UMKC's Book of Gregorian Chant
The Miller Nichols Library Department of Special Collections holds a book of Gregorian chant from the Middle Ages. Compiled from several sources and bound together in a single volume, the manuscript contains plainchant dating from the 10th to the 16th centuries. It was fashioned in its present form probably during the 16th century when the Medieval Latin church switched to the use of large choirbooks in its liturgy, but the book also contains original chants written by scribes centuries earlier.
The book contains over one hundred vellum pages bound in folio format, each page approximately nineteen inches tall and twenty-seven inches wide. The binding is covered by a leather spine and attached by heavy string to outer leather-covered wood planks nearly half an inch thick. The covers' lower edges have metal-covered corners, and a metal clasp to keep the book closed is attached to the right of the front cover by a leather strap. As a liturgical book it belongs to the same category as the Liber Usualis, a compilation of the most used chants of the Gradual (Mass) and Antiphonal (Office) along with the Missal (Mass texts) and Breviary (Office texts). Since it contains primarily chants of the Mass with few Office chants, it could loosely be labeled as a Gradual. The book's large dimensions (approximately 52 cm. high and 36 cm. wide) and the large size of its musical notation indicate, however, that it was very likely a choirbook. It definitely was used often in worship - discoloration on the bottom right of every page is evidence of the many hands who have turned the pages, and wax drippings have been found on several pages as well.
The content of the book is liturgical music and Latin texts. The bulk of the manuscript contains chants from the Ordinary of the Mass: settings of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Ite Missa Est, Deo gratias, and Benedicamus Domino texts. Several miscellaneous chants from various Proper settings are included: the Asperges, the Requiem Mass, the Mass for the Dedication of a Church, the Mass for the Purification of Mary (Candlemas), and others. A few Office chants also appear, including chants for use for the Feast of St. Francisci, the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Lady Day), Maundy Thursday, and Palm Sunday (shown left). Many chant fragments also appear. A complete listing of the manuscript's contents can be found in the Miller Nichols Library catalog record for the book.
The manuscript's musical notation is neumatic, with black square notes appearing on red staves, which vary from four to six lines. From an analysis of notation characteristics, it appears that six scribes contributed to the book. The majority of the book is the work of "Scribe 1," including the largest illumination in the manuscript, a capital "P" (shown here at the left) which appears on folio 82 covering over half of the page. Other scribes either contributed original notation to the book, or more often, "corrected" the work of previous scribes. The methods by which these corrections were made (either by scraping the original ink off the vellum, or by painting over the original with white paint) mean that the original notes and texts can still be deciphered. Comparing the original with the new version of several chants, and then comparing those two versions with other medieval sources, was an important aide to dating the book. The manuscript's musical notation dates the book in the Medieval to early-Renaissance period. The fact that the number of staff lines varies in the manuscript from four to six lines per staff is evidence that at least part of the book was created before the staff for chant notation was standardized.
Later additions to the book, such as marginalia and a Table of Contents glued inside the front cover, indicate that it is Spanish in origin. It is known that UMKC Conservatory alumnus James Adair purchased the manuscript in Seville, Spain, in 1968. A stamp in purple ink which appears on three folios (26r, 93r, and 98r) is identified by Mr. Adair as being a Spanish government identification mark. In 1973, Mr. Adair donated the book to the UMKC Conservatory Library, which subsequently became part of the Miller Nichols Library.
This multimedia project would not have been possible without the work of Dr. Janet K. Kraybill, who studied the UMKC manuscript throughout 1999-2000 as part of her Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Dr. Kraybill's project concentrated on the musical content of the book -- analyzing the chants contained in the manuscript and drawing initial conclusions based on that research. The major result of her project is a transcription in modern notation of every chant in the UMKC manuscript. Approximately 120 pages, this transcription is a means by which today's choirs can perform the manuscript's chants. A copy of Dr. Kraybill's transcription project is held in Special Collections and in the Music/Media holdings of the Miller Nichols Library.
On April 16, 2000, at the RLDS Temple in Independence, Mo., Dr. Kraybill presented a lecture-recital based on selected chants from the UMKC manuscript. She organized a male choir which sang the chants exactly as found in the manuscript. These were followed by Dr. Kraybill's performances of organ pieces based on the chants. Dr. Kraybill graciously provided a recording of the lecture-recital from which three chants were extracted and digitized by the Marr Sound Archives, a division of Miller Nichols Library's Department of Special Collections. These three Gregorian chants - Kyrie from the Ordinary of the Mass, Alleluia from the Mass for the Dedication of a Church, and Antiphon from the Palm Sunday celebration - have been made available for listening at this Website, together with digital images of the original chants alongside Dr. Kraybill's transcriptions of them. In addition to the text for this Web page, Dr. Kraybill provided digital images from the manuscript. The chant transcriptions she created were scanned by the Department of Special Collections. Laura Gayle Green, Music/Media Reference Librarian, provided expertise and research, and Mr. Moses Ong, Special Collections volunteer, provided very helpful technical assistance in the development of this Website.
In the future, we hope to create an electronic facsimile of UMKC's Book of Gregorian Chant by imaging it in its entirety and presenting all the chants alongside Dr. Kraybill's transcriptions of them. Together, both projects should aid further research into this manuscript including an investigation of the binding techniques used, an analysis of the vellum and ink, a further look into the Spanish marginalia, and more comparisons to other medieval manuscripts.
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