeable literature of polyphonic music in Europe, the earliest of which predates Notre Dame Organa by at least a century, and likewise includes a wealth of important monophonic pieces. It is notated in a unique and tidy-looking system of Neumes that resembles Braille and is easily readable, although the polyphonic sources are rhythmically ambiguous and any realization of such music is necessarily conjectural to some degree.

All of the Aquitanian composers and scribes are anonymous save one -- Adémar de Chabannes (988-1034), whose monophonic Apostolic Mass for St. Martial is the earliest music manuscript in Europe known to be in the hand of the composer. Musicologists still use the term "Aquitanian School" or "School of St. Martial" to describe the general musical activity at St. Martial, although it has become archaic. It is clear that the music transcribed at St. Martial was picked up from a variety of sources and that its literature does not constitute a coherent "school" of the kind that the Notre Dame School represents starting in the middle of the twelfth century. Nevertheless, the local productions of St. Martial composers are easily distinguishable from foreign material, given its high investment in sequences, tropes, conductus, and other special pieces venerating local saints. The works of thirteenth century troubadour Bertran de Born are preserved in Aquitanian manuscripts, but to describe him as belonging to the "School of St. Martial" is incorrect.

There are six basic manuscript sources for Aquitanian music; three in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, one in Santiago de Compostela (the "Codex Calixtinus"), one in the British Library in London, and one in Cambridge, England. Although some optimistic scholars have attempted to place part of the monophonic sources in the ninth century, no music manuscript from St. Martial appears to predate the early tenth. Other scholars have cited the possibility that Aquitanian sources may contain melodies from the mostly lost body of Gallican chant (the predecessor to Gregorian), but it appears that the Gallican tradition had mostly died out by the time the monks at St. Martial first began working at producing manuscripts. Although Aquitanian Neumes probably went into disuse in the early thirteenth century due to the rise in popularity of square notation, the abbey itself began to suffer from a severe credibility problem at that time owing to its repeated efforts to establish its third century founder, St. Martial, as an apostle to the historical Jesus. The basis for this was on documents forged by Adémar de Chabannes himself. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Limoges had been a major pilgrimage site for worshipers, but by the thirteenth, the order was largely discredited as heretical. In the sixteenth century, the abbey fell on hard times, and the manuscripts now in the Bibliothèque Nationale were sold to King Louis XV, ensuring their survival; the Codex Calixtinus had been made to order for Santiago de Compostela, and it is not known how the others wound up in their current locations. The Abbey of St. Martial in Limoges was condemned in 1793 during the French Revolution and by the early nineteenth century was reduced to a pile of rubble. Excavations of St. Martial's crypt in the 1960s yielded nothing of the Abbey and its fabled scriptorium, but a number of architectural ruins were discovered from the time Limoges was the Roman outpost of Augustoritum.