French Renaissance Paleography


France?, 1630
Traicté des modes, ou tons, de la musique
Chicago, Newberry Library, VAULT Case folio MS VM 2.3 F81t


The musicologist Isabelle His has published a codicological description and detailed account of the contents of this anonymous music manuscript. She observes that one copyist prepared it, writing both the text and music, and that it likely was intended for use in vocal training, keyboard training, or a combination of the two. The scribe may have copied from printed sources which date from as early as the 1550s and at least as late as 1614. The dating and historical context for the manuscript itself is not immediately obvious. The two types of paper used place the manuscript at about 1630 and 1636, and both the paper and the manner of notating the music suggest an English or Dutch locale, London or Amsterdam. But the use of the French language, as well as the musical and theoretical content, point to a Francophone, Calvinist milieu. Paper, of course, could travel, and be saved for later use. Isabelle His points out that there are possible links with another music manuscript by a merchant of La Rochelle – a Calvinist stronghold – named Martin van der Bist d’Anvers, dated 1622.

The document we have digitized is an eight-page treatise on the musical modes found at the beginning of the manuscript. The inclusion of such a treatise is unusual for a music manuscript of this period and for one that contains so much keyboard repertoire. The author of the treatise, clearly influenced by the writings of the French composer Claude Le Jeune (who died in 1600), defends the value of the ancient system of twelve modes as compared with the pared-down “modern” system of only eight modes, drawing examples from the Huguenot Psalter. Isabelle His comments that there’s more scholarly work to be done to tease out the relationship between the treatise that opens the manuscript and the musical repertoire that follows.


For much more information, including a chart detailing all of the music that appears in the manuscript, see Isabelle His, “Un précieux témoin de la pensée modale et du répertoire pour clavier du début du XVIIe siècle: le manuscrit Vm 2.3.F81t de la Newberry Library de Chicago,” in “_La la la… Maistre Henri” : Mélanges de musicologie offerts à Henri Vanhulst _(Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2009), 217-36.