About this Collection
The acquisition of medieval liturgical chant manuscripts that trace the history of music notation as it evolved over half a millennium, became a major collection priority in the Music Division beginning in the 1920s. One century later, we are fortunate to feature in this digital presentation over fifty of our chant manuscripts (e.g., antiphonaries, graduals, processionals, etc.) containing music intended for use during the rituals of the Roman Catholic Mass and Divine Office.
Chronologically, these rare primary sources span a period of great paleographical change from the tenth through seventeenth centuries: from poorly executed fragments to exquisitely crafted codices, these materials range in format and size from single leaves to entire books – both pocket-sized and immense choirbooks measuring over three feet tall.
Their musical contents document the creation and development of the modern-day staff from one to five staff lines, the introduction of clefs, the use of staffless (chironomic) and heightened (diastemic) neumes and eventually black square notation, and so much more. Most visually alluring are the skillfully crafted bindings of leather, brass and wood used to encase the gatherings of thick vellum leaves that periodically reveal breathtaking illuminated initials. These unique treasures present a valuable cross-section of liturgical chants copied in diverse regions throughout Europe – from a 10th-century Swiss monastery in St. Gall to a 12th-century Cistercian abbey in Lower Austria to a 16th century Spanish Cathedral.