Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

7/1/2009 - 6/30/2010

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

The Foundations of Musical Literacy in the Medieval West, 800-1100: Oral and Written Transmission in Early Plainsong

FAIN: FA-54671-09

James Grier
University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario N6A 5B8 Canada)

Gregorian chant, or plainsong, was the liturgical chant of the medieval church, in which capacity it was sung throughout Western Europe, in one form or another, from at least the eighth century until its suppression by the Second Vatican Council in 1964. The proposed project will investigate the origins of plainsong, and the means by which it was disseminated in Western Europe during the Central Middle Ages. Plainsong was among the first medieval musical repertories to be recorded in writing, and historians have come to regard the use of visual materials for the preservation of information as one of the distinguishing characteristics of Western culture in general. By applying principles of textual criticism to the earliest extant chant manuscripts, I shall reconstruct the scribal procedures by which they were created, show precisely how musical notation was used to preserve and transmit plainsong, and greatly enrich our understanding of the musical practices that lie behind them.

Media Coverage

Radio Canada International (Media Coverage)
Author(s): Marc Montgomery
Date: 10/22/2014
Abstract: Canadian musicologist makes 900-year old discovery

Associated Products

Adémar de Chabannes (989-1034) and Musical Literacy (Article)
Title: Adémar de Chabannes (989-1034) and Musical Literacy
Author: James Grier
Abstract: In the second half of 1027, Adémar de Chabannes contributed the musical notation to the production of an elaborate liturgical manuscript (currently Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS latin 1121) at the scriptorium of Saint Martial in Limoges. While doing so, he introduced the innovative technique of placing the neumes in strict alignment along the vertical axis of writing in accordance with their relative pitch. The accurate heighting of the neumes revolutionized the teaching of music at Saint Martial, and eventually throughout Aquitaine. Instead of relying on the rote communication of melodies from more experienced singers, younger musicians could turn to the visual transmission of chant through the medium of notation, now made more transparent by the use of accurate heighting. This article investigates the musical and intellectual context in which Adémar introduced the innovation of accurate heighting to the scriptorium at Saint Martial, the role of tonaries (now equipped with precise intervallic information) in musical pedagogy, and the impact of these devices on musical practices at Saint Martial through the eleventh century.
Year: 2013
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Journal’s website
Access Model: Subscription
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of the American Musicological Society
Publisher: University of California Press

Ademari Cabannensis Opera Omnia Pars II. Opera liturgica et poetica: Musica cum textibus (Book)
Title: Ademari Cabannensis Opera Omnia Pars II. Opera liturgica et poetica: Musica cum textibus
Author: James Grier
Editor: James Grier
Abstract: Adémar de Chabannes, monk at Saint Cybard in Angoulême in the early eleventh century and participant in the scriptorium at Saint Martial in Limoges, is well known for his historical and literary works, and his polemics in favour of the apostolic status of Martial, whose tomb was situated at the abbey that bore his name in Limoges. He also left behind some 451 autograph folios of liturgical music, much of which contributes to the debate about Martial’s apostolicity by providing a liturgy for him, as well as several of his companions, that recognizes Martial as an apostle. Along the way, Adémar produced some 100 original compositions. This edition presents for the first time all the texts and music that pertain to these liturgies, transcribed from Adémar’s own autograph manuscripts.
Year: 2012
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Publisher's website, catalogue, description of volume
Access Model: Purchase
Publisher: Brepols
Type: Scholarly Edition
ISBN: 978-2-503-5439
Copy sent to NEH?: No