Sunday, 4 March 2018

A thirteenth century Alleluya for Chad rediscovered

The cover page of MS Rawl. D. 1225
Earlier this year, our organ scholar, Maks Adach, discovered a fragment of plainsong in the Bodleian Library in Oxford which would have been sung in the Lichfield Diocese before the Reformation. He has transcribed it and created a modern performing edition which was liturgically heard for the first time in five centuries on St Chad's Day (2 March), 2018.

His editorial introduction is reproduced below, and there is a link to download the new edition and to hear the performance recorded during the St Chad's Day Eucharist.

The subject of this critical edition is a fragment of plainsong found in the Bodleian Library. It is one of several musical items (the work of numerous scribes) found in MS. Rawl. D. 1225, a large codex containing the Martyrology of Usard. The MS is a medium-sized codex measuring 245x175mm and is 134 folios in length. Judging from the handwriting style, the MS was written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It belonged to St Chad’s Church, Shrewsbury, as it contains an inventory of that church’s feretory. This included the right arm of Chad, the hair-shirt of Thomas Canteloupe, and the spear that pierced Christ’s side. The Crown of Thorns is listed as missing. The Martyrology’s calendar contains the obiits of Parish benefactors and rectors. The text itself contains many additions in the margins. Among these is a substantial entry for Chad (f.35v) and one for the Dedication of Lichfield Cathedral (f.16v). The presence of these confirms that the MS was written for use in the Diocese of Lichfield.

Marginalia denoting the Dedication
Feast of Lichfield Cathedral in the MS
The plainsong fragment in question is an Alleluia Proper in honour of Chad. It is found with other items in the endleaves of the MS. It is one of three items penned by the same scribe in black, thirteenth-century square notation on red staves. The other items are all either in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary or St Edward the Confessor. Aside from one two-part, polyphonic antiphon (f.132v), the musical items are all examples of monophonic, liturgical chant. They were almost certainly intended for use at masses at St Chad’s, Shrewsbury and are, due to the destruction of the historic collection of the Lichfield Cathedral Library in the Civil War, rare examples of the plainsong and early polyphony used in the Diocese during the pre-Reformation era.

A copy of the Alleluya (which includes a reproduction of the original manuscript) can be downloaded here, and the performance recorded on St Chad's Day 2018 can be heard here.

If you want use the edition in any way, please do contact Maks; although he is keen for it to be used more widely, it constitutes a part of a larger research project concerned with the plainsong fragments in the manuscript.