About MusRes

The main objective of MusRes is to contribute to answering pivotal questions about the history of European music on the early dissemination of musical notation in western Europe, as key to understanding the earliest phases of the creation of visual representation of music.


The chronological limits are defined by the presence of neumatic notation, the earliest music script in western Europe. Neumatic notation began to appear around ca. 850, and was gradually replaced by more standardised shapes from the middle of the 12th c.

MusRes will combine cutting-edge digital photography and image editing techniques with traditional historiographical approaches to disclose for the first time to musicologists, performers, and the wider scholarly community (art and science historians, theologians, etc.) new and unpublished material evidence from palimpsest manuscripts. The project also aims to initiate the development of the first online virtual research environment for the digital edition of music palimpsests.

Each of the different notational families used its own repertory of signs and techniques for the representation of melodic inflections. Neumatic notation was, therefore, a system of communication which worked fully only within the limits of pre-established musical conventions. The study of these shapes allows us to understand how medieval singers reacted to the cognitive challenges of converting sounds into visible form, as well as how different individuals and institutions shaped their music scripts by potentially revealing previously unrecorded systems of notation, filling important lacunae in the chronology and geography of primary sources.

This period also corresponds to the first emergence of books dedicated to music: the earliest surviving books containing the notation for chants for the Mass date to ca. 900, while the earliest complete compilation for the chants of the Divine Office come from the late 10th c. The 11th c. saw the codification of further types of music books, as well as the introduction of the musical staff, which allowed melodies to be reproduced as more than simply a mnemonic for a tune the singer already knew; an innovation that had a considerable impact on the position occupied by music on the written page. The time span, which covers a crucial phase in the history of European music, will also allow the observation of patterns of development in the production of written musical media over three centuries. Moreover, the presence of at least two different registers, usually the verbal and the musical text, made the written artefact a multimedia and multi-layered object that could be accessed with different levels of literacy. The study of contents' organisation and production techniques of early medieval chant books provides insights into how cultural manifestations such as religious worship and ritual were preserved and transmitted in a material object.

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