Organised by the IMR student representatives: Elina Hamilton (Bangor University) & Mats Küssner (King’s College London).
‘If all other musical tracts hitherto mentioned, from the time of Boethius to Franco and John Cotton, were lost, our knowledge would not be much diminished provided this manuscript were accessible.’ This was Charles Burney’s entry for the 14th century treatise, Summa de speculatione musica by Walter Odington of Evesham abbey, in his History of Music published in 1776. It is still commonly acknowledged that, beginning with Boethius, Isidore and Guido, and later Lambertus and Franco of Cologne, these texts became sources of authority for the compilation of new compendium manuscripts: portions of information concerning mathematical principles and pedagogical diagrams were transmitted into new manuscripts while musical examples often enhanced the understanding of a specific musical principle or new notational convention.
However, specific passages from these authoritative sources seemed to have been favoured and disseminated from one century to another more consistently while other sections were completely ignored. Some works rely extensively on mathematical ratios to explain music while others seem to turn to the actual practice of music for explanation. Why did these differences occur in these treatises and how were they intended to be used? Two case studies from the British Isles, the Quatuor principalia, attributed to John of Tewkesbury, and Walter Odington’s Summa de speculatione musica, can show how a mixture of authoritative texts from earlier centuries were incorporated in their compilation. Can we learn from the choice of selection made by theorists and the emphasis they placed on certain concepts of music? Is there a consistency which can help us identify where these treatises may have been used? Was the content of new compendiums left completely up to the author’s particular aspiration or was there a greater plan for instruction imbedded among these works? Such burning questions still remain largely under-studied and deserve further consideration if we are to understand the placement and significance of musica speculativa amongst musica practica.